Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Prison is really about revenge and vengeance

When we sentence people to prison in this country, it is ALL about revenge, vengeance and punishment. Nothing else matters and nothing else enters into the equation – certainly not the concept of rehabilitation. In America, we just want these “people” to be segregated from us at all times and their future be damned.
If, by some miracle, that person actually changes and becomes the kind of person that society wishes they would be in the first place (or even a better person than most of us live our lives), it still doesn’t matter. Crime is crime and we treat it all like so much dogshit on the bottom of our boots.
Stanley Tookie Williams was executed in San Quentin State Prison in California by lethal injection Tuesday morning for the 1979 robbery murders of four people in Los Angeles. He was once the co-founder and leader of the infamous Crips street gang, the most notorious street gang in American history outside of anything written and sung in “West Side Story.” It was real life, real violence and real death.
It took longer than usual for the officials to get the needle in place (Williams reportedly helped them find a vein while growing impatient for it all to end).
In the end, it took 34 minutes – seemingly an eternity – for officials to pronounce death.
On the surface, it would appear to have been just another thug getting his just rewards. But Tookie Williams, 51, appeared to have been different. In prison, while on death row for more than two decades, he became an anti-gang crusader while on death row. He was nominated nine times for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature (as the author of children’s books preaching an anti-gang message) by an array of college professors, a Swiss lawmaker and others.
He readily admitted to his violent past, but maintained his innocence of the killings since his arrest and conviction in 1979.
He denounced gang violence and wrote children’s books with an anti-gang message, donating the proceeds to anti-gang community groups. Most people, outside of the victims and prosecutors, believe that Tookie Williams had sincerely changed his life and was working toward all the things considered to be admirable.
Others can question the weight of the evidence and whatever circumstances led to doing whatever Tookie Williams was convicted of doing.
That’s not the question I pose.
It is this: “Who do we allow to be forgiven of past crimes and placed on a pedestal of righteousness and who do we want to leave earth as fast as possible via the executioner’s needle?”
And the truth is this ... if you are white and make such a “born again” exclamation; you have a better chance of public forgiveness than if you are black. Of course, if you are an African-American male, the chances of spending time in prison are SO much higher than if you are white, it is a national tragedy.
White America simply wants to shuttle all those who instill fear into their urbanite suburbanite hearts and minds to places that are out of sight and out of mind. Lock the door, throw away the key and keep them out of my world.
Sorry, that IS the truth. All the decisions about Tookie Williams were made by white males, not one of whom ever stepped into Williams’ shoes. There is never an excuse for murder, but if a person TRULY redeems himself, shouldn’t THAT life be spared (no one ever mentioned parole) to help others avoid the same fate?
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an admitted steroid user and philanderer, had to audacity to question the sincerity of Williams’ conversion to nonviolence.
“Is Williams’ redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?” Schwarzenegger wrote in his rejection for clemency. “Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption.
“In this case, the one thing that would be the clearest indication of complete remorse and full redemption is the one thing Williams will not do.”
Coming from Schwarzenegger, such a pronouncement is almost laughable.
Anyone remember Charles “Chuck” Colson? He was the Nixon White House lawyer who helped engineer the Watergate coverup and, folks, that was about usurping the U.S. Constitution. In prison, he found God and his Bible and has be¬come one of the conservative Christians’ darlings as a speaker and counselor. There are other examples, such as Michael Milken, who bilked thousands out of billions of dollars. He lost his hairpiece and found God. Now he lectures on his misdeeds and all is forgiven.
The most famous case in Texas centers around Karla Faye Tucker, who was involved in a murder while drug induced and totally reformed herself in prison, providing ministry to other women on death row. Some of the most conservative, pro-death penalty people (not us lily-livered liberals, mind you) I know flipped on that position after getting to know her. Yet she was allowed to continue to live a changed life and was executed in February of 1998.
The governor was refused clemency was an admitted party boy, possible cocaine user and definite alcohol abuser named … George W. Bush. He said the punishment aspect trumped the forgiveness aspect, which totally runs counter to the teachings of Jesus Christ, allegedly his Savior. Sorry, you cannot preach one thing and practice another at the critical times when politics interrupts morals.
No one denies the heinous aspects of Williams’ conviction. It was horrible; but prison today is all, and only, about revenge, vengeance and, in some cases, the dramatic retribution achieved through death.
Society tried the Devil’s Island approach once; it didn’t work. We speak about rehabilitation when parole is involved but it’s a joke. No one wants to rehab anyone in prison; we just want them to rot there.
Sadly, it is a massive growth industry in America who locks up more of its citizens than any other “civilized” nation on earth. And we executed more people than any other civilized country … even the ones who get rehabilitated.
How God-awfully sad for us all.

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