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Commentary: Do you know a Casey?

 


Commentary: Do you know a Casey?

April 21, 2004

A UMNS Commentary By Ginny Underwood*

We buried my cousin, Casey Jo Pipestem, a member of the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma, a few weeks ago. The cause and time of her death are under investigation. The police say they found her 19-year-old body strangled and dumped in a ditch somewhere in Texas.

Besides the terrible beating that took her last breath, her health may have started to deteriorate long before those final hours. Contributing factors may have been the years of neglect she endured from her alcoholic mother or the harsh boarding school life and severe poverty in which she was raised.

In Casey’s own words, the pain was often too much to deal with:

“feel as thou I'm locked in a cage
fillen my self with rage
When all along I am really free
Its all cuz u expect too much from me
And even thou I try
To stop gettin’ high
And to stay away from the street
Its to late there’s already to much dirt on my feet…”

Her body was beaten so badly, she was identified only by her tattoos. No one in the family knew where she was or where she was staying.  I’m not sure anybody cared, at least until the police knocked on the door. 

I hadn’t seen Casey in about a decade. In my mind, she is still a vibrant girl with beautiful features — her hair is long, and she is strikingly tall. Even though her life had been less than perfect, she had a spark, a spirit of survival and a desire to laugh. 

It’s hard for me to imagine her as a young woman, living on the streets.  I’m told she picked up a cocaine addiction, owed somebody money. Her “benefactor” would take her to an Oklahoma City bus stop where she would prostitute herself to make payments.

Unfortunately, Casey’s story is not unique. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys are sexually exploited before they reach adulthood.

“So I am stuck in that game
where things stay the same
And that’s not to terrific
But that’s me liven thugarific
And even thou I'm liven wrong
I am still standen strong
But no matta how low i get
I will not come counterfeit
I'll just close my eyes and pray
I will find a betta way…”

Since I heard the news, I have wondered if she knew that I cared for her.  I gave her a hug once. It was at a funeral. She was running to the back of the church because she was so sad and overwhelmed by the pain in the room. I caught her before she got to the door and just hugged her. She settled down, and we went our separate ways. 

On another occasion, she rode with me in my car. It was new, maybe the first new car she had ever ridden in. We went a couple of miles, and that was that. 

It’s difficult not to be angry with the person, or persons, who took Casey’s last breath.  According to news reports, her death might be linked to the killings of as many as 10 other women. FBI agents from six states are comparing evidence and investigating whether a serial killer is responsible. The victims all had a history of prostitution, were last seen at truck stops along Interstate 40 in Oklahoma, and were found naked and dumped along highways.

This is a horrific tale of neglect, not only by those of us who knew Casey but also by our society. Chances are you know a Casey, someone living on the fringe, teetering between life and death.

The truth of the matter is that Casey’s life was taken a long time ago. She is like so many young people living on the street, searching for a direction. I weep for their pain and their suffering. 

“I know that man above
Will show me my one true love
He will always have my back
He will show that light when my eyes go black”

I pray that Casey has peace and wholeness now. I would have liked to have hugged her a little longer and maybe even gone the extra mile. 

*Underwood is director of United Methodist News Service.

 

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