Before I got on the train to New York Sunday morning, I bought the New York Times. My favorite thing on Sunday is to read the book review and the magazine.
This time, there was a cover story titled “A Young, Cold Heart” about Judith Clark, who is serving a 75-year sentence for the famous Brink’s robbery where two police officers were killed. She was a 60s-style radical then and was completely unrepentant in the courtroom. The judge was outraged by her behavior and gave her the long sentence, even though her act was to drive the getaway car. Some of the people who were involved in the Brinks robbery/murder have faired a bit better.
I read the article with intense interest because I think our prisons are a vestige of the past and are a sign that our world has not progressed to a real understanding of human behavior. Few prisons are real places for rehabilitation; few politicians understand that by breaking up families and making children grow up without a parent or parents, the cycle of crime, depression and mental illness will only continue. Few of the people who recommend long sentences also understand the circumstances that got the people there and what might work to get them out.
I am not so liberal that I don’t understand that there are truly some people who need to be safely away from society. There are serial killers who will never be anything except serial killers. Those people are few and far between. Other than China and places like Saudi Arabia, the United States puts more people to death and more people in prison per capita than almost any country.
As a spiritualist, I believe the door to reformation will never be closed for any soul in the here or hereafter. That means I think redemption is possible for anyone, even killers. Judith Clark has made something of her life and her heart. She should have been pardoned by the governor. Too often an outgoing governor won’t pardon someone because that governor wants to run for higher office. I am willing to bet the farm that Gov. Cuomo won’t pardon Judith Clark, either. It will not matter to him that the warden of the Bedford prison where Clark resides wrote a letter asking for clemency. He sees visions of the White House dancing in his head and he has no desire to be Willy Hortonized, like former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
There are some politicians with political courage, and my friend, the outgoing governor of Mississippi, is one of them. He pardoned about 200 people and six of them had committed a murder. These were not faceless names to Gov. Barbour. These were trustees who worked in the governor’s mansion for years.
I have been to the governor’s mansion in Jackson. While there is a fence around the perimeter, it is not very high. Unlike the White House, it would be easy to jump over and melt right into downtown Jackson. For all their years there, none of these former murderers jumped fences or committed violent crimes in the years they served in the mansion. Gov. and Mrs. Barbour interacted with them on a daily basis.
Despite the one recent case of mass murder in Norway, the murder rate in Norway is .4 percent per 100,000 people, while the U.S. murder rate is 5 percent. In Norway, life imprisonment is 21 years, with most people getting out in 14. People can be held beyond that if they are deemed dangerous.
The U.S. does not believe in change or reformation. To put someone like Judith Clark in prison for 75 years and not pardon people who have done their time and are not deemed dangerous is also criminal. Gov. Barbour is right and let’s hope that Gov. Cuomo has the same compassion.