In September of 2018, Botham Jean died on his couch while eating ice cream after an off-duty police officer entered his Dallas home and took his life. The officer would tell investigators she thought she was entering her own apartment and mistook Jean for an intruder.
Now, Jean’s sister has written a memoir of her brother’s life, and of her efforts to deal with her grief.
Allisa Charles-Findley’s book, written with Jeremiah Cobra, is entitled “After Botham: Healing From My Brother’s Murder by a Police Officer.” She told Texas Standard her brother was an outgoing person who looked for ways to get to know new people. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Condolences on the loss of your brother, Botham. I imagine, writing this book and, well, talking about it so much, it’s brought up a lot of feelings and memories for him.
Allisa Charles-Findley: Yes, it has. Some good, some bad, but it’s our reality.
Could you tell us more about your brother, the person you knew? How would how would you describe him?
In one word? I would describe him as light.
He was just a bright person – jovial, fun-loving. He was an extrovert. He went out of his way to make friends.
I would sometimes tease him because if he was traveling to New York to come visit me, I would always ask him, ‘OK, who did you meet on the plane?’ Because he had this thing where if he was sitting next to somebody, he would make it his duty to speak to that person and know their name. And one way he did that was to always carry a book, to have it as a conversation starter.
That was Botham. He loved people. He just went out of his way to just meet new people every day.
I think you call Botham “your person” in the book. You and your brother were ten years apart in age, lived across the country from each other. But it’s clear from the way you write about him, he was really a part of your heart.
He really was. Yes.
Even though we had that age difference, he was just so easy to be around, to love. He accepted people for who they are. Like, we had this “no judgment zone” between us where he could tell me anything, I could tell him anything, and we won’t judge each other.
So it was things like that that made it really hard in losing him. It felt like, you know, my world went dark when he was killed because there are so many little things that we did that was just missing.
Music was an important part of Botham’s life, apparently. Can you say more about that and how he shared music with you and your family?
Botham loved singing from a very young age. He just went out of his way to sing to the point where he started a choir at his high school that didn’t have a choir. He went out of his way to start a choir because he wanted to sing.
At a young age as a teenager, he started song leading at our church, our local church. So any opportunity he got to sing, he would do it. And he tried to bring me and our aunt Desma into it to the point where my cousin, she was getting married, and he wanted us to sing at her wedding and we had rehearsals. He made sure we had rehearsals and recorded it so that he could tell us where we can improve. Like he took singing very seriously.
Your book is about Botham the person, the man who lived. But sadly, the way he died is he reason so many people know his name, which seems so twisted in a way. I said earlier your book is a memoir, a story about your brother. But it’s also, I can’t help but think, dealing with your own grief now.
Yes, it is.
How has writing about this helped you heal?
It helped me because it started off as journaling in 2021 when I started my therapy with my therapist, Melody. She wanted me to journal. That was part of my homework to just get my feelings out. Because after losing Botham, I held on to my anger for so long because it prevented me from feeling the grief. And in order for me to move on and for me to heal, I had to let go of the anger. I had to feel everything that happened in order to heal.
So I started journaling, and that’s where it morphed into something more. And this book came about, and my whole reason for wanting to write the book was, I know so many families who have been through losing a loved one to police brutality or to other tragedy. It’s hard to deal with. It is hard to move on. I cannot be the only one that, you know, was going through that.
So I wanted others to read this and to see that, you know, it’s okay. It’s okay to heal from this. You’re not losing your loved one all over again or you’re not forgetting them. You’re healing to get to a point where you can honor them in the best way possible.
I have to ask about this idea of justice. Of course, as we were talking about earlier, the officer who killed your brother was convicted of murder, sentenced to ten years in prison. Do you feel that justice was served?
No, I don’t think we got true justice for Botham. A lot of people look at it as “yes, you got justice because you got a murder conviction” and that the reason is because it’s so rare. You rarely get a police officer even indicted for shooting an unarmed victim. And so to get an indictment, a conviction, a sentence, it’s rare.
So a lot of people look at it as justice. But I don’t. I think for killing Botham in the way that she did, ten years is not enough to the point where I have petitioned the DOJ to investigate her federally for violating his civil rights because Botham was only 26-years-old when he died. He was never married, no children, and he was in the prime of his life. He was working on solidifying his career as an accountant, and he was doing everything that he was supposed to do as a young man. And he’s not here.
So I’m still working towards true justice for Botham and true accountability and not just for him – for other victims, and to prevent other victims of police brutality, because I wouldn’t want somebody else to go through this. It’s life-changing.
Alissa, you said earlier that you know so many people who have experienced similar tragedies at the hands of police violence. Do you have any words of advice for anyone who might find themselves in a situation similar to yours, having lost someone because of police violence?
Yes. My advice would be take it one day at a time.
Get therapy. Get help. Speak with other people who have been through a similar situation. It’s not a sprint. Because when you lose your loved one, I look at it as you losing an arm, losing a limb. And trying to adjust your life to missing that limb for the rest of your life.
So it’s something that eventually you kind of you learn how to cope with it. But you still daily see that loss.