March-April 2014

Building a “wall of courage”

Jill A. McAfee

Director of Victim ­Services in the Bell County ­District ­Attorney’s Office

While freshening up the break room at the office, the Victims Services Unit had a great idea for both brightening a blank wall and memorializing local victims.

Change is good, or so they say. In our office, change has been great!
    The change I am referring to in our office came about 10 months ago when we filled an open position for a victim assistance coordinator with a very determined advocate who decided our victim services section needed a facelift. She was right. We have a beautiful office and lovely waiting areas for our victims, but Dana Bettger, the new kid on the block, decided our break room/kitchen was just too sterile-looking and decided, with District Attorney Henry Garza’s blessing, to cozy it up a little with curtains, table runners, and plants. Dana wanted one more thing to complete the effect: artwork.
    All three of us had different opinions on what would be best, but as Henry and I were driving to Galveston for TDCAA’s Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update in September, he turned to me and said, “How about pictures of our victims with something that says, ‘Families that have touched our lives’?” And so it came to be! We put together what has since become known as our Wall of Courage. (See a photo of it below. Pictured are Jill McAfee, Victim Services Director; Dana Bettger, Victim Assistance Coordinator; and Henry Garza, District Attorney, all in the Bell County DA’s Office, posing in front of the new “wall of courage.”)
    The Wall of Courage is a reminder of how many lives are touched by crime everyday and how courageous victims and their families are. It is a constant reminder that crime doesn’t just affect the victims but all the people around them. It is a testament to the courage, strength, and determination of those left behind to follow through and work with the justice system even when it seems hopeless.
    The pictures on the wall are victims of felony crimes. Some pictures are of homicide victims and others are survivors who worked closely with us during the years to prosecute their cases, but all of them have had a great impact on our lives, and each has a story of their own that will forever remain in our hearts. Not simply pieces of evidence, these are real people, real families, and real life stories. We got permission from each family to use their favorite photo of themselves or their loved one on our wall. Because we have many more victims than wall space, we plan to change out the photos for different ones every six to eight months.
    While getting permission to use the pictures, I asked victims and families to give me one word that described how they felt about their experience with us during trial. That is where the words between the photos came from. One of the survivors owns Visual Basics, a graphic design company, and asked if they could help make this vision a reality. They did the wording for us on vinyl decals and charged us only the cost of the materials; we found the picture frames at a discount online. Total cost was under $250.
    Everyone who has seen the Wall of Courage has expressed emotion, pride, and remembrance. It brings a form of reverence to the room that many victims and their families will use to gather and give each other strength and encouragement during court proceedings.
    This wall design was the result of three people putting their heads together to pay tribute to the reason we are all here, but truly it is the result of how important victims of crime become in our hearts and lives.