Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime? A Reflection on Capital Punishment.

I am not a big supporter of capital punishment.  While I would not argue that if one takes another's life, his own life could also be taken in return, as I do see that punishment fitting the crime.  But, still, it does not sit well with me.  Maybe because one of my closest friends was once involved in a gang, and I am pretty sure he killed a few people before he found recovery, although he has never really said it.  I met him many years after he moved away from that scene, in hopes to save himself and his children.  He got clean, and he went back to school, and today he is one of the most productive, best guys I know.  Maybe it is because I love Norman Mailer's input in works on prisoners, and murderers, including "The Executioner's Song" and "Belly of the Beast."  Maybe it is just because I think that redemption is possible, even when chained inside a locked room.  And maybe I am just an idealist, that thinks everyone deserves the chance for their own redemption.  

This first lines of one of my favorite books, "Shantarum," by Gregory David Roberts, he says, "It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while  was chained to the wall and being tortured.  I realized, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helpless, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them.  It doesn't sound like much, I know.  But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it's all you've got, that freedom is a universe of possibility.  And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life."  Such a powerful sentiment.  Shantarum is an excellent book about a heroin addict, who was jailed for robberies in New Zealand, where he escapes and winds up a wanted man, living in Bombay, India.  The story is about redemption, and finding your lost soul, in so many ways.  I highly recommend this book, by the way.  But, that brings me back to the point, I think anyone deserves redemption, and that chance to forgive, as I hope that when the moment ends, we can be at peace.  

While I can understand why one would support capital punishment for murderers, and I would never argue that.  It is not my place to, really.  But, I cannot support taking someone's life for a non-violent crime, or even a crime that is not taking another's life.  Maybe it is just that I believe in an eye for an eye, or maybe it is my belief in redemption.  And I am thankful that I live in a country that does not kill people for a number of offenses, including drug offenses.  So, something inside my gut rumbled a little when I came across an article, descrying the execution of ten drug traffickers in Iran.  Maybe I am too sympathetic, but it just not seem like a punishment that fits the crime.  But, what do I know? 

Monday, ten drug traffickers were hanged in Tehran.  After the men's death verdicts had been confirmed by Iran's Supreme Court, the men were hanged in a prison in the capital, according to iolNews.com.  I think back to hangings in our own history, as people gathered around the Cathedral in Jackson Square, New Orleans, to watch a public hanging, in the times of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen who often ministered these prisoners in their last days and months.  I think about today's executions, and I still see the public spectacle.  Think of the hanging of Sadaam Hussien.  Somehow, we are drawn to the gore in these things.  I wonder how many people witnessed the hanging of these ten men.  I wonder, did they all go at once, or did they do them one by one?  Were there spectators watching, as if it were a sport?  Or was the hanging reserved for family, officials, and the press?  

Seven of the ten men belonged to a gang involved in trading one ton of methamphetamine.  The remaining three men were from a separate gang, and had smuggled opium from south-east Iran to Tehran.  And I wonder once more if the punishment really fits the crime.  Maybe I am just too sensitive, I think.  But, it just seems like a really harsh punishment, even for drug traffickers.  

Amnesty International condemned these deaths, too.  They said, "The vast majority of executions in the country in recent years have been for drug-related offenses, despite there being no clear evidence that the death penalty serves as an effective deterrent- the country has one of the highest rates of drug addiction in the world."  Murder, rape, armed robbery and trafficking more than five kilograms of drugs are among crimes punishable by death in Iran.  

Yes, I also wonder what the intention of the death penalty is…is it to serve as a deterrent to other offenders?  Or is it merely and eye for an eye?  Either way, I do not see the death penalty matching up to these traffickers in Iran.  Of course the death penalty is not a deterrent to traffickers, as money is more alluring.  The money that can be made from trafficking drugs is far greater than the fear of the death penalty…if they get caught.  I know back in the day, when I sold dope, I did not think about the time I could spend in jail for each bag I had, much less the other paraphernalia I may have been carrying.  The desperation for the cash, to serve my fix, drove me harder than any punishment could have deterred me, very possible even a death sentence.  We just do not think about it like that when we are caught up in our addictions.  And if it is an eye for an eye, well, I just do not see how that fits here, either.  

Personally, I am thankful that my country does impose the death sentence in such cases, and I think it would not set well with me if this was commonplace in my world.  At the same time, I can see the argument that these men took lives, by supplying drugs to people.  I can see it, but I do not agree with that.  I personally do not think a dealer should be charged when someone overdoses on the drugs supplied.  There is more than one person at the heart of the blame there, as I do not know of any dealer who would force the drugs into one's arms, nose, or mouth.  I also think that a doctor should not be arrested for responsibly prescribing medication to someone who overdoses, but I do think that a pill mill doctor who irresponsibly doles out too much medication should be punished.  But, not by the death penalty.  It just seems that executing drug traffickers is not the way to handle this situation, and in my mind, the punishment does not fit the crime.  What do you think? 

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