Joe Avila and Derrick Wall take turns
telling the story of the aftermath of Amy Wall’s death. Derrick, her younger brother,
tells the audience about Amy’s character, her final year of life, and
her hopes for the future. He recounts the last memory he had of Amy’s
living face – a turned head, raised eyebrows, and a car pulling away
down the street – with the painfully precise memory of a younger brother who grew up not in the shadow of a distant sibling but
practicing dancing with his sister when he admitted to her that he was
nervous about his first middle school dance.
Joe, brimming with the earnestness of a man who knows his dark
side well,admits that he spent his life around the time he killed Amy
looking for his next drink. He had gotten in trouble with the law
before for drunk driving but the attorney always told him the same
thing: “it’s normal, everyone does it, we’ll just do the best we can
and figure out how to get you off.” But he had never killed before.
Faced with the stark awareness that
whatever the attorney said, he was the agent of a person’s death and a
family’s permanent injury, Joe spent the next five days in a consuming
fog of self-hate, wanting to die, until the chaplain visited him and
told him that Jesus had died for even him. It clicked. Joe knew he had
to go on living but it could not be the way it had been before. He had
Starting from these perspectives, the two continue to
explain what happened as
Meanwhile, Derrick still felt that the wound
of Amy’s death had never healed properly. Eventually he was contacted
by a man named Ron Claasen who told him that he was with the
Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program out of Fresno. Ron offered
Derrick a chance to meet Joe and talk to him. Derrick immediately
refused. What would he have to say to the man who had killed his sister?
later, Derrick discovered through a chance incident that Joe had devoted
his energy to preventing drunk driving. This knowledge broke his last defenses, and he
wept for a long time. Realizing it was time to see Joe and face
the grief head-on, Derrick contacted Ron Claasen again. They set up a
time and place for a meeting. When Joe and Derrick finally came face to
face for the first time, neither was quite sure what to expect. They
talked for a long time, honestly and openly. At the end of it all,
Joe asked Derrick to forgive him. Almost immediately, he did.
story is a wonderful testimony to the power of forgiveness and the good
that can come from victim-offender mediation. While Derrick sticks to a
pre-written script as he speaks, it is very clear
that rehearsal has not diminished the depth of emotion he feels.
Every word is genuine. In contrast, Joe’s delivery seems more
extemporaneous; he even comes close to tears at
The two also focus on different aspects of the story. Joe talk
at length about feelings of alienation in the court room,
while Derrick focuses on how much he did not want to know who Joe was.
The differences in delivery and focus are at points
jarring. But fundamentally these differences strengthen the
presentation because it mirrors the an actual meeting in
victim-offender mediation: agreeing to a particular format allows both
sides an equal chance to share what
they think ought to be shared and the differences between the two
testimonies create a whole authentic picture rather than merely a
marketable sound bite.
Joe and Derrick stumble over words, make small
jokes, and gesture to people unseen by the camera but still present at
the conference. They are, after all, not characters in a stock tale of
redemption and forgiveness. They are people, permanently affected by
the death of one girl. It is a shame that the camera was not set up
such that we could see their reactions to each other’s words. That
would have only increased the sense of dialogue.
testament to the seemingly-unbelievable – actually meeting and
forgiving the man who killed your sister – demonstrates that the
effects of a crime do not have to be limited to mere destruction. Joe
and Derrick would not be at the same conference
fighting against drunk driving and telling the story of Amy if it were
not for that meeting. They truly are moving beyond just recounting
Amy’s death to honoring her life.
Information about “The Amy Wall
Story” can be found at the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies
(Fresno Pacific University) website. It costs $20 ($5 for production and handling and $15 for preventing drunk driving, as decided by Derek and Joe).
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