Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Justice Tempered With Mercy

Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are my daughters. They are yours too.
Morgan and Anissa are the two twelve year old girls who, a while back, stabbed their friend nineteen times and left her to die in the woods. This was done so that they could “become proxies for Slenderman”, an internet horror meme. Apparently the two thought they were going to live in Slenderman’s mansion in the Wisconsin woods, and the only way to get there was to kill someone.
The details of the crime were pored over, discussed, dissected, and analyzed ad infinitum for a few days until the next big headline made the news. I’m not going to go into the details ... chances are you already know about them, and if you don’t there are plenty of outlets in the media (some more reliable than others) from which you can get this information.
I want to talk about the fact that these are children. Huffington Post has pictures of them being led into court in jailhouse garb and shackles, two smallish girls who are dwarfed by the deputies surrounding them. These are kids. Their faces still have that rounded look that comes from the fact that they are still carrying some baby fat and their skulls have not yet reached their adult dimensions. If you saw a picture of them smiling, their two front teeth would look like they are too big for their mouths. Their elbows still have childlike dimples.
That’s not to say the crime they committed isn’t heinous. It is. It’s absolutely terrifying to think of what the (as yet unnamed) victim endured as she was stabbed nineteen times, then crawled to the nearest road, desperately trying to get help. But I have to wonder what the circumstances that led to this are.
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are my daughters. I say this because I have a daughter who is only slightly younger than they are. My daughter is a lovely, wonderful person, who demonstrates incredible empathy for those around her. However, she is still a child, and therefore is liable to believe in things that aren't true and to take things too literally. I don’t think she would ever do anything like this, but I could easily see her wearing the same expression on her face as Morgan and Anissa -- an expression of disbelief, shock, and fear. Disbelief that their plan didn't go as expected, shock that they got caught, and fear stemming from the realization that this is real, and the punishment is not going to be the loss of a cell phone for a week and not being allowed to go to the school dance on Friday night.
Make no mistake. These two girls have committed a horrible, tragic crime. They are currently being charged as adults, and each face up to 65 years in prison. But let’s think about this for a moment.
If they are found guilty and given the maximum sentence, with no parole, this means that they will not see the light of day until they in their late 70s. They will have never held a job, driven a car, voted, bought groceries, paid a bill, had a checking account, signed a lease ... all the mundane aspects of adult life we all take for granted will be completely new and alien.
And they will be senior citizens with no means of support. They will have no savings. They will not be eligible for Social Security because they will not have any salary history whatsoever.
They will have never dealt with society as adults -- they will have entered the prison system as children, not fully formed, and their maturation will be dictated by that harsh, unforgiving environment.
I am all for the sentence being proportional to the crime. But I am also fully supportive of the notion of our criminal justice system being primarily rehabilitative instead of punitive, especially in the case of two who are so young and malleable. Morgan and Anissa are young enough to learn, to become aware of the magnitude of what they have done, and to fully contributing members of society. They can learn from this experience, and more importantly, they can impart this wisdom to other pre-teens.
When an adult perpetrates an act like this, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he or she is hardened to the world, that the act was pathological. Eliot Rodger’s murder spree stemmed from the narcissism that came from viewing women as property that was his due, and his ire was directed not only at the women who spurned him (even if they had never met), but also at the men who supposedly “took” them from him. Rodger, had he survived, maybe could have been rehabilitated to the point of being able to function, but I suspect his misogynistic views were hard as rock and would not have changed one bit ... if anything, time in prison would only have cemented them even further into his psyche.
Morgan and Anissa, however, are still plastic. Nothing is cemented in their psyches yet, simply because their psyches are still works in progress; they are active construction zones. Whereas Rodger’s psyche may have had a road crew here and there, patching a pothole or two, these two girls have entire swaths of psychological real estate undergoing development. Bridges are being built, roads are being laid down, entire cities of emotional maturity are still in the planning stages.
Should they be prosecuted for their crimes? Absolutely. Should they be made to serve penalties? Most definitely. But should they be tried as adults? Absolutely not, because they are NOT. They are children. Not in the legal sense of the word in that they are under eighteen, but in the sense that they have not yet reached physical, intellectual, and emotional maturity. I mean, they probably still have baby teeth. The physical apparatus of their brains have not yet finished growing and forming. For the prosecutor to insist on trying them as adults is nothing more than vindictiveness, little more than an attempt at revenge, with no thought given as to the likelihood that these two young girls can be rehabilitated, and can go on to live full and productive lines, and to make further amends for their crime by teaching others the harsh lessons they have learned from this experience, perhaps to avoid a future incident such as this.
I would not presume to speak for any of the parents involved in this case, having never faced anything like this (the closest I have come was taking my daughter to the emergency room after she suffered an allergic reaction to a guinea pig when she was three years old). I can only dimly imagine what the victim’s parents must be feeling at this moment.
While I do not for an instant condone what these two girls have done, I cannot give up hope that they will someday be able to grow, and learn, and mature, and ideally make amends to all who have been hurt by their actions. They are young enough to still have a chance.
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are my daughters. They are yours as well..

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