Tag Archives: c-ptsd

For the archives: Courtroom stories rarely have a happy ending.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 defense 1The court cases that tv stations hire artists to document are are almost always really sad.

As a courtroom artist, I was present for a lot of trials involving the rape and murder of girl children. In 1993, I worked several.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 prosecution and defendantThis was one of the big, highly-publicized, month-long ones I worked.

There was a Latine defendant, with learning disabilities and substance abuse problems.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 defense 2There was a talented, charismatic Latine defense attorney.

He was a favorite to draw with all four of us courtroom artists,

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 defendant court recorder judge and prosecutorThere was a prosecutor who decided to bring a case despite the lack of a body, based on DNA evidence.

Then and now, it’s very hard to get a conviction without a body.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1992 to 1994 evidenceThis was when DNA evidence was still new enough that expert witnesses testified at every trial where it was used.

They explained DNA sequencing in great detail. Juries fell asleep. Including this jury of middle-aged white women.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 mother and familyThere was a mother on social support, who was struggling to function.

And there was a little girl who disappeared completely, leaving nothing but a little diluted blood and what could have been the defendant’s semen, in a shower curtain in a storage locker.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 defense 3The Latine attorney did a tremendous job, and the Latine defendant was released.

But if you were there in the courtroom, it was loss on all sides. At the time we in the press felt it was a miscarriage of justice; now that I understand racism and particularly Minnesota racism more, I don’t know.

The little girl’s body was never found.

Me in 1992, a year before this trial, with my iguana Constance.

I also experienced a lot of personal trauma during this trial. The setting, a suburban town about a half hour drive from my flat in St. Paul, was very uncomfortable for me. I hated the place. I was acutely aware of my otherness, my New York junkie queer outsider position, despite wearing what I called my “passing” clothes.

Plus, there were what my friend and fellow courtroom artist Steve Michaels called “The Ghouls”. Something about this trial brought out the worst I ever saw in the spectators. The courtroom was open to anyone, and seats for press were not reserved.

So we artists had to cluster at the courtroom door, and fight for our seats. We lived in fear of not being able to work that day, and losing our jobs; the Ghouls lived in fear of not getting in to hear about the blood traces of a little girl. (She was four).

One morning an older man I particularly hated, a prurient creep who was there every single day, scuffled with me so violently I spilled my lunch in the doorsill. As I fought free and ran for my seat ahead of him, he yelled, “If you were my daughter for one night — ” I was doing intensive therapy about childhood sexual abuse by my father during these years. Thank the Goddess I had a therapist to tell about that moment.

During this trial I got a kidney infection and worked all day with a fever of 103, in my coat, hat and gloves, with my teeth actually chattering. When the court day was over and I’d handed my drawings to the cameraman to shoot, I went to the nearby ER. Where they couldn’t believe I was on my feet. In retrospect, that might be the viral infection that led to what I am finally accepting is probably ME/CFS.

In retrospect, I probably should not have been a courtroom artist, as a traumatized sexual abuse and rape survivor with PTSD and C-PTSD.

But it is what happened, and I am still glad that I was there to be a sympathetic female face in the audience for every woman and girl child survivor I saw testify.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

I didn’t have a camera, and of course there were no camera phones. So until this moment, the only documentation of these drawings that existed was the footage the WCCO-TV cameraperson shot for the night’s news. And the station kept all that footage on BETAMAX tape. 

So, I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

How I became a courtroom artist.

Drawing a police misconduct trial in Minneapolis.

The case of The Frozen Head.

Sacred Heart Redux, with some hard thoughts about C-PTSD in crisis times.

Jeweled Sacred Heart lit by fire by Suzanne Forbes March 24 2020I am so lucky to be obsessed with new materials right now.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have the privilege of staying safely at home, and then as if the universe is being wildly generous, I am also really excited about some mixed media work. I made this Jeweled Sacred Heart, which you see here in our hallway lit by actual fire, with the 3D Printer Pen my mom-in-law gave me for Christmas.

Jeweled Sacred Heart made by Suzanne Forbes March 24 2020Like many trauma survivors and childhood sexual abuse survivors with C-PTSD, I am feeling calm and focused.

I’ve been seeing disabled, chronically ill and survivor folx on twitter, Medium and The Mighty talk about how they feel clear and cool. For the first time in a long time, our insides match the outside. This isn’t a good feeling, but it is a different feeling than feeling like you are wrong for how you feel. Or being told you’re crazy for how you feel.

Jeweled Sacred Heart by Suzanne Forbes March 24 2020My nervous system feels lined up with the world in a way that it never usually does.

And I feel powerful, because I’m endocrinologically in touch with all the resources that helped me survive my abusive father, adolescent sexual attackers, professional harassers, and life-long severe depression and OCD.

Jeweled Sacred Heart by Suzanne Forbes March 24 2020It’s true that my night terrors have ramped up, and the nightmares are harder to shake off when I wake up.

But unlike so many chronically ill and disabled folk, I have all my medications on hand.

Who knew that my American habit of hoarding meds, developed in my early 40s when for a short period before Obamacare I was both uninsured and uninsurable, would come in handy? Well, me, I knew. Because I’ve always expected this.

If you’re disturbed by GenXers in your timelines yelling “Wolverines!” and seeming … almost relieved ???, please know: it’s the first time in decades the world’s messaging matches the daily messaging of our C-PTSD endrocrine systems.

Jeweled Sacred Heart by Suzanne Forbes March 24 2020 flame detailI told my husband that I imagined this time when we signed the lease for our flat.

“You did??” he replied, astonished. Of course I did. This, or the water wars, or dirigibles of starving Southern Hemisphereans landing at Tempelhofer Field and taking, deservedly, the food and medicine we should have been giving them all along.

 As an ’80s teenager I used to jolt awake at a crack of lightning in my Chelsea bedroom, thinking, “That was it. The bomb.”

Jeweled Sacred Heart by Suzanne Forbes March 24 2020 on velvetYou don’t ever shake that off; we are all refugees of some terrible part of the timeline or the planet.

It’s just that the West has never wanted to admit it, has never wanted us to raise our voices or amplify the voices of all the other sufferers.

I myself couldn’t really hear the voice of my own trauma until I came to Berlin and got on good German health insurance.

Until I went to the ER and never got a single bill. Until my husband and I pulled ourselves from a burning building.

Turns out social justice is the most important thing in the world.

We all matter. Our burning hearts are one.

Hearts Afire shadowbox

Hearts Afire embroidery