and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


The Salem Evening News
Thursday, May 6, 2004

Mother's Day came early for Violet Amirault,
may she rest in peace

by Barbara Anderson

On the first of May, the day after Violet's son Gerald was released from prison, I received this e-mail from his sister Cheryl. 

"Barbara", it said, "today we went to my mother's grave and we actually enjoyed the visit. Decorated the stone together, with beautiful flowers and butterflies. Patti and the kids came and we really were happy knowing that my mother would be, too!"

That same day a volunteer advocate for the unjustly imprisoned, Bob Chapelle, wrote to tell those on his "friends of justice" list that he was about to leave on his annual Mother's Day visit to Minnesota.

"I think I owe my concern about justice to my mother, who will be 84 in September." he wrote. "She taught me early in life that there is such a thing as a moral obligation and that one must fight for what is right ... even if the odds are against you. Mom is keenly interested in my work for justice and always wants updates when I go to see her. I so seldom have good news to give ...."

The day before, Bob and his partner, Jim, had been in the crowd of well-wishers who gathered at Maggiano's restaurant in Boston to greet Gerry after his release. My partner, Chip Ford, and I were there, along with our co-worker, Chip Faulkner, who had drawn us both into the Amirault case after reading columns in the Wall Street Journal. Their author, Dorothy Rabinowitz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the day-care hysteria that swept the country in the 1980s, was at the party, too, as was Gerry's never-give-up lawyer, Jamie Sultan.

Gerry and Patti's son, in his military school uniform, was greeting people at the door. Their two daughters were bouncing joyfully around the room from table to table, as were Patti's always-supportive parents. Someone had brought a tape of Barry Manilow's "Welcome Home," and there were few dry eyes watching Gerry and Patti dance to it.

There was more Italian food than any crowd could eat - paid for by another supporter of the Amiraults, and champagne for a toast.

"To freedom" we all cried, because we could not say "to justice."

There is no justice for Gerry, for Cheryl, or for Violet, who were simple day-care providers when the nation went temporarily mad, and whose prosecutors in this state still will not admit to having made a terrible mistake. Nothing can make up for false imprisonment, for the premature death of Violet from a stress-related cancer or, as Gerry says, "from a broken heart."

Nothing can give Gerry back the 18 years he spent behind bars.

People who had never met him had a chance to see him, with Patti, on New England Cable News' "Newsnight" last Monday night. He told about his years in protective custody, and then his transfer to the BayState Correctional Institution.

"The last five years were great," he said, noting that in the open population he could participate in sports, take college classes, and picnic with his family outdoors.

What kind of person can refer to his last five years in prison as "great"? Only one of those rare human beings, of whom Rudyard Kipling wrote: "If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them 'Hold on!...'"

This time of year, Kipling's words often appear on graduation cards. Gerry just got his bachelor's degree with second highest honors from Boston University. His sister Cheryl has a job she loves. 

They have both "filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds' worth of distance run."

Which is not to say that anyone is forgiving the wrong that has been done. At his post-release press conference, and again on NECN Monday night, Gerry managed to be angry without sounding bitter.

"I'm going to move on with my life, enjoying my family... I'm not going to let my pursuit of this case get in the way of that. But we're going to do whatever we can to prove my innocence and clear my family's name," he said.

His wife and children agree with this goal. Their elder daughter, who is planning a career in special education, might someday write a book to help children deal with events like those she and her siblings survived.

Ironically, Gerry's final liberal arts class at BU had a chapter called "Moral Panics," which addressed his Fells Acres case and similar day-care hysterias in California and elsewhere. He passed the course. In fact, he and his family passed his entire ordeal with honors.

Those of us who supported them are proud to have been even a small part of something bigger than ourselves. 

My mother, like Bob's, had a strong sense of justice, and always asked about the Amiraults. This Mother's Day I'll think of her, and Violet, too.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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