On an early-summer afternoon in 2007, Brigitte Harris took a two-hour subway-and-ferry ride from her apartment in Queens to her sister Carleen’s apartment in Staten Island. When she arrived, she walked past the living room and into the kitchen, where her sister tried to calm her down. Talk to him, Carleen told her. Maybe he’ll apologize.
Harris gathered herself together, then walked out of the kitchen and, for the first time in five years, took a look at her father. Eric Goodridge was 55 now—older and frailer, though still robust at more than 200 pounds. He was in pain, suffering from a kidney stone. The man standing in front of her was different from the one she’d envisioned for so long. This man was talking to her like she was 26, not 6. This man was handing her a business card with his phone number. This man was saying, “We need to talk.”
Then he asked her to go out and get him something to drink. She walked to a nearby store, bought a V8 Splash, and came back to the house. And when she returned, she saw something that stopped her cold: her 8-year-old niece, Edina, Carleen’s daughter, laughing and playing in Eric Goodridge’s lap.
Harris grabbed her bookbag and went back to the ferry. She knew she needed to see her father again, but alone. A few days later, he called. And as the two of them set up another meeting, he let her know that he intended to take Edina and another niece of Harris’s, 8-year-old Monique, back with him to Africa.
This was too much. Harris came to Carleen in anguish. The two women argued. Carleen of all people, Harris thought, should understand the danger of sending two little girls away with Eric Goodridge.
“How do you do it?” Harris asked her sister. “How do you go on?”
“You just do it,” Carleen said. “You move on.”
On Wednesday, July 25—three days before she would see her father again—Harris flicked on a camcorder, aimed it at herself, and started talking.
Okay, so, testing right now. My name is Brigitte Harris, and this is the story of my life. Well, not the whole thing, obviously. It’ll take way to long. Just the summary reasons—why I’m doing what I’m about to do, why I feel I have to do it, why it must be done, why I’ve waited this long to do it. And so, you can judge me. But before you do, get the whole story. That’s all I ask.
Three years have passed. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving, and Brigitte Harris is sitting at a conference table at the maximum-security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for women in Westchester. Two guards are sitting within five feet of her. One of them, while waiting for her to be brought in, told me privately that she’d like to shake her hand.
There’s a calm about Harris as she talks. She is remembering that day in Staten Island when she saw Edina on her father’s lap. “It took me right back to myself,” she says. “Playing and laughing and giggling. It seems innocent, but I know what he’s thinking.”
Brigitte Harris was born on June 6, 1981, in the back seat of a cab outside a Staten Island hospital—an emergency delivery to a mother, Lucy-Anna Harris, who would leave for Liberia two years later, abandoning Brigitte and three other children to the foster-care system. By 1984, their father had taken them in. In one of her earliest childhood memories, her father orders her to undress and lie naked on a bed in a guest room. She remembers him getting on top of her and trying to have sex with her. She remembers the phone ringing and pleading with her father to go answer the phone—and him telling her “Don’t worry about it.” She remembers him getting off her in time. She remembers holding her doll. She remembers being in pain. She was 3 years old.
Her siblings have all since confirmed everything Harris says her father did to her, and yet her father also was the closest thing to a constant in her childhood. Eric Goodridge had once been a familiar face in the Staten Island African-expat community. He had left Liberia and started several businesses—records, imports and exports, a taxi service. Harris’s mother remembers him as a philanderer with a prevailing interest in young girls. Brigitte was about 4 when her father first forced her to perform oral sex on him. “He sat on the bed and he took his pants off, pulled his penis out, and told me to ‘suck on it,’ ” she remembered later, “and I guess I was doing it wrong, so he said, ‘Suck on it like a bottle.’ And I guess I still wasn’t doing it the right way because he laughed and said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll teach you.’ ”
At 12, Harris was sent to Liberia to live with her mother, and what she hoped would be a tearful reunion turned violent. Lucy-Anna beat her with a rattan so hard that it left permanent marks. Life with her mother became so unbearable that she actually went to live with her father again. “When [Lucy-Anna] told him I couldn’t stay with him because of [the abuse] I denied it ever happened,” Harris recalled later in a journal. “I convinced myself it never happened.” Goodridge soon left her with a girlfriend who would beat a naked Harris with a rattan, then pour a solution of ground hot peppers into the wounds. In 1996, during a flare-up in the country’s ongoing civil war, Harris took advantage of a free airlift out of Liberia to flee her father’s girlfriend. Her father took her in again in New York. She was 15, fully into puberty, and Goodridge took full notice. He forced her to be still as he performed oral sex on her, then to watch porn with him. “In Africa, fathers sleep with their daughters to show that they love them,” he told her.