Sunday, September 30, 2018

An apology for the angels of our better nature...


What is even happening?

Did I delude myself into thinking my country was full of people that had thought it all out?  Sat down around the campfire and seen the firelight reflected in the eyes of people that looked different from them?  Looked left to see revenge then right to see mercy...and chosen mercy?

Maybe some people have seen it.  But I mistakenly thought for a second that on average, a Canadian's shit didn't smell.  That we have universal health care so we were, on balance, better than a bloodthirsty, gun-toting, nuke-launching American.

But it isn't being American, or being Canadian, or being female or being Black or any number of other things that allows a person to understand the virtue of mercy.  You can only understand that virtue when you let go of your ego - the notion that your feelings and experience somehow represent an unequivocal manifestation of how the world would best be served.  Trapped in our own feelings and our own perspective, seeing only through these eyes and no others, how difficult is it for people to choose the hard path - the path towards a world that some people can't even fathom.

Some people simply can't fathom a world where no one is bad.  Where every child is loved and supported, and every child grows to be a loving and supportive parent.  Some people can't imagine that the cycles of self-hate which manifest themselves in people of different generations locked into the same behaviours can be broken.  Some people can't imagine how that can be broken.

They can't imagine because they themselves are locked into the same cycle: a cycle of thinking and reacting and doing things exactly as their parents did.  They can't imagine because they think in the same way as the people who helped make the problem in the first place.  But the problems of the world cannot be solved by the same thinking that made those problems.

Robyn Urback is the one I have to thank for disabusing me of the notion that the average Canadian thinks differently than the average human.  That the average Canadian is merciful.  I was naive for a moment there; I am embarrassed.  I am grateful for this clarification.

Does my heart bleed?  Am I simply weak-minded, weak-willed, weak-spirited?  I look into my 4 month old daughter's crib.  She fusses.  She has gas tonight and I know that she'll overcome.  Now I put myself in the Staffords' shoes?  Someone has taken my daughter from me.  Someone has taken her future from her.  Someone has denied the world something so precious, so flawless, so magnificent.  Someone has robbed the world of a soul that I was building from the first day to be kinder than others, more generous than others, stronger than others, more willing to suffer to help others, more sure of herself than others - a crime against me.  More importantly though, someone thought only of themselves and robbed my daughter of her life and robbed the world of my daughter.

And were they merciful?  Were they kind?  No, animals can't be kind.  Animals can't know mercy, governed solely by the extremes of pleasure and pain, the demands & dictates of survival.  No, my daughter was sport to them.  Not a person.  An object.  An object to be hurt.  An object to be raped.  An object to be beaten.  An object to be bludgeoned. 

An object to be discarded.

In her last moments on this Earth, my daughter knew pain like never before.  She knew suffering.  She was violated.  She was scared.  She was alone.  Did she cry out for her father to save her?  Did she cry and pray that I would come?  Did she die having given up hope that I'd be there? 

Did she die knowing the magnitude of my failure?  Did she forgive me?  Or was she long past caring about anything other than the omnipresence of her suffering?  Did she simply welcome the end when it came?

In merely imagining those who would dare to take my daughter, or hurt my daughter, or touch my daughter or kill my daughter, my blood both freezes and boils.  There is the hollow feeling, below my heart - the hole that fills like a ship taking on water.  It fills with the sin of wrath - and the certainty of it is blinding.  There is the face of the person that takes my daughter from me - the face is before me.  The rock is in my hand.  I can imagine the sound that the rock makes as it fractures bone - I've heard that sound when I've fallen or when I've heard someone else fall without breaking their fall.  But what does a face look like when it has been bludgeoned, not by a hammer, but by a rock?  What does it look like when so much bone has been broken that it ceases to be a face?  Is there a moment when I see the jaw collapse in and the teeth break away that I know that this person doesn't exist anymore?  Does that satisfy me...?  Does it cause me to stop?

Of course it doesn't.  Because I don't want this person dead.  I want them to give me my daughter back and put things as they were before.  I'm crushing their skull with a rock in the mistaken hope that if I make this person cease to exist, what they've done will cease to exist, too and I can have my daughter back. And she can have her life and the world will be better for it.  I will dance at her wedding and play with her children.  I will remember the last words she said to me as I close my eyes that last time.

That's all gone.  All that's left is the hollow feeling, a broken heart filled with rage.  A poor substitute for what filled it before.

I've lost.  Killing my daughter's killer doesn't change that I lost, doesn't change the magnitude of my loss.  Being a good man, father to a perfect daughter, has no bearing on whether I should have lost or not.  I've lost and my loss is not finite.  It is infinite.

But that isn't the worse part is it?  It isn't that I lost what cannot be recovered.  It is the truth borne out with my own hands.  The truth that I want to deny, the truth that I need to turn from.  The truth that redoubles my shame at having failed my daughter...

I enjoyed killing this person.  I didn't do it because I wanted to protect someone else's daughter.  I didn't do it because I thought it was right.  I didn't do it because I thought that it would give me my daughter back.  I killed this person because I wanted to.  Because I wanted them to suffer.  I killed them because I figured that it would give me some relief, make me feel good...if even for a second...

And it was that same need, to feel good, to feel something...if even for a second...It was that same feeling that flowed through my daughter's murderer in that moment before they took her last breath.

In that one moment, we were the same.  Made of the same things, driven by the same things.  Eager to make a person into a thing.  We could both enjoy killing something, because we were both monsters.

I was the person who could enjoy killing someone.  This time, it was a murderer.  How long would it be before I could enjoy killing a girl my daughter's age?  How long would it be before I could be relieved killing my own daughter?  The light of my life?

Is the only difference between me and my daughter's killer just the matter of time?

This is the path that lay before me as they tell me that my daughter is gone and that I will never see her again and that the person who did this has been captured.  Do I want to walk this path?

Most people don't actually get to answer, because reacting as fury and ego demands, they don't even realize that the question has been asked.  But here I am asking the question.  My answer...


I want to be the exact opposite of what ever or whoever the person who did this to my daughter is.  If they sleep on their left, I want to sleep on my right.  If they pee standing up, I want to pee sitting down...

If they looked down into my baby girl's eyes and heard her plead to go home and then smashed her head in...

I want to look into their eyes...
and hear their pleas...
and tell them I forgive them.

I want to hate them with every fibre of my being.  But I will hate what they've done and not hate them and know that I am not like them.  It's not because I'm a better person - far from it.  It's because I don't want to be a worse one.  I want to know that I am not the person that could enjoy someone's suffering, wish suffering upon others, inflict suffering upon others.  Know that I could never be the person that they've chosen, or allowed or been forced to become.  Take hold of that lone solace to be found from the end of my life as I know it, the end of any meaning that I had: that I am not increasing the suffering in our world.  That I am not visiting my suffering on anyone other than myself.

Urback writes that "In no universe is it appropriate for a child murderer to serve her sentence in a healing lodge".  Will serving it in a prison cell bring back Tori Stafford?

She writes that "Now, McClintic has moved to a healing lodge in Saskatchewan for female Indigenous offenders, where she enjoys greater independence, more spacious surroundings and programs designed to help her outline "what she needs emotionally, physically and spiritually to help with her rehabilitation"  Is a outdoor prison, or a colourful prison, or a minimum-security prison, not still a prison?  Is your life not still subject to the whims of every guard, every official & every locked door around you?

She writes that "Ideally, rehabilitation would be at the core of the Canadian justice system as the universal standard. We know that prisons that focus on rehabilitation generally mean lower rates of recidivism and cost taxpayers less in the long run. But immersive rehabilitation programs in Canada are the exception, not the rule." How would this move from being the exception to the rule if we didn't seek to apply it to prisoners?

She writes that "Moving McClintic out of prison and into a healing lodge is institutional failure of another kind."  If it is a failure, in what way is locking someone up for the rest of their life some definition of success?

She writes "How do you rehabilitate that degree of evil?"  Does anyone know the answer to this question?  Will we arrive at the answer by actively not trying?  Or is it simply that we don't want to rehabilitate that kind of evil because if someone who can commit evil of this magnitude can feel the seed of actual remorse inside and face tomorrow with that burden, we would have to come to terms with the fact that our society and our forebearers simply threw people away with the same level of interest as the people that they themselves threw away?

She writes "While there is perhaps a case to be made that even the most monstrous offenders — those with the most hopeless-seeming cases — deserve a shot at rehabilitation, surely the pedophiles and child murderers, the worst of the worst, ought to be at the back of the line. Not moving into healing lodges a mere eight years after abducting and killing an eight-year-old girl and dumping her body in a field."  Curious, this notion of a rehabilitation meritocracy.  Obviously any effort at giving a second chance can't be on the basis of whether these people deserve it - clearly none of them 'deserve' it.  We aren't trying to change their ways because they deserve it, we're doing it because we don't want them to do awful things anymore and we would like to not have to babysit them for the rest of their lives. The act of prioritizing peoples worthiness for rehabilitation is simply a reflection of our bloodlust for wanting to punish them in the first place.  But isn't that the very thing that we would be trying to avoid by virtue of the attempt to rehabilitate them - wanting to punish?  And wouldn't there be inestimable value in actually rehabilitating the 'worst of the worst': to serve as proof that if they can find remorse and choose to create some meaning from their havoc that anyone can?

She writes "In what universe should the perpetrator be transferred to a healing lodge less than 10 years into her life sentence?" Isn't the most important part of McClintic's sentence the part about it being for the remainder of her life, not the details of where and how it is carried out?  This seems to suggest that imprisonment alone isn't enough--McClintic has to be imprisoned a certain way.  And if the life part is less important than how it is carried out, that seems to suggest that we want to hurt McClintic for having hurt Tori.  So why not just have her beaten weekly by her fellow inmates?  Why not put her in a cell with a rabid dog?  If imprisonment isn't punishment enough, why would we content ourselves with just letting her sit in a cell for the next fifty years?

She writes that "There is no objective threshold to determine what constitutes "adequate" prison time for someone who lures and murders an eight-year-old. Many would consider a lifetime behind bars as too lenient of a punishment. But without question, it should be long enough for that little girl's shirt to become thoroughly outdated."  Strange that one can say 'there is no objective threshold' and then immediately follow it by saying 'but without question'.  The lack of objective threshold suggest thereis a question.

And finally she writes the crux of our delusion:  "We need to see that justice is being done."  But justice can't be done.  Justice would be for those who took Tori Stafford's life to give her life back.  This is well beyond their powers.  Justice - a balanced scale - can't be done.  All that is left are approximations.  There was a value to Tori Stafford's life that was taken from the world.  Does the world get that value, or some measure of that value, back by locking Terri-Lynn McClintic in a cage at the public's expense for the next 50 years?  Or by injecting her veins with drugs to stop her heart?  Or shooting her in the head with a gun and trying to forget about her?  Or by turning a blind eye to her as her fellow inmates beat upon her?  Or locking her in a cage with a wild animal as it mauls her?

Someone might think these to be deliberate provocations - an attempt to stir feelings of disgust by proposing punishment that is unusual and cruel.  But the overwhelming disgust stirred by the notion that a person that is little more than an animal should be treated not as an animal but as a human in the hopes of destroying the animal and creating a human-- this disgust suggests that in some cases, like Tori's case, we clearly want to be the person with the rock, bashing an evil person's face in, but, unwilling to do it ourselves, we want to be comforted that the punishment is happening slowly in a dank prison-cell, with little daylight, to people we wish to simply forget.  People that are thrown away, like Tori was thrown away.  The problem is two-fold: first, why the half-measure, why draw it out?  If we want to inflict pain, that pain can be exacted quickly and definitively (with rocks or bullets or dogs).  And second, things we throw away don't cease to exist, they go into landfills...or into waterways or into the food we eat.  People we lock up don't disappear, they languish, they linger and we babysit them at expense and energy to our communities, until they either get out, wreak more havoc & return, or die.

It is a system that works precisely up to the moment when we throw that one person in prison that tips the scales and makes it so that there are more people locked behind bars than there are people available to guard the locks.  How well will 'throwing people away' work when we meet that 'objective threshold'?  One hopes that the people on the outside have good robots working for them.

Urback writes that "McClintic's story is one of institutional failure: she was born to a woman who worked as a stripper, adopted out to another woman who also worked as a stripper, and was in and out of foster care. As a child, McClintic was angry. She dropped out of school. Did drugs. Microwaved a live dog. She was abused. And then she grew up and remained free long enough to repeat the cycle."

Urback, and as it seems, many of my fellow Canadians, look to be the type that sees a person treading water in the middle of an ocean, and blames their drowing on their poor ability to swim.  When, in reality, what chance did they have treading water in the middle of the ocean?  How else is the story supposed to end? 

We are all in that ocean.  Some of us have boats, whizzing by.  Some of us have barges, going with the flow.  Some of us are in the water linked together by arms and lifejackets, keeping one another afloat.  And there is Terri-Lynn McClintic and Michael Rafferty like so many isolated, troubled people, treading water in an ocean that never showed them a day's comfort, drifing over to Tori Stafford. 

Maybe Tori looked to them like a strong swimmer.  They held that little innocent girl under the water until she drowned.  If you asked them why they did, they couldn't even tell you, filled with a desperation to stay afloat that they can't even put into words, the vain hope that pushing her under could give them something, meant that they could float a little longer.

It didn't.  The ocean is there, waiting to swallow them along with many, many others whole.  When desperate people drown they claw and pull at anyone nearby, potentially pulling them down with them.  We who can float well can extend a hand to help them float as well.  Or we can push them under and speed up what was being done to them anyways. 

But for many of us, simply knowing that they are drowning - and helping them in neither one way nor the another - gives us comfort.  People like knowing that McClintic is drowning because of what she did to Tori.  And it seems clear that they'll be damned if anyone offers her a hand.

All I'm saying is that: regardless of that comfort, one more drowned person, no matter how many awful things they've done, can't keep anyone else from going under.  That's literally all that I'm saying.

- Grandpa


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