I met a guy that spoke with reason and common sense.
About 18 years ago my state was preparing to execute another convicted inmate at Stark Correctional and a few of us were talking about it. I was against it and used all the factual arguments like cost, fallibility and society’s moral compass. The counter arguments were emotional and religious. The people I was working with were used to my strong positions on many things and because of my reliance on reason and common sense most people always listened even if they disagreed.
One of these colleagues was a little quieter than most, older than all of us and, when he had something to say I recognized his application of reason and common sense. We tried to draw him into the debate and he seemed to be unwilling to engage.
I decided to ask him a pointed, and personal hypothetical question to elicit a response. Stupid me. Stuck my foot right in my mouth, chewed vigorously.
I asked him, “What would you want them to do if someone raped and killed your daughter?” His answer fell like buckets of melting ice on the three of us who had been having this conversation. He said, very flatly, “When my daughter was raped and killed I didn’t want them to kill him, I wanted to do it myself.”
We apologized meekly and offered our humble condolences and very, very quickly changed the subject to I don’t even remember what. All I could do was think about this guy the next several days. He didn’t seem damaged. I only knew him as a work acquaintance who seemed bright, wise and reasonable. Worthy of anyone’s respect.
About three months later the two of us had occasion to share a ride to a university about two hours north.
He brought up the subject by suggesting that he didn’t mean to be so blunt and end our conversation so abruptly. He explained that it wasn’t a subject that he felt like talking about that particular day but, he did appreciate my position against it and would like to tell me of his experience with the subject. My thoughts were, WOW. It was a cold moment in life. I suspected that I may, at the very least, give the guy a chance to vent. Instead I found the most reasonable and sensible position I’d heard on the subject. His daughter was followed home from work, pushed into her apartment and raped and killed. The details were grisly and hard for him to communicate.
Reason and common sense were the only tools that got him to eventually move forward with his life. Initially he was like any father with an ex-wife and two more children. About twelve hours after he was informed of this tragedy the police let him know that “they got the guy”. After he asked more questions they told him that the guy was witnessed in the area and was a real bad guy that fit the profile. My co-rider wanted to kill him.
Over the next several months, as the case was being prepared, it started to become obvious that this guy might be difficult to prosecute. He made it clear to me that his intention was to kill the guy if he got released. To him this was the reasonable position. Around the sixth month of this guy’s incarceration there was an evidentiary hearing that my conversation partner attended. He left that hearing convinced that the guy was going to get away with it and became more determined to kill the guy if they let him go.
He went to see the prosecutor and hired an attorney to review the case. Quickly he learned that they had precious little in which to even suspect the guy and in reality nothing to prove that he had done it. He had a sea change in the way he thought.
His first realization came from the attorney he hired. The man counseled that it was completely normal to want to kill the guy and was the main reason why only society as a whole could seek real justice because, if left up to individuals, the guy would already be dead. He also told my friend that he took a pretty serious look at what the prosecutor had for a case and he thought the guy didn’t do it. He blamed lazy cops.
The guy was released about a month later. More than 2 years after that the police called and said “they got the guy”. What a roller coaster. It took more than another year and they got their conviction. This guy got sentenced to life, with no possibility of parole. My friend had retained the same attorney to monitor this case and the guy was a quality counselor. He advised that now he was convinced that they got the right guy and that he should go on with his life.
The lessons this man learned were human, at their most basic, and reasonable.
He learned that it didn’t matter what he thought, it was what the jury thought that counts and rightly so. It wasn’t his place in a civil society to be involved in justice that was of direct importance to him. He learned that the system could be wrong, negligent, slow, imperfect and incomplete. He learned that what was important was that mistakes could be made that cost people their freedom.
So, like me, he believes that justice has been done and that they finally have the right guy. He believes that ultimately they could be wrong and therefore is happy no one else will die. He checked and found that the place the guy got sent to is an absolute end of a facility with nothing to look forward to but redemption. He realizes that even a person that has done something this terrible may find redemption. He has come to understand that true punishment comes from living your whole life with nothing but that possibility.
This murderer may eventually understand the potential of the life he took and the life he wasted. That, he said, was justice.