Violence Begets Violence

On a rainy, damp spring morning, with tears in his eyes, G.R. looked back on the white fortress that had been his home for the better part of his life. He waited nervously for the ...

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On a rainy, damp spring morning, with tears in his eyes, G.R. looked back on the white fortress that had been his home for the better part of his life. He waited nervously for the bus that would bring him into town. There he would board a Greyhound bus for New York City. Then for the first time in fifteen years, this thirty-one year old North Shore resident would board a train for eastern Long Island.

By the time G.R. was twelve, his brother was killed and his father had died of a sudden heart attack. His stay at home mother was forced into the workplace to support three children. At age thirteen, G.R. was running wild. He was cutting school and staying out all night. By age fourteen, G.R. had graduated to smoking pot and popping pills.

At home he was becoming more adversarial with his Mom. When he was sober and straight, he was reasonable. When he was under the influence, he was belligerent and out of control. It was becoming rare that G.R. was sober and straight.

Anger and rage were becoming his way of life. His acting out had escalated to some street fighting and breaking and entering. Now, at age sixteen, G.R. was before the criminal court. His single Mom felt powerless. Every resource she reached out to, her son rejected. It seemed like he was even more determined to destroy himself.

Unfortunately, on a Saturday night while high on heroin at the age of sixteen and a half, G.R. and another buddy (who was his driver) pulled up to a local convenience store with a toy gun that looked real. They beat up the sales clerk and stole $25.00, which was all that was in the register. Both boys were high as kites. Hours later the county police caught them four wheeling on the beach and arrested them.

For almost eight months, G.R.'s court case dragged on. He was very lucky. It was his first offense and all the serious charges were plead down. The judge gave him five years probation with the condition of outpatient drug treatment and counseling to help him manage his anger. He was given a gift.

A few months later he was again arrested for breaking and entering. He was high on heroin. He was going to outpatient treatment, but getting high right after the meeting. He was not listening to his mother. Bluntly, by his own admission fifteen years later, he was torturing her.

Again his mother bailed him out. While he was out on bail and high again, he got into a fight and broke another boy's arm in two places. This time when his cases reached the court, he had the misfortune of going before the judge who had initially sentenced him to five years probation. Needless to say, this judge was not happy. He violated G.R. for non-compliance and sentenced him to the maximum for his pending charges. When all was said and done, because of his arrogance and out of control behavior, G.R. spent fifteen years in prison.

He literally grew up in jail. He missed all the life moments that one shares as an adolescent with one's family. Birthdays, Christmases and his sister's wedding were all celebrated with the absence of one family member who was in a four by eight cinder block room with a toilet and a cot.

The isolation and loneliness forced G.R. to finally look at his life, his choices and his hopes for the future. He studied hard for his high school equivalency diploma and passed with a high score. It was a bittersweet experience because his commencement was within the confines of a barbed wire fenced in yard, when it could have been in the open air of his high school's football field.

After he completed his work on his high school diploma, G.R. began to look at his addictive behavior. Before prison, he refused any real treatment. He took the position that he was invincible and that he could manage whatever he wanted to manage.

He honestly admitted that he never really wanted to stop snorting heroin or stop drinking, even though those two behaviors literally ruined his life. The imposed cold turkey forced him to see those behaviors as addictive. That awareness led him to reach out to the limited recovery services in the prison. He started reading about his disease and going to meetings. His major breakthrough was the day he admitted with tears in his eyes that he was powerless and that he was an addict.

From that moment, a major albatross was lifted and G.R. began to re-frame his life. His life became different. He found a purpose for his being, a reason to
continue the journey. It was at that moment he decided to use the rest of his incarceration time as an opportunity for personal growth and development.

Too often prison only embitters people. In this young man's case, it seems to have liberated him. He will be the first to admit he still has a long way to go. But for now, he is motivated, wants to make amends and wants to make a positive contribution to our world.

Unfortunately, not all troubled people see the light. On Monday, June 11, 2001 at 8:00am EST, the government of the United States executed a despicable person. This barbaric act of violence was seen by many, including the President of the United States, as an act of justice. It is never just to take a life because a life was wrongly taken. Violence only begets more violence.

There is no empirical research that remotely suggests that capital punishment is a deterrent to violent, malicious crimes like pre-meditated murder. Most who engage in this kind of behavior are sick, disturbed people like the research on Mr. McVeigh suggested was true in his case. The military seemed to even exacerbate his sickness and that behavior went unchecked.

If we say we are a just society, human execution, no matter how one looks at it, is never a just act.

It was most troubling how our nation handled this most disturbing chapter in our history. He is dead. It is finished but the memory of his despicable crime will
live on. However, we can still redeem ourselves. We can never let another human execution happen again.