Claudine Clark

Heal the World

“Childhood trauma can become illnesses that affect our bodies, minds and souls.” Dr. Karyl McBride

Darryl Barwick, an inmate on Florida’s death row, scheduled for execution on May 3 at 6PM local time, is a glaring example of the dramatic consequences of childhood trauma. To begin Darryl’s sordid story, his father did not want this child and his mother attempted to end her pregnancy by throwing herself downstairs and abusing various drugs. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, unwanted children are at increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems, with a 39% higher rate of depression and higher rates of aggression, nervousness and relationship difficulties. Additionally, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 5.9% of pregnant women in the United States use illicit drugs during pregnancy, putting their fetuses at increased risk for cognitive, behavioral and emotional problems. These numbers underscore the importance of prenatal care and public policies to protect vulnerable children before they are born.

Darryl Barwick, was the youngest of seven siblings. The youngest children in a family are often more exposed and vulnerable to domestic violence, according to a Michigan State University study. The data shows that younger children are twice as likely to experience physical abuse as their older siblings, which can cause deep and lasting trauma. Younger siblings also have an increased risk of sexual neglect and abuse, according to the World Health Organization. Barwick’s childhood trauma, which was exposed to repeated physical abuse by his father, illustrates the tragic consequences of domestic violence and underscores the importance of protecting vulnerable children from all forms of abuse.

During his chaotic childhood, Darryl Barwick, witnessed numerous acts of domestic violence within his family, including the rape of his mother by his father on numerous occasions. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, children who witness domestic violence are at increased risk of developing emotional and behavioral problems, including anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and anger disorders. These disorders can lead to increased violence in children in adolescence and adulthood. According to a University of Michigan study, adolescents who have been exposed to domestic violence are 1.6 times more likely to commit violent acts. In addition, children who have witnessed domestic violence may develop a pattern of violent behavior in their own relationships, which may lead to future criminality. The consequences of Barwick’s childhood trauma are tragic and underscore the importance of protecting children from all forms of domestic violence to prevent future crime.

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So you are probably thinking that it doesn’t make sense because we all have complicated life paths, traumas, and some of you may have experienced similar things in your childhood and still not have committed criminal acts. Yes it is true, not all trauma will have the same effect and that is because we are not all equal when it comes to the violence we face. Darryl was diagnosed with brain damage, and intellectual disabilities, which places him among the most vulnerable and fragile people in our society, making it much more plausible that he will not develop well as an adult. Moreover, he was not accompanied nor treated for his problems and here, beyond the adults who should have been responsible, it is our whole society that is to blame! Because every person who knew about his problems or who could have had a close contact with him should have acted! 

When we pass judgment on a person, it is important to remember that each individual carries within him his inner child, with all the wounds and traumas that this implies. This is especially true in the case of Darryl Barwick, whose history is marked by deep trauma and repeated abuse since childhood. As a human being, it is inevitable that his past experiences have had a profound impact on his emotional and psychological development. As a society, it is our duty to recognize and understand these underlying factors, rather than focusing solely on the actions of an individual. 

As Debra Ginsberg said, “The child we once were is still there, deep inside us.” We should therefore approach each person with compassion and empathy, knowing that each of us carries a unique story that shapes our lives.

Indeed, it is important to remember that a person’s actions do not define their entire existence. Darryl Barwick is a poignant example of this. Despite his own traumatic journey, he showed empathy and compassion to another inmate on death row. He has been an assistant and caregiver to a blind inmate for the past several years, helping him with daily tasks and offering love and kindness without expecting anything in return. This attitude is a reminder that even in the most difficult situations, there is always room for kindness and compassion. This is something we can all learn and practice in our own lives, even in the darkest of times.

It’s easy to feel superior when we compare our own experiences to those of others, but this attitude only reinforces the barriers between individuals and communities. If you haven’t done anything wrong because of past trauma, consider yourself lucky to have had the chance to be protected and to have that light inside you that allows you to see things differently. Use this light to help others, to save the children who were not so fortunate, including those who have become adults, to bring compassion and understanding to those who need to heal. We cannot change our past, but we can change our future and the future of others. As a society, we have a responsibility to help and support each other, not to judge or reject those who need help. We have the chance to make a difference and turn pain into healing.

About the Author
Claudine Clark is president/founder of the French Coalition Against the Death Penalty. An abolitionist, paralegal and human rights consultant, her passion stems from her origins as the granddaughter of Warsaw ghetto survivors. She defends human values of forgiveness and tolerance through numerous actions.