Photo by sridgway
In California, Governor Jerry Brown released 2,300 inmates, every one of them convicted for murder and sentenced to life in prison. The program is as an experiment in “mass forgiveness”.
“Mass forgiveness” is impossible. The state has no standing to grant forgiveness of any kind for a murder. The state can offer an amnesty, a respite, a parole, even a pardon to a convict. Forgiveness is above the pay grade of any state official.
Here is a hypothetical to demonstrate why forgiveness in a murder is impossible. Imagine my little sister had been murdered when she was a teenager. It is theoretically possible that, after many years of healing and pleas for forgiveness by a remorseful convict, I could consider forgiving him. What would I be forgiving him for? He didn’t kill me.
I would only consider forgiveness for what the murderer did to me when he killed my sister. The pain her death caused me, the deprivation of a lifetime of advice and counsel. The pain of not attending her wedding, and the pain of the next generation of our family never knowing their aunt are all things the murderer inflicted on me.
But one can not forgive a murderer for what he has done to the deceased. Only the victim can do that, and she is dead. There is a reason we have a death penalty limited to murder in many states. It’s a recognition that murder is a special category of crime. A victim of a robbery or assault could, in theory, come to forgive their assailant. There have been cases when victims even support the parole of their assailant. But a murder victim can not.
It seems our society has come to blur forgiveness with healing. Someone who is paralyzed in a bank robbery shooting is, by definition, a victim. But if a person sees himself as a victim – and becomes defined by this – he will never be happy. One can not hold onto “victimhood” – no matter how legitimate – and have happiness. As part of coping with his condition, he learns to move on and not nurse a justifiable anger. Learning to live his new life is not the same as forgiving the perpetrator. A victim could happily live the rest of his life forgetting but not forgiving. Moving on with one’s life does not require forgiveness as a prerequisite.
The Washington Post profiles several convicts that have been released, including Ryan Lo, sentenced to 29 years to life for carrying out a contract killing. The suspect shot a 19 year old Damian McKenna in the head. When Lo heard his wounded victim moaning, his crushed the young father’s head with a boulder. The California Youthful Offender Parole Board concluded Lo “is a highly sophisticated individual who appears to be too criminally sophisticated for Youth Authority treatment,” and sent him to state prison in 1997. Just 23 years into his sentence, Gov. Brown released Lo.
The victim’s son, Logan, is an orphan. There seems to be no information on how Logan feels about the man who prevented him from knowing his father, much less on the matter of forgiveness. Ryan Lo is now working as a security guard. One suspects Logan wishes his father could do the same.
The spectacle of a politician granting a “mass forgiveness” is morally deformed, like someone treating friends at an expensive restaurant while paying with a stolen credit card. Only victims can forgive, and one hopes the convicts are truly remorseful and can find forgiveness for the pain they have caused all of the friends and family of their victims. As for the victims of their murders, no one on earth – not even politicians – can bridge the divide between the living and the dead.
Michael James Barton is the founder of a consulting firm, Hyatt Solutions. He worked on trade issues on Capitol Hill and served at the Department of Defense and the Homeland Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. He can be reached at Scheduling@HyattSolutions.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @MichaelJames357.