In 2009, a Bridges To Life volunteer again received the Governor’s Criminal Justice Award (a BTL volunteer has received this award every year since 2001!). San Antonio area volunteer Terrie Reagan received the Restorative Justice Volunteer of the Year award, recognizing the contributions of a volunteer or organization that “promotes the repair, restoration, and reintegration of offenders, victims and the community.” Terrie Reagan – Restorative Justice Volunteer of the Year
In 1976, when he was only 12 year old, Jim Buffington’s mother was found slain in the back seat of her car. The devastation to the family was indescribable. A year later, while still working through his grief, he was dealt another blow. His father was arrested and incarcerated for the conspiracy of his mother’s murder. Jim was to suffer yet another betrayal later in life when he discovered that the original murder conspiracy included his brother and himself.
Through this incredible journey, Jim has experienced both sides of the criminal justice system – as a child of a victim of crime and as a child of an offender. Jim journeyed a long road of pain and betrayal that would lead most to a life withdrawn and full of bitterness. Jim chose another path however, one of healing and forgiveness. In his volunteer work, he has helped many victims of crime, as well as offenders, down that path to healing and forgiveness. Because of his unique experiences, he has an insight into the feelings of the offenders’ families that most of us cannot relate to. Jim is able to connect with the offenders and he helps them to better understand the effects their choices have had on their families and society.
Jim’s incredible strength has been an inspiration to other volunteers and his contagious enthusiasm has changed many hearts. Jim has been a faithful volunteer with Bridges to Life, a program that focuses on the restoration of offenders, putting a face on crime and God’s forgiveness. Jim continues to donate his time to victim impact panels for Victim Services, Dallas County Probation, Lillian Smith Family Violence Foundation, Texas Youth Commission and the Dallas County Juvenile Justice Department. It is because Jim Buffington has given so much of himself promoting restorative justice that he has been selected as the recipient for the Carol S. Vance Volunteer of the Year Award for 2007.
At 18 years old, Brandon Willard got into a car with a friend that had been drinking, believing the friend was only going two (2) blocks to Brandon’s house. The friend went the other direction and at 100 mph, hit a guardrail and plunged 75 feet into a dry lake bed. Brandon was left a quadriplegic for life. Because Brandon felt responsible for his own choices, he asked the court for leniency for his friend. Unfortunately, the friend continued to drink and drive. Having great concern for others on the road with drunk drivers, Brandon began his battle to combat drunk driving. With the help of his mother Annette, Brandon has traveled thousands of miles and donated hundreds of hours speaking in schools, prisons and any group that will listen about the effects of drunk driving and the power of forgiveness.
In the years that followed, Brandon suffered yet another horrific accident involving a drunk driver. While driving home after an evening out with his girlfriend in a van specially outfitted for him, a car with three (3) intoxicated young adults pulled out in front of Brandon’s van. The occupants of the car were killed. Brandon and his girlfriend suffered multiple serious injuries. Brandon was not expected to live.
Brandon did recover and he continues with his mission. His positive testimony and message of forgiveness has a great impact on the men, women and children he comes in contact with. He has participated in many Bridges To Life prison projects as a victim speaker and facilitator. Because of his work, his love for fellow man and dedication to this cause, the Victim Services Division has selected Brandon Willard as the recipient of the “Pathfinder” Award.
The ‘Pathfinder” Award is given to an individual or group that has demonstrated leadership qualities in their volunteer service and made significant contributions to the welfare of victims.
Pat Todd Receives 2008 "Carol S. Vance" Volunteer of the Year Award
After leaving a marriage filled with domestic violence to raise her four children in a better environment, Patricia Todd worked as a police officer to make ends meet. On the morning of June 12, 1980 Pat was out issuing parking tickets. A man approached waving a ticket he had received at Pat; he angrily asked her what he was supposed to do with it. She calmly explained the process he needed to follow to take care of the $10.00 parking fine, and continued with her work. The man left only to return an hour later with a gun. This time he pulled his car up trapping her between vehicles and asked again what he was to do with the ticket. Thinking he had not understood her earlier directions, she again began to explain what he needed to do. Arthur D. Williams held the gun to Pat's cheek and told her that he would show her what he would do. He fired the gun. Pat was shot in the face, and then again 4 times in the back of her head and hand. Pat has undergone 41 reconstructive surgeries and has endured over twenty years of chronic pain and constant recurring nightmares of that fateful morning. Today Pat resides in Central Texas, now a Grandmother of 10 and volunteers for a Victim Offender program called Bridges To Life in her limited free time.
After completing a 12-week program at the Kyle Correctional Facility in Kyle Texas, I had returned to start another project and was holding an “Inmate Orientation. I had asked the Chaplain if there were any inmates still on the unit from the last project that I could invite to speak to the new group. He sent down a young man who had been in Pat Todd's small group in the previous project. Bryan began to share his BTL experience with the group. He began by stating that Bridges /To Life had been just that to him. A bridge to life. He went on to explain that a few weeks after our program had ended, the Chaplain paid him a visit. The news was not good. His older brother had just committed suicide with a gun he had given him. Bryan went on to share with the men that he was given a three-day furlough to go and bury his brother. He took the furlough but had no intentions of going back to prison. He had decided to follow in his brother's footsteps and take his own life. He rationalized that if his brother couldn't “do it” then he couldn't either. Then he thought about Pat. The stories she had shared as a panelist and also in their small group continued to play over and over in his mind. He finally decided that if Pat could go thru so much and still allow God to use her to come and speak with him in prison, how he could take his own life. Brian returned to finish his two months at the Kyle Unit.
Because Patricia was a police officer, whom many offenders see as their “enemy,” Pat has been very instrumental in presenting the human side to the that role. Pat becomes not only human when sharing her own struggles, but a mother, a sister or a friend in their eyes. Pat has shown countless offenders a different side to their crimes. She leaves them with a very different prospective, and often a much softer heart. I believe God himself can only measure the affect Pat has had.
Submitted by Deborah Hartman, BTL Central Regional Coordinator