Because of People Like Me

And now, for something different.

I had been very loosely following the trial and subsequent conviction of T. J. Lane, the 18 year old who went on a shooting spree at Chardon High School, where he was a student.  Three of his victims died, two others were seriously injured.

On the 28th of February, he pleaded guilty to all three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder, felonious assault, and a handful of weapons charges.  In the end, he received three consecutive life sentences for the murder charges, plus another 37 years for the others.  Long story short, he’s in for life.

But that’s not what makes this story news.  Sadly we have quite a few of these shootings on such a regular basis that nothing stood out on merit alone.  I think T.J. knew that because when he arrived in court for his sentencing, he immediately unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a T-shirt underneath upon which “KILLER” was written in magic marker.  Classy.

As the judge was reading the sentence, he was sitting there, just smirking.  Afterward, he turned to the families of his victims, flipped them off, and said, “This hand that pulled the trigger, that killed your sons, now masturbates to the memory. F**k all of you.”

Well. So much for remorse.

For a moment, I put myself in the position of one of the family members … or how I would have felt if my wife had been one of his victims.  I would already be devastated at the loss, but to sit in the same room as the person who pulled the trigger would enrage me to the point of tearing him apart with my bare hands.  Then – on top of that – to witness firsthand his unbelievable arrogance, the vulgarity and utter lack of remorse in his statement, and the look on his face when the sentence was being handed down to him?

I would not be in any frame of mind to seek justice, and I wouldn’t care how long the sentence was; it wouldn’t be enough.  I’d want revenge.  Plain, simple, violent revenge.

I was browsing Reddit earlier today and found a few threads where a number of people were thinking along those same lines.  And, taking into consideration his destination, his youth, his build, and his attitude at sentencing, speculation ran very high as to how long it would take – in hours, even – before he faced the first of an inevitable and likely interminable series of brutal sexual assaults at the hands of people who value human life the same way he does.  Many – though not all – said he deserved it.

For a moment, while I was still thinking in the context of a person who lost a loved one at the hands of this kid, I chuckled.  Things are going to be pretty rough from now on, and he’s going to face a life of punishment for his crimes.

Then I actually thought about what I was wishing upon another person.  My reaction to the situation stands to showcase one of the primary reasons the justice system exists the way it does.  First and foremost, it’s in place to punish people who violate the law (obviously).  However, it’s also there to keep people from getting together on their own and extracting their rage-fueled assessment of an equivalent exchange from the perpetrator.  It’s in place because of the person I’m afraid I would become if I were ever in their shoes, and that’s not how justice should be measured out.  Rape should not be considered an acceptable de facto punishment as a result of incarceration in this country, regardless of the gravity of the crime.

Problem is, that’s the way things are in our prison system today.  If you get locked up for any offense – violent or non-violent alike – chances are it will result in exposure to an environment that not only is not conducive to rehabilitation or correction, but of violence, disease, and brutality.  Again, that’s not justice; it’s just a natural result of the way our prison systems work when they’re either for-profit or simply underfunded.  And hey, if it makes the masses feel better in the process, then that’s just gravy.

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