From the Night Factory
37. Burglary at Harper’s Crossing,
The 19th August 2013, our apartment was burglarized. Thus far I have composed three essays telling the story. I’ve endeavored to describe how it felt for me to discover I had become a victim. There was also the story of the capture of the thieves, of which there were two, Ms Jessica Analore and Ms Anne Bambino. It isn’t exactly known who entered the apartment, if not both, but minutes after the burglary it was Ms Bambino who was using Ms Keogh’s stolen credit card. Ms Keogh is my more significant other. Both Ms Analore and Ms Bambino had multiple charges against them, but even though both were likely involved in the burglary of our apartment, the investigators decided because of the limited evidence, it was an expedience to just charge Ms Bambino in this specific case involving our apartment.
There were three postponements of Ms Bambino’s case. There were probably other cases as well that didn’t involve me. For those that did involve me, I made my way to the court each time and sat through the long and arcane legal procedures. I attended without expectations. I was compelled by curiosity to see how justice unfolded, if it worked at all.
After three visits to the courts, the first conveniently near where we lived, but after that a tedious early morning schlep of twenty miles to Doylestown, the county seat, Ms Keogh decided to no longer accompany me. Ms Bambino’s first appearance had been in chains and a maroon prison uniform, but after that her appearances were in fine, conservative clothes, heels, and the company of a lawyer. She was no longer incarcerated. “She is going to get off,” was Ms Keogh’s bet. “I don’t have to go through all this trouble to see that.”
With every trip to the courthouse in Doylestown, I was greeted by Kim Foster, a Victim Advocate. The excellent Ms Foster was there to sit beside me and make the experience as comfortable as possible, explaining procedures and answering every question. It was an invaluable service that made it possible for this courtroom novice to not get lost or trip over protocols; although, I had not been informed beforehand that there would be heightened security. Entering the Doylestown courthouse that first time, I was required to hand over my penknife and walk through a metal detector.
The Swiss Army Penknife hung from my key ring. The blade was an inch and a quarter and it served me as a nail cleaner, letter opener, and symbolic icon associating me with past scribes. James Madison, Father of the U.S. Constitution and an assiduous note-taker, must have carried a penknife [perhaps not folding] into Independence Hall to continually cut and refine his quills. It was his copious notes of the debate at the Constitutional Convention that brings us insights into the intent behind the Founding Fathers’ wording. What a loss to history if he had been denied his penknife during that turbulent time. There was no time for me to take the knife back to where I had parked the car. It cost less than twenty dollars and was sacrificed so I could be on time to the courtroom. In my mind, it was just another loss to the burglary. The handle was engraved with my name. That day, her case was postponed. Well, I would eventually replace the penknife.
On the 11th June 2014, I came to the courthouse for the last time. It was for Ms Bambino’s sentencing. I was groggy with only two hours of sleep, spilling coffee on my crisp clean shirt, which is typical for me. Rain cleaned my shirt during my walk from the parking garage to the courthouse, so the stain wasn’t too visible. Once again I passed through security and met with Ms Foster, my Victim Advocate. I provided her with several printed copies of my impact statement.
I had been reluctant to compose an impact statement. Ms Foster had explained the intent of an impact statement: “A victim impact statement is the victim's opportunity to tell the judge how this crime has impacted you. It's not an outline of the facts of the case. It's about your feelings. Has this changed your feelings of safety in your home/community. Has it changed your relationship? Has this caused anxiety, frustration, fear, etc? You can write something (we suggest limiting it to two pages typed MAX.) This letter to the judge can be read out loud by you and/or the DA. Or it can be submitted to the judge, defendant, and the defense attorney to read. You also have the opportunity to go up and talk to the judge. You can decide up until the hearing."
The burglary did cause all the characteristics she listed; anxiety, frustration, fear, et cetera, also hatred and vengeance for a time. These feelings had since subsided. I didn't want to add to the time Ms Bambino would be incarcerated, but that was because I assumed she would be incarcerated. Venting my feelings for the loss of things that are sentimental had no purpose. I did not believe Ms Bambino was likely to understand. This is not to say she couldn’t feel sentimental and, like me, have emotional attachments, but, unlike me, I was expecting she would not feel empathy towards people outside her familiars. I feel sorry for her, for her lack of humanity. I didn't think she could feel sorry for me, otherwise she would not have committed such crimes in the first place. She was just one of too many people who cannot feel empathy to people she doesn't know or understand, and maybe also to the people she does know.
But I did write that impact statement, just over a thousand words, pressured to do so by Ms Keogh. I cobbled it together by snipping pieces of my previous three essays on the subject and squeezing them together. I titled it, Impact Statement from B.H. Bentzman regarding Case No. 2013-7902 [Ms Anne Bambino] and Composed at His Wife’s Insistence.
Was Ms Bambino the heartless person I imagined her to be at first? Detective Nicastro had told me he had learned she had been a good and kind child. Then there was also an unexpected email from a former beau. He was thinking of her and decided to see what had become of her by searching the internet, to see if some of the rumors he had heard were true. Thus he discovered my essays. “I just read the article you wrote ... I haven't heard from her since ... I never expected to hear that Anne would have gotten this involved with drug addiction. She is educated, and has seen what drugs can do to good people. That's why this is such a shock to me ... She was a good person at heart that made some bad decisions. I believe this might be the best thing for her. Maybe this might save her life....” Ms Bambino has good people rooting for her.
Ms Bambino’s case was moved to the top of the docket, a courtesy to my being there. She was brought before the bench wearing a grey pants suit and accompanied by her suited lawyer, an elderly gentleman. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was represented by District Attorney Joanna Cerino, who wore a black pants suit and heels, her hair pulled into a tight knot. Behind the desk sat Judge Rea B. Boylan, blonde wavy hair and a general happiness. I took a liking to the judge. She radiated confidence and comfort with her responsibilities. For me it was all theater as I watched from a front row seat, except I could only see the back of Ms Bambino. And there was Ms Bambino’s father.
The dignified Mr Bambino had come to support his daughter. I learned from the testimony that while her father would have nothing to do with her once he discovered her drug addiction, her estranged father was by her side and promising support now that she was sober and drug free. He seemed a decent man and I have every reason to believe, because of him, there is hope for Ms Bambino. Her story unfolded as she gave responses to the judge’s questions.
She began experimenting with drugs while in college, which is common enough and unremarkable. But her drug taking grew in sophistication and intensity until seven years later she was in a 15 to 20 bags-of-heroin-a-day habit. She fell in with the wrong people. Then she was caught and it all unraveled.
She spent four months in prison. She, of course, lost her good job as a sales representative with a Japanese pharmaceutical corporation, a position she is never likely to regain. She was now working in a restaurant, her successful and expensive college education squandered for the time being. She had remained sober and drug free for the nine months leading up to that moment. I felt sadder for whatever the outcome of her testimony would be. I was there to gain a conclusion to this story, to write this one last essay on the subject, whereas Ms Bambino has several more chapters to go.
Judge Boylan then called on me. Was there anything I would like to say that I would like the court or the defendant to know? I told the judge I had nothing to say other than I was grateful it was not for me to decide on the sentence and that I didn’t envy her her task.
Soon after, Judge Boylan asked if there was an impact statement. She was provided a copy and asked if I would like to read it. I declined. She asked if she would like to have it read aloud. I told her no. I had read it earlier that morning during the long proceedings and found my composition wanting. My impact statement was far too wordy. “Well,” said the Judge, “I want to read it.” And read it she did, two long pages of single-spaced lines. I felt embarrassed and the courtroom was astonishingly quiet, as if there was a real dread of making any noise that could distract the judge’s focus. It was a long time.
That ridiculous impact statement, it even told the story of another robbery that took place thirty-five years ago and not pertinent to the case, of when I was living in Queens and burglars stole my Magneplanar speakers. The police did nothing, no taking of prints, no investigation, not even sympathy. They explained to me outright that they had more important work to do. It would take me a decade before I could afford to replace those speakers, a decade without the enjoyment of the high quality reproduction of the music I loved. Ten years of listening forever lost to me and now, at sixty-three and with a new set of Magneplanar speakers, I have the obstacle of tinnitus. What could this story possibly matter to the case being discussed that day? I squirmed as the judge read my poor composition. When she was finished, she expressed great sympathy for the irreplaceable fountain pens mentioned in the statement, said they sounded beautiful. She then turned her attention to Ms Bambino and said, “I would like for her to read it.” It was another long time in silence.
Why was Ms Bambino crying? She had finished reading my impact statement and the judge asked her if she knew what happened to the pens or the unfinished traveling journal that was being composed by several friends. Ms Bambino had no memory of the pens or the journal. That entire time period was a fog and she could only guess that they had probably been tossed.
We had arrived to the sentencing. Ms Bambino was ordered to serve multiple four-year probations concurrently and no early termination. Any breach of her probation would result in an automatic stay in a State Prison. She has been ordered to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation and to abide by the recommendations thereof; ordered to have no contact with me; further ordered to pay court costs and restitution to me in the amount of $3,300.00.
There ends my tale and concludes my four essays about the burglary, except for the epilogue.
Judge Boylan expressed appreciation for my appearance in the courtroom that day, saying she felt it was even of service to the defendant. The judge seemed to have some idea of the inconvenience these multiple court visits were for me. I was embarrassed.
Leaving the courtroom, I found Mr Bambino sitting on a bench in the hall. He rose and approached me. A gracious gentleman, he wanted me to know how sincerely sorry he was for what his daughter had done. He, too, was grateful that I appeared that day and for what I said – or didn’t say. He wanted me to know how good his daughter really was and what genuine hope he had for her. I shook hands with him and told him I sincerely hoped the best for his daughter. Judging by what he and others had said, I saw no reason not to hope.
Was justice served? I was impressed with how much effort was involved in finding the right balance of punishment and mercy. What is most taxing is not really knowing the eventual outcome. You don’t realize if you are doing right or wrong, and won’t unless you are later granted hindsight. We can only rely on experience and precedent, and always consciously endeavor to be decent whenever given the chance.
What future do I hope for Ms Bambino? I am an Atheist. I see the universe indifferent to right or wrong. If there is such a thing as justice in the universe, it is because we invented it and inserted it into existence – human intervention. The record of laws that dictate what ought to be are nonetheless modified or interpreted by the intervention of a judge – again, human intervention. What I hope for Ms Bambino is that if she proves deserving, she should enjoy success.
Meanwhile, Ms Analore, Ms Bambino’s former accomplice, is also out of jail and working as a hotel cook.
Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions, he would be pleased to hear from you.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.