Mississippi, along with states across the nation, will recognize National Crime Victims’ Rights Week April 23 through 29.

And it’s personal for me.

For my family, this recognition hits home. In 2018, one of my children was a victim of a serious crime, a crime that sent a ripple effect through every member of my immediate and extended family. Our experience is one shared with far too many people in Mississippi and across our nation.

The rights of victims is and always will be at the top of mind in my own criminal justice work. In 2018, I traded my shiny badge for suits and sophisticated bowties. While “sophisticated” may be a stretch, I transitioned from a law enforcement officer to a criminal justice advocate and enjoy the notoriety of my hashtag #Bowties4CJR.

After high school, I chose to pursue criminal justice for my undergraduate studies and later worked more than a decade in law enforcement as a probation and parole officer. A few years ago, I was named Director of Right on Crime in Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as leading Right on Crime’s Correctional Leadership Network.

My experience as an officer is invaluable in my advocacy work to help shape policy that protects the rights of victims, but also reduces crime so that we can prevent the creation of future victims.

As an officer, I engaged the individuals on my caseload, other law enforcement officers, attorneys, judges, family members, victims, and the public. Ultimately, it was my burden and joy to help the men and women under my supervision succeed as they reentered society. Critical to this work was my focus on restoring their victims, but also understanding that success their meant there would not be more victims.

Even with my extensive background in the criminal justice system, my personal experience navigating that same system as a victim of crime was still frightening, and an all-around frustrating and confusing experience for our entire family.

I will always remember the anxiety of waiting for the offender’s arrest, just to be met with frustration and anger upon receiving notice that the person who caused my family harm posted bail. Each step in the criminal justice process brought with it a new emotions. There was a sense of relief and finality at the sentencing hearing, but this was short lived because then the appeal process started.

After the appeal process, I received a call informing me of an upcoming parole hearing for the man who caused my family so much pain. Of all the emotions my family and I have experienced during this process, joy or relief was not one of them.

It is through the lens of both my personal and professional experiences that I move forward to advocate for conservative changes to our criminal justice process. Why? Because I believe we can, and must, do better in our efforts to reduce crime, and ultimately, reduce the number of crime victims.

It would have been almost impossible to navigate the criminal justice system without help from our family, friends, and from those within the criminal justice system. I developed a newfound appreciation for the rights and cause of victims. The prosecutor’s office, sheriff’s office, and the Department of Corrections all provided my family with information and notifications regarding the criminal case and the parole hearing.

Many ask how I continue to work to fix a broken system, considering what happened in my own family. To be honest, I have pondered the question myself. It is difficult at times, however, I know there is more work to be done to restore victims, to create safer communities, and to ensure a pathway for hope and redemption for everyone involved in the criminal justice system.

Mississippi House and Senate have also designated a Day of Prayer for Victims of Crime in Mississippi on Friday, April 28.

Deserving of particular praise are Mississippi state Rep. Kevin Felsher and senators Scott DeLano, Jeremy England, Chris Caughman and Joseph Seymor, whose leadership in recognizing the cause of crime victims is exemplary.

As they have demonstrated, relying on the time-tested conservative truths—constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free enterprise, and centrality of the family and community—can lead to safer communities and fewer victims.