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I heard it again this morning. That statement made at trials, parole hearings, and such, and stated by victims, families of victims and the ever-righteous assistant D.A.

“X should die, receive the max, spend the rest of his life in prison, because Y will never experience another year, have another birthday, experience the joys of parenthood, . . . .”

We are a society that feels comfortable with “justice” or our version of it anyhow. We tout that our prisons are at least in part for punishment, evening the score, paying the price, though we lip serve that they are really about rehabilitation.

That’s a joke. Rehabilitation–so humanitarian of us. Yet when presented with clear cases of rehabilitation, all too many of us shrug and echo the words above, “he hasn’t paid nearly enough. In fact, he can’t ever pay the debt.” So rehabilitation is I guess only for those whose crimes don’t cause death. But then, what of the victim left forever injured? They can never be made whole, so does rehab fail here too?

Your opinion is as good as mine I would think.

A young man chooses to rob a bank, which goes awry, and hostages are taken and a woman is killed in a panic. Death sentences become life when the state ends the practice. Reading and then writing become the only salvation to a lifer. He is skilled at this trade, finds an audience, both inside and out the walls. He actually helps improve the lives of others.

Ultimately he wins appeal and retrial, and given all the good he has done, and his considerable talent, he is convicted only of manslaughter. After 44 years behind the walls, he has served all that could be imposed.

Yet, some say 44 years is not enough. They want more. They declare he can never make up for what he has taken. And he cannot. No argument there.

We hear it again and again. I said it wasn’t new after all. And I’m not here to argue the merits of this particular case, nor of any for that matter. But something like a bell went off in my head at this latest rendition of this very old tale of proper vengeance.

Why do we always tie these two things together? Why is the level of rehabilitation tied to this never to be reached standard of “you can’t make up for what you did, ever”?

And I saw that it was fallacious, this artificial connection. We were examining it the wrong way. Completely wrong.

We have the innocent victim, no better nor worse in most cases than most any normal person. You know the kind I mean. The kind that lives out a life pretty much like anyone else. No heroics, no great mind, no superior empathy toward one’s fellow man. You or me, with all the normal amounts of good and bad, but the bad confined to what society considers okay and  not worthy of incarceration. No actions deserving of shunning or disgust. Just a normal person.

Against that we have a soul gone wrong. The person can come from normal beginnings or horrific neglect and abuse. But somewhere, either through deep pain or lazy indifference, choices are made that set them upon a road that can reasonably lead to disaster. And they take it, often while immature to be sure, but knowingly too. Foreseeable consequences are a bitch as they say.

And the death of the first leads to the incarceration of the second, and by miracle or determination, transformation occurs. The soul gone wrong becomes a useful, contributing member of society. He has important lessons to convey to help others perhaps, avoid his end. He is redeemed, in a fashion that may be spiritual or not, but is real and acknowledged.

Although the victim did not choose the roll, the victim, by dying has been a proximate cause of the transformation, the rehabilitation. They may well have saved a life that might otherwise have been destroyed by drugs or a hail of gunfire down some  lonely alleyway.

In the loss, there is grace–a life redeemed and transformed. Is that not a more rational way to look at things? Cannot family and friends take solace in the good done by  this unfortunate death?

I, of course, speak from the outside looking in, but it seems worthy of examination. It helps us all to be forgiving, and to seek good out of bad. As faithful people aren’t we called to do that? Is there not some pride in knowing that someone we loved helped create a better person and thus a better world? I’d like to think it should.

Just sayin’.

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