REDEEMING VALUE

Of the literal dozens of interviews with NFL players regarding Ray Rice that I have seen in the past 36 hours, all of which expressed condemnation, the best comment was made by his teammate Justin Forsett:

"I'm not going to abandon him now. I'm going to be a friend and help him in his growth and development. But I'm definitely ashamed watching that."

I want to be explicit about two things up front, and please re-read these before you post your angry comments. One, absolutely nobody should feel sorry for Ray Rice. Two, Ray Rice should go to prison. I believe that anyone who commits a crime with this level of violence deserves a prison sentence. Counseling? Therapy? Suspensions? Yes, he should have those things too. But he should spend a not-insignificant amount of time in prison for his crime. He won't, but he should.

I believe violent criminals should go to jail, but I also believe in an outmoded theory of incarceration that tries to rehabilitate offenders. It is one of my core beliefs that with very few exceptions, people who commit crimes can be rehabilitated. Not all of them will choose to do so, obviously, but I believe that every individual has the potential to reflect on his crime and commit to changing the part of himself that caused it to happen.
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And my purpose in writing this post is to emphasize that this applies even to people who commit the kind of crimes we find the most shocking and heinous.

This is not to say "Leave Ray alone!" or "The poor guy has suffered enough!" because he hasn't. People who do shameful things should not be shocked when they are made to feel ashamed of their actions and to the extent that he is suffering right now he has only himself to blame – not to mention that his suffering pales in comparison to that of his victim. He is not the victim; he is the perpetrator of all the misery resulting from his behavior including his own.

Forsett's comment reminds us all that while sympathy and concern should be directed primarily to the victim, the offender needs support as well. Rice does not need everyone on Earth to abandon him and treat him like a pariah even though he has committed a disgusting crime. He needs people to say, "I'm appalled at what you did, and if you decide that you want to change I will be here to help you." Not to make excuses for you. Not to protect you from the scorn and criticism you earned. To help. I think everyone deserves that, including murderers, rapists, and Ray Rice.

As I wrote years ago regarding Michael Vick, there is a tendency for people to adopt reactionary, right-wing frames when someone commits a particularly heinous crime. Suddenly we stop talking about the myriad problems with the justice and correctional systems in this country and we join the "Lock 'em up and throw away the key" chorus. We start demanding to see people punished in perpetuity, branded for life by their crime. Ray Rice will never escape what he did, nor should he. He will always be that guy who knocked his wife out and dragged her around by the hair. He made that bed for himself. But the appropriate response should not be to cast him out like a leper. If – the big if – he is willing to destroy the part of himself that enabled him to commit that crime and replace it with something better, people who know him should help him through that process. If he emerges from that having learned from his brutal crime (I hate it when people say "mistake" here), then more power to him. That is exactly what we want from people who commit crimes – to rehabilitate, not simply to be punching bags for our scorn and punishment forever.

I believe people can change, even people who do terrible things. To believe otherwise would be to agree with the Palins and the Limbaughs of the world, whose simplistic, idiotic worldview dictates that people are Good or Evil, period. Even though it is unpopular to say anything less than ruthlessly critical of a person who commits this kind of crime I'd sooner eat my hat than throw it into the ring with people who espouse such backward beliefs.

44 thoughts on “REDEEMING VALUE”

  • If the offender is white, sure. But why let a black person back into society when they've given us an excuse to remove them from it?

  • Yes, Rice should do some time.
    His wife may have had some impact on the decision making process, of whether to charge him or not.

    Our current prison system isn't designed to rehabilitate.
    It's designed to contain and punish people – many of them non-violent drug offenders of color.

    NY State had a programs back in the 70's, where guys in Maximum Security Prisons, could earn an Associate's, Bachelor's, or even Master's Degree.
    I was one of the teachers/professors.
    Ronald Reagan was sworn in in January of 2001, and we were told the funding for the program was ending in May, at the end of that semester.

    Never mind that the programs reduced the recidivism rate to nearly nothing for the guys who wanted to learn – because, though they had committed a serious crime, they had done their time, and came out with a degree that could help them find a job.

    Guess what?
    The recidivism rate sky-rocketed for all prisoners – because that wasn't the only program that Reagan helped de-fund.

    Conservatives are assholes who only care about themselves. They can't look beyond themselves, and see a greater good.

  • That's an interesting alternate timeline you live in. In my reality, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President in January of 1981, and he was effectively incapacitated by Alzheimer's in 2001. What kind of a campaign did he run at age 89 in your world?

  • grumpygradstudent says:

    How dare you suggest that humans are complicated and aren't reducible to their worst moment or worst trait!

    Christianity may have screwed this country royally in all kinds of ways, but one thing I have to say for it; it understands this whole forgiveness thing a lot better than the secular world.

    The idea that even terribly shitty people have value is one I fear will be lost as Christianity continues to disappear. It's probably worth the tradeoff for having fewer maniacs and morons, but it will still suck to lose one element of the culture whose grappling with the problem of forgiveness has 2000 years of nuance behind it.

  • I've recently become interested in true crime stories from the past. Before the big blow-up over the murder of James Bulger there was an 11 year old girl named Mary Bell who strangled two little boys. She served 12 years in different facilities for young offenders and was released at age 23. She had a daughter in 1984 and that daughter had a child in 2009. She has not re-offended since being released over 30 years ago. If you search on YouTube you can find a documentary video in which one of the interviewees talks about how "wicked" Mary was growing up in the worst part of Newcastle, one of the poorest areas of England. One of the parents of her victims also mentions how enraged she is to find that Mary is now a grandmother with a lifetime of anonymity for herself and her daughter, while she, the mother of this dead boy, has nothing in her life but grief. What's not mentioned very much is that Mary's mother was a prostitute who specialized as a dominatrix and she used the very unfortunate Mary as a prop with her clients. Mary was subject to years of sexual abuse in this way and the psychology experts think she became severely emotionally detached as a result. It's amazing to me that she didn't do any more terrible things than she did, and especially that she's stayed out of trouble for over 30 years since finishing her time, but advocates for demolishing the juvenile justice system are mostly interested in revenge; the lives which would be thrown away for what they propose would be a feature, not a bug.

    Also, we can't expect anybody who commits an offense to have an incentive to redeem themselves if we don't give them the opportunity. It's like giving the maximum penalty for a crime whether someone is killed or not; the offender has nothing to lose and everything to gain by murdering a potential witness if the penalty will be the same. And the different grades of penalty for the different crimes are meant to maintain the standard that it is much more evil to kill someone than not, and to kill someone with intent rather than negligently or in the heat of rage. That's a standard that I would prefer to maintain.

  • Ed, and now Sarah, telling it like it is. The idea of dividing society up into good and bad people is tremendously stupid and should be regarded by anyone intelligent as equivalent to a fart in an elevator.

    I get where some of the rage at the specific and often justified hate object comes from, doubly in cases of domestic violence which were laughed off and not really considered a crime by society within living memory. But it's not wise to turn that into the sort of cathartic, burn the witch for 100 years in prison sentiment. Holding people accountable for their actions, yes.

  • I had a brain-fart, and made a typo.
    Sorry.

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    Don't taze me, bro!!!

    Thump…

  • Lighten up? That was me being light-hearted. I think that my joke was as obvious as cund's typo.

    In response to grumpygradstudent: why do you think that it's only Christianity that teaches that every human life has value? Actually I think that every religion says the same, and for that matter, it is a central tenet of humanism.

    I don't think the problem is of people abandoning Christianity so much as it is an abandonment of *any* solid moral foundation.

  • The college that I teach at is affiliated with a state program that encourages ex-cons to get their BAs and re-enter the workforce with skill-sets other than those that got them locked up in the first place. Thus, I have found myself in front of classes that included young (and not-so-young) men whose last mailing address included the word "Penitentiary."

    Not just for petty crimes, either. And not just for non-violent crimes. These men have done some heinous shit, usually–almost invariably–as the much younger, much dumber versions of themselves.

    What I find interesting about them is this: Invariably–*invariably*–they are the most engaged, polite, enthusiastic participants in whatever class they're in. They're not always the brightest, but they work the hardest to succeed–and usually do.

    I'm not a naif. I know perfectly well that A. not everyone who commits a terrible crime is a candidate for rehabilitation–they're not all Shawshankian cons with hearts of gold–and B. just because someone is a terrific student in-class doesn't mean that he's a good guy off-campus.

    But when it comes to talking about where they've been, and why, they pretty much all say the same thing: "I did it, I deserved it, I'm not going to do it again, and please help me be the guy I should be, and not the guy I was."

    I believe, in short, that rehabilitation can work, and that if it can, we owe it to ourselves, to our collective humanity, to give criminals the opportunity to receive it. Not all will. Many will try and fail. But some will–and better to live in hope than in reveling in vicious cynicism.

    Rice has still got to receive serious punishment under the law, though. If we do not demonstrate a severe penalty for what he did, we encourage others to do the same and we demean the victims of such brutality. We do not turn a blind eye to evil, even as we hope for the triumph of good.

  • The big problem that needs attention in this case, including by Rice himself, and the reason he's getting off with barely a slap on the wrist, and the reason his Stockholm-Syndrome-partner has Stockholm Syndrome

    is the pervasive culture of sexism and misogyny we all struggle against.

    Or, in too many cases, struggle for. But not on this blog. Which is good.

  • Amen, brother. It bothers me to no end that my discussion of "rehabilitation, not retribution" as the model our prison system falls on deaf ears, even among many of my liberal friends. I understand the reason why this is- it is so very easy to gin up outrage, and then to run a political campaign on said coverage, and then to pass laws to confront that outrage, and then to outsource those overfilled prisons… At that point, rehabilitation is out the window.

    The same is true of situations like this- IF Rice receives adequate punishment and IF Rice truly rehabilitates, then he should be forgiven, like Ray Lewis and Michael Vick.

    The folks that run the NFL, though? Lock them up and throw away the key.

  • Ed you've never made me want hug you and shout YES YES YES to the world before. Thanks for raising me out of cynicism for a brief gasp of optimism–rich air.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    @Jimcat and @grumpygradstudent:

    I don't have stats for this, but I'm taking a wild guess that "Red State" true-believer Christians tend to be *more* in favor of mandatory minimum sentencing, private prisons, the death penalty, chemical castration, and the like.

    Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury, and we're #1, baby.

  • There isn't enough rehabilitation done in the prisons. They try, to some degree. But what the public demands is that the first 90% of the sentence be punishment, punishment, punishment and the last 10% be education, counseling, rehabilitation. What ends up happening is that the prisons have two jobs, at odds, that it performs equally crappily. It has to be a shitty place where people are forced to live among other horrible people, acting dangerously, stressful, boring, terrible, mentally-cruel, and occasionally involving physical torture. And it has to be a place where people with short fuses must learn to deal with the real world in skillful ways requiring tact, some caution, and occasionally letting the world step all over you. It doesn't work because it can't.

    Corrections officers see themselves being told to do two things at once, the inmates know that it's complete bullshit to say the prison is committed to doing any of those things fully, and the public doesn't care as long as they stay in there for the sentence (that's the one thing where prisons are almost 100% effective.)

    Having worked in one, it gave me depression and humility. I hate it. And I realize it is needed, in spite of my hate. And it also is filled with people who are forever judged by some of or one of the worst moments of their life. They did it, but I think of all the times it could have been me doing some things. And I think of the things I did do that could have ended up disastrous. Or more disastrous. Humility doesn't lead me toward arrogance, but some level of empathy. Where did I fuck up in life? What resulted? I realize that forgiveness, patience, friendship, and even love helped me. And I also know that time away helped, too.

    The worst part about prison is that it's necessary. The next worst part is that it doesn't do what it needs to do. Next after that comes the fact that that isn't always the fault of the design, but of people. And then comes the fact that that's a cop out for not trying to make it better. Prison sucks, and it's supposed to. But it also is a waste if it doesn't make the people inside who do try to be better get better. It's got a system of custody levels and behavioral points systems, with rewards and privileges partly based on such things as educational achievement and work history. But it ignores the big one: is this person trying to be better or not? And it can't reward those that try with what they need: a chance. Why? Because we as a nation don't want to give it to them, because we're unwilling to let the consequences of giving such a person a chance and having it thrown back in our faces when they fuck up.

  • Not to be flip, but I suspect prison reform to a rehabilitative program as well as a program to keep the dangerous away from the rest of society will never, ever, be considered unless it suddenly, magically, becomes law that no more non-white people can be sent to prison until the ration of incarceration matches the demographic of the general population.

    And on another tack, the Chinese and the former Soviet Union conducted some instructive experiments with what happens when large segments of the population get sent to prison work camps for "re-education," so we should not forget about those results, either, lest our prison system further disintegrate back to chain gangs and work farms/factories.

    Now, FEMA re-education camps and gun confiscation for Fox News viewers, there's something I could get behind in a millisecond. Their skill set is perfect for work camps doing cleanup at toxic waste sites. A boy can dream.

  • I don't believe in god. If I can't believe that humanity can change and learn to be better, what am I left to hold onto?

  • I find the sentiment behind this post to be comforting and uplifting in the extreme. It's one thing to stick to ones principles when things are easy. It's another to walk the walk when things are hard. We condemn the right for being knee-jerk, reactionary, bloodthirsty, and for over-simplifying complex situations. It's nice to see a more measured, considerate, and understanding view put forth even when most people would fall back to primitive vengeance mode.

  • The "send him to prison, cut him from the team" approach is entirely retributionary and likely to stimulate more violence from person then to quell it. Unemployment, which Rice is now dealing with, is a strong predictor of domestic violence to begin with and also harms his victim by eliminating the household primary income. For a first time offender like him community based treatment, alcohol monitoring, and continued employment are the key therapeutic factors. Like it or not (and saying she was Stockholmed is infantilizing) she chose to marry him afterward, tying their fortunes together – anything you inflict on him you also inflict on her.

    Incarceration serves only one real function – to remove people that present an ongoing and uncontrollable threat to public safety. It serves neither to change individual behavior nor to deter others and generally causes more criminal acts from its graduates.

  • I was reflecting on this the other day when trying to impart some kind of wisdom to my 7-year-old son. We were talking about the concept of "responsibility" and I was framing it as "doing what you're supposed to do." He's into super heros and the conversation slid into the realm of good guys and bad guys and it clicked for me that whenever we label someone a "bad guy" it becomes the bad guy's responsibility to do bad things. That's literally their role. Felons do need to pay a significant price, but ultimately it's in society's interest to rehabilitate as many as possible. I think that's one reason I always liked the old TV Batman best — not only was he hilarious, but he was always rooting for the villains to reform — Catwoman, especially.

  • We are as wasteful of people as anything else. While raw materials may be recycled, and there's enough energy to cook ourselves, each person is one of a kind, not to be seen again. They should not be lightly thrown away.

  • I have to ask, catbirdman, what all this "pay a price" stuff is actually for? Reform? Deterrence? It seems merely retribution for its own sake.

  • For some reason (I can think of a few but I won't go into details) we're increasingly punitive all around in this country. So it's no surprise even those of us who know better slide over into "lock 'em up and throw away the key" territory occasionally.

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  • I'll try not to cover too much of the ground that Sarah clearly knocked way way out of the park.
    "Redemption" is a Judeo-Christian concept. Deuteronomy and the God who pays an unbearable price to redeem people. Same with "restorative justice". Yes a "price" must be paid for one's actions, HOWEVER, there's always a path to return home with the porch light on no matter how far one thinks they've fallen out of the tree. ALL are broken, just some are either better able to hold it together or their sin is far more socially acceptable.

    As already pointed out, I would not be surprised if the real root of the "mandatory-minimums" and "lock 'em up and throw-away the key" are far more grounded in racism and don't underestimate the power of the profit motive than anything else. States with outsourced prisons all have a minimum "occupancy" rate to maintain.

    Another issue is that a criminal conviction becomes a life sentence. How many people are unable to find work for an action they did as a stupid kid? Such as stealing $20 worth of Swisher Sweets to simple possession of one too many grams of pot. Given the way they're treated, we might as well just keep them locked up. Even if the crime has no bearing on the job and was purely situational such as KO-ing someone in a drunken punch up in a bar.

    As already pointed out by CU, a whole lot of nastiness came on to scene when Ronbo and Maggie took the reins, and boom! Explosion in recidivism. The UK is returning to the hulks for its burgeoning prison population. Perhaps this explains the increased interest in Mars as of late. Penal colonies anyone ;)

  • It's taken a major effort to repress my rant about how prisons are the largest single mental health provider in the US (and how they are terrible at it, by and large), but I did not want to dampen the positive vibe.

    To the point, however, a major part of actual rehabilitation is accepting responsibility for what you did. That's where "paying the price" helps the rehabilitation process, and it does so in multiple ways. (Here is where it's my turn to stress that this is not a "poor widdle criminal" sort of coddling, etc.)

    Another point, to those who think incarceration is strictly retribution for its own sake: let me suggest reading more broadly on the subject. Consider why we put some dementia patients, for example, in secure facilities against their will; the commitment criteria are usually similar. If the individual can be demonstrated to be at significant risk of causing harm to himself or others, society has a duty to that individual, and to society, to prevent that harm or materially reduce the risk. It's not something to be taken lightly…but that opens up the differences between states, and sorry but I'm too tired to take work home with me.

    I just want to close by suggesting that everyone look up their state prisons and mental hospitals, and the statutes / rules / regs / policies that govern the care of their inmates / patients. You or someone you love might end up there one day, and if you think that's impossible, it's not.

    Go for a visit. Look at allegations of abuse, and success stories, and typical cases. Look very closely at youth offenders — they are the biggest proof that people can be turned around. Or turned much worse in the state pressure cooker. Don't look at the nation — look at your neighborhood.

  • @Xynzee: You're not really claiming the concept of redemption didn't exist pre-JudeoXianity, are you? I hope I'm just misreading that, because I'm pretty confident the concept of making up for past indiscretions was a thing before it was codified within monotheistic religion.

    Now, the theory that we are all BORN broken, and must live our lives repenting for the sin of entering the world, that one I might give you (but even that was probably lifted from an earlier system of belief).

  • @eau: "Now, the theory that we are all BORN broken, and must live our lives repenting for the sin of entering the world, that one I might give you (but even that was probably lifted from an earlier system of belief)."

    That's a fairly Catholic—with a twinge of Luther mixed in—view point.
    Try looking it more like this:
    An alcoholic must first admit to himself and others that (s)he is/has really messed up and needs help. (Confession)
    Now (s)he can start to make the necessary changes in their life to change what was wrong. (Repentance).
    Will it be easy? No. Will (s)he backslide? Possibly. If (s)he does, then what? Is (s)he a complete and utter failure and write-off? No. (S)He goes back to step one, and perseveres. Like building muscle it gets easier to stay straight. This process is called "Sanctification". It's hard. It's long ie a life time. It's arduous. Ask anyone in AA, but the consensus is that life is better without drinking.

    Fwiw: AA is founded upon the Gospel.

  • Red Ruffansore says:

    I always thought that the basic, vague progressive position (which used to be called 'liberal') grew out of 'there but for the grace of God [or say,
    undeserved good fortune, if you prefer] go I'. Whereas the authoritarian, vengeful approach comes down to 'that sort of thing could never happen to a person of our class.' In short, I agree with Ed.

  • Why does c u n d gulag think Ronald Reagan was sworn in in 2001?

    All those old white male right-wingers look the same.

    *ducking*

    *running*

  • I agree with what Mojrim said. I think kicking Mr. Rice off the team has everything to do with the NFL trying to make itself look better and nothing to do with their particular views on him abusing his wife. I would be willing to bet Mr. Rice is not alone among NFL players and I would be willing to be the coaches and other players know about it, too.

    But one thought/question that keeps rolling through my head is this: the NFL apparently wasn't too disturbed by the video of him dragging his then-fiancee off of the elevator by the hair. That for them was worthy of a suspension, but somehow didn't suggest to them that probably there was some other abuse going on? How on earth does that work?

    Plus, for everyone speaking authoritatively that his wife is sticking with him now only because she suffers from battered wife syndrome should probably just shut the fuck up. How do they know what is going on in her head–or in their relationship? Yep, often women do not leave because they suffer from battered wife syndrome. But assuming that is exactly what is going on with her is just that: assuming.

  • 12StepsToNowhere says:

    Please don't cite AA like it's a real treatment for alcoholism. It's not effective and was not designed to replace real treatment. It's a support system that got warped and incorporated into mainstream addiction treatment.

    Sorry for getting off topic. Ray Rice needs an evidence-based therapy, and Janay could benefit from it too.

  • Great post. I've had people gripe about Vick, and my response is, The man went to PRISON. If doing your time doesn't cancel out your crime, WTF is prison for?

  • I am way late here, but I couldn't help but grin….

    Our fearless moderator –

    "To believe otherwise would be to agree with the Palins and the Limbaughs of the world, whose simplistic, idiotic worldview dictates that people are Good or Evil, period."

    Ol' c u n d gulag:

    "Conservatives are assholes who only care about themselves. They can't look beyond themselves, and see a greater good."

    And, of course, I am assuming the silent All precedes "Conservatives."

    //bb

  • From a Word-based Christian standpoint, AA is about sin management. If you get up everyday and say "I'm bb and I AM an alcoholic," I believe that rather than facing your problem, you are solidifying your position. And from a Woo Woo standpoint you are using the Name to solidify it!

    There are many Word based things you could say about yourself and the condition you desire.

    Certainly any variety of Christian thought here at G&T is way in the minority, but I suspect that a lot of secular psych people agree about the power of words in our lives.

    //bb

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