Nancy Michel, chief of the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Assistance Division. (JPDA photo by Paul Purpura)
It was late last year when Nancy Michel and Assistant District Attorney Kenny Bordelon carried out the unenviable task of meeting with the grieving mother of a young man who was fatally shot in Marrero. There was not enough evidence needed to commence a murder case against the man suspected of killing her son, they told her.
In her 17 years with the Victim/Witness Assistance Division of the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office, Nancy Michel has met with countless crime victims and their survivors, helping them through the most difficult periods of their lives while guiding them as they navigate the criminal justice system.
But this woman’s composure amid receiving the bad news stood out, Nancy Michel recalled.
“She said, ‘There’s nothing I can do but leave you with the words of my son, what he would tell me every time we spoke. He would end our conversation with this:
‘God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
“I was so moved, I was almost speechless,” Nancy Michel recalled. “She left us with those words of the Serenity Prayer.
“And I said, ‘Please don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever lose faith in our system, because even though we can’t go forward, this case won’t get thrown into a pile and never come back. Never give up hope. Maybe someone will come forward with new evidence.’”
Bordelon recalls the meeting with the woman and family members. “She helped me remember why I do this job,” he said. “Her strength, determination and love for her son was evident. My hope was that we could provide her with the support and guidance to assist her and her family through this tragic time in their lives.”
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2018 is April 8-14. It’s an event recognized nationwide to focus attention on everything from resources for crime victims to the victims and survivors themselves.
This year’s theme is “Expand the Circle: Reach All Victims,” emphasizing how the crime victims field can better ensure that every crime victim has access to services and support, and how professionals like Nancy Michel and her team of Victim/Witness Assistance Coordinators can work with other organizations to reach all victims.
Having helped organize National Crime Victims’ Rights Week events in the past in Jefferson Parish and the region, Nancy Michel, who has been chief of the Victim/Witness Division for the past decade, said she was inspired this year by the grieving mother in deciding her theme for this year. Like they did last year, she and District Attorney Paul D. Connick, Jr. have started a wristband campaign.
This year, the words “Serenity Courage Wisdom” are inscribed in the wristbands, giving a nod to the grieving mother.
“It’s not only applied to every victim, it’s applied to everyday life, to everyone’s circumstances,” Nancy Michel said.
“A victim needs eventually to find serenity, some sense of peace,” she said. “Serenity. They need courage to get through the process, to confront the person who harmed them. And that’s where the advocates come in. That’s the role of the advocate, and their families, for the support. That’s what gives them the courage to get through this.
“And wisdom,” she said. “I say wisdom because a lot of victims who’ve gone through something so traumatic or through tremendous violence, in my years of experience here, question their faith, or question why this happened to them. They question the system. They question so many things.”
That’s where the Serenity Prayer applies, she said.
“Grant me the wisdom to understand,” Nancy Michel said. “Help me understand why I became a victim. Grant me the wisdom to understand why my loved one was taken from me. Help me understand why I have to relive again this in court. Help me understand why it was guilty and I feel bad that the person’s going away for a long time.
“The wisdom can mean many different things,” Nancy Michel said. “Some victims ask, ‘Why do I feel sorry for this person who harmed me?’ Others ask, ‘Why don’t I feel sorry?’ Or why can’t I forgive them?’”
“And I say to them, ‘No one can tell you how to feel. You have to take this one day at a time in your journey of healing.’ I don’t think victims of violence ever get closure, especially survivors of homicide victims. Justice is not closure. It is the ending of a chapter in their grieving process.”
Look for the wristbands worn at the Jefferson Parish and Plaquemines Parish district attorneys’ offices, the Jefferson Parish and Plaquemines Parish sheriff’s offices, the Gretna, Westwego, Jean Lafitte, Harahan and Kenner police departments, the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Aside from the wristband campaign, a second annual mass will be dedicated to crime victims, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday (April 10), at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 8968 Louisiana Hwy. 23, in Belle Chasse. Refreshments will be served following the mass.
The District Attorney’s Office is distributing wristbands free of charge at its main office, 200 Derbigny St., Gretna, during business hours, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Ask the receptionists to speak with a Victim/Witness Assistance Coordinator. For information, call the Jefferson Parish DA’s Victim/Witness Assistance Division at 504.361.2860.