I was a teenager when my father was shot during a robbery gone wrong. Thirty years later, I befriended his murderer
By Margot Van Sluytman | October 31, 2017 AT 11:04 am
The author with John Glendon Flett, the man who killed her dad
When I was eight, my family moved from Guyana to Scarborough in search of a better life. For a while, it seemed like we’d found it: my father, Theodore, got a job as a sales clerk at the Bay at Eglinton Square. On weekends, he and my mom would take my three siblings and me camping and fishing. He was a handsome, outdoorsy type—people said he looked like a movie star.
On Easter Monday in March 1978, when I was 16, my dad went to work. It was his day off, but he wanted to get a head start setting up for the week. As he was preparing displays in the men’s department, he heard a commotion near the escalators. Two men in their 20s had confronted a Brink’s guard, clocked him on the head with a hammer, and grabbed a bag filled with $46,000 in cash and cheques. My dad intercepted one of the thieves and said, “Give it up, son. It’s not worth it.” Both robbers had guns, and in the turmoil, they fired their weapons. My dad was shot in the back and the chest. He crumpled to the floor, dead.
Two police officers showed up at our door later that day. When I saw them, my heart started beating uncontrollably. And when they told me that my father had been killed, I felt like every ounce of air had been sucked from my body. I bolted upstairs to find my mom, and saw my father’s white shirts hanging up to dry. An indescribable anguish washed over me when I realized he’d never wear them again.
A few months later, a man named John Glendon Flett was arrested. He was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life. I was relieved, but my own life felt meaningless. Over the next two decades, my dad was always on my mind.
Poetry became my source of solace. I ran courses on poetry as a form of therapy, helping trauma victims find their voice and write about their pain. I published several books, and, in 2007, one of them won an award from the National Association of Poetry Therapy.
Days after receiving the award, I got a $100 donation through a website where I published my writing. It came from a woman called Sherry Edmunds-Flett, and I immediately recognized the name. I wrote to her, and discovered that she was married to my father’s killer. She and her husband, who went by Glen, had read about my award—they also did support work for victims and offenders in B.C. I couldn’t believe it. On the other side of the country, the man who murdered my dad was doing the same kind of work I was. In tears, I wrote back asking if Glen would give me an apology.
The next morning, I woke up to an email from Glen. Eloquently, he explained that he didn’t expect forgiveness, but that he was no longer the same man who killed my dad. He said he prayed every day that my family would be able to move on. He seemed sincere. As we wrote back and forth, I learned that he had spent 23 years in various prisons. After three months of emailing, I asked if we could meet.
In July 2007, I flew to Mission, B.C., where the Fletts lived. We agreed to meet at a monastery in the Coast Mountains. From a distance, I saw a striking man with a weathered face and a white horseshoe moustache, wearing a black suit, black fedora and gold chain. “You must be John Glendon Flett,” I said. I wasn’t nervous or scared. Instead, I felt like I could breathe again. We both broke into tears and hugged. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
As Glen and I walked around the monastery grounds, I asked him to tell me exactly what had happened on that Monday in 1978. We role-played his encounter with my dad next to a fountain, re-enacting the entire scene. Glen was talkative, honest and sincere, and he seemed to genuinely care how I felt. I told him my father would have liked him. “He wouldn’t have,” he said. “I was a selfish bastard back then.”
The next night, I had dinner with the Fletts. I flipped through family albums. I let my daughter speak to Glen’s 10-year-old on the phone. She helped her pick a name for the Fletts’ new cat: Sprinkles. It was strange to suddenly be the Fletts’ family friend, but the trip helped me see Glen as more than just my dad’s killer. He was a father, a husband, a man living with the pain of an unspeakable mistake he’d made long ago.
In the decade since, Glen and I have become close friends. We’ve spoken at prisons and universities together, and we write each other regularly, sharing stories from our travels or just wishing each other happy birthday. I’ve been asked a million times—by family, friends, theologians, even Glen’s daughter—if I wanted to avenge my father’s murder. I never did. I only wanted to find some meaning in the madness, a way to comprehend what happened. Meeting Glen, I finally found it. We cry together, grieve together and help others heal together. I will never forget that Glen did something horrible, but it’s only through forgiving him that we’ve created something beautiful.
Margot Van Sluytman is a poet and public speaker in Toronto.
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