To the editor,
I couldn't save Amy Collins from her demons, and I couldn't save Amy's mom from Lezlie Lowe. In Lezlie's "Chasing Amy" article (May 24), Lezlie quotes Amy's husband Safety as saying "For her, it was live on the streets or get molested." In her own words Lezlie adds "She had no choice." Lezlie has just accused a mother of the worst crime, failing to protect her child from the clear, imminent danger that was preventable. This was not true and Lezlie knew it, or should have known it. Further, Lezlie lied to me when prior to publication of her article, she assured me that Kim—Amy's mother—was not portrayed in an unfavourable light in her article. Finally, when Lezlie phoned me on the day after publication, I brought up this whole issue. Lezlie showed no remorse, no compassion. She was defensive.
During our two-hour interview for the "Chasing Amy" article, Lezlie brought up the topic of Amy's claim of molestation and her mom's reaction to it. I told Lezlie that when Amy told her mom about one event of molestation, which had happened years before, I understood that Kim handled it as best she could. I explained that Amy had been acting out and lying for years before this accusation, possibly as a result of damage from the molestation. It was very confusing to her mom. Was this a fabrication to get attention? Up to this point Kim had no idea that Amy might have been molested. Amy's complaint has always been that she felt her mom did not believe her. Not that her mom failed to intercede in ongoing molestation. The difference is huge. Lezlie said that Amy had no choice but to go on the streets. Not true. I had given Lezlie enough information to doubt, even deny Safety's statement. Had Lezlie checked with Kim, which she did not, she wouldn't have unjustly crucified her in her article.
Had Lezlie contacted Kim she would have been told the following facts. Amy raised the accusation when she was 14. The accused molester left Kim's home when Amy was 9. As soon as the accusation was made Kim called Children's Aid. They investigated. Amy withdrew her accusation of molestation to Children's Aid. No charges were laid. Amy did not leave Kim's home for the streets, she was placed in a Live-in Outreach facility on the advice of government agencies with whom Kim was trying to help her out of control child.
I requested of Lezlie that she not portray Safety or Kim in a negative way in her article. My complaint in this paragraph is not that she did portray Kim in a negative way, but that prior to publication Lezlie told me that Kim was not portrayed unfavourably in the article. In short, Lezlie lied to me.
Finally, when Lezlie phoned me on May 25, the day after the publication of her article I confronted her about what she wrote about Kim. I was surprised at her reaction. Lezlie expressed no regret, no compassion. Lezlie's reaction was to be defensive. "Well," she said, "Safety said far worse things about Kim," which she didn't print. (Good thing she didn't print them, because she probably wouldn't have checked their truthfulness either.) She also said "Do you think Kim will read the article?" (Why, so Kim won't know this falsehood?)
I lost Amy, a wonderful friend, and now have a huge void in my life because of it. I really hated writing this letter after reading Lezlie's article. It's like writing just after being kicked in the gut.
Terry Godwin, Halifax
Lezlie Lowe responds: A big part of wanting to write this profile was to show people that Amy didn't just pick up in a huff one sunny afternoon and decide to go live on the streets. It's convenient for people to imagine spoiled teenagers, brats who just don't like rules, deciding to take to the streets because it's easier to live off everyone else's tax dollars. I wanted to bust that myth. Amy was intelligent and talented. She had things—many things—happen in her life that were beyond her control.
I tried to show the link between Amy's molestation and her street-involvement. And the molestation was something she wrote about and drew.
Could Amy's mom, Kim, have given me insight into that incident I didn't have? Of course. I chose not to interview Kim because ultimately Kim was a small part of this story. Kim didn't know the Amy that Halifax knew.
I'm sorry you feel I lied to you. But I can understand where you're coming from. You made repeated—always respectful—requests for me not to portray Safety or Kim in a negative light. I told you that while I could not let you read my feature before it went to print, my interest was in respecting Amy's story and not in blaming or attacking. I sought to find a balance and draw a picture of Amy from the journal pages and video and photos and interviews. I'm realizing now that your hope—and what you thought was my promise—was that I would say exactly what you said in your letter: that Kim handled Amy the best she could.
I'm sorry you lost a dear friend. And I'm unhappy this story didn't turn out the way you wanted it to. You gave me access to Amy's journals and photos because you trusted me based on my writing. I think deep down writers want to please every reader—no matter how close or far from the centre of a piece. In the case of this profile I wanted especially to make you happy, knowing the kind of trust you put in me—over discussions in both of our homes and many times on the phone. I wish you weren't dissatisfied with the way I tried to draw a picture of the end of Amy's life.
Editor's note: Terry Godwin has accused a journalist of ethical impropriety—a serious charge that can't be taken lightly. However, after reviewing both his letter and the entire reporting and editing process behind the feature, The Coast stands behind Lezlie Lowe and the "Chasing Amy" story without reservation.
Godwin mischaracterizes his interaction with Lowe by referring to "our two-hour interview" as if that session was the extent of their relationship. Lowe spoke with Godwin several times, including a formal two-hour interview in January, over the months spent working on the story from December, 2006 until publication in May. She also met repeatedly with Safety, talked with other sources and spent countless hours poring over Amy's journals. People shared unsubstantiated theories and malicious rumours about Amy and her childhood with Lowe—territory the published story purposely avoids.
Whether or not Amy was abused is perhaps the subject of another article. "Chasing Amy" accepted that Amy believed she was abused, that Amy believed she had no choice but to leave home. These beliefs shaped Amy's life in Halifax, so were pertinent to the story about Amy's life in Halifax.
Here is a pertinent excerpt from the feature:
Drawing was Amy's way of processing the day, of lifting stress, of telling her story. There are as many drawings in the pages of her journals as there are entries made up of words.
But one of Amy's drawings sticks out.
It's a self-portrait—young Amy, in a bed. A teddy bear poking out of a corner. And a still, menacing figure. Tall and older.
This isn't a secret. Not from Safety, not from Dorothy, nor Terry. Not from anyone. This drawing tells where the rift between Amy and her mom took root. It tells the story behind Amy's leaving home. If you understand that addiction is a disease with roots in early development and a disorder often worsened by the trauma of childhood episodes, you can think of this scene as a piece of the puzzle of Amy's drug addiction.
"For her, it was live on the streets or get molested," Safety says. She had no choice.
The Ford Motor Company says different.
There is a prime-time television commercial for Ford trucks voiced by Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland. It's got the usual bumpy shots of vehicles crashing over water and rocky terrain. Sutherland's voice-over drills the viewers. It says, at one point: "There is no can't, only won't."
Sutherland might as well be talking about attitudes toward the poor, the homeless and the under-housed.
Even with hindsight and Godwin's emphasis, I do not read "She had no choice" as an indictment of anyone around Amy. In this context, the sentence is punctuating the difference in perception between an actual street-involved youth (Amy) and establishment thinking on poverty (represented by the Ford commercial). Writers can't control the way their words are read. But if Amy's mother has indeed been "crucified," I don't think Lezlie Lowe is the writer to blame.