Yesterday I saw on Twitter this video.
It’s about a young woman who received life in prison, without possibility of parole, for murdering her pimp. I believe all of that is strictly accurate. If you watch the video, you will know exactly as much as I do about the situation. There might be other things we don’t know here.
But I Re-Tweeted it and several people on Facebook commented on the link. The story takes you back. We talked a bit about the nature of justice and if all situations are the same. Sara was 16 when she committed this murder, which she admits she carefully planned out. We discussed some, in the short comments, whether it makes sense for her to spend the rest of her life in prison. I wonder what that’s accomplishing.
A friend from college chimed in and said “You’ve obviously never had a violent crime happen in your own family; if you did, you would understand why some people believe that spending your life in jail will never come close to paying for the crime of taking someone else’s life. Think about the victim’s families…”
Her father was murdered when she was very young. In an armed robbery as I recall. The details are murky, those that she told me when we first met over twenty years ago. I do remember that I told her my dad had died when I was a girl, too, and she said, “you do realize, don’t you, that there’s a world of difference between death and murder.”
And I thought, that I wasn’t sure what the difference was. Though I didn’t say so to her.
Both of our fathers were equally gone. Both here one moment and gone the next, so the shock was the same. In some ways, she has a focus, someone to blame, whereas we have only the happenstance of accident.
I asked my mother which of her husband’s deaths was more painful: the instantaneous loss of her first husband or the slow, lingering death of her second husband to chronic disease. Without hesitation, she said the second. Which is what I thought she’d pick. I knew how hard it was for her to watch over years as Leo declined in the prime of his life and withered away. With Ted’s death, it happened, it was over and she had to deal.
None of which addresses murder, I know.
“Think about the victim’s families,” my friend says.
I think it gets difficult when we try to parse out whose pain is greater than another’s. But if we administer justice on the basis of pain — which, I know, we absolutely do — then a prison term becomes more about punishment, about revenge than anything else, doesn’t it? If that’s what we want, so be it.
But if we’re operating on the level of emotion, basing our decisions on people’s pain, are we really thinking at all?
I don’t think Sara’s sentence makes any sense, from what I know. The judge told her that she had no moral scruples, which she says she had to look up. Clearly she needed to learn something. Perhaps still does.
My question is: what exactly is she learning?