Press "Enter" to skip to content

Life sentence

Yesterday I learned an acquaintance is facing a possible sentence of life in prison. He hasn’t killed or maimed anybody. He hasn’t done any drug kingpinning. He hasn’t pulled a Bernie Madoff or spied for the North Koreans.

He’s just a lifelong screwup. A standard, ordinary, bumbling petty criminal. A prosecutor has finally gotten fed up with him and is going for a “three strikes” sentence.

In a way, it doesn’t matter. He’s been in prison most of his life, anyhow. But in short stints. D., who’s in his 40s, has been in and out of juvie, jail, and prison since his teens. He always gets busted for some drug offense or non-violent property crime (burglarizing somebody’s garage, stealing copper wire, that sort of thing).

He gets sentenced to a year. It’s always somewhere right around a year. In prison, his behavior is exemplary. He not only obeys every rule; he thrives on obedience and routine. He reads his bible and teaches his cellmates about Jesus. He does everything right and emerges a “reformed” man.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

His family alternatively gives up on him and makes excuses for him (while claiming not to be doing so). He steals from his mother and she kicks him out of her house. When he’s arrested — for whatever — she shakes her head and admits he had it coming. But sometime while he’s sending her letters from prison about his love for God and how he sees the error of his ways (and, not incidentally, feeding her sob stories about the events that led to his latest downfall), she concludes the most recent arrest wasn’t his fault. “That woman he was dating framed him for burglary.” “That girl he was living with wanted him to deal drugs.”

She takes him back. Gets him counseling, enrolls him in community college. He’s stellar for a while — until he walks away from whatever court-ordered program he’s in or whatever self-improvement routine he’s pledged to. And … on the cycle goes.

Until two years ago, none of his crimes were overtly violent. Then he and his girlfriend got into it so forcefully that a neighbor broke into their apartment and held him for the police. (“She attacked him first; he was just defending himself.”) Cops found some impressive quantity of meth and would have had him on an intent-to-distribute charge — had the search been legal.

Shortly before, his mother had walked him through the process of getting disability payments for the PTSD that’s allegedly his core problem. He immediately used his newfound money buy more drugs than he’d ever been able to afford before. And he chose one of the nastiest.

This should have surprised exactly no one.

But with the cops having screwed up the search, he got only another one-year sentence on some low degree of domestic violence. (Not that I think anybody should go to prison for drugs, but in this case his family actually hoped he’d get a sentence long enough to give him time to grow some common sense. Not that he ever would.)

Then, most recently, after getting out of prison for DV, he assaulted one of his brothers. Apparently with little harm done. But now he’s back in the local jail and the tough-on-crime prosecutor wants him locked up forever.

Again, the family had hoped for a 5-7 year sentence. They’re reportedly devastated that their son and brother might be imprisoned for life. Even more devastated because they’re the ones who got him arrested. Remains to be seen what prison term D. will actually get, but right now it’s an awful situation for everybody.

Very likely it would have been best if some past victim had delivered justice to D. at the scene of one of his multitude of crimes. Yes, his deeds were all petty, but you know and I know that breaking into homes and businesses to steal from those who’ve earned it isn’t truly “non-violent.” And now his deeds are escalating.

God forbid he gets yet another one-year sentence.

Life in prison seems out of line for anything he’s done. OTOH, he’s been giving himself life in prison — one-year sentence after one-year sentence — since puberty. In the real world he is, at best, a waste of space and, at worst, a murder waiting to happen.

In my experience with him, he’s always seemed hapless. Not ill-intentioned or vicious in any way, just someone who can’t manage his own life and craves to be managed by iron-fisted authorities. Just one of those people who, if given the choice between doing the right thing and the wrong one, will inevitably plunge into the wrong one without taking a moment to rub two brain cells together. A fortysomething adolescent.

Now (I’m guessing) between having money to further wreck his brain with meth and becoming increasingly frustrated with the fact that other people have better lives than he does, he’s starting to strike out violently.

I don’t much care what happens to him. It would be wrong to have the government lock him up forever (and wrong, too, to force taxpayers to pay for the idiot’s lifelong upkeep). But as a practical matter, locking him away from innocent humans seems perfectly appropriate. Because otherwise, his life — or perhaps somebody else’s — is going to come to an even worse end.


  1. Alien
    Alien August 29, 2015 2:48 am

    It might be wrong, for some values of “wrong”, to lock this guy up forever. But…..what’s the cost of not doing so? Based on available data (your description of him) it’s highly unlikely a behavioral change is possible.

    The data is old, but last time I had occasion to look, the average residential burglary carries a cost to the victim of about $1850; for any crime, the cost of police investigation isn’t free, nor is incarceration pending trial, or prosecutor time, or the cost of a courthouse, or running the probation department, or publicly-funded rehabilitation programs, all of which are borne largely by those not participating in criminal behavior.

    It won’t be free to keep D in jail until he expires, but the cost of not doing so is almost certainly much higher, and when he escalates another step or two and kills someone, deliberately or accidentally, societal cost takes a huge jump.

    My question would be “why has it taken so long for the criminal justice industry to arrive at this point for this individual”? I expect very little that’s positive from government given its inherent incompetence and corruption, and I refuse to trust it with the responsibilities and obligations of capital punishment, but I do demand reasonable execution of basic responsibilities, a primary one of which is providing some degree of protection for the innocent. Based on your description of D, that’s not him and hasn’t been for quite some time.

  2. Pat
    Pat August 29, 2015 4:50 am

    I suspect this guy has never learned – and never been taught – responsibility, in the most basic sense. Nor was he taught – or ever learned – how to think for himself.

    He sounds as if he’s comfortable in prison, as if he enjoys being taken care of. Maybe he does these things in order to be sent back there. Maybe he doesn’t know how to interact with others, and “society” as a whole scares him. (It’s beginning to scare me, too.)

    God knows I’m not the one to psychoanalyze him – I’ll leave that to those who believe in that sort of thing – but he certainly would make a great subject for how people end up wherever they do.

  3. Joel
    Joel August 29, 2015 5:51 am

    There have been a few such people in my extended family – sad to say, there’s one in every branch I know of. If there’s a good answer to the problem they pose, nobody’s discovered it. Prison was made for people like this. It’s not a good answer, but they do hurt people and mostly don’t commit suicide.

  4. J Lyn Morris
    J Lyn Morris August 29, 2015 8:01 am

    It would seem the private sector, paid by the family, could provide a better structured ‘keep’ for this fellow. It just seems like too easy a way out for everybody to stick him in prison…for one year or for life. But then, I despise the for-profit penal system, so I’m a bit biased.

  5. revjen45
    revjen45 August 29, 2015 8:22 am

    There are those who actually prefer prison to the resposnibilities concomitant to freedom. This clown is one of those. Life in prison just saves the intermediate expenses related to the the legal processes of doing it a year at a time, and just maybe either the life of one of his victims, or his own. In any case he’s going where he likes to be and won’t be victimizing anybody who actually matters. Good riddance.

  6. Ellendra
    Ellendra August 29, 2015 8:53 am

    It was discussed on a previous blog post, there are some people who want to control, and some people who want to be controlled. And it’s too bad they can’t just focus on each other and leave the rest of us alone.

    I don’t know of any privately-run program that would provide it, but it sounds like he needs a lifelong version of boot camp.

  7. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty August 29, 2015 9:53 am

    Pat, you are right, of course. He never learned personal responsibility. Unfortunately, he probably had two or three generations of ancestors behind him who never learned it either. Since it really needs to be learned early in life, who was going to teach him?

    NOT to excuse the evil he indulges in, by any means… It is a compounding problem all across the country. I came in contact with such people endlessly in my career… and it was one of those things that made the job so stressful. There was nothing at all I could do about it.

    Ever try to teach a 200 pound thirteen year old girl how to manage her diabetes? With the already diabetic mother making every excuse (and cupcakes) for her? Oh yeah…

  8. MJR
    MJR August 29, 2015 9:58 am

    I almost feel sorry for this guy. It looks like a simple case of “ya can’t fix stupid” but on the other hand, life behind bars for being stupid?

    The other day I came across this blog entry that fits here.

    Scroll down to the section labeled “Security Against Crime: Law In An Anarchist Society” and see how this sort of thing could be dealt with. There is a better way…

  9. LarryA
    LarryA August 29, 2015 11:59 am

    I don’t know of any privately-run program that would provide it, but it sounds like he needs a lifelong version of boot camp.

    There are such. Unfortunately:
    1. They are too expensive for most families to afford,
    2. Unlike prison, they can’t force a person to stay,
    3. The student must decide to learn.

    Back in the day the court would have encouraged enlistment. Warfighting has changed, however, and today’s military no longer has any place for grunts.

    Unfortunately, he probably had two or three generations of ancestors behind him who never learned (responsibility) either.

    ML, there’s a high probability you’re correct. However, in my work I have known people who came out of good families, but just never seemed to get the message every other kid in the same family benefited from. I also know a few who left crap environments behind to become decent human beings. But that’s not the way to bet.

    Particularly these days. When I was growing up third-grade Cub Scouts responsibly carried pocket knives. Today it’s “OMG we can’t have college students ‘armed’ with them,” and many other examples of the same attitude.

  10. LarryA
    LarryA August 29, 2015 12:13 pm

    in this case his family actually hoped he’d get a sentence long enough to give him time to grow some common sense.


    An environment where every decision is made for you, and you “succeed” by conforming, doesn’t teach either common sense or how to make better decisions when you get out. One of the major problems of prison is that it teaches the exact opposite of the skills necessary in society. The same is true of the current U.S. welfare system.

  11. Claire
    Claire August 29, 2015 12:32 pm

    D. actually comes from a respectable, hard-working family. Both his father and one of his brothers owned their own businesses and D. himself is highly skilled at a trade (which nobody will ever again hire him for since it involves working inside people’s houses).

    Was the family dysfunctional? Yeahhhh. His parents divorced when he was a kid. But of course that doesn’t explain anything; the other siblings survived and thrived. So who knows?

    Larry’s right about no ordinary family being able to afford a private facility — or being able to force an unwilling adult to stay in such. (And for that, we might thank our lucky stars, really.)

    And MJR, I’d be really surprised if D. actually ends up getting that life sentence the prosecutor wants, but whatever sentence he gets will be for a) yes, a lifetime of stupid, b) possession of controlled substances, c) first-degree assault, and d) breaking parole for the umpti-umpth time.

  12. Claire
    Claire August 29, 2015 12:46 pm

    Alien — Good analysis, thank you. I had no idea of the cost of the individual crimes to the victims & hadn’t really thought about the costs of multiple prosecutions vs one for a lifetime.

    Pat — I’m sure you’re right that D. is more comfortable in prison. Since he lacks the concept of consequences, I doubt he’s even capable of thinking, “If I do X, I’ll end up behind bars.” But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some psychological mechanism he’s unaware of repeatedly draws him not just to commit crimes, but to be locked up.

  13. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty August 29, 2015 1:18 pm

    You are right, Pat… there are almost endless exceptions possible.

    Very interesting, Claire. It begins to sound as if this young man has some form of autism. That’s a sad situation for any family, dysfunctional or otherwise. I’ve known a number of those, and have some peripheral family history with one who became extremely violent. He is now permanently in a mental hospital. It’s a sad world. 🙁

  14. Daniel
    Daniel August 29, 2015 8:50 pm

    Just remember, there will be many people like him who will eventually be rehabilitated with enough patience. By putting him in prison for life, the government is also putting the ones who would successfully get their act together in prison for life.

  15. Laird
    Laird August 30, 2015 12:17 pm

    “and wrong, too, to force taxpayers to pay for the idiot’s lifelong upkeep”

    I would agree with that, except for the fact that in this particular case you report that he is currently receiving disability payments (and, if not that, probably some other forms of welfare). In other words, we’re already paying for his upkeep, and probably will be doing so for the remainder of his meaningless life. Best, then to do so in a secure facility where he can’t harm others. Life in prison seems best for both him and society.

  16. LarryA
    LarryA August 30, 2015 2:25 pm

    Just remember, there will be many people like him who will eventually be rehabilitated with enough patience.

    IMHO, and experience, people like D just keep taking advantage of other people’s patience. If he changes it’ll much more likely be because some life experience puts a boot up his ass and he decides he wants to change.

    But I’ll agree that one of the least likely places for that to happen is prison.

  17. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau August 31, 2015 3:22 pm

    Weren’t both Sam Adams and Thomas Paine also ne’er-so-wells? It seems like humans need people like this even if they are mostly a pain in the ass for everybody else, most of the time.

    Anyway, I have run into a few like that. I found them pretty likeable but was glad to leave them behind…

  18. KenK
    KenK September 5, 2015 2:47 pm

    Have him do his “year” on an unihabited island up in Alaska. Basic tools and food for a week. Learn self reliance & responsibility, or perish. Up to him. If he stays in society he’ll end up doing lengthy hard time or dead. Seen it before and that’s how it usually goes sad to say.

Leave a Reply