Thursday, January 25, 2007

Children and crimes- why Shawn Hornbeck and Lee Boyd Malvo both deserve our sympathy.

Last week when they found Shawn Hornbeck, the 15 year old who had been kidnapped several years previously, and the other child who had only been there for a few days, it jarred something in me.

I saw that poor child and heard people saying he had been outside playing, but hadn't run for help. He had a bike but didn't run for help. He had computer access but didn't run for help. He could have escaped but he didn't. In a few years the kidnapper had put shackles around that kid's brain that were just as strong and impenetrable as any steel bars in a prison.

One neighbor even said he heard the man hit the kid, but he didn't get involved. (I hope that person has resolved to "get involved" next time he hears something like that!)

Do you remember a poem... I have tried to look it up but I can't find it- leave a message if you know the name : )
... The gist of which is that when they came for the poor people he said nothing because he wasn't poor, when they came for the this people, he said nothing because he wasn't this, and so forth until they come for him and there is no one left to stand up for him.... Well, that's the way this kind of situation makes me feel. I have to say something about how we as a society have demanded that children be punished as adults in all kinds of situations- when they are not adults, their brains don't function as adults, and it is inappropriate to hold them to the standards to which we hold adults.

Columbine, Lee Boyd Malvo, and so many more examples- Kids who commit horrible, terrible crimes and the public cries out for them to be punished as adults. And don't misunderstand me, I am not making a case that their crimes are not serious, that the deaths are not tragic, that these children should not be punished. They should be punished. They must be treated and counseled and they should be confined during said treatment and counseling- probably for years, which they will consider Punishment, but I consider Treatment...(BTW- this is, if you recall, the point of our criminal justice system: to rehabilitate and punish- but that's a different blog for a different day!)

What I'm saying is that no matter how much they may look like adults, teenagers are not adults. Their brains are not fully developed. They are, although some parents might disagree with me, particularly susceptible to other people controlling them. We can see examples in our own lives of things our families did which we thought were normal... Until we saw other people's lives. In most cases these differences aren't that big, but think how it can be turned around. Children are highly susceptible to "magical thinking" which is believing things that we as adults can see do not logically follow.

Lee Boyd Malvo particularly upsets me. This kid, raised in Jamaica, dirt poor, with very little education and living with a man who is not his father, who was a strict disciplinarian by all reports, his mother off dealing with her life- he is supposed stand up to the guy and stop him? To leave him? Ha. I see the same emotional bars around his mind that the kidnapper put around Shawn Hornbeck's mind. His crimes were terrible, but do you really think he should be held responsible like the adult who was with him telling him what to do?

The thing is, the person wanting to control the young person doesn't even have to be the logical one to have control over the young person. At least, not logical as we see it from the outside. I know a family where the 17 year old daughter began dating a 19 year old. They made a baby together but didn't get married. The parents wanted her to break up with him after he became abusive to her. The parents are quite wealthy and extremely influential. Still, the daughter was more afraid of the boyfriend- this stupid drug dealing teenage wannabe than the parents. He told her if she left him he would kill her and nothing her parents said would convince her otherwise. It really blew my mind that she just sat there and believed, truly believed, there was nothing her parents could do to help her, that she was stuck with him. 15 cops, three lawyers, a Judge- none of us could convince her that we could help her- he controlled her mind.

What if Devlin had used Shawn to lure other young boys into the home and he had joined in on molesting them? Would we want to charge him with a crime that way we did Lee Boyd Malvo? I can see the situation being presented to us in such a way that many people would want to- "He had freedom to ride his bike..." "He had internet access..." (Note: After I posted this someone told me that it has come out that Shawn did participate in the kidnapping. It just goes to bolster my argument- and make me feel even more empathy towards him. )

I have seen moms put clothes in baby's diapers to steal them- when a kid grows up with that, at what point do you think they are going to spontaneously develop the realization that what they are doing is wrong? And stand up to a parent and tell them it is wrong and they refuse to participate? Ppppfhhhh.

I had a 17 year old a few months ago who was charged with theft III. This was not your usual shoplifting case, but stealing gas, for his grandmother's van, at her request. When I glared at her she shrugged, "We needed it and I thought he'd only get probation." I sat down with him and we talked about his family and possible ways around doing what they told him to do when it was illegal. We spoke about when he could be charged as an adult and his 19th birthday, and I had nothing much for him. "No," I had to say, "You can't run away from home. They'll put you in detention and you'll have to deal with those really bad kids." "No, you can't join the military unless you stay in school and don't get arrested again." "If you tell your counselor what's going on yes, your family might get in trouble, but that's ok, don't stress over that, you need to talk to him about everything." (They were using him to do other thefts and sell pills.)

There is no good answer. I just want you to think about these children. I want you to think about Lee Boyd Malvo, already found guilty of capital murder, which he committed at age 17, who will be in prison for the rest of his life- at $35 k or so per year? You don't think that with $1,400,000 (35K x 40 years- a conservative estimate) we couldn't figure out a better plan for him? Maybe he has been ruined, maybe after that kind of trauma he is never going to be "normal" but doesn't a 17 year old have a shot? I'd like to think Shawn Hornbeck has a great shot of recovering and becoming a positive and normal member of our world, maybe even somethig extraordinary if he uses his experiences to help other kids, and if I think that, I have to think Lee Boyd Malvo can be saved.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What I learned in Court this week....

More examples of what happens when parents don't parent well:

When you're a trustee in jail, and the guards ask you to scrub the toilets, if you don't then they're going to find someone else to be trustee, who is happy to scrub toilets in exchange for having a cooler, bigger cell with TV and extra food, not to mention phone and vending machine access.

Then, when you're mad at the guards because you wouldn't do what you're supposed to do, and they put you in a three man cell because you pitch a fit at being put back in population and they're trying to be nice even though you are being a pain in their buttocks...

and they're working on the cameras so they have to come personally check the cell every 15 minutes to make sure nothing bad happens....

so you strip nekkid and strap your sweatshirt around your neck and stand on the edge of the bed for 14 minutes, then jump off the bed the second you hear the guards coming....

remember, that just because the guards can't see the cameras, doesn't mean they're not recording and that when they get the cameras fixed and they watch the tape, and see you standing there listening for them for 14 minutes, they are going to be very very very angry because your temper tantrum caused them to have to fill out a whole lot of extra paperwork and one of them has to sit outside your cell 24/7 because even though they know you didn't really want to kill yourself, they have to FOLLOW THE RULES AND DO WHAT THEY ARE ORDERED TO DO which you wouldn't understand...

....So don't get all pissy with your lawyer when she comes to see you and tells you that you have 240 days of revoked time to serve on your previous convictions, and the prosecutor is not making any good offers, so we might as well just set it for trial because you're not getting out of here today.

Don't you understand that they were nice to the last guy who tried to kill himself because he has REAL mental problems?

And no, its not a violation of your civil rights that they took away your clothes and made you wear the suicide nightshirt AFTER YOU TRIED TO KILL YOURSELF. And no, its not a violation of your civil rights to be asked to scrub a toilet. Um, yeah, I did that myself just this weekend. Yeah but what? And.... dear Lord dude, you are a 26 year old white male- it is NOT a violation of your rights that the head jailer won't give you credit for good time. You have to earn it. It says right there on the piece of paper posted in the jail hallway: Good time is a privilege not a right.

Finally, do you think yelling "Fuck this shit!" at the top of your lungs is going to reach the Judge's ears and cause her to think, "Gee, I really need to speak with that inmate. He probably has some real and serious grievances and I should make all these people in the Courtroom wait so that I can address the needs of that prisoner right now?" Really? Cause we did hear you in the Courtroom and that's not what she's thinking of doing to you.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Michael Jackson and I have something in common...

So I've had a really bad case of bronchitis. I pulled a muscle in my chest hacking uselessly, and it feels like a knife in my side everytime I cough. I went to my surgeon because, well, my doctor was out of the office and I didn't want to go to doc-in-a-box and get even sicker and I'm friends with my surgeon so I went to see him.

The first thing he did was hand me a face mask and say, "You know you're contagious."

Oh. Ok.

Then he listened to my chest and wrote me some prescriptions. (But not for antibiotics- which is what I kept telling everyone- its not Bacterial!)

He said, "I 'm calling your dad and telling him you need to go home. You need to go home, but if you do go back to work, then wear this so no one else gets sick. " He sighs and says, "And you need to quit smoking."

"I did!" I blurt out, "Yesterday!"

"You still need to stay home and rest or you're going to have pneumonia. You know how bad your lungs are."

So I did. I called my dad and he covered for me on Wed and I was going to cover for him on Thurs just for two hours then go home. Then, wearing the face mask I went to the pharmacy and got my meds. Its amazing how people will get out of your way when you're wearing a face mask. Same went for the grocery store. I was out of there in no time!

So, I rested for two days and then I got up, dosed myself with my meds, the ones I can take and go to court, and went to Court.

When I got there, we were in the downstairs Courtroom which is tiny and crowded.

I put on my mask and was all happy because I was going to not get my friends sick.

But they couldn't deal. Seriously, they were totally freaked out. "What do you mean you just have a cold? You look like you have SARS." said one.

Another was just staring with big eyes.

I noticed the clients sitting in the audience were starting to get nervous.

"I just can't stop coughing and don't want to cough on anyone."

The other attorney for the State just held out her hand, "Give me your files. Go Home. You're freaking everyone out. You're such a dork for thinking we would let you come in here with that thing on."

I handed her the cases and went home.

Note to all: If you want to go home but want to look like you really want to be at work- wear a face mask. I also recommend a lot of coughing that results in a puking convulsion, with or without actual vomit. I always got sent home from work and school when I did that.

Now, I've caught up my work and I'm going home for the weekend!