Forgiveness heals wounds from home invasion
May 17, 2012
By Ben Sherman
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Former Oklahoma state Sen. Brooks Douglass was the guest speaker for the Commanding General's National Prayer Luncheon May 11 at the Fort Sill Patriot Club.
Douglass shared the story of his life and the struggles he faced to come back from a brutal home invasion that claimed the lives of his parents and nearly ended his life and that of this younger sister.
Post Chaplain Col. Jerry Jones introduced Douglass to those in attendance.
"The most important thing you should know about Mr. Brooks Douglass is he was and remains a man of faith in the face of a very horrific event that happened in his life. He did not forsake God and found a way to pull himself up."
Douglass is no stranger to military service, having served 14 years in the Army National Guard's 19th and 20th Special Forces Group and as a judge advocate general. But his life story took a terrible turn one night in 1979 when he was just 16 years old.
"I grew up in a home of faith and service. My parents had been missionaries. We all were missionaries in Brazil for four years when I was a kid, and then we came back to Oklahoma after that, and my father was pastor of Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City," Douglass said.
One night, as the Douglass family was preparing to eat dinner in their home in Okarche, Okla., there was a knock at the door. It was not unusual for someone to knock on a pastor's front door, so young Douglass went to see who was there. He found two men, Glen Ake and Stephen Hatch, who wanted to use the phone.
"I did what I had been taught to do in our home, try to help, try to serve. I let Glen Ake in. A few minutes later they wound up pulling weapons on us. They had a double-barreled shogun and a .357 magnum. They hogtied our whole family's hands and feet behind our backs and put us on our living room floor. They then took turns raping my then 12-year-old sister. Then they sat down and ate the dinner my mom had been fixing and then shot us all in the back and left us for dead," Douglass said.
"My parents both died right there in front of me. My sister and I were able to get ourselves untied. She ultimately cut me loose, and we drove to a doctor's house in Okarche to start our healing process, to try and save our lives."
That healing process was just beginning and involved physical, mental and emotional ordeals that would continue for more than 20 years. Ake and Hatch were caught a few weeks later. They were tried, convicted and sentenced to death.
Douglass thought that would be the end of it, and that he could move on with his life. He began what he termed his "road scholar" days, where he would enroll in a university, stay about eight weeks and then drop out, only to move to another university. He finally ended up at the University of Tennessee and completed his freshman year. After that he transferred to Baylor University.
But the memories of the horrible crimes committed against Douglass and his family would not stay below the surface, either in his life or in the legal process. Soon Ake and Hatch were granted new trials through the appeals court process and Douglass and his sister had to keep reliving everything.
"All told, we testified nine different times over a period of 17 years," he recalled.
During his senior year in college, a reporter contacted him to tell him that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the conviction of Ake, who had been the shooter.
Douglass returned to Oklahoma to begin law school at Oklahoma City University. Seven years later, they were back in court against Ake. He was convicted again, but this time was given a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
Through this process Douglass discovered that Oklahoma, like many states, had little or no laws protecting the rights of victims of violent crimes.
"In Oklahoma, we had a victim's compensation fund, but statewide it only had about $3,000 in it, which, of course, isn't enough to do anything. So we started doing some things, expanding the numbers of crimes that, when people are convicted, they can be sentenced to what is called the Victim Compensation Assessment," he said. Douglass went on to state that the goal was to help victims to not be further victimized by the legal system, because victims have to pay for almost everything.
Douglass and his sister had to sell their parent's home and everything they owned at auction just to pay for the medical expenses they incurred after the attacks. Also, all of their legal costs, travel expenses and other expenses and needs came out of their savings.
"We even had to pay for the rape exam kit they used on my sister at the hospital. It was a crazy process," Douglass added.
Armed with those experiences, he decided he had to make a difference for the victims of violent crimes. After he got his law degree, he ran for public office and was elected the youngest Oklahoma state senator at age 26. He pushed for laws to fund victim's compensation accounts and reimburse them for the loss they experienced.
Douglass continued to fight the battle to provide victims the opportunity to face those who had terrorized them, and often the legal system was as brutal toward the victims as the criminals had been. Through all of these struggles and battles, Douglass was driven to seek justice for his family and for other victims. But what he didn't notice were his own serious problems buried beneath the surface.
"I began to realize my life behind the scenes was not so good. Here I was a state senator and a lawyer. I had all of those things going on, and it appeared that everything was successful on the outside. Yet, when you got behind the scenes everything was falling apart," Douglass admitted. "My marriage was falling apart, my finances were falling apart. Everything behind the scenes was out of whack. I knew it, but nobody else knew it. It wasn't until I was able to confront some demons in my own life that I could piece together the rest of it."
He came to the realize the only way he could begin to heal and put his life back together was to forgive those who had killed his parents and victimized him and his sister. But that process took a long time.
"I had convinced myself I had forgiven them. But, I came to the realization that the process of appeals and trials had kept this issue right in front of me for most of my life, and that I hadn't been able to deal with it," Douglass said. He said that once he realized he had to forgive Ake and Hatch then he would begin to truly heal inside.
"I think ... my faith made it possible. That's what I was taught to do as a child, the role-model that my parents set for me. I knew it was what I needed to do, and once I did it, I discovered that's what really changed things."
As a former Soldier, Douglass spoke specifically to the Soldiers who were in attendance.
He encouraged them to seek help for the anger and rage that many of them feel due to what they have experienced in combat.
"These Soldiers have been deployed and they've seen so many things, they've done things that were just hard. We've all done things, and we've had things that have happened in our lives that are just hard to get past," Douglass said. "Ultimately, we can confront them and find a way to forgive, and sometimes, that involves forgiving ourselves, too. Then we can let go and really begin to live more complete lives.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel. We can find a place to forgive others who harmed us, so that we can forgive ourselves for things we've done," he added.
As part of his own personal healing process, Douglass achieved a life-long dream by producing a feature film honoring his parents. Released in 2010, "Heaven's Rain" tells the story of the tragic death of Richard and Marilyn Douglass, and how their love and teachings prepared their children to face that terrible tragedy with strength, faith and forgiveness.