Listening again to the KUOW interview (link in yesterday’s post) about Stevan Dozier, the man in WA state awarded clemency last month, I was struck by this comment from Silya Talvi, investigative journalist (with a recent book out from Seal Press, Women Behind Bars), “When a person commits a heinous act that moment is not frozen in time, that person is not frozen in that moment for the rest of their lives, unless we force them to be frozen.”

Of course, in many cases “we” (society, generally) do force people who commit a crime to remain frozen in the moment of that act. Arrested and sentenced to however many years in prison, a man is released as an ex-prisoner, forever branded as a violent man, or if not violent, a criminal nonetheless. Someone to never be trusted. Someone to be afraid of. Someone who doesn’t deserve a job or access to decent housing. Once labeled a prisoner it seems there is not way to shake the title. You are summed up as one act (or even several acts), as opposed to as a sum of your parts. And unlike those of us on the outside who also do terrible things to people, but seem to be granted the decency of forgiveness, once you serve time, you are no longer able to be both a good person and a person who has done bad things.

Sometimes I think the question to be asked is do we actually believe in redemption? Because it seems to me that it is one of those things that you can only either believe wholly or not at all. There can’t only be certain people capable of redemption. It can’t be possible that only a few of us are entitled to it and capable of achieving it. Either we are a species that makes mistakes and then is capable of redeeming ourselves, or we are not. Not that some of us won’t struggle our entire lives to be redeemed, but still, don’t you want to believe in a society that takes redemption seriously? The more I read, experience and learn about the correctional complex in this country the more I wonder what it says about us as a people. That we would allow so many (and there are 2 million citizens currently incarcerated in this country) to be frozen in time, as Talvi says, should make us ashamed. Indeed the men and women serving time (not including those who are innocent of their charges) have committed acts for which they owe retribution, but if we do not give them the opportunity and if we refuse to believe that they can learn from their mistakes then we might as well just go ahead and give them a life sentence. For behind bars or not they are sentenced either way.

Having said all of this I want to mention that Dozier was sentenced to life in prison in the eighties for three unarmed robberies under WA’s 3-Strikes Law. Read a statement of Dozier himself at www.osculatrix.info@dozier.html

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