I Am Deeply Sorry

Recently, I found out that one of the victims of the World Trade Center attack was Joseph Trombino, a 68-year old man who had worked as a Brinks security guard.

Twenty years ago, I participated with a group of self-described revolutionaries in the failed robbery of a Brinks car in Rockland, in which Mr. Trombino was shot and injured and his partner, Peter Paige, and two Nyack police officers, Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Officer Waverly Brown, were killed.

I am in prison for that crime.

For years, I have been writing and rewriting a letter of apology for my actions to the victims and families.

For reasons of apprehension and fear of reopening old wounds, I did not send it.

Now, Mr. Trombino will never read my apology.

However unsure I am of the adequacy of my words, I must take this moment to say publicly to the families and survivors how deeply sorry I am for my actions on Oct 20, 1981, which contributed to so much death and destruction.

No amount of regret or apology can undo their loss.

But I hope there is some help in knowing the remorse and sense of responsibility I feel toward each of them.

I dread having to claim kindredness with those who perpetrated the carnage of Sept. 11, 2001.

But my shame and remorse do not diminish my responsibility to examine the long, knotted thread that connects my actions with the recent attacks.

Our actions were self-centered and self-serving.

My anger at injustice and desire for change may have motivated my involvement in radical movements, but my attraction to groups that identified violence as the source of power was driven by my own needs.

At the group level, our use of violence had nothing to do with empowering those in whose name we “fought,” but with ourselves.

When I try to reckon with how I came to be an instrument of violence, I look back at a group process in which we melted down complicated issues into pure ideology, our particular form of fundamentalism.

The comfort of absolute surety came at a terrible cost.

Gradually, we moved from the world of day-to-day complexity into a world of absolutes.

We infused that abstract truth into ourselves, so that we became the cause itself, through the alchemy of total commitment and willingness to become instruments of violence.

We told ourselves that violence and secrecy were necessary tactics, but in truth they were the magic wand that made us special.

Loyalty to the group was, in the end, our only morality.

We became a closed-circuit, ready to detonate.

My halting steps to reconnect to people and repair sundered bonds finally led me to choose life over death.

Through building relationships with real people, including prison staff who reached out to me, I gradually let go of the comfort of absolutes and entered the world of complexity.

Once in that world, I was confronted with the human toll of my crime: Three men who lost their lives, three women who were widowed, nine children who would grow up without their fathers, many others, like Mr. Trombino, who would carry both physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives.

For the rest of my life I will be faced with the knowledge that my inability to tolerate ambiguity and face responsibility led to my participation in the death and destruction of Oct. 20, 1981.

The Journal News | 31 March 2002