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Rapist's wife learns to cope with the horror

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Ontario guidance counsellor Shannon Moroney will always remember her first-month wedding anniversary -- but for all the wrong reasons.

It was the day her husband abducted two women at knifepoint, took them home to Peterborough in garbage bags, then brutally raped them.

According to Moroney's gripping memoir -- which has echoes of the recent Russell Williams case -- no one was more shocked than she to learn this news. Her husband, Jason Staples, was handsome, intelligent, a gifted artist and a conscientious employee. Not only had he and Moroney known each other for three years before getting married, but everyone, including her parents, friends and co-workers thought highly of Jason.

Through the Glass reads like a cross between a Jonathan Kellerman crime novel and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit TV episode. Except that events actually happened.

The story begins in November 2005 when the police knock on 30-year-old Moroney's hotel door during a conference she is attending in Toronto. They have come to inform her of Jason's self-confessed crimes the night before.

The book traces the chaotic events that unfold in Moroney's life until Staples' sentencing in May 2008. In the interim, Moroney is forced to confront several decisions: how best to help Jason in prison, whether or not to end her marriage and how to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

Moroney's candid first-person narrative is divided into four parts. The first section recounts the couple's initial meeting and describes their seamless relationship prior to Jason's arrest. It also discusses his previous 10-year sentence for second-degree murder, which he told her about on their first date.

The second section deals with research findings about Staples' chaotic upbringing, including three foster homes, sexual abuse by his adoptive mother and physical abuse by his grandmother.

Moroney also includes excerpts from Staples' articulately written letters as well as his two-and-a-half page final statement.

The final two portions deal with Moroney's efforts to recover from post-traumatic stress. During Staples' imprisonment, she used art as a healing tool and pursued a master's degree in child welfare on a full scholarship in England.

After her master's, Moroney obtained a certificate in trauma recovery from the Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Howard Zehr, the grandfather of restorative justice, taught the course. When Moroney told him her story, he encouraged her to write this book.

Based in Toronto, she is now a social justice advocate and has lectured internationally on restorative justice.

The title refers to the thick glass through which Moroney sees Jason at the prison during their weekly visits.

"When I looked at him through the prison glass, I saw a broken man and couldn't help but feel humility," Moroney writes.

"I wasn't necessarily different or better than the person in front of me. Maybe just luckier ... it could have been me on the other side of the glass."

In Moroney's opinion, part of Staples' problem was the lack of availability of psychiatric services for prisoners.

Had he been given extensive counselling while incarcerated for his first offense, he may well have disclosed his tainted past. She feels that, in that case, a followup of adequate back-up psychological support may have lessened his chances of reoffending.

At several junctures in the memoir, Moroney decries her shabby treatment by various institutions. The school board deems her guilty by association; a victim services officer and Staples' original lawyer treat her offhandedly.

A female police officer labels Staples with the same "dangerous offender" tag as Paul Bernardo.

"No, no ... not my Jason!" Moroney thinks. "He is not a Paul Bernardo. ... Are they thinking I am his Karla Homolka?"

Much to Moroney's credit, her storytelling ability along with her emotional honesty and level-headed approach help maintain reader interest.

One poignant vignette involves Moroney's revelation to her parents about Staples' prior conviction. Other anecdotes reveal her fair-weather friends' reactions.

She even mentions an offer that Staples received that reveals his lost potential. Months before his crimes, he had sent his illustrations to a major Canadian children's book publisher.

He was already in prison when an encouraging letter arrived. It requested that he make an appointment with the art director immediately. "This was his big break," says Shannon, "too late."

This memoir will especially appeal to those readers with an interest in the legal system and the healing professions.

It is an engaging, compassionate story of a woman's quest for hope in the wake of trauma and violence.

 

Bev Sandell Greenberg is a Winnipeg writer and teacher.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2011 J10

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