Years after the killing of her cousin, a TV veteran digs into her family’s complex history – Orange County Register

When El Johnson was 16, her 16-year-old cousin Karen was shot and killed while working at Burger King.

The event naturally hurt Johnson and helped shape her work as a writer and producer on shows such as “CSI: Miami,” “Low & Order,” and “Bosch.” But it was her domineering father, a strict New York City parole, who had an equal impact on her life and her work. Johnson began to feel that he had raised her and her sister as if they were parolees.

Johnson, who used these narrative fragments in his writing, shows them all in his recently published memoir, Daughter of an Officer: A Memoirs of Family and Forgiveness.

She urged Karen’s murder and a request by Karen’s brothers to write to a parole committee urging them to refuse parole to Santiago Ramirez, who killed a teenager during a robbery. Assemble the book around. Johnson examines not only Ramirez’s story, but also the stories of his accomplices Francisco Alema and Luis Torres, trying to determine whether they deserve parole and forgiveness.

But at the same time she tries to agree with her father’s actions, she tells her life story. She responded very differently after her cousin’s murder.

“It showed my innocent loss, but it was also before and after,” she said in a telephone interview. “After that, I couldn’t see things.”

Interview edited for length and clarity

Q. Why are you writing memoirs now?

After trying to sell it as a TV show and failing, I started writing this. I pitched to a producer who was all receptive but said the same — this was before the “empire” — “the network isn’t going to show about black families, you can change the character Do you want? “

I said no.

My representative advised me to write a book instead, but concluded the suggestion with “and we’ll find a ghostwriter for you.” Inspired by this double resentment of those who don’t want to hear the story of a black law enforcement family and those who think they can’t write their own story, I went to the UCLA Writers Extension Program course. I registered and learned how to write memoirs. .. (Full Disclosure: SCNG Samantha Dan is Johnson’s teacher and participated in the editing of the book.)

Q. The situation on TV has changed a lot, do you want to go back and sell it?

No, I talked. The journey to write it as a memoir was far more cathartic and satisfying. I’m not going to rephrase it or put it another way. One of the joys of writing prose is that it is much more personal. No other artist has to interpret your words. I can connect more directly with my readers.

Q. How did your father, a parole, your uncle, a detective, and your cousin want to be killed shape your writing about violence, police, and the system?

As a black American woman, my perception is subtly different by having a family that is a law enforcement agency. I don’t even really know how to write about violence and police. To get a good look, you need to get out of yourself. Just write while seeing and feeling. I like to think I’m trying to see all aspects of it, but that’s not always true.

Q. Has your view changed since the murder of George Floyd?

Certainly last year I definitely felt a change in my work. You may have an unimproved system and need to find an alternative. I’m definitely influenced by that. It’s not even a broken system — it works as it was designed — and this is an opportunity to try to change things.

Q. You dedicate this book to a mother who “doesn’t want me to write this”. How resistant was she, and what about your sister?

My mother is very proud of me and very angry. I was forced to write this. It was a real dead end. I have never solved this. I sent it to her before publishing it, and she sent some emails saying “You are a very beautiful writer” and then “Don’t publish it”. I don’t want to talk much about my sister, but she says she hasn’t talked to me about this.

Q. You call your father a “good guy” and forgive him, but on that page he is an angry and dominant man, especially slapping you for getting lost, I hit my mother many times. Are you worried about your perception?

I’m definitely worried. My mother says my father is the love of her life and she will not change their relationship. It is difficult for people who are not in such a situation to understand. When we sat on his body and talked about good memories, I felt like I was talking about accurate pictures.

So when people say you survived a lot, I don’t necessarily see it that way. Maybe that’s something I have to solve in terms of my feelings about what happened — maybe I’m not handling them, maybe it’s a defense mechanism.

My dad feels as complex as most humans do, and he has both good and evil abilities. Nevertheless, to me he was still a good father and a good man. I wanted to explore those ideas. Are we just the sum of the worst acts? Isn’t it possible to abandon people just because they are doing terrible things?

Q. Your dad went to Ramirez’s parole committee and advocated his release. How do you reconcile what you want your readers to think about your dad, especially about Torres?

The process of trying to determine if they should get forgiveness is difficult. My ultimate feeling was that they weren’t really looking for forgiveness, they were going out and continuing their lives. My standard was that these are people who want to be forgiven. But it’s complicated. Their reaction to what they did did much in my ability to open my heart and gain forgiveness.

Q. In this book you say you forgive Alema, but don’t feel compassion for Torres and buy the testimony of hearing his parole. Still in prison, Torres earned a GED and college degree, studied trade, and maintained his criminal record.he Saved the man who was buried alive Under construction on a day trip outside the prison.

Can you see that people who have no personal connection to crime may look back on their lives in prison for decades and see someone who deserves the opportunity to start over?

This is part of what I’m experiencing trying to understand all of this. Certainly, my father, a parole officer, would have had a different and complicated view. He felt they were young, subject to change, and deserved to take the time to go out and rebuild their lives. In my personal judgment, there is a difference between forgiving them and whether they deserve parole.

Years after the killing of her cousin, a TV veteran digs into her family’s complex history – Orange County Register Source link Years after the killing of her cousin, a TV veteran digs into her family’s complex history – Orange County Register

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