Everyone knows her as Momma Margie, the motherly figure of the now famous Purple Hatter’s Ball, but most don’t know the true roots of their beloved local festival and the woman who started it all. With help from the great Paul Levine, her husband Mike Weiss, Lyle Williams, Trey Hebron, and countless others, Purple Hatter’s Ball has soared in attendance and national recognition over these past eight years. However, it’s not solely about that headlining band you’re amped to see, but more so celebrating the love and life of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Momma Margie after this year’s PHB butterfly release and delve into what makes her the amazing woman she is today.
How did you get the courage and strength to make a difference and stem a positive change rather than wallowing in sorrow like others would from such a tragic event?
When they started to put my daughter’s body into the grave I got up and started hugging everybody and her spirit has been with me ever since. I learned the most significant lesson in my life shortly after she died. It was in June and I went to a meditation gathering and the master put me on stage in front of six-hundred people who had others taken from them. I showed them love and light and let them know my story which allowed them to heal too which is the moral of humanity. So I learned after that meditation that love is eternal and that as long as I’m alive my daughter will be alive. The other thing is that the spirit, her essence, is eternal as well.
So it got very clear that when you love somebody, when it’s real, they love you back and they want you to actualize your dreams, and by doing that you’re celebrating their memory. My definition of love is “It’s a buffing cloth that removes the tarnish off one’s soul and allows them to shine.” So you can love your work, you can love your children, you can love a hobby, you can love your husband, you can love your friends and it’s because it brings out the best in you and anything less than that is less than love.
It’s been eight years since my daughter died and we got the Rachel Law passed, but it’s very watered down. The idea is we got our foot in the door and once you have that you can just build on it and strengthen it. I learned that I was going through PTSD, and would still be going through PTSD, I had to beg them to let me see her autopsy photos. I never saw Rachel after March and she died in May. She’d gone away to college and stayed gone too long.
I got to know her better through her friends sharing personal stories and also seeing how they enjoyed her life. She was so loved. It was such a gift to me. In loving her it allowed me to love myself more.
So actually, wallowing in sorrow is deceiving the purpose of celebrating somebody’s life that you really love and that’s why I’m here to teach other people that. There’s another way and a better way. Our spirit always lives on and so does love.
Rachel wants the story to be told. She’s a psychology and criminal justice major and she wanted a book written about the injustice of the informant system and how to make law enforcement more effective and how to respect and trust them. So I’m helping do surveys and public education so that we can create that transformation, that bridge that connects society with law enforcement where we all work together.
Rather than doing like a bait and switch…
Well the whole war on drugs, the whole system is archaic. We need to reveal how counterproductive it is. We need to wake up society so that we’re not autistic in doing the same things, banging our head against the wall and expecting change. What was a billion dollar industry 30 years ago is now a 100 billion dollar industry and it hasn’t gotten any better. Eventually we’ll be able to make those changes. I have a lot of solutions I’ll write in the last chapter in my book, but I have to get it done.
Tell me about your book, and how far have you gotten?
I’ve been working with a writer and they’re making me get all the old information, transcripts and the archives of the Tallahassee Democrat I’ve saved. I haven’t really looked at it because I don’t want to relive it because it is painful, but I’m working with a really good therapist so that when I get really angry or I get really upset I surround myself with people that I feel safe with and they guide me. I meditate and I’m starting to journal. So by doing this for another intentional outcome that I can’t elaborate on yet, it’s given me the information I need to write a book and by the time I get to the islands, I’ll be able to write that.
How have you perceived the growth of PHB over these 8 years and how do you feel about it?
Number one, it’s a blessing. It’s now doing more like recycling, meditation and music, also taking care of people, educating folks, the yoga tent, the meditation tent. I like the community it’s established. I love it in the summer.
I miss the old gang of the original crowd. It was 250 people down on the farm in Quincy, FL. And now there’s all these people. I’m proud of the Purple Hatter’s Ball because there’s a certain calm, protective, camaraderie, and that’s just like down on the farm. There’s more love that affects more people than the others [festivals], and people can feel Rachel too.
I remember my first one in 2012 and I came to the butterfly release and everything and your words just brought me to tears. It’s just such a wonderful and overwhelming thing to just feel that for the first time and really understand what it’s all about. The love and happiness.
We really need to remind the rest of the world that we are smart enough, we’re spiritual enough that we can open our hearts and embrace and help one another to feel. We have this little microcosm that can expand and that gives me hope.
You’ve become such a caring and mother figure for so many people over these years because of your wisdom and strength, how has that affected you?
It brings out the best in me and at the same time I’ve had the lesson of being included in marriages, or babies being made. Sometimes I have my family and nephews and nieces and it’s overwhelming because I have too much living I have to do. I want to grow up with them. It makes me want to be a lot more productive so that I can keep up with all them and be a significant part of their lives.
And some of my friends who have lost a child through illness don’t understand the magnitude of your only child going away and I try to be…I’m more compassionate for those people who lost their children. It’s a difficult situation. I’m very clear that others people children aren’t going to come home to me like they would to their parents, they’re not my children. Sometimes I’ve lost touch with children because it’s too painful for them to feel the loss so they move on with their lives. But I don’t move on with my life. I’ve got to keep Rachel’s memory alive. I think the most important bridges are left to be crossed.
I love talking about Rachel and the best thing about this festival is that I can go and celebrate my daughter who is still alive through me, through all the love, and have people encourage me to do it. It’s the one thing on stage to have a tribute to my daughter and that people understand the importance of how the world is going to change because of my daughter’s presence here.
Speak more on Rachel’s Law and getting that passed and what’s happened after her death.
For two years I was in shock and then the next year we got the Rachel Law passed in 2009 on the anniversary of her death. We had Bradshall locked up for 1st degree murder even though he was only an accomplice, and in 2011 Dre, the one who actually shot and murdered my daughter. It was a robbery; it wasn’t a drug bust. He got 2nd degree murder and both of them have a maximum penalty in a major penitentiary. He has children and he has family and I keep in touch with them. I talk about making it easier for them, because they weren’t there at the time. Two wrongs never make a right.
What happened with the law enforcement, the cops who were involved with Rachel becoming a confidential informant? Didn’t they get fired? Was there any other prosecution?
They got their job back, and the handler…there’s a lot more that has to be explored about him because he made up some terrible lies during the murder trial. I have to pull some of the deposition for that and put it in my book. He was supposed to go to a union meeting the next day and they pushed it out because they wanted the public to forget about it. And when they had the arbitration it didn’t really have anything to do with Rachel’s murder. They said nothing that could make him lose his job, just inane things. It was just going through the motions, it was a joke, it was a farce.
Then after they agreed that yes we’ll settle the suit out of court we had to go through three more months of legislation. We had to go through lobbyists to help us pass it. Then 2014 and 2015 it was like catching our breath and when I should have had my breath caught, my mom died. She was my rock and I imploded. If you go through someone else’s death on top of what you’ve already been through you have to take care of yourself and everybody grieves differently. Also I went through this with my husband. We’ve been down quite a road and he’s held my hand throughout it all. He helps me go through the transcripts, reading stuff that would be painful again. So much has happened. A lot of people are like ‘I can’t deal with it, I don’t know what it would be like if that happened to me.’
I wish her friends who can’t deal with the pain of her death could open up about it and open their hearts and be available for the reform that we need to do. Now people are coming out of the woodwork and are willing to help, like Dance Safe, and they know people on the inside who can help. Perhaps get a survey going nationally so that we have the evidence of what’s really happening.
What makes my daughter’s story so outstanding is that here she was put in the drug bust sting was the second time, not the first. They went for 500 hits of ecstasy the first time to 1500 hits when in reality they only found two ecstasy pills and four Valium in her couch, which could have fallen out of anybodies pocket. And they were trying to say the morning that they found her body and admitted that Rachel had been murdered that she was running a drug house. In a matter of hours [after they found her body] they were able to get the media to change the spin on [their drug bust gone wrong]. They were trying to cover their ass to make Rachel look like the bad guy.
There’s a reason in saying that when we got the Rachel Law passed, but it was very watered down and we need to do a whole lot more. I’m not the most political person in the world. The idea is that there needs to be positive reform and change and it’s all about healing. So how can we do that in the most intelligent, thoughtful, beneficial way for society both law enforcement and the like? And if they did away with the war on drugs, law enforcement wouldn’t be endangered either. If they could get help and heal. In Portugal crime went down 75%. I mean hello!
Think about the worst thing that’s ever happened to you and how have you grown from that. How you’re a stronger and better person, because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that’s true. If someone told me every year, Margie, you’re going to go to a place where everybody is hugging on you and listening to every word and treating you like a perpetual mother and giving you gifts and giving you love, being out in the nature and Suwannee and being with your husband and people who just love you because you had such a magnificent child. I’d say that’s too good to be true, that’s not possible.
And so my daughter is always showing me love through it and I feel very blessed and I tell people, ‘thank you for your tears.’ We went around and talked about how I’m actualizing my potential. I want to learn all the languages I’ve always wanted to. I’m going to sew. I’m going to be juicing again. It’s like I have a second chance at life, because of my daughter.
And you have so much time to keep doing it too. I feel like a lot of people as they get older they give up on doing more.
I’ve only just begun I’ve got too much to do for her. I’ve got to make the most of it. And then I’ll write a book about how to do that.
It’s like you’re fitting two lives into one.
It’s exhausting, I’m living for two instead of one.
You have your daughter’s youth in you.
I feel 30!
What are a couple of your most memorable memories throughout the past 8 years of PHB and of Rachel?
One of them was after we did a meditation. I told them a joke of Rachel’s that she didn’t want everyone to hear and it goes, ‘How is a woman like a dolphin?…When you grab her from behind she flips over and squeals!’ And the wind started blowing and the leaves built up like a flurry and we all got goosebumps and it was like Rachel was like, ‘Maaa! I told you not to tell them!’
Everybody felt it and then I walked down the hill and Christopher from Anamorphic the two artists who paint together, he had this painting that was one of six or eight of a larger mural. It was a woman standing behind a waterfall and it became Rachel because it looked like a woman who was born on the same exact date and year and her hands were outstretched and he said, ‘Momma, I just felt her presence a couple weeks ago which is where we were laughing.’ So he added the butterflies on her heart and the rest coming out of her hands forming like a heart. This is based on love. The story needs to be told now. They blew it up into this huge tapestry that hangs in my office now.
Having people’s tears for me and telling them how we’re here with 250 people eight years ago and here two years ago with we had 3,000 people and you’re gonna tell me my daughter is dead when we have a crowd like this!
Another time I was with my brother. He came down and this couple comes up and they give me a big hug and I introduce them to my brother and he asks, ‘How do you know them?’ And I said, ‘I don’t.’ That was pretty funny. I love talking about Rachel and releasing the butterflies. Butterflies and rainbows are her favorites.
In closing, I would like to give the utmost of thanks to you Momma Margie for letting me share your words with everyone. There are many people whose hearts you’ve touched so deeply, and the awareness that has been spread is perpetuated through the love that has been shown. Rachel’s spirit lives on through you and everyone who knows her name. She’s more alive than many!
About The Rachel Morningstar Foundation: The Rachel Morningstar Foundation exists to help the public understand the benefit of guidelines for law enforcement’s use of confidential informants (CIs). Currently each state, county, city, college campus or law enforcement agency sets their own standards, laws or guidelines as it relates to recruiting and using CIs. The efforts of this foundation are dedicated to the memory of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman (December 17, 1984 – May 7, 2008) a 23-year-old Florida State University graduate. She was murdered while acting as a police informant during a drug sting that started on May 7, 2008. The first of its kind in the U.S., Rachel’s Law, a Florida law that went into effect on July 1, 2009, established new guidelines for law enforcement when dealing with confidential informants.
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