When Shannon Moroney married in October of 2005, she had no idea that her happy life as a newlywed was about to come crashing down around her. One month after her wedding, a police officer arrived at her door to tell her that her husband, Jason, had been arrested and charged in the brutal assault and kidnapping of two women. In the aftermath of these crimes, Shannon dealt with a heavy burden of grief, the stress and publicity of a major criminal investigation, and the painful stigma of guilt-by-association, all while attempting to understand what had made Jason turn to such violence.
In this intimate and gripping journey into prisons, courtrooms and the human heart, Shannon reveals the far-reaching impact of Jason's crimes, the agonizing choices faced by the loved ones of offenders and the implicit dangers of a correctional system and a society that prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation, and victimhood over recovery.
I was away from home, attending a school guidance counsellors’ conference. When I opened the door I expected to see my colleagues at the threshold, inviting me to breakfast. But instead, I saw what no one wants to see: the silhouette of a police uniform filling the frame. A colleague was standing behind him.
My heart instantly filled with dread. Whatever news the officer was delivering, it was going to be bad.
“Are you Shannon Moroney?” he asked.
I nodded, fear blocking my throat.
I was in Toronto, 150 kilometres away from my home in Peterborough. I thought of my dad and my brother first. As salesmen who worked in and around Toronto, they both drove a lot, and I pictured a car accident. Had one of them been hurt?
Were they going to be okay?
Seeming to read my mind, the officer said, “I’m not here because someone has died or been in an accident. I’m here about your husband. Are you Jason Staples’ wife?”
His question flustered me at first. Today was my one-month wedding anniversary and I wasn’t used to my title of “wife” yet. During the last few weeks, Jason had been meeting me at the front door when I got home from work, saying, “Hello, my wife.” Batting my eyelashes theatrically and pretending to blush, I would reply, “Hello, my husband.” Then we would giggle and hug, and I’d step inside.
I nodded again to the police officer, still unable to speak. Yes, I am Jason Staples’ wife.
He was holding a newspaper. Confused, I glanced down at it and tried to read the headlines, but it was upside down so I couldn’t make out anything. I glanced back up at the officer. My colleague looked at me from over the officer’s shoulder, his face full of concern.
“Do you want me to stay, Shannon?” he asked gently.
I shook my head. He was kind, but I didn’t know him well. I didn’t want to involve him in whatever I was about to find out. The officer stepped into my hotel room. The door closed behind him.
He stood in front of me, still holding out the newspaper. I reached for it, again trying to scan the headlines.
“Oh,” he said. “There’s nothing in this paper. I just picked it up from in front of your door.” He put the newspaper on a nearby table.
“I’m here about your husband, Jason. He was arrested last night, charged with sexual assault.”
I felt my body go numb. My mind began to race with questions: What does he mean? There must be some mistake! My mind clouded with confusion.
The officer continued. “I understand that your husband called the police himself.” So there was no mistake.
“What happened? Who did he . . . assault?” I asked.
The officer was from Toronto, not Peterborough, so he didn’t know the details. He handed me a slip of paper with the phone number of the police station and said I should call right away and ask for Sergeant DiClemente. Then, quietly, he said, “I think you better expect that it was ‘full rape.’”
My stomach flipped. I felt like I was going to be sick. How was this possible? Desperation now pushed into my chest making it hard to breathe. I had to stay calm. This can’t be happening. I turned away from the officer, walked over to the desk by the window and put my hand on the phone’s receiver, terrified at the thought of what I would hear when I dialed that number.
Less than two hours earlier, I had been lying in bed with day just breaking outside the hotel window. I was so happy—a newlywed filled with satisfaction and eager anticipation. I closed my eyes and an image of a shiny silver bowl came to my mind, filled with all the people and experiences of my recent past—my thirtieth birthday, our beautiful wedding on Thanksgiving weekend, and then a brief honeymoon at a cottage where Jason and I had lain in a hammock and daydreamed of our future and children. Everything had come together.
Under the blankets, I reached my hands down and rested them on my belly. I imagined cells splitting and multiplying inside me. The night before, in our “talk at ten” ritual that we followed when one of us was away, I had told Jason I thought I might be pregnant. “That would be great,” he said. “We’ll take a test when you get home.”
I promised him that though I was tempted to take the test immediately, I’d wait until I was back so we could share the moment. The night before, I’d also spoken with my friend Rachael who lived in Colorado. We’d been close for years, ever since we lived in Ecuador as development workers in our early twenties. “I think this is it,” I had said to her. “I think I’m pregnant!” Lying in bed at daybreak, I focused on what it would mean to become a mother.
When I was small, my mum explained to my siblings and me how we’d started off as “one speck,” then become “two specks, then four, then eight” and so on, until her mental multiplication skills ran out. Delighted, we could always ask her how many specks we were at any given moment in our development: “Mummy, just before I was born, how many specks was I?”
She would pause, ponder for a moment, and then say something like, “Let me see . . . I guess you were eight-hundred and ninety seven thousand, four-hundred and thirty-two specks.”
We loved it. I loved it. I loved that she knew me when I was just one speck of life, and that she had loved me even then. Now, as a grown woman, picturing those beautiful little specks inside of me, I was already loving them with all of my heart. I wanted to be the same kind of mother as my own: caring, dedicated, strong.
At seven o’clock, I got out of bed, took a shower and dressed for the final day of the conference. Then I packed my bags so that I could check out of the hotel at lunch, put everything in the car, and leave immediately after the last workshop. I was eager to get home. Jason would be there, and we had planned a simple, celebratory dinner to mark our first month as husband and wife.
At 8:00 a.m., I still had half an hour to spare before breakfast. I pulled out a package of cards and got to work writing thank-you notes for wedding gifts I’d received from colleagues at the conference. The phone rang. It was a co-worker from the board of directors, calling from the lobby.
“Shannon,” he said. “There is someone who wants to see you. Can you wait in your room? I’m going to bring this person up.”
“Of course,” I replied, puzzled. Maybe it was a guidance counsellor from my old high school who wanted to say a surprise hello. But why wouldn’t the person want me to come down? I had only a minute to wonder before I heard the fateful knock at my door.
My heart was pounding. In my hand I held the number of the sergeant in Peterborough. The officer remained in my hotel room, still standing by the door and looking at me solemnly. I dialed the number and waited.
“DiClemente speaking.” The voice was loud and authoritative.
“Sergeant DiClemente, this is Shannon Moroney. I’m Jason Staples’ wife.”
From the Hardcover edition.