An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Seymour: I'm Anne Seymour, Justice Solutions, for the Oral History Project.
Lamb: I'm Cindi Lamb, C-I-N-D-I, L-A-M-B.
Seymour: Great. Thank you, Cindi. This is great. Thank you for being here today and it's great to see you after 20 years. We're gonna start by asking you, Cindi, when and how did you first get involved in the victims' movement?
Lamb: I was going to the grocery store on a Saturday morning in November of 1979. My daughter was with me. She was five months old. Her name's Laura and it was about 10:30 in the morning. I came up a hill and when I got to the top of the hill, I looked down and could see a car that was going back and forth between the two lanes; it was just a two lane highway. And it wasn't very long before I could see the driver was slumped over the steering and I was going about 50 and it... I knew the person in the other vehicle was going pretty fast.
The we're, the way I was driving there was a big hill on either side so there was maybe two-and-a-half foot of shoulder and there was no place for me to go. And although I'm able to describe it now it happened just so quick and um, he hit me head on and he was going about 70 and he bounced off of my car. Well, actually I was driving a truck, and came around the side and then hit me from the side again. So my truck just (clapping sound) stopped and was impacted into the side of the mountain.
My daughter was in a car seat but she came out of the car seat because it was determined he was going about 70 or 75. So it was a 125 mile head-on collision and the car seat strap certainly didn't hold, you know, at that rate of speed. She came out of the car seat and flipped and hit the back of her neck, right about here, on the corner of the dash, which at that time was pretty rigid and she hit the back of her neck and fell on the floor and I went through the windshield twice and got away pretty light actually.
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 from here back to here and a lot on my face but I had some surgery and Laura was paralyzed from the neck down at the age of five months. She was taken to the 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. And during that time my first husband just was beside himself and he was making phone calls and he was trying to, you know, do something about this because the man that hit us was drunk.
It was his fifth time for drunk driving. He had no license. He had no insurance. It was not his vehicle. He had drank a pint of whiskey by 9:30 and had almost finished the second pint. There was about this much left in the bottom of the bottle when he hit me at around 10:30, 11:00 in the morning. And it was just, I mean at that time the BAC in Maryland was .15. That's just enormous. I mean you... you can't imagine how many beers you can drink to, you have to drink to get to a .15.
Anyway, my first husband was really trying to do whatever he could because when you find out that your five-month-old daughter is paralyzed from the neck down and that she can't feel anything and that your wife is mangled-- it's just, you know, it's just setting a bomb in the middle of the family. After Laura got out of the Intensive Care Unit, The Damascus Courier, which was a small newspaper in the area, did an extensive article, a three or four page article, about what had happened to Laura and I and that article ended up on a TV station desk in Washington, DC.
Consequently a five-part series about drunk driving featuring Laura was produced on that TV station and we started the Laura Lamb Crusade in Maryland, which was the predecessor actually to MADD. And Laura was just this enormous visual that, she had this, you know, cherub angelic face and she just was, just so angelic and to see a child of a year old in a wheelchair that nothing moves and she, you know, she... she could talk a little bit. She had a tracheotomy. She couldshe could move this one arm down to here but that was it. Nothing else worked. Just... just enough that, and she could talk.
So people were very moved when they saw Laura. She...she was just stunning. Um, we worked on the drunk driving issue for quite some time and unfortunately my marriage didn't last. It wasn't very good to begin so I don't want to say that it was all because of this. There were problems before this. But at any rate my first husband, you know, never really got too much credit I don't think, Alan Lamb, you know, because he's... he called, you know, he called a lot of senators and police officers and judges and was just, you know, it was just enormous. It had just a huge impact on him.
Anyway, we worked on this issue even though my marriage dissolved and we started the Laura Lamb Crusade and a few months went by, maybe four months went by and we developed a strategy. A strategy that is still used today actually because it wasn't long after that that Candy Lightner heard about what we were doing in Maryland and she came to see me and Bill Bronrott and Sandy Golden and Congressman Barnes. And she came because she had heard through, I believe her Congressman Bob Matsui, I believe told her that we were doing some work in Maryland and making some terrific progress.
She... she came. She had a great name and she had done some work in California, so we got together and pretty much I after a lot of debate (laugh) 'cause nobody wanted to let go of what they were doing and you can understand that I took the name of MADD and she took the strategies that were... we were using in Maryland and went back to California and instituted those same strategies which can, I'm sure are still being used and can be used in just about any grassroots movement.
Seymour: What... what are those strategies, Cindi?
Lamb: Well probably one of the first and foremost strategies is giving the victim a face, and the face of the victim was Laura Lamb. And she was the poster child, you know, for Mothers Against Drunk Driving um, because even though she couldn't... she couldn't move, she could, she moved so many people. I mean you just... you just can't imagine how many people that child moved and so you, it's like well does this smack of, you know, exploitation or, you know, how do you go about this?
Well, Laura was that person because she did not die right away and you could see Laura. You could smell Laura. You could hear Laura. When, sometimes when people are a victim, no matter what the situation is they... they're dead unfortunately, and you can put a camera on a tombstone for only so long because people don't know that person and sadly they never will so they don't feel, you know, that compassion or that passion. And, but it, even though somebody may be a victim that has died, people still need to stand up and lament and let people see their grief and talk about what has happened and not feel that oh, am I exploiting or feel that, you know, anything other than, you know, the same adage that you hear over and over again and I hope I hear it resounding for the rest of my life...
...if I can do something so that not one more person has to go through this, you know, then... then do it and stand up and be the advocate, be the voice of that person who is gone. Um, if you are injured, you know, don't be afraid to stand up and say, "Look what happened to me because of a drunk driver, because of somebody on drugs, because of any type of physical abuse," you know. So that's part of it is really putting the face on the victim. That's so necessary.
The other part of the strategies that we used in MADD was we didn't just work with the judges to change their attitude or just trying to change the law or just you know, one particular facet. I think initially we did try to, you know, work all these different avenues but it wasn't very long before we realized that it wasn't one particular facet of the whole issue, we had to change a societal notion, an attitude, a perception. One from "oh, you know, I...I got so drunk last night, I don't know how I got home, I don't know where my car is, I woke up in a ditch, ha, ha, ha." You know, it used to be that way.
I mean, you know, when I grew up, we had all kinds of stuff on TV and drunks and, you know, I mean it was... it was funny and it was sadly acceptable and we changed it from being socially acceptable to being socially unacceptable, you know. It is no longer funny. You don't hear people saying "oh, I don't know how I got home." Um, it's... it's not a big joke any more, you know. You are a social pariah if you go and drink and drive now. You're... you're an ass, you know, and nobody wants to be around you and, you know, because of that attitude you've seen this tremendous drop in fatalities.
Well, that's great. Thirty-five percent drop. That's great and I think that equates to about a 180,000 lives in the last 21, 22 years. I'm glad to be a part of that. I am so proud and honored to be a part of that. But I often look at--- I'm a teacher and I look at my students and I look at my friends and family and I think, are you one of those a 180,000 people, are you one of them? Are you one of them, you know, and I just wish that Laura was one of those a 180,000 people. But she's not and I'm proud of that.
Then I think oh, that's a tremendous drop, you know, that there's people walking around now that wouldn't be here. But there's still 16,000 people every day that are still, you know, being killed by drunk drivers. That's a lot, you know. That's a tremendous amount of people. So, um
Seymour: Let me ask you sort of a follow-on question. Looking at the anti-drunk driving movement, the early days with um, the Laura Lamb group, what was the greatest challenge you think that you faced in affecting change?
Lamb: You know, (laugh) most people when you said, "Well, I'm not putting up with this. I am more than mad, you know. I am... this is insane. My... my family's gotten blown up, my child, myself I mean, you know, I'm not putting up with this. I'm not standing for this. I'm gonna do something about it. I'm gonna do something about this. I'm going to change the laws. I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that" and, you know, resounding you can't fight City Hall attitude. You can't do this. You can't do that, you know. The people from the peanut gallery, oh, you can't do this, you know, pointing fingers. Never happen.
Oh, tell me that again. Let me... let me show you something. Tell me you can't... can't do anything, can't... nothing's gonna happen, (laugh). I enjoyed that challenge actually, which made me even more passionate about doing something about it because, you know, someday I figured, you know, I mean I knew she was paralyzed from the neck down but I just figured she'd be around for a really long time, you know, and I figured someday she'd say to me, "What did you do about it? What did you about this, mom?" You know, what am I going to say? "Well I didn't, you know, I just was really angry about it but, you know."
So that was another thing that was... was very compelling because that just played in my head for some reason that she would ask me someday and I didn't know about the issue. I didn't know all these people were being killed. Well all I knew is what happened to me. So trying to combat everybody saying that nothing could be done because, you know, this person and this person and this person had tried but they were unsuccessful. So, therefore, you cannot do anything either. Um... (interruption).
Seymour: You didn't let that stop you?
Lamb: No, no. No and it didn't stop a lot of other people either.
Seymour: You've talked about some of the successful strategies with... with MADD, particularly in the early days. Were there any failures that you can talk about? Things that didn't go right?
Lamb: You know, (laugh) it was so... it was very chaotic. It was very chaotic and I would have to liken it to being pregnant and... .and having (laugh), you know, six children all at once, you know. What am I going to do with all these children, you know? Because there was an exuberance and a... an unfolding there and a power there that, you know, you couldn't stop, you couldn't harness it. So Candy was in California and I was in Maryland and other people were in other states and, you know, we are okay we'll do this and use this strategy and, you know, I don't think if things did go wrong, and they did, then there was probably a reason for that as well.
Because it was just something that could not be stopped. I wish, you know, there were a lot of times when I was asked oh, go picket here and do this and do that and you know, I had a child that was paralyzed from the neck down. I had a big van and I had a lift in it and I didn't have the money to put the gas in the van and to pay for parking and buy food and, you know, and Laura, of course, was sick an awful lot so there was a lot of things I couldn't do. I mean-- I wish that had been different because I would have liked to participate in more things but apparently it was enough.
So I can't think of anything that right off the top of my head that, you know.
Seymour: If you look back over, for you it's 25 years now, what do you think is the one greatest accomplishment um, that's promoted victims' rights and services for the last quarter century for you?
Lamb: It would have to be MADD. I mean prior to that I'm... I'm not real familiar with the victims' right... rights program prior to 1980. But I know myself that at that time, even when we did go to court, you know, sometimes we were allowed to go to court and sometimes we weren't allowed to go to court. What do you... what do you mean we're not allowed to go to court? Well you can't be there when he gets sentenced, you can't do this, you can't do that and if he goes to jail, when's he getting out, well we don't know and, you know, no one's going to be available to tell you.
I mean this guy went to jail and threatened to kill me, you know, I think they kept him in there a little bit longer because he kept threatening to kill me. And there was no victims' rights, you know, we had no rights. It was uh, and that became abundantly clear and I think fueled the fire even more. I mean there was the drunk driving issue and then there was the issue of victims' rights. There was none as far as I was concerned. We didn't have any. They didn't exist.
Seymour: They didn't. Um, looking to the future of MADD and the anti-drunk driving movement, what do you think is needed to continue its growth and, you know, obviously powerful impact on our society?
Lamb: You need more faces of Laura Lamb's, which I hate saying that because it does sound so exploitative but until you see, 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. Because you see this stuff on TV, you know, and people get, pow, blown away and you don't see the impact five years or ten years or twenty years down the road, you know, you just don't see it. And I don't know if MADD is, you know, (sighs) I don't know.
I don't know if MADD is doing that enough now or if they don't want to do that now or if they feel that it's overdone. Um, and again, you know, you have to go back to a victim that's injured and I would... I would have to say that you'd 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 and it has to be done. I'm sure there's some kind of plan where you don't want to over do it, where it's overkill, for lack of better word.
Seymour: You think it can be?
Lamb: Yes. Yes. Where you become immune to that, where you get numb to that as well. So you have to, I would say, temper that with a certain amount of time and it's like oh, who wants... even wants to have that kind of a job? But I don't know what else is gonna compel people to, you know, 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.
So, you know, that's a very, very tough question and that's the only answer that I can come up with. Um, I teach Health Science at two different colleges in Baltimore, which is sex, drugs, alcohol, nutrition fitness, da, da, da, da, da. So I teach a lot about alcohol and I listen to my students and I listen to my son, who is 24, and he was telling me just today that, you know, he'll go downtown with his friends and that nobody, you know, well not nobody, but a lot of the people, a lot of the people in his age group, don't even think about driving or walking, you know, they get a cab. Everything is cab, cab, cab and people didn't think that way twenty years ago.
Seymour: I know.
Lamb: You know? So to me, just in common conversation, he's talking about, 'oh yeah, we took a cab here and there' and I think I had to tell him, you know, your sister has an awful lot to do with that, you know. So change can happen. It can be, you know, slow but it can happen and it did happen.
Seymour: Wow, that's great. Good for you. Um, newer people to our field and in particular maybe your people, victims, volunteers at MADD, Chapter Leaders...what advice can you give to the ones who are new within the past year, five years, 10 years that weren't there in the early days? What advice do you think is important for them to understand?
Lamb: Well they have to get the fire in their belly, you know. You can't, this isn't, I don't know. This ain't GAO, you know. This is... this isn't Wal-Mart, you know. This is, if you want to affect that change, then you'd better walk around with the fire in the belly and have some passion and understand... understand it from that angle because you'll move yourself to affect that change even more. You're not just passing the papers and making the phone calls, you'll... you'll be so compelled and I would think that they should read the history.
They should go back and, I know Janice Lord is putting the history together, I'm writing a book about what happened to Laura and I and my family. I don't know what else is out there right now 'cause... because there's really not, surprisingly, but there will be in the next few years. There'll be some very wonderful pieces to read. Go back, look through the archives, you know, look at the pictures and the photos of how these things started and how people were, you know, they were flamboyant in their anger. And they're just regular people (laugh). You know, I mean a lot of, you know, they weren't oh, oh, oh, you know, it wasn't... they were just woo, they were mad and a lot of things were happening and they were just regular people.
So go back, look at that history, get that feeling somehow talk to somebody, talk to someone who's lost someone, you know, find out what... what is your life like, how has it changed, what can I do, what, you know, same things you're asking me, you know. What can I do for you? How can I make things better, would be a good way to do it.
Seymour: Vision for the future, do you... do you have one for the anti-drunk driving movement, for the public education movement, that you helped start?
Lamb: I would like to see... I would like to see that outer, that same feeling compelled again, that brought back again and, you know, that brought out to... to people to take a look at again. I had a - I have to... I have to tell you this - I have one of my students this past semester. Oh, just loved the boy. His name was Chris. Oh, just so cute and blonde hair and blue eyes and he turned twenty-one and he was, you know, gonna go to party and all this kind of stuff and he was talking about it and he said something about doing twenty-one shots.
Whoa. (laugh) I just about, you know, I didn't want to come unglued, you know, I got thirty students in there but I did happen to have in one of my portfolios, there's an organization called BRAD, Be Responsible About Drinking, and a boy turned 21, drank 21 shots, did a few more extra to be the man, 'I'm the man,' and he died, you know, from alcohol poisoning. And I brought that to his attention and, you know, I think a lot of young people are playing these drinking games. I think that's really got to be addressed, you know. So it's like okay, the drunk driving but how do we get to the drunk driving to begin with.
Well we get there by playing drinking games, okay, because we want to be adults so we play drinking games. I don't know a lot of adults who play these drinking games. They don't but these young people are... are just consuming these large amounts of alcohol and, so then they get to the drunk driving part, if they don't die from alcohol poisoning to begin with. So I think we need to focus on the exact behavior that's proceeding the drunk driving so that we get a feeling of, instead of "oh, that'll never happen to me," a feeling of "oh, I do that, maybe that could be me."
The man that hit Laura and I, I have met with recently and I wanted to meet with him for a variety of reasons but one was because I wanted a more even keel in the book. I don't want a black and white, I'm the good guy, you're the bad guy. I want to know-- Why were you a drunk driver? Why was it the fourth or fifth time? What were you thinking of? What does he have to offer us that we might be able to say well I can identify with him, I do those things, or I don't identify with this man at all, you know. Uh, (pause) what's that?
(discussion with crew)
Seymour: And then you'll have a what? I mean, that's bad.
Lamb: So as I was saying, I wanted to include this man that hit me because I wanted to know how did he get to that place to begin with, what was his life like, why did he get there, you know. If we don't start asking questions why these people got here instead of, and I know, we need to... we need to... we need to do more research. We need to find out why these people do this to begin with. Not just say, "That's it, you know, you're the bad guy, I'm the good guy, you're the drunk driver and I don't want to hear from you again, you know, you were wrong and that's it." Okay, why is this person wrong? Why are people playing drinking games, you know? What is the behavior that's preceding getting in that vehicle? What is the mindset? What... what are people thinking, you know?
It won't happen to me. It won't happen to me or... or whatever. Let's find out what are they thinking about. I mean certainly sixteen thousand people every day, you know, or I'm sorry every year, is still too many people to be being killed by drunk drivers. It's not like that in other countries, you know, but, of course, some countries they just cut your hands off or put you in jail with your wife for ten years or whatever so, of course, we don't do those sort of things but something else definitely, definitely has to be done.
Seymour: Looking also to the future, what is your greatest fear related to MADD and anti-drunk driving or do you have a fear for the future?
Lamb: I don't feel that MADD will decline. I don't feel like they'll go away. I just don't. I just don't want to see a certain complacency, I guess, take place within the confines of the whole administration and how... how MADD is set up. Um, it's, it's got to be fueled by tragedy, unfortunately. Um, and I don't see MADD going away because there's still these people being killed and injured by drunk drivers. And until it happens to you, you know, you just don't get it but, you know, you're in a car crash, that's one thing, but if someone's all gooned up and they're all liquored up and they don't care two craps in a bucket about you driving down the road and they smash your car and they take your face off and they kill your child, you know, or take away somebody you love, you know, it's bad enough that that has to happen in a regular crash but when someone's drunk, it will drive you insane.
And that insanity, that whether it's good energy or bad energy, it's energy and it was harnessed at the beginning of MADD and it needs to continue to be harnessed and directed and utilized at the right time, in the right way. And it would be great someday if... if MADD had to disband because people cared enough about one another and cared enough about themselves, you know, to... to not do this any more because, you know, what deters people is not "oh, I might hurt myself." Pfft, that does not deter a person.
What deters a person from drinking and driving is not "oh, I might hurt somebody else, I might" - that's not... that doesn't deter them. What deters a person is having their name in the paper, getting a lawyer, having their license taken away, losing their job, paying thousands and thousands of dollars for a DWI, the embarrassment of it, the shame of it, you know, and that has to be looked at too, you know. That's, it would be nice if people didn't do this because they are genuinely, genuinely caring, compassionate people and some people are. I can't say that, you know, point blank but, you know, a lot of it is because they... they don't want to go through all of the other social embarrassment of it now.
Seymour: That concludes the official questions. I want to just ask you one more. How do you feel being the pioneer in the one area of the victims' rights movement that people really credit with teaching so many lessons about the power of the personal story, the public policy development, the public awareness and it all emanated from you and Laura? How - that's a hard question but how does that make you feel?
|This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.|