Friday, March 21, 2008

Crime, Punishment, and Redemption

I wouldn't want to be a journalist. Columnist, I could handle. In fact, if any one of you happens to have a high paying column gig at a major newspaper you needed filled, I'm your man. Hell, I'll even take a low profile newspaper too, just as long as it's high paying. I'm not picky. But journalist just seems like a crappy job to me, especially when trying to find the right words to describe things.

But I laughed when I read this:
The former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive who hid for years by posing as an ordinary housewife has been released from prison after serving time for trying to bomb police cars, corrections officials said Thursday.

Uh, she was on the lam for twenty-four years. and was married for twenty of those years and had three kids. That's not "posing" as an ordinary housewife. That's being a housewife; and from what I read, a fairly good one. After she fled California, she changed her name and started a new life. As this article mentions, she was active in her community, had lots of friends, threw big dinner parties, and had her picture in the paper repeatedly. She wasn't just hiding. She had moved on.

I suppose it sounds more exciting to think she was just posing as a housewife, but the reality is that people can do good things and bad things, and even people who plot to bomb cops can go on to be housewives and mothers. And when I put it like that, I realize that this isn't just about poor word choice. This is about forgiveness and redemption. I've never liked our prison system, as it's still too focused on vengeance and punishment. And while I definitely think it's necessary to punish people, it'd be a lot better if we could focus on fixing them. And in the case of Sara Jane Olson, it looks like she fixed herself.

10 comments:

Michael said...

Prisons do nothing to treat our social pathologies, anyhow. Perhaps we need to consider a different approach.

Michael said...

Start by ending the unconstitutional prohibition of cannabis.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Ok, Michael. It's done.

Smoke 'em if you've got 'em.

Michael said...

Yay! Are you still running for president?

Doctor Biobrain said...

Officially, my presidential exploratory committee is still exploring the idea, and will be telling me that I should run for president sometime in August or September. It's all about expectations management and I hope to be wrapping this up in high style some time in December. Especially as my low profile campaign has been working like magic and the media won't start "vetting" me until after I've already got my velvet Elvises hanging in the Oval Office. And then it'll be too late.

I'm not the smartest man in the world for nothing.

SteveIL said...

Thought I'd check out what you had to say here.

You are the smartest man in your world. Not the world, but your world.

Uh, she was on the lam for twenty-four years. and was married for twenty of those years and had three kids. That's not "posing" as an ordinary housewife. That's being a housewife; and from what I read, a fairly good one.

I suppose it sounds more exciting to think she was just posing as a housewife, but the reality is that people can do good things and bad things, and even people who plot to bomb cops can go on to be housewives and mothers.

Soliah was posing as a housewife, but one has to live in the real world to understand that. She is, in fact, a murderer. She still ended up with an extremely lenient sentence for being such a hardened criminal.

Did you know that the murdered woman, Myrna Opsahl, was a housewife and a mother of four? Does justice for her murder count for so little? I feel sorry for Soliah's children, but what about the children of Mrs. Opsahl? Don't they count in all of this? Sara Jane Olson (Soliah) had no right to live her life as she did after committing murder. It is she, Soliah, who did this to her children, along with her husband, who are doing this to their own children, nobody else.

By the way, I read where one guy was very concerned about children drinking spoiled milk. So much so that he helped institute the policy of having milk dated so that it wouldn't be sold after it spoiled. The guy? The man behind the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Al Capone. Great guy, huh?

Doctor Biobrain said...

Yeah, you're totally right SteveIL. We can bring back the dead by punishing people. Vengeance works. And had Olson served those twenty-four years in prison (at taxpayer expense) instead of as a housewife, the world would have been a much safer place.

And what if Olson had been captured instead of running as a fugitive, but had been found innocent before moving away and starting a new life? Would she still be a murderer posing as a housewife? Or would you consider her to be a real housewife? I fail to see the difference.

Your argument would make much more sense if she was still committing acts of terror all these years while pretending to be a housewife. But she was just as much a housewife as any other, even if she was a fugitive. But as it is, she was far more rehabilitated than just about anything the prison system puts out. But you don't care about rehabilitation. You just want payback. Dumb punishment. You don't care if a prisoner gets released and keeps committing crimes. All you care about is that they keep going to prison for their crimes; not what they do afterwards. As long as somebody pays a price, you're satisfied.

But people make mistakes. People do dumb, cruel things. The point isn't whether we send them to prison for it or execute them. The point is whether we can prevent it from happening again. And the fact that Olson became a positive community figure is far more important than whether she went to prison. I never suggested that it was wrong that she eventually got caught and locked up. My point was that she started a new life and wasn't "posing". And I suspect she became a better member of her community than either you or I. Again, that's not to say she shouldn't have been punished. But to pretend she was merely "posing" is clearly wrong. She started a new life in a way we only dream most prisoners would.

Oh, and I would like to add that I finished that post at 3:22 AM. I only started it to write about the "posing" line, but decided to write a little more on rehabilitation. But it wasn't meant to be some grand post on it or anything and I finished it early because I was so tired. But if you look through, you'll see my postings have been quite light and I just was looking for something to write about.

SteveIL said...

You are really stretching things here, aren't you? First off, it wasn't a matter of her being "found innocent"; she pled guilty to all charges. Second, what is it about this hangup with vengeance? We're talking about justice for crimes she committed. There are reasons for these rules, and in some cases, it doesn't matter how long the fugitive is on the lam. There is no statute of limitations on murder. And considering she is only going to serve 7 years for murder, she's damned lucky.

Third, I notice that there is still nothing on the family that was truly torn apart by all of this, the family of the murdered woman. No, Mrs. Opsahl can't be brought back. But doesn't Olson owe the Opsahl family something for what she did? Community service in another state ain't it. Plus, she owes the state since there is no way they can let her get away with murder, regardless of how she was "rehabilitated".

Besides, Olson wasn't rehabilitated. She brainwashed one of her daughters into believing mom "was an urban guerilla" That's crap. She was a murderer and a terrorist. You can't whitewash it any more than that.

And I suspect she became a better member of her community than either you or I.

Oh, really? I never tried to get away with murder.

Olson gets out in a year. Her kids are already grown. She can be a pillar to the community afterwards, and hopefully she learned a lesson. Somehow, I doubt it, and she will play the victim for as long as she can milk it. While still posing as a housewife and mother.

Doctor Biobrain said...

SteveIL - How many times do I have to say that I don't have a problem with her being put in prison? In fact, I am really surprised that she got as light a sentence as she did. I'm guessing she had a great lawyer or something; which is part of how unjust our judicial system is. But I completely agree that she was lucky to get what she got, and I don't have a problem with it.

My point is that she wasn't posing as a housewife, as the story suggested. In the hypothetical question I asked, if things turned out different and she had a trial which found her innocent all those years ago, would you still consider her to be "posing" as a housewife? She still would have gotten away with murder.

And look, we all do bad things. I've definitely gotten away with crimes, including speeding, jaywalking, illegal turns, underage drinking, and even drunk driving quite a few times when I was younger. Does that mean that I'm "posing" as a husband? That's not to say these crimes are comparable to murder or terrorism, but that point is the same: People can be criminals, yet still do good things. She wasn't posing. She started a new life; even if she hadn't been punished for her old one. Had she still been committing acts of terror, she'd be a poser; but she changed her life and therefore was a true housewife.

And again, wouldn't it be better if every felon would be as much a member of the community as Olson was? And wouldn't it be great if we could spare the high expense of prisons and have every felon become positive community members without the punishment? I know that's not realistic and I'm not suggesting we do away with prisons; but wouldn't it be nice? The obsession with punishment is obscene.

We punish people to deter crime; not because we're savages looking for revenge. And in our current system, we still put too much emphasis on punishment; rather than rehabilitation. And if every criminal could act like Olson did without the punishment, crime would be all but abolished. That's not going to happen, but it'd be nice if it did.

Michael said...

Like I said, there may be alternatives to prison. America locks up a larger percentage of its population than any other country on the planet and it doesn't result in a lower crime rate.