Creating Dreamers and Doers: Jennifer Peterson
Acres away from the farmer’s home, Jennifer Peterson stared hard at the bright blue sky. Then, darkness. In and out of consciousness, she tried to move. Only pain.
She tried to scream. Her cries for help were mere whispers.
The tractor came from a distance. Had the farmer not remembered his dream during the night, Peterson is sure she would have died that day. A praying man, he later told her that God came to him in a dream, instructing him to plow the withered cornfield.
The summer of 1988 marked the North American drought and remains the hottest and driest on record.
“There wasn’t much to plow that day, but dust and dirt,” Peterson said.
“He was going out on faith.” Obedience led him to discover then 16-year-old Peterson, bleeding and alone. Dumped in his field along a desolate Tuscarawas County road, Peterson had been riding her bicycle when a drunken driver hit her.
“There is a reason I am still here,” she said.
These days, she finds purpose inside Dr. Brian Chopko’s classroom. She met Chopko nine years ago, when she was a student in his victimology class. As she told Chopko her story, fate played its cards. Since then, she visits Kent State Stark each semester to tell future law enforcers and attorneys her personal account of what it is like to live through a crime.
“For a victim, it will always feel like yesterday,” she said. “We can go back to each feeling. We can replay it vividly. We relive it over and over again.”
She also tells Chopko’s criminal justice students what it is like to take control of those feelings, to heal, to transition from victim to survivor.
Today, the Minerva woman owns a jewelry business and credits her Kent State University degrees in accounting and business management as contributors to her success. She plans to attend KSU once again to pursue a degree in criminal justice. “I’d love to help crime victims. Help them see there is life after this.”
Her “life after this” took years to arrive. First, Peterson had to heal physically. The accident severed her right arm. Her other arm was broken, as well as her leg and pelvis. Plates and pins still hold her bones together. Her broken neck remains fused in two places.
She relearned how to live left-handed. She learned how to stand and walk again. She also learned how to forgive the man who was convicted of her attempted murder.
“I was angry, really angry for a long time,” said Peterson. “As a crime victim, you go through the stages of grief. The Jennifer that I was, that Jennifer died. A new Jennifer had to be born.”
Thirty years since the accident, there is purpose behind the pain. When Peterson speaks to victims, she speaks with authority because she has overcome.
Although left for dead in the night, barren farmland all around, there was a new day for Jennifer Peterson.
“There is better on the other side.”