Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, October 21, 2018

The revenge motive for imprisonment

Recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada. Whoopee. I’m already sick of listening to the endless pros and cons about what cannabis will do to the fabric of our society. Cave dwellers probably had the same debates about how fermented grape juice would change history, if and when anyone got around to writing it.

            Instead, let’s talk about recreational killing.

            That’s what I said -- recreational killing.

            In hindsight, that seems to be the only adequate description for the actions of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homulka, 26 years ago. The two of them abducted, drugged, tortured, repeatedly raped, and murdered four girls, one of them Karla’s own sister.

            They did it for fun.

            Bernardo was convicted for the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, in 1995. The other two deaths remain unpunished.

            Bernardo was also implicated in 18 rapes (listed on Wikipedia); he admitted to ten more while in prison.

            In a psychiatric assessment, Bernardo scored 35/40 on a psychopathic checklist -- about as high as one can go. Homulka scored 5/40.


Eligible for parole

            Then on Wednesday this last week, Bernardo applied for parole. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole for 25 years. (In exchange for testifying against Bernardo, Homulka got only 12 years. She has been free since 2005.)

            Bernardo’s 25 years expired earlier this year; he had to be granted a parole hearing.

            Parole was rejected.

            Which resolves one of the three reasons for incarcerating convicted criminals. Removing them, to get them off our streets, out of our society. We no longer need to fear them.

            But it doesn’t resolve what I see as the other two reasons for locking people up -- revenge and rehabilitation. Forget about prison as deterrence; we know that doesn’t work.



            Rehabilitation should be a no-brainer. By any standard, a reformed person actively earning a living in society is better than a criminal behind bars. At the very least, it saves around $100,000 per inmate, per year.

            Put another way, Bernardo has already cost Canadians around $2.5 million.

            Our prisons have not done a good job of rehabilitation. Indeed, from my perspective, they have been a school for hardened criminals, housing amateur crooks with professionals.

            Which is where the second problem comes up -- revenge.

            In another recent news story, another convicted killer was moved from a maximum security prison into a lower security one. And thousands of Canadians objected. Especially the Conservative opposition in Ottawa, who demanded that the federal government overrule Correctional Services Canada. 

            Terri-Lynne McClintic committed another of those unthinkable crimes. In 2009, she collaborated in kidnapping, raping, killing, and disposing of the body of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford. She pled guilty, and like Bernardo was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

            Then, last month, after serving less than ten years of her sentence, McClintic was transferred to an aboriginal healing lodge in Saskatchewan.

            The Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in Saskatchewan is a minimum/medium security institution run by Correctional Services Canada for indigenous women prisoners. There’s no barbed wire, no fences. Inmates live in units containing a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette and living room. They can have their families with them.

            As Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford, fumed, “She’s living it up better than a third of Canadians.”

            The Lodge’s purpose is to help rehabilitate offenders, so that they can develop “a personal life plan” defining what each offender needs for rehabilitation, the federal correctional system notes. “Programs help offenders build the strength they need to make essential changes in their lives.”


Hunger for revenge

            But the outrage over McClintic’s transfer reveals that a large motive for our prison program is still revenge. Or punishment, if you prefer a more impartial-sounding word. The feeling that McClintic -- and Bernardo -- haven’t fully paid the price for their crimes.

            They made us suffer; they should equally suffer.

            Proponents of revenge typically cite the biblical mantra: “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” They fail to recognize -- or may have never learned -- that the biblical code actually restricted revenge. For the loss of a tooth, only a tooth -- not the annihilation of an entire family or a tribe, as was often the standard until then.

            Canada has wisely overruled the Bible’s prescription of the death penalty for deliberate murder. Executions cannot be undone if we find later we made a mistake. We also don’t demand the death penalty for striking or cursing one’s parents.

            But we still seem to hunger for revenge.


Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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I got several letters about last week’s column on a local attempt to resolve the continuing nightmare that children face following abuse, but I’m setting them all aside in favour of a letter from Jane Downs Wallbrown, an old friend (and Grade 6 classmate, once) who now writes from India after a lifetime of teaching and counselling in America.


“In my experience,” Janie wrote, “the vast majority of child victims never say a word to anybody. They may try to tell their basic caretaker such as their mother but usually don't. I'd say easily 50% of my clients were victims of child sexual abuse. Another chunk were physically hit or whatever in the physical realm, but not sex. They came to me often brought by their spouses. They were two extremes. Either promiscuous or unresponsive. Most did not even know the cause of their problems, they had buried it so far into themselves. I got so I could tell within the first 5 minutes if someone had been sexually abused but almost always found they consciously didn't remember it. It was my task to bring it to consciousness -- always traumatic but once done, real healing could take place.

            “I would be amazed if a 10-year-old would have the guts to ‘tell’ on his family. It's like children of alcoholics. They are fiercely protective of their families, more so than "normal" kids. This I learned from my work as a school counselor and then as a school psychologist.

            “So having a central place for all helpers is essential. I used to work with welfare mothers. I found they received aid from numerous agencies but it was all disparate. No one looked at the whole family. I took groups of women through a 16-week course where I connected the whole of them to the world. I took them into banks. I had my secretary teach them how to use beauty products and cut their hair. I introduced them to a lawyer who would help them get divorces from abusive spouses who were hitting and sexually molesting their children. I cooked a nutritious, simple meal that they could replicate with food stamps and taught them how to eat properly at a table. I gave them IQ tests and found many of them to be bright. That led me to introducing them and supporting them through applications to the local community college. I had a pediatrician come and tell them basic facts about child development…

            “A central place might be somewhere that mothers could come for that sort of help from the various agencies. These people just don't know how to live in our society. No one has taught them. Their parents/relatives/caretakers sure didn't.

            “Your topic hit home to me. It deeply hurts me. There is much, much abuse. Here in India it's almost cultural to abuse, although they call it just the way to raise kids. But it’s the same story with too many agencies and not enough people building relationships with families.

            “My experience with agency people is that they are underpaid and overworked. They develop distance from their clients in order to manage their caseloads.”


The only other letter for this week came from someone whose signs himself only as Mr. Milne-Ives. He wanted to correct another letter-writer’s criticism last week: “Methane (NG) doesn’t mix with water any more than crude oil does -- there is no chemical basis for association, and the different densities of the hydrocarbons (relative to water) cause them to separate very quickly. Methane bubbles up and away, heavy tars sink, medium components sink or float depending on their specific densities.

            “The methane escaping from extraction facility (or pipeline) accidents is indeed a significant environmental hazard regardless of whether methane-digesting bacteria convert it (to carbon dioxide, typically), even if it dissipates rapidly from the local source of escape. As carbon dioxide, it exacerbates the current greenhouse effect measurably, but as unconverted methane, it is even more effective (as you noted, ~40 times) at contributing to the general warming of the atmosphere. Perfectly naturalfeature of the planet’s geological processes -- just not very convenient for humans in our current [situation].”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think too many links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                       Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet


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