There are many different ways to look at truecrime. One can chose to take a feminist perspective, or look at it through the lens of any of the professionals surrounding a case, the police, the psycologists, the lawyers, the press. Sometimes the lens of those who were victims, or their families. It’s fair to say that through the bredth and range of true crime podcasting, most lenses have been applied, and soon as someone can think of a new one it’s gonna be there.
The Letter, looks at the murder of nineteen year old Zach Snarr in 1996. One evening he went on what is probably the most of adorable date I have ever heard of, photographing a full moon’s reflection in water, and was shot dead by a complete stranger, who’s aim was to see what it would like to kill someone. His date, and long term friend Yvette Rodier, was also shot but survived her injuries. The shooter, Jorge Benveneto, who left Yvette for dead, was soon caught by police, tried and sent to jail for the rest of his life.
Unlike most true crime podcast which focus on the crime, detection or legal case, the producers chose to focus the story on what happened to the Snarr family and Yvette in the years following on from the trial. This is ground where podcasts don’t normally go. I imagine because it is difficult, emotional and for many people extreamly private.
The Snarr’s react like many parents would be expected to, shock, anger, rage, and something that not many people would be willing to admit to, hatred. They had originally decided to press for the death penalty for Benveneto, until they were taken on a tour of a maximum security prison, and realised that there are some punishments which are worse.
Over the years though the Snarr’s found that the anger they were carrying was becoming too much for them, and slowly began the process of letting go, helped along by their religious faith. This story, of surviving the worst that could happen to a parent, in itself seems ramarkable, but oh it does not stop there. Through a series of coinsidences, the Snarr’s accept a letter from Benveneto in which he apologies’s, asking nothing from the Snarr’s but to not blame his family for what he did.
The result of the letter is truely extrodinary, because not only do the Snarr’s read it, and respond, they go on over years to establish a relationship with not just Jorge, but also his mother. Managing somehow to find a place between all of them where there is not only honestey and forgiveness but kindness and caring. It a genre where we so often focus on the headline grabbing crime, the violence, a gripping investigation, and the pshycology of the purpetrator we forget the aftermath, and the people who are living with it.
True crime is somewhere people appreciate fact. Podcasts and their fans will spend hours pouring over the detail of a crime, all the nuances, creating theories, and trying them out. What actully happened, what we can undeniably prove is a holy grail of the genre. Which may be why the messy and undefined whirlpool of grief does not get top billing.
However grief is also a fact of life. None of us can get away from it, it happens all the time in such small ways. We don’t just grieve people. We grieve homes, jobs, stages of life, we even grieve the things that we have never had. Umoung all that grief is layers of others emotions, and to hear of the Snarr’s turn from the white hot rage of a parent whoes child was taken from them to something that is ultimately healing, not only for them, Benveneto and his family, but also for listeners. Reminding us that even when the worst happens, things which we feel would probably kill us, that there can be change sometimes in the most expected ways.
So many of us fight to hold on to the bad things that have happened to us. It can be motivated by many different ideas. The idea that whatever happened is now a major part of our identity, rather than something that happened to us. The idea that there must be a specifically prescribed justice and we have to see it happen, for us any resolution. Or even having no idea how to do things differently and work through something rather than hold it tight to ourselves.
Forgiveness, like grief or love is incredibly tricky. None of them can be forced, we don’t always recognise them for what they are, and others may often pressurise us to get to a place we cannot yet reach. The Letter reminds us that ultimately forgiveness is something that has to be freely given, once one has taken a long and undefined journey towards it. It is a hard path to follow, and one that has to be done in a person’s own time – and certainly after listening to The Letter it feels asthough reaching forgiveness is the ultimate miracle.