An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Cindi Lamb
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Cindi Lamb
Interviewee:Cindi Lamb;
Baltimore, MD
Date of Interview:January 11, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Cindi Lamb




Biography

Cindi Lamb is the Founder of the Laura Lamb Crusade in Maryland, and the Co-Founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She is currently a Health Sciences Instructor at two colleges in Baltimore, MD.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

In November 1979, Cindi Lamb was driving to the grocery store with her infant daughter Laura, who was strapped securely in her car seat. Coming over a hill, she saw a car "that was going back and forth between the two lanes" of a two-lane highway at about 70 miles per hour, with the driver slumped over the steering wheel. The other car slammed into Lamb's truck twice, slamming her vehicle into the side of the mountain. As Lamb recalls:

"My daughter was in a car seat but she came out because.....it was a 125-mile head on collision, and the car seat strap certainly didn't hold......She came out of the car seat and flipped and hit the back of her neck.....on the corner of the dash.....and fell on the floor.

"I went through the windshield twice and got away pretty light. I broke about 14 bones from the waist down, and broke my knees and my right leg and all the bones in my left foot, and I got cut back from here to here (pointing to her face) and a lot on my face.....Laura was paralyzed from the neck down at (age) five months.

"She was taken to Johns Hopkins Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where she stayed for six months, and I stayed in the hospital for a couple of months to be with her and because I was still having surgeries and things done to get better. During that time, my first husband was just beside himself, and he was making phone calls.....trying to do something about this because the man that hit us was drunk."

This was the fifth drunk driving incident for the man who nearly killed Cindy and Laura Lamb. He had no license, no insurance, and it was not his vehicle.

After Laura got out of the intensive care unit, a small area newspaper -- The Damascus Courier -- published an extensive article that led to a five-part series on drunk driving broadcast on a Washington, D.C. television station. Lamb then began The Laura Lamb Crusade in Maryland, which was the predecessor to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). She describes her daughter Laura as "just this enormous visual (with a ) cherub angelic face.....and to see a child of a year old in a wheelchair with nothing that moves.....so people were very moved when they saw Laura.....she was just stunning."


Interview Summary

Context of the Era: The Impetus for MADD

Soon after the five-part television series, Candy Lightner -- whose teenage daughter Cari was killed in a drunk driving crash in Sacramento, California -- heard about Lamb. Initial meetings included Lamb, Lightner, Congressman Michael Barnes and his Legislative Aide Bill Bronrott, and activist Sandy Golden. After "a lot of debate because nobody wanted to let go of what they were doing," Lamb took the name of MADD and Lightner took the strategies of the Laura Lamb Crusade to form Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Strategies for Success

Lamb notes several strategies that led to MADD's early successes, with "one of the first and foremost strategies of giving the victim a face." She also described the challenge of changing societal notions, attitudes and perceptions about drunk driving from socially acceptable to socially unacceptable. Lamb points to the 35 percent drop in drunk driving since the inception of MADD, noting that this "equates to about 180,000 lives saved in the last 22 years."

When people continually told Cindy Lamb "you can't do this," "you can't change City Hall attitudes," she took it as a challenge. Although Laura Lamb died at age seven from the injuries she sustained in the crash, her mother said "I figured she'd be around for a long time, and I figured some day she'd say to me, 'What did you do about this, Mom'?"

The power of the personal stories of Lamb and Lightner combined to form a strategy that Lamb terms "very chaotic:"

"I would have to liken it to being pregnant and having six children all at once. What am I going to do with all these children? Because there was an exuberance and a power there that you couldn't stop; you couldn't harness it."

Greatest Accomplishment

According to Cindi Lamb, the greatest accomplishment is Mothers Against Drunk Driving and its work to promote victims' rights (which didn't exist when she was victimized) and services for victims of drunk driving.

"...There was an exuberance and a power there that you couldn't stop; you couldn't harness it..."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Development

Lamb believes you need "more faces of Laura Lamb" because "until you see that, you don't get it. You don't get it with a drunk driver; you don't get it with a murderer; you don't get it!.....You have to put that victim out front, and they have to tell their story, and they have to do it in every municipality, in every community, in every small town and in every big city."

She continues: "I don't know what else is going to compel people to say, 'oh, wow, this has touched me in my heart and it is going to change my behavior' because that's the bottom line. You have to get people to change their perception, change their attitude, and then they'll change their behavior."

Lamb advises simply and directly that people in the victim assistance field "need to get the fire in their belly.....If you want to affect change, then you'd better walk around with a fire in your belly and have some passion, and understand it from that angle because you'll move yourself to affect change even more." She advises newer advocates to "read the history" of the field, look through the archives, and see the pictures of how these things started and how people were flamboyant in their anger." The important work of victim advocates is not just "passing the papers and making the phone calls." Lamb suggests talking to victims, and "find out what their lives are like; how has it changed?; (ask) 'what can I do for you and how can I help make things better'?"

"You have to get people to change their perception, change their attitude, and then they'll change their behavior."

In 2003, MADD has over 600 chapters, state offices and Community Action Teams in all 50 states.