Siobhan O’Reilly has waited more than 10 years to look into the eyes of the man who killed her father.
She’s 18 now and on the cusp of graduation from high school. She was just 7 when a drunken driver’s pickup plowed into her dad, Danny O’Reilly, as he pedaled his bike after work toward his family’s Sonoma Valley home.
At last old enough to go into prison and encounter inmate Mike Albertson, Siobhan prepares, emotionally and procedurally, for the visit she expects to occur as soon as early this summer at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
Everyone can imagine being in her shoes and formulating what to say to the person who widowed her mother and “changed my life so profoundly and suddenly.” Siobhan isn’t at all certain where her conversation with Albertson will go.
“It’s not going to be a chat over coffee with a friend,” she said. But she also has no intention of unleashing hatred or scorn on Albertson, who has nearly served out the 14-year sentence he received for the hit-and-run killing of her father, who was 43 and a playful, environmentally conscious Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates market analyst.
Siobhan plans to reiterate what she told Albertson in a letter she wrote at age 8: that she forgives him. She’ll want to make clear that her forgiveness doesn’t let him off the hook for what he did in April 2004. She will likely describe some of how the loss of her dad has affected her, her mother and older sister, and others.
And she expects to tell Albertson, who was 46 and living in Cobb at the time of the crash and now is 57, that she wants to hear what he has done to accept responsibility for the tragedy and to assure that he’ll never be at risk of causing such pain again.
“I think it will be very important for both of us,” the teenager said. “He’s obviously had an impact on my life, and I don’t think it’s too egotistical to say I’ve made an impact on him.”
She surely has. Though she has yet to stand face-to-face with Albertson, Siobhan has had an effect on his life by introducing him and her own family to the concept and practice of restorative justice.
In 2005, the year after she lost her dad, she made a card for the imprisoned Albertson. She drew a portrait of herself with tears on her cheeks and she wrote, “My name is Siobhan. I am 8 years old. I’m not mad at you.”
She says it’s hard to say why she wrote that card, why she decided she would not detest Albertson.
“I was a little kid and I didn’t have a special agenda,” she said. “To me, it was simple and intuitive. I think a lot of it came from how I was raised by my mom and dad.”
She showed the card to her mother, Patty, and she announced that she wanted to see Albertson. Initially, Patty O’Reilly recoiled at the notion of her daughter forgiving and wanting to visit the killer.
Then she reflected. Rather than carry her hatred for the man, might it be better to confront and lay before him what he has wrought in her life and in those of everyone who loved Danny O’Reilly?