Talking to Inmates

Behind BarsThis entry is about social justice.

Most of us adults are not as emotionally extreme as we were, say, as teenagers. I know this is not always true, but for the vast majority of us our emotional swings don’t stray off the center line nearly as much as they did when our hormones were raging, when our wisdom was limited and before we put more years under our feet.

People change with time. Last Friday I had to face that reality like never before when I sat with a cold-blooded killer, behind bars for the past 25 years, telling me that after doing his time he’s ready to rejoin society as a changed individual. Only if the New York State Parole Board has its way, his sentence will be “adjusted” so that he never gets out. It’s one of the ways that New York wants to show how tough it is on crime. It’s also sort of like the Parole Board playing the role of judge – passing sentence – and on those grounds it’s being contested in federal court.

There is no doubt that CBK should have gotten a long sentence for his crime. And our society seems willing to go to great lengths to prevent another Willie Horton from occurring, even if it means locking up all violent felons and throwing away the key, without giving merit to whether or not they change with time.

The problem is that most violent crime is not premeditated. It is a crime of rage, of emotional extreme. Now that CBK has spent half his life in jail and has had plenty of time to re-think his life – to come down off the emotional extremes where he lived as a young adult – the people he has worked with the past decade probably agree that he is neither a danger to himself nor to others. Yet he may never get the chance to have a second chance, something his victim’s relatives may wholly agree with but nevertheless makes two victims out of one crime.

Contrast this with the pedophile sex offender, whose crime is an addiction to a socially unacceptable form of sex. I would consider this individual much more likely to fall back on his addiction should he be released back into society. Under New York State law the pedophile will re-enter society after doing his time. The quiet, gray-haired guy who killed someone in his youth and spent an entire generation trying to make amends for it may never get the opportunity.

I’m not convinced that this is equitable justice. Cephus, Bissonette House and other social justice centers would probably agree.

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