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.