Thursday, November 8, 2007

Amazing Grace

Lois Gibson is by far the most remarkable woman I have ever met. Just taking a quick look around her website really tells the tale, but a recent news story brought her to the front of my mind again. Back in January of 1994, my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I were sitting around his apartment watching late night television. Late Night with David Letterman was just about to go off the air when we heard a loud bang against the back door of our apartment. My first, split-second thought was that a friend had stopped by and was fooling around, but by the second bang, I realized something more sinister was going on. I reached for the phone and before I could even press the "9" to dial 9-1-1, two men were in our home. As Danny backed away from them, one of them struck him on his knee and he fell to the sofa. I was across the room on the love seat. Both men had their faces painted in camouflage style and were dressed in dark clothing. The smaller and more nervous of the two carried a baseball bat and the larger and more crazy one carried a lead pipe with a mangled piece of metal on the end with a bent screw sticking out of it. He raised the pipe above his head and aimed for me and demanded I put the phone down. Needless to say, I complied by throwing the phone across the room. I wanted him to be certain it was nowhere near me. The men made us lie on our stomachs on the sofas while they ransacked our house and yelled to each other. The smaller, nervous man seemed to just want to leave and acted as though he really didn't want to be there. He kept counting out loud how many seconds they had been in the house while the larger, crazy man continued to ransack our home. After a few minutes that seemed like hours, they were finally gone. Once we were certain they had gone, Danny chased them out into the street where he saw them fleeing on foot and found our smashed TV laying in the road. I grabbed the phone, ran into the bedroom, put my back against the wall and called 9-1-1. (For some weird reason, I was so freaked out, that I did not feel safe with my back to a door or window for fear that they would return. It's crazy and amazing how adrenaline and fear work.) Within a few moments of my call, the police had arrived. Apparently, a neighbor had heard all of the commotion and screaming and called the police. The police did their usual routine...checked out the damage, made a report of stolen items and lifted a few finger prints. They told us in all honesty that the perpetrators would probably never be caught and our belongings never recovered. The following day, an investigator with the Houston Police Department contacted us and asked if we would like to have a sketch made of our perpetrators. We agreed and went to the station the following day. We were taken to a very small room, not much bigger than a closet. The walls of the room were covered with both black and white and color drawings, paintings and mug shots. There was an easel with art supplies, and stacks of books littered a small desk. A friendly woman greeted us. Her name was Lois Gibson. We explained to Lois that we did not get a very good look at the smaller perpetrator since he was nervous and stayed away from us, and although we got a good look at the larger man, with the face paint and his yelling, we weren't sure if we were certain of what his facial features looked like. Lois shrugged off our uncertainty, smiled and calmy stated that we should just do the best we can. She handed us several books. Each book had many drawings and photos of different eyes, mouths, ears, noses, etc. From those books and working one facial feature at a time, we chose the features that most closely resembled the larger man. With her easel turned away from us, Lois worked the entire time, constantly sketching with her charcoal pencils and watching and listening to us carefully. When she thought she was finished, she turned the easel towards us and our mouths fell open. It was him! It was him! She made a slight adjustment to the width of his face and added a few pock marks on his cheeks, but that was it. It was as though Lois had been in the room with us and drew this horrible man. Seeing the obvious expression of shock, fear and anger on our faces at the sight of this horrible man who had tormented us, Lois told us her own personal story. She had been raped, strangled and left for dead in her Hollywood, California apartment years before. She soon after abandoned her acting career and went to live with a friend out of state. During that time, she rediscovered her love of drawing and painting and when a convenience store clerk was robbed, Lois offered to do a drawing of the robber. If I remember correctly, the convenience store robber was never caught, but the clerk was so impressed by the accuracy of the drawing, that she encouraged Lois to do something positive with her art. And that's precisely what she did. After moving to Texas, Lois became involved with the Houston Police Department. It was not a full time job and there were no benefits for her and her new family. She was only paid when and if they used her services. It didn't take long, however, for police to realize the value in her drawings. One out of every three drawings were leading to captures. Surprisingly, many investigators were unhappy with her presence. They felt that good, old fashioned police leg work was going unacknowledged while an artist was getting all the credit. Lois spent many lonely days in her closet-like office and her talents were largely unappreciated. It was only a matter of time before her talents were rewarded. No one could deny for long the impact she was having on arrests in the Houston area and after awhile, police warmed up to her and began appreciating her for what she could do to help them solve their cases. After receiving several photo copies of our sketch, Danny and I walked our neighborhood talking to anyone who would listen. We stopped at the nearby convenience store, the dry cleaners and a local ice house. A woman at the ice house thought our drawing looked very much like another waitresses ex-boyfriend. When Danny and I returned home, we called the investigator and told him of our discovery. Police went to the ex-boyfriend's home the following morning and made an arrest. We were called to the station and immediately picked the horrible man out of a line up. Just as the trial was beginning, the suspect plead guilty, spent 45 days in jail, was sentenced to 10 years of probation and was ordered to pay us $500 restitution. I thought this was a small price for him to pay for what he had done to us (we had lost our sense of security, and I subsequently had a horrible bout of depression brought on my post traumatic stress disorder) but evidently, police and prosecutors considered this a wonderful, successful outcome. Last I checked, a few years back, Lois had a huge office with her paintings neatly displayed on the walls and a large, organized desk. She was a full-timer at HPD and enjoyed all of the benefits that went along with a career in law enforcement. As always, she glowed with a peaceful happiness and invited me to lunch. Whether justice was truly served in our case or not, I am glad that we were able to help Lois put one more notch in her sketch pad. I will never forget Lois, her drawings or the lunch we shared together. She is both inspiring and talented and I admire and appreciate her.


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