More than two dozen maximum-security inmates of Columbia Correctional Institution came together with community members to find what they have in common in the pursuit of love and forgiveness.
The event Thursday marked National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, started by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs.
Buck Blodgett spoke and told the group it was four years, eight months and 27 days since a Monday morning when his daughter Jessie was killed. He said although there would be much said about forgiveness, there were no expectations of forgetting.
He explained to the group in the CCI visitors’ room, with about 30 inmates seated to his left and roughly the same number of visitors to his right, how his daughter had been in bed when a friend had entered their Hartford home and bound and gagged her, before raping her in her own bed.
Blodgett said that the 20-year-old intruder put a rope around her neck and for at least a minute, pulled with everything he had.
“Ending violence against girls and women is a job for all of us,” Blodgett said. “How many more Jessies before we get this done?”
He showed a video compilation set to two songs sung by his daughter, including she wrote. Jessie Blodgett had been home from her first year of college at the time, pursuing music education.
The arrest and trial of Daniel Bartelt was widely reported, including by the British Daily Mail. At the sentencing hearing, Blodgett said that given 10 minutes to make a victim impact statement, he told Bartelt that he forgave him and that he loved him.
He showed the group photos and video of his daughter. He did not display photos from the crime scene or play audio of his wife’s 911 call after finding her daughter’s body, which he said he will usually do while giving presentations on his daughter’s death.
“I believe that millions of victims want us to see and to know,” Blodgett said, adding that for both victims and perpetrators, “violence is forever.”
Blodgett asked those in the room how many had children. A clear majority among inmates and visitors raised their hands. Then he asked how many had daughters. Fewer, but many raised their hands again.
“We can’t hate those who murder our daughters,” Blodgett said. “What was in him is in all of us, but we can’t cure what we hate.”
Although he told his daughter’s killer that he loved him in court, he made it clear on Thursday that he did not like him and did not want to hang out with him.
“If a dad of a murdered girl can forgive her killer, who is it you can’t forgive, and at what cost?” Blodgett asked. “If you’re willing to forgive, pick the big one.”
He encouraged inmates to embrace even the smallest opportunity to be the best version of themselves and find their purpose.
Blodgett said he started LOVE>hate after a comment at his daughter’s funeral. It became a call to action and then a group for which he is now executive director.
A few minutes after his presentation, questions were taken from the inmates. One explained that he had met Bartelt while doing time in Green Bay and had just known him as a regular guy who played guitar, but then found out who he was.
“I thought there were some things that only God can forgive,” the inmate said.
“Sometimes you go kicking and screaming to forgiveness,” Blodgett said in response.
Another inmate asked about the hardest part of the grieving process, to which Blodgett answered, “the pain.”
“I have to manage the pain so it’s useful,” Blodgett said. He ended with this: “I’m going to say something weird — I love you guys.”