Thank You Chanel Miller
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Chanel Miller while she was recording the audiobook for her memoir at our studio. For those of you who don’t know her, Chanel is the survivor of the sexual assault by Stanford rapist Brock Turner. It feels gross to voice his name for a multitude of reasons, but more so for the reason that for the years following the headlines and infamous trial—Chanel didn’t have one. She was referred to as Emily Doe, a moniker created to conceal her true identity from the public.
When I learned that she would be recording with us we were fed the least information possible as is with all high-profile books. And although I had so much I would want to say to her, I knew I would need to be discreet and completely professional. Her book was under a super tight embargo which meant we couldn’t utter a word about it, not even amongst each other. Her true identity—which was known only to a select few people on the project, myself included, had to be kept under a tight lid. I knew that as much as I wanted to speak to her, this was a delicate situation and I had a responsibility to uphold the integrity of her book.
I was overjoyed when the producer asked me to assist her on this project—even if it was a task as minor as taking lunch orders or as imperative as safeguarding the printer with my physical body as the manuscript printed. I was just grateful to have any sort of proximity to this impactful literary moment. Besides a few run-ins in the office, I didn’t have much contact with Chanel until the last day of her recording session. Once her recording wrapped, I heard her going around the office saying her goodbyes to my boss and coworkers.
I knew this was my last chance to speak to her. But what would I even say? How would I say that I admire her strength and bravery and express my solidarity as a survivor without making it weird? There was only one way to find out.
As she was getting ready to leave she approached my desk and kindly said hello. We made some friendly small talk before I awkwardly interjected by saying, Hi, I’m Jasmin. I don’t think we’ve formally met. And I’m sorry if this is a little weird...I know we haven’t really spoken since you’ve been here, but I just want to say how inspired I am by you. I am in awe of your courage to tell your story and it’s been an honor being part of this project in any way. You see, I connect to your story in many ways—I too had a similar experience take place when I was in college, and I also felt the urgency to write through it like you did.
She introduced herself and told me, First of all, I’m so sorry that this happened to you too and thank you so much for sharing this with me. If I may ask, what happened with your case? I regurgitated the same spiel whenever anyone asks me about my case. That I was dragged through a lengthy criminal investigation and trial that spanned three years. The trial was awful, but what was most haunting were the moments in between the trial where I was in limbo—when I was released back into society only to live with the constant anticipation of a phone call that would indicate a return for questioning or the stand. Chanel reaffirmed my sentiment, when she described the emotional whiplash of being a victim in a criminal trial: It’s like you’re expected to just go back to normal and be okay, but you’re not okay and all you can really do is float along the surface.
We bonded over our frustration and contempt for the criminal justice system, and we exchanged personal anecdotes about our similarities. Only after speaking to her I came came to realize that we had more in common than I could have ever imagined. We were both survivors of color, both assaulted the same year around the same age—at the cusp of young adulthood. Sure, these similarities are probably coincidence but I'd like to believe our crossed paths was not. Although the outcome of our experiences differed greatly, we couldn't ignore the fact that in the midst of it all we both gained something truly remarkable—a voice.
Before she left, she smiled kindly and said, “You mentioned earlier that you wrote about your experience. I would love to read it if that’s okay.” I managed to stutter a response, “Uh, y-yes of course!” I pulled out a neon sticky note and scrawled out the URL of my two essays and handed it back to her, not expecting anything from it but grateful to have shared such a beautiful heart-to-heart moment.
A few weeks ago, the producer handed me a card and said, “This is for you from Chanel.”
I was taken aback and felt a wetness pool in my eyes. Had she actually remembered me? In a way I didn’t expect her to remember me, but thinking back, how could you forget somebody who shared your pain and was able to relate to you on an intimately human level.
On the front of the card it read “THANK YOU” in bold gold typeface. Underneath it, my name written in cursive with three enthusiastic exclamation points. I could almost imagine her soft-spoken voice emphasizing the punctuation marks.
Inside it read:
Thank you for sharing your story with me. I loved the line from your Odyssey piece that read “These words were shrouded in the belief that rape is a fact of life…” You make a powerful declaration that rape is not a given, it’s unacceptable in every circumstance & we have the power to change it. Your voice is necessary & brave, honest & clear. Keep writing & speaking & be proud of all you’ve done!
Chanel was fiercely passionate, yet carried a warm grace that made you love her without even knowing her. And she operated with the unshakeable belief that what happened to me, what happened to her, was in no way acceptable. Her anger for me at the flawed state of the judicial system and my trial lasted three years made me feel like she was my advocate. In the note she thanked me for sharing my story, but it's her who I'd like to thank.
Thank you for your honesty, your unwavering kindness, and your willingness to listen. But most of all, thank you for writing the words that paint a portrait of an all too common story. One where I and countless other survivors can see ourselves reflected in.
Thank you Chanel Miller.