Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Criminal Justice

One of the great thrills in life is for a moment when you see that your life has had meaning – and many of those come when your children turn out OK. My husband and I wept together at our son’s graduation from high school – not that there was ever any doubt, but it just felt like maybe we had done something right.

Then came graduation from college, and later from law school. We wept for joy. We didn’t weep at all when he chose a sweet, thoughtful and beautiful bride – we danced for joy, and we are still dancing.

We had another of those life moments when we were able to observe our son in court, functioning as a responsible adult. What a thrill.

At the same time, I realized I have never been in a court before. It was sentencing day, and an entire parade of sad sacks paraded before us. These were men who have done bad things – sometimes violent things. None of them looked evil; they all looks shrunken and pathetic in their prison jumpsuits and chained feet. Each one had to answer to the judge – he had already been tried and convicted, and this was the day the prisoner would find out what the penalty would be.

The judge took his time, and also spent time educating those in the courtroom. One question he asked over and over – under what circumstances were you arrested for this crime?

Every prisoner was arrested when being stopped for some traffic infraction. When a crime is committed, even after a sentence is served, many times the prisoners are on probation. If they live without any violations for the probation time, they are free and clear. If they disregard some rule of probation, then the probation is withdrawn, and they have to go back to jail. A warrant is issued for their arrest. The warrant is entered into a computer, and, when the system works, every state in the United States has a record of that warrant.

Each and every prisoner was caught breaking another law, and then imprisoned on earlier violations when run through the computer. Each one had a history of making bad decisions. Not evil decisions – just momentary bad decisions – running red lights, speeding, weaving, having fake license plates on the car . . . each one had a pattern of living as if the laws of the land pertained to everyone else – but not to him.

One man, who was going back to prison because while on probation he had used drugs again, had his wife testify on his behalf. She cried, and said it was her fault, that they had a fight and because of the fight, he had used again. The judge was furious, said that unless she held a gun at his head and forced him to use, it had been his choice and his alone. He would serve his full sentence. This judge is big on personal responsibility, personal accountability.

Some of them were going away (going to prison) for a long time. In the midst of the joy of seeing our son doing good work was a lot of sadness at the waste of lives, as people are warehoused in prison.

But what else can you do with people who persist in breaking the law? How many times can you give them the benefit of the doubt? How many times can you show mercy before they do something truly awful? Is there any alternative to prison that can truly help people to learn to make better decisions and choices?

At one time, as part of my work, I had to go into prisons and deal with prisoners. Many of the people I dealt with were pretty scary. One had stabbed his wife’s girlfriend – like 97 times. I will never forget, at this time of year, hearing the prisoners singing Christmas carols, punctuated by the sound of the heavy gates crashing shut.

It still gives me shivers.

December 8, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Crime, Education, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Law and Order | 9 Comments

Pensacola Sights

Fall on the Bayou

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Christmas Lights Going Up

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Seville Bar Christmas Tree
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December 8, 2008 Posted by | Christmas, Florida, Photos | 2 Comments