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With scissors, she cuts free from her past

A 10-year-old’s hair grew long as she awaited justice. Now it will help another.


By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published September 22, 2006


TAMPA — She escaped the secrecy by telling a jury how her father had sexually abused her. Strong and sure, her words left no doubt.

But the weight of his betrayal still hung on the 10-year-old’s face.

She had not cut her shiny chestnut hair since going to authorities in January 2004. It had become to her a symbol of the burden he had placed upon her. She would keep it until she had “closure,” she told her grandmother.
On Thursday, she got it. The little girl heard a judge sentence her father to three life prison terms. It had taken a jury only 9½ minutes to recognize his guilt.

She watched bailiffs take him away in handcuffs. She followed the adults upstairs to the prosecutor’s office. Everyone made plans to go home.

She had another idea.

Somewhere between the therapy sessions and trial preparations, she decided her hair should help another hurting child. Except she wanted her hurting to stop first.

Her father’s trial was postponed half a dozen times. Her hair grew longer and longer, flowing past her waist.

After the verdict, a prosecutor named Dawn Myers had complimented the little girl on her long, pretty hair. When the girl shared her plan for it, Myers said she, too, had recently donated her locks for a cause.

Back in the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office, victim’s advocate Susana Zamora-Lantes offered to print out information about donating to Locks of Love, which provides replacement hair for children with medical hair loss. The Web site said hair donations had to be at least 10 inches long.

The little girl ran to Myers’ office. She asked Myers to measure her hair. It was long enough that she could chop almost a foot off and still keep it shoulder-length.

“I want to cut my hair,” the little girl announced. “Right now.”

Don’t you want to wait until we get home? — her grandmother asked. Maybe change out of the velvet skirt and the way-too-big stockings they had rushed onto her that morning?

But the little girl was positively giddy. She had yearned for this for so long. With permission granted by her grandmother, she went off searching for scissors, a plastic bag and rubber bands to section off the hair.

Then they held a ceremony of sorts. Her mother and grandmother, female prosecutors and staff members all gathered around to watch.

Her grandmother braided her hair, measured it to the right spot, then snip, snip, snipped off the thick locks just past the girl’s shoulders.

The hair that was still hers looked jagged and uneven — but perfectly wonderful in the little girl’s eyes.

Come Monday, she knew that another judge would terminate her father’s right to be her parent. But in this moment, less than an hour after his conviction, she had made her own break. She went to a bathroom mirror to take in her new look.

Beaming, she said, “I just feel free.”

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

[Last modified September 22, 2006, 22:34:13]


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