Rage, Impotence and Why Transparency Is Still Better

p1013136When I was in grad school, I drove this old Honda Accord that my folks passed on to me. It was a great car and I loved it. Got me everywhere, always started, great zippiness and gas mileage. At one point, I needed to replace the windshield and also some wheel bearings. I can’t recall why I did it this way (this was probably 25 years ago), except that I was poor, but I sourced a new windshield and the wheel bearings at a salvage yard in Greeley, Colorado. I lived in Laramie, Wyoming at the time – about 1.5 hr drive north of Greeley – so I drove down, picked up the parts and drove them down to Denver (another hour) to my mechanic to install. Denver is where I grew up and where my folks were, so I’m sure this made logistical sense at the time, timed with a visit to them. Why I wanted to go to that mechanic has totally escaped me.

Why I remember it at all is because, when the salvage guys loaded the windshield into the back seat, I helped position it. I closed the door on my side, then one of them closed the door on the other and I heard a crunch. I opened the door on that side and, sure enough, he’d closed it on the corner of the windshield and crushed it. I pointed this out and they pulled the windshield out again. The owner met with me in his office and said how I’d broken it. He was full of noise and bluster. I said it was crushed on the corner where his guy shut the door and he said, oh no, it broke down the middle. I said, no way! He looked me in the eye and said, “it’s in the Dumpster out back now, cracked down the middle.”

And I realized he knew he was lying and meant to bully me.

He offered to split the cost of the windshield with me – which meant I paid half for something I never even got – but I needed the wheel bearings, so I finally agreed. I drove off, fuming with rage and impotence, entirely uncertain what else I could have done.

Still makes me mad. 

The point of this story is that it happened before smart phones and social media. I could – and did – tell everyone I knew what a crap operation that guy ran. But, if I’d had a camera phone then, I would have snapped a picture before they took the windshield away. I would have posted it to hell and gone on social media if they’d still tried to cheat me. I would have left a nasty review everywhere I could find.

As it was, I had no way to hold them accountable. 

I see this as a vast change in the world. So many people are questioning why we see so much terrible stuff happening – cops beating innocents, protesters being bullied, bigots and racists spouting horrifying opinions – but I think that shit has been going on all this time. We just didn’t see it.

Instead we were all stuck with fuming in impotent rage, sucking up the hit, and moving on. We told our small circles, sure, but we had no way to broadcast the injustice to a larger world. In this day and age, that guy would never have gotten away with doing that to me.

All in all, for all its evils, I think the transparency is better. 

A Dish Best Served Cold

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?