14 March 2019

Serves them right

Anger and ridicule greeted the two Federal judges' sentences, totaling less than seven years after time served, for master influence peddler and tax swindler Paul Manafort.

Ridicule -- provoked in part by the enormous gap between the sentencing guidelines for his crimes and the actual sentences, and made worse by Judge Ellis citing Manafort's "otherwise blameless life."

Anger -- demonstrated by the flood of stories comparing this multiple-mansion Manafort with the harsh treatment of convicts with lower income or darker skin. Among the most shocking comparisons: Crystal Mason, apparently unaware that a prior conviction made her ineligible to vote, was sentenced to five years for voting in Texas. Other comparisons included stolen lawn mowers and equipment (15 years) and quarters from a laundry room (36-72 months).

One of the most disturbing reactions after Manafort's first sentence, in Virginia (47 months) was the tendency of many commentators to reassure us that surely his second sentence in Washington, DC, would be much harsher. Wait! What is the social benefit of that punitive spirit? What the country should demand from Manafort is restoration of money stolen from the Treasury and a total ban from any future participation in selling influence, wangling mortgages, and faking credit-worthiness.

The Paul Manafort case focused our attention on bias in the court system. As a convenient target, it might feel very satisfying to seek to flog Manafort as a compensation for the wickedness of that bias. But the leverage really ought to work in exactly the opposite direction: question all harsh sentences everywhere! Ask whether harsh sentences accomplish any social good at all! Demand that every judge be a "Manafort judge" and assume a seed of decency ... and that every participant in the whole "justice" system work to learn why decency becomes subverted. Seek restoration as the goal in every sentencing decision, and reserve incarceration for the custody of dangerous felons, rather than to satisfy that righteous indignation that is the stock in trade of populist politicians.

In particular, followers of the Prince of Peace should be persistently and incurably curious about the prison industry and how we feed its vicious appetite. We know that "none are righteous, no, not one!" (Romans 3:10, context); our moral superiority to those in prison, if any, is strictly relative. In our advocacy and our political behavior, let's question the lazy and convenient assumptions behind the ancient pattern, arrested = guilty = incarceration.

It is a lot easier to raise a scandal over a couple of dramatically lenient sentences for one criminal than to join together to confront a mass incarceration system that eats people by the thousands. It is popular indifference to the fate of our Crystal Masons that allows the system to grind on unimpeded.

Audy Home version 2014; source.
My sister Ellen, who began running away from home at age 13 (in 1968), spent much of the year 1969 behind bars. At least three separate times she was in the Audy Home (Chicago's juvenile detention facility at the time); most of the rest of her detention was in psychiatric hospitals. Of all the people in our family, she was probably the most mentally healthy, but those psychiatric confinements provided a relatively safe alternative to jail. I am grateful for those times, because when I visited her at one of those clinics, the staff encouraged us to tell our stories -- and a flood of experiences of alcoholism and violence from both of us confirmed the staff doctors' suspicions that there was a lot more going on than just a simple case of juvenile delinquency.

I would like to believe that every young person caught up in the criminal justice system would get such sympathetic attention -- not just a white girl from the suburbs. Sadly, as I've recounted before, Ellen slipped out of custody on February 28, 1970, and a month later she was kidnapped and killed, her body dumped on the Calumet Canal Bridge.

Here's a glimpse of her life in detention, from a letter she wrote to me on May 20, 1969:
We've had a very wild weekend on 1 South. Saturday all the girls kicked this one girl's ass. Sunday there was another fight, and a near riot, in which all the girls got Thorazine shots, but me, who chose not to participate. Monday night two guys tried to escape, and the whole unit was in an uproar. Today a girl got put in restraints (tied to a bed) until Thursday because of the fight Saturday. ... Everyone is really uptight now. Things are gonna blow.

Mugambi Jouet believes that Manafort does not deserve to die in prison.
While Manafort is not the poster child for mass incarceration, his case reveals America’s deep, disturbing attraction to harsh punishment—even among some on the left, who seem to relish the idea that he might die in prison.

Source: screenshot from NASA TV.  
Today: a successful Soyuz launch and rendezvous with the International Space Station. The station is now back to a full staff of six.

Bryan Stevenson on confronting mass imprisonment.

Restorative justice resources: Mennonite Central Committee. American Friends Service Committee. Prison Fellowship International.

Frank Viola on the last days of Christian America -- and his three explanations that don't involve external enemies.

Another lesson in regarding humans: Scenery. Machinery. People.

Franklin Foer on how Russian-style kleptocracy is influencing the USA. For example,
New York, Los Angeles, and Miami have joined London as the world’s most desired destinations for laundered money. This boom has enriched the American elites who have enabled it—and it has degraded the nation’s political and social mores in the process.

When they bury me bury me bury me, gonna bury the blues alongside of me.

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