Regina Griego was born and raised in New Mexico, and her Hispanic roots go back four hundred years. She holds a PhD, MS, and BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering and an MS in Computer Science. After retiring from a distinguished career as an engineer, Regina is now a coach, a speaker, and an author. She is also an active member of organizations that support gun safety and juvenile justice. In 2022, she published the award-winning memoir Sins of the System: Trauma, Guns, Tragedy, and the Betrayal of Our Children. Look for Regina on her website at Transcending-Futures.com, on Facebook, and her Amazon author page. Sins of the System is also available at Barnes & Noble.
Would you please give readers an overview of Sins of the System?
In January 2013, my fifteen-year-old nephew shot and killed his father (my brother), mother, and three siblings. I became my nephew’s guardian and stood by him through seven years of legal drama. In this memoir, I recount my extremely difficult and personal story that affected my large extended family and entire community. My memoir elucidates the generational trauma that led to the tragedy. It is set in the rich cultural background of New Mexico. I and others acted out of courage and conviction as well as love, compassion, and hope. Since I am a Systems Engineer, I discuss the failure of not only the Juvenile Justice System, but many other systems that undergird families and society including gun safety. This memoir is intended to be both a warning and a call to action for families, communities, and our nation.
This is a weighty topic. Did you find writing Sins of the System cathartic in helping you and your family begin the healing process?
Cathartic is one way of looking at it. I had three reasons for writing my memoir. First, it was a descanso for me. A descanso is a traditional way of putting something to rest in the Hispanic culture, usually when a loved one dies. Descansar means to rest. You see descansos on roads throughout New Mexico and other places where there is a cross or other markers with flowers and other decorations. This was my way of pinning the burden of the story to the page. The second reason was to write my truth about what happened. The media distorted and simplified what happened into a good guy/bad guy scenario and it was a hard story for me to explain to people in a brief conversation. Third, I wanted to use it as a case study for how these kinds of tragedies happen. I highlight the generational trauma and all the systems that failed to create a perfect storm. Nobody is shielded from this type of tragedy. My family’s tragedy has made me an activist for gun safety and juvenile justice.
If you ever felt you were revealing too much about you or your family’s circumstances, how did you transcend this?
I did feel like I was being very vulnerable with my sharing. Very few of my colleagues knew of my upbringing and other details I put in the memoir, including my spiritual practices, so to out myself was a big deal. I knew family members might be unhappy about it for various reasons. My goals for writing the memoir outweighed the apprehension. I did a lot of prayer, talked to the angels and ancestors that were with me the whole way. I changed names to mask people’s identities to provide a bit of anonymity. I also circulated the manuscript to those closest to me.
This tragedy provoked a lot of media attention in 2013. Can you tell readers how that impacted your family and what measures you took to move forward?
The media coverage on television was terrible in those months after our family tragedy. The coverage during the legal proceedings drove a wedge in our family that was once united. The Albuquerque Journal did an okay job. It made things extremely difficult for us as we dealt with the aftermath of the tragedy and our own grieving. I discuss it in a chapter in the book. They seemed to be a constant menacing presence that we tried to avoid. In the beginning my brother worked hard to change the narrative they were spreading about my nephew and we were moderately successful. After a while we avoided the media because they seemed to want to tell their own story, the story the District Attorney was pushing, which was a disservice to our family and to justice.
What do you see as the biggest obstacles in initiating and making legislative changes in New Mexico’s gun laws?
We just did a big push for gun-sense laws in the 2023 legislature and we were modestly successful. A child-access law passed, which makes gun owners responsible if a child takes the gun from an unsecured home. I lobbied and testified for this bill along with the New Mexico Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Everytown for Gun Safety. The straw-purchase law passed that outlaws people buying guns for someone who can’t buy a gun and we supported that law by testifying in favor and writing the legislators. However, two assault weapons bills (banning and raising the age), a large-capacity magazine bill, and two bills associated with waiting periods did not pass. This was a real shame considering the democrats had a large majority in our legislature and a democratic governor that supports gun-sense laws. Our problem is that New Mexico has a large rural constituency and they like their guns. We’ve normalized the use of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in our state through gun clubs and shooting ranges, which in my opinion they should not be normalized. I’m an engineer and I know gun companies are working harder to develop even more lethal technology for guns. Instead, they should be selling guns with technology that uses biometrics (like fingerprints) to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them (e.g., children and criminals that steal guns). Under no circumstances do we need military weapons on the streets, even if the industry wants to sell them. Some gun owners will say they need them in case a tyrannical government takes over. That’s one of the beliefs my brother had before he was shot and killed with his own weapons.
Books on gun violence flood the market. What makes your memoir unique to this market?
It is a first-hand account of dealing with a mass murder and the aftermath within a family and extended community. I am both a victim of this tragedy, dealing with the grief of losing my five family members, especially my brother, and I took guardianship for the young man (my nephew) who killed them. These tragedies are not black and white. They are an illustration of where we are failing as a community and as a nation. I wanted this to be a gut punch to people who have become numb to how we lose our children. Guns are the number one killer of children in the U.S., which should be a call to action for every adult in our country.
What do you consider the most essential elements of a well-written memoir?
I followed The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. It teaches how to write a literary memoir based on the Hero’s Journey, which was studied and written about by Joseph Campbell. It gave me a great structure for how to put together the narrative. From there I worked on other elements like themes, dialogue, and character and scene development. Having the structure was the most important thing, it gave me the frame for the picture I was painting.
What writing projects are you working on now?
My next memoir will be about my journey growing up poor but good at math; a Hispanic woman from New Mexico navigating in the male-dominated world of engineering. It will illuminate cultural, gender, and other issues as well as successes and achievements. I hope it will be helpful in promoting STEM.
Has it always been your intention to become a memoirist?
It has been my intention for about 25 years. The two memoirs I have in mind to follow the memoir about my career were the first two I thought about writing years ago. They are on different aspects of growing up in New Mexico and the family and cultural dynamics.
What other authors and memoirs inspired you as you wrote Sins of the System?
The biggest influence was Educated by Tara West. She was so brave in telling her story, which was a hard story and revealed a lot of unflattering things about her family. Her father was not far in character from my brother who died in our family tragedy. From there I was inspired by A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold and The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story by David Crow. Both of these books have themes that resonated with my story, and both took courage to write and reveal difficult truths.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I give 80 percent of all royalties for the paperback, eBook, and audible to two non-profits, shared equally: Everytown for Gun Safety (everytown.org) and Campaign for the Fair Sentence of Youth (cfsy.org). Also, I received 1st place for Memoir/Biography in the New Mexico Press Women’s contest earlier this year, and I attended the National Federation of Press Women’s (NFPW) Conference in Cincinnati in June 2023, where I received the national award.
Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.