SENTENCING SOB STORIES – Discounts on Justice

 

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I’ve had this story rolling around inside of my mind for some time now and have been debating whether or not I should write it.  If I write it I’m going to have to share some intensely personal and disturbing stuff.  The kind of stuff that usually stays buried deep inside of the proverbial “family closet.”

In our society, we don’t like to share our dirty little secrets.  Dirty little secrets like family violence, drug & alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, elder abuse, child abuse……this list goes on.  I think the time to put pen to paper has come…….the desire to share the story has started to outweigh the urge to suppress it.

My father was a frightening man who stood approximately 6’2” and weighed between 275 – 350 pounds.  He was an extremely powerful man with arms the size of oak trees and a chest as thick as a tree trunk.  He usually had a thick beard or a goatee and his head was normally shaved.  His personal appearance only added to his scary and intimidating persona.

Unfortunately for those of us that had to live with him, he was an extremely angry and violent man, violent beyond any “normal” person’s ability to understand.  His use and frequent abuse of alcohol only added fuel to his raging internal fires.  When I reflect on the violence, several disturbing incidents remain fresh in my mind, incidents that I have fully processed and even tagged with names.  I won’t go deeply into these incidents but I will provide a brief synopsis so you can put them into context;

THE SLAP

-a vicious random slap from my father on my bare back when I was in grade three, an indelible impression made, a perfect fiery red imprint left of my fathers hand left on my pale skin, the sensation of thousand needles pricking my back

THE STAIRS

-the top of a stair literally torn from the stair case and used to beat three young boys for the innocuous tort of making excessive noise at bed time

THE ICE CREAM CONE

-the promise of an ice cream cone on a hot summer designed to impress a visitor.  Poor foolish boys sitting in a steaming hot car and wait for what seemed like hours while adults have conversation.  Guest leaves, foolish boys anticipating a refreshing ice cream cone told to get the “F’ out of the car

THE DOMINO EFFECT

-a game my father played with his boys on road trips in the truck.  A fake slap causing a chain reaction of heads smashing into each other ….three heads banging together, the third hitting the window and the chain reaction reversed……funny shit, he thought

THE SIAMESE CAT

-the vicious killing of the family cat, slammed to the floor directly in front of the children while the Wonderful World of Walt Disney plays in the background, skull crushed, blood spilling from its ears, legs twitching in death throes

THE BEATING 

-an erroneous allegation of theft, a brother forced to assume a position on all fours, repeated kicks to the face, the witnesses threatened with a similar fate if we ever committed a similar offence, grotesque swelling and bruising, laughter the next morning and direction to stay home from school or “you’ll scare the other kids”

HEARTS

-a family favorite, forced to play, games played in the fear of violence, threats of violence & intimidation, chastised and humiliated for your stupid play…..

THE OPPRESSION

-constant negative reinforcement that “you’ll never be nothin” and that you were not worthy of the food you had on your plate, other peoples children were superior to you, ridicule at any real or perceived failure

THE ANARCHY

- constant beatings with a horse whip in the old stone barn, lashes raining down on my backside and legs with brutal stinging effect, the psychological pain worse than the physical pain, random, disturbing, confusing

- the destruction of self esteem from constant beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, strong feelings of worthlessness and self loathing, destruction of my own image in high school yearbooks

There was plenty more, but the picture’s been painted and there is no need to continue.  That was my reality, that was my life as a child & teen.

You might guess that it is difficult for me to sit thru the sob stories at the Law Courts or constantly read them in the news papers.  Criminal defense attorneys pleading with Judges for leniency for criminals who had it tough when they were children, making excuses for outrageous criminal or violent behavior because they were abused as children.

The same offenders and the old same excuses over and over again, rap sheets growing longer and longer, Judges lapping it up like fat kids eating smarties, reduced sentences and soft justice the result.  It saps my strength.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have heard the horrific stories of abuse and I truly sympathize.  I can relate to them, I can feel their pain.  Stories like the troubled life of Lana Antoine, reported in the WFP July 14th, 2012, by Crime Reporter Mike McIntyre.

As a child, Antoine lived in eighteen (18) different foster placements, was hooked on booze by age nine and suffered repeated physical and sexual abuse by multiple abusers.  She is reported to have done time for several crimes and is a frequent client of the Main Street Projects drunk tank.  She recently stood before the Courts charged with Aggravated Assault for stabbing a man sixteen (16) times nearly killing him in the process.  Her lawyer argued that fifteen (15) months of pretrial custody was punishment enough, while the Crown asked for an additional twenty-one (21) months of incarceration. The Judge reserved his decision to ponder her fate.  Some might suggest that my stories pale in comparison to some of the tragic events regurgitated in the Law Courts and that I am not qualified to offer criticism.

The question then needs to be asked, what kind of abuse is better, or alternatively, what kind of abuse is worse?

My take, abuse is abuse.

Abuse comes in many forms and varying degrees but it all hurts and damages the people on the receiving end.

No one should ever suffer abuse, but thats not the reality, abuse happens.  If it happens to you, that’s shitty and its not fair but you need to accept it, own it, deal with it and get over it.  It doesn’t give you a lifelong excuse for your behaviour, nor does it give you licence to become an abuser.  What’s troubling is that our Courts often give offenders special sentencing considerations because of their status as victims of abuse.  If you follow the logic, I guess that means that we should give more harsh sentences to offenders who come from loving caring homes.

In my mind it just seems to be morally wrong to provide these offenders with life long crutches and excuses to use every time they cross the line and find themselves back before the Criminal Courts.  I respectfully suggest that the principles of accountability, denunciation and restoration should be the Courts primary considerations.  In a perfect world, Manitoba Crown Attorneys would take strong positions opposing sentencing considerations for offenders who come to Court with hard luck stories.

Abusing others, using violence to settle disputes or breaking the law by any other means are all willful acts committed by people that are exercising their ability to make a choice.  I could have made the choice to be an abuser but I chose to break the cycle of violence and be a contributing member of our society.  I’d be happy to attend criminal sentence hearings at the invitation of the Crown to provide evidence to refute defense lawyers pleadings for leniency based on the fact that their clients suffered some form of abuse in their childhood.

In the case of Lana Antoine, it seems to me that she would likely benefit from a lengthy period of incarceration.  It might give her an opportunity to reflect on her life and access the many programs offered to offenders while incarcerated.  Anger management, addiction and other educational programs.  If she does the work and makes the right choice her story could have a happy ending.  If she doesn’t do the work and stays in the cycle of addiction and violence……then it seems to me that society needs to be protected from her before she finally kills someone.

At some point people have to start taking responsibility for their own actions…….if not, maybe our Courts should start holding them more accountable for their criminal behaviour.

Enough of the sob stories.

8 comments to SENTENCING SOB STORIES – Discounts on Justice

  1. John S says:

    Your story reminded me something that was being talked about the other day by myself and a few friends. We were looking at the Presidents Choice brand of sauces such as Memories of Kobe, Memories of Thailand etc. One of us suggested that there should be one called “Memories of the Belt”. We kind of laughed and then someone said : “yeah, it would be booze flavoured”. Those of a certain age remember how that abuse was not only accepted but prevalent back then, though I hope not to the extent that it happened to you. I’m really interested how some people like yourself can go through stuff like that and go on to a -I’m assuming- normal life, while others use it as a crutch for the rest of their lives. Your story was painful to read but a good one.

  2. Dawn says:

    I work in an environment where virtually all of our clients have suffered through abuse and addiction to varying degrees. And when incidents happen, as they invariably will, there is a consequence. The consequence, generally a bar from our facility, is not so much to punish them as it is to protect everyone else, clients and staff. I see law enforcement as strongly analogous to that aspect of my work environment. A violent and dangerous person is not less dangerous to everyone else because they’ve suffered abuse. And the function of law enforcement is to protect society. A tragic past may well be reason to connect a person to resources to help them heal. But it is no reason to put all of the other people in danger by enabling the offenders violent behaviour to continue unchecked.

  3. “I could have made the choice to be an abuser but I chose to break the cycle of violence and be a contributing member of our society.” Bravo for making the right choice.

  4. Frank Edwards says:

    You’re right once again. Why is it that the majority of the people can see this however the judiciary fail to see the light. Is justice truly blind? Not bloody likely. Sentencing IS based on skin color. As such, there is no justice and victims are the ones that suffer. If the judiciary were to properly apply the rules of sentencing, and they used the Criminal Code to the extent to the means provided within, ie; the possibility of a life sentence for breaking and entering, I think we would be okay.

  5. jamesgjewell says:

    Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts, appreciate it.

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