I value justice.
And no, not "Cancel you on Twitter 'justice'."
When I say I value justice I mean "right the wrong, hold the assholes accountable, change the world" justice.
And to achieve those ends? Often involves punishment.
Indeed, to some, justice can only be achieved with punishment. Harsh punishment. Punishment "befitting the crime." There can be no righting of wrongs, no changing of the world, if the assholes "get off easy".
To some, punitive justice is the only true justice.
I was one of those people.
At least I thought I was.
In recent years, as I've looked at my life and considered my (ongoing?) development, I've discovered something "other" amid the punishment that I (still) regularly wish - and inflict, if only in daydreams - upon the irresponsible, ignorant, arrogant, intolerable assholes of the world.
It's that "other" thing that's on my mind this evening, as more and more I'm coming to realize that the "other" is the type of justice I'd like my future self to pursue.
This "other"? Is RECTIFICATION.
Allow me to explain: rather than being out for blood for all those assholes who hurt, abuse, mistreat people - rather than seeking PUNISHMENT for the crimes - I now declare my desire, hope, and intention to pursue RECTIFICATION for the crimes.
Punitive punishments only affect one individual - the perp - and only after the crime has been committed. But rectification justice affects entire communities, and may even prevent future crimes.
I'll give you an example: If an asshole brandishing an AK-47 robs a bank, punitive justice means he's sent to prison. But that punishment doesn't provide true justice. Punishing the perpetrator doesn't mean that the bank ever got/will get its money back. Punishing the perpetrator doesn't mean the folks he scared to death in the bank lobby will ever get their sense of security back.
And, while acknowledging that sitting in a cell is no one's idea of a good time, punishing the perpetrator in this way doesn't mean the asshole has (or ever will) learn his lesson. (*In fact, recidivism in this country is so high that, if the asshole ever is released, it's likely he'll wind up right back there again. More on that later.*)
So what has this punishment really accomplished?
And, more importantly, what is the alternative? Especially when seeing an asshole put behind bars makes so many of us feel secure and self righteous in that "justice has been served"?
I propose that rectification is the answer.
When something bad happens, the root issue and fallout must be rectified, and, surprisingly often, this has very little to do with punishment as we, the Frank Castles of the world, typically understand it.
In the above example, rectification would require that the bank be compensated in some way for its losses by the individual who caused the harm. The same is true for the citizens of the bank, who may well suffer PTSD from such an experience. And lastly - and listen up here! - rectification would require that the asshole not only be held accountable BUT ALSO AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, that he be assisted and supported in chaging his behavior so that 1. he can make better decisions in the future and 2. we, as a society, will give him the chance to show he's changed, and to benefit from that change.
Yes, you read that last part right.
True justice - rectification justice - requires something from US, THE INNOCENT PARTIES, because we're all members of the community, and the community sinks or swims as a whole.
I know I just lost some of you. I know there's at least one, "Why should I have to do anything? I'm not the one who robbed the bank! Why am I being PUNISHED for someone else's mistakes?" person in this crowd.
And you? Are the person I am writing this for.
Why should you (or I, or society as a whole) take part in this rectification process?
Because you're a fucking human being and, no matter what they've done, so are "they."
Because you'd want another chance if you fucked up royal.
Because you should be given the opportunity to rise above and grow beyond your worst day and your worst act.
Because sweeping change only occurs when resources and ideological shifts are made across communities as a whole.
And here come those same "I shouldn't have to change because he robbed a bank people" now: "Oh yeah? Well what if the person is a child molester? Or a rapist? Or a murderer? You think we should just let those people off without being punished? Tell that to the victim's families!"
To that I say, don't ask me, Kimosabe. Ask that Jesus you claim to worship who hung out with the dregs of society and made a literal murderer a disciple.
Ask that same poor, wandering Jew who highlighted the importance of the community's responsibility to forgive when he said to forgive people "70 times 7" times.
Or, if you insist on asking me, I'll tell you this: there are numerous stories of criminals who turned their lives around based on the kind acts of folks around them, who gave them a chance and the resources to make better, healthier choices and become productive members of society.
Entire punitive systems in other countries are based on this premise, and their recidivism rates (and violent crime rates) put ours to shame.
And, here in the United States, there are even more examples of what happens when you stick someone in a cell, and later let them out, without forgiving, without providing avenues to better choices, without giving a helping hand to those who need it and a guiding light to those who lack it: More crime. More hurt. More pain. More vicitms.
Fact of the matter is, our prisons are filled with people who were raised in poverty, without adequate role models, in areas where selling drugs or forming gang affiliations were the only ways to ensure survival. Our prisons are filled with abused children masquerading as adults, people who turned to drugs or other vices to dull pains that were never addressed. People driven by mental illnesses they often cannot help or for which help was available but unaffordable.
And all of those people, while owing a debt to society, are also owed a debt by society.
Yes, I said it.
And yes, some of y'all are cursing me out.
Fuck y'all. You need to hear this.
In Judaism, we have something called Tzedakah. Many translate this to mean "charity" as financial collections typically go to the poor, the needy, or other worthy causes. But the true meaning of the word is "justice." Justice, in Judaism (and in truth), recognizes that some of us are just gifted with more than others. And, quite often, those gifts are not reflections of our own merits, but, rather, our own circumstances, which are largely outside of our control. Did you choose to enter this world to poor, drug addicted, abusive parents? No? Well, neither did any child for whom that is their circumstance.
Sure, it's the asshole's fault for robbing the bank. But it's not his fault he was born to a single mom in a bad part of town and took to crime at an early age to make sure he and his siblings could eat.
And sure, there are those who came from similar circumstances who never rob banks, but, statistically, folks who grow up with abuse perpetuate abuse, because it's all that's been modeled for them and it's all they know.
As we're already aware that most mimic the situations in which they were raised - and those that don't manifest their traumas in other, often unhealthy ways - what can we do, what should we do, to break these patterns to help individuals and society as a whole?
So what's the true justice here? What's tzedakah here?
Tzedakah would be this asshole serving the sentence for his crimes, but tzedakah would also require that our society look at the poverty from whence he came and try to do something about it. Tzedakah would require that we examine ways to provide resources for the poor, for people from one parent or abusive homes, for people for whom higher ed is wholly unaffordable, for whom selling drugs is a more accessable means of financial independence.
Tzedakah acknowledges our power to help change the world around us for the better. To pursue actual justice. Tzedakah changes and saves lives.
And this should be a goal of justice - not punishment, but positive change.
Which is why I plan to put aside (to the degree I am able) my propensity toward punitive justice, in favor of rectificational justice.
I want to see the bank robber serve the bank the robbed, perhaps by receiving training in some aspect of banking, where he can work for the bank, learning skills, and facing, every day, the people he harmed, while learning a better way.
I want the bank robber to attend group meetings to listen to people who face PTSD after a violent event, and hear how his actions have lasting consequences.
I want the robber, while serving his time, to be counseled in ways to deal with his own personal issues that lead him to steal in the first place.
And, lastly, if he makes parole, I want opportunities made available to him that would allow him to thrive within the law, and contribute to a better, more just society.
There are those for whom this model will have to be modified. There are those whose crimes necessitate they remain behind bars for the remainder of their lives. But those circumstances don't negate our responsibilities as a community to provide a more nurturing environment to allow that person to heal and grow, and to foster a society that will breed fewer like him.
Lastly, I want to say to those pouters who've long-since stopped reading because they'd rather see someone put to death than given a second chance at life: you purport to care about the victims. You claim that caring about those who've been wronged justifies your treatment of the perpetrator of those wrongs - and to you I say this: punitive justice doesn't bring peace.
It may bring some sense of satisfaction, but it doesn't bring peace.
For those who've been hurt by unspeakable crimes - incest, rape, torture, murder - having the perp behind bars or even on death row might feel good, but it doesn't mend the deep wounds. Therefore if you, I, we as a society, truely care about victims, we need to provide avenues to healing and to peace.
We need counseling services available and affordable for all involved, victims and perpetrators. We need programs that will bring about changes in perps' hearts, lives, and actions. We need to see and enjoy the ripple effects of these changes. We need to foster environments where families will get true, remoreseful apologies. We need such growth and change that perps will one day learn that it's better to be part of the cure than part of the disease. And we need to create a society that nurtures all of its members, regardless of class, color, or creed, so that these same atrocities don't happen to other families.
We need rectification justice. We need Tzedakah.
And henceforth I plan to pursue both.
I hope you'll join me.