Monday, October 2, 2006

pains of imprisonment

serving time in prison leaves all kinds of scars -- some visible, some not. two recent news stories have reminded me of this point. first, is the story of the inmate who was forcibly tattooed with the words "Katie's Revenge" in large letters across his forehead. anthony ray stockelman, 39, is serving a life sentence for molesting and murdering a 10-year-old girl named katie. while tattoos are against prison regulations, motivated inmates can be very creative and at least one found a way to leave a permanent reminder of his distaste across stockelman's face. you can see a photo of the tattoo here on cnn's website.

the tacoma news tribune offers the second story about murder defendant ulysses handy III. handy recently plead "guilty as charged" to three counts of aggravated first-degree murder. his plea bargain saved him from a death sentence; instead he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. he laughed when family members of his victims spoke of their pain and their hope that he would be killed in prison, telling them in court: "pain is part of life. deal with it. get over it." reporter karen hucks quotes handy as saying that pain was the only constant in his life. in court, he claimed:
"I know why I did what I did,” he said. “It wasn’t over no money. It wasn’t over a jacket. And it ain’t no secret who or what I am,” he continued. “I never covered that up, never tried to … I shoot people, kill people, all that other good stuff, only when I’m provoked. Vengeance, karma, whatever you want to call it. People cross me, I did what I did. And that’s not going to change.”

Handy blamed his inability to feel anything on the eight years he spent in prison for hitting a man over the head with a baseball bat. “I went into prison a kid,” Handy said. “Whatever love or compassion or mercy or sympathy I had, prison took that away from me. Anything I was died a long time ago.”

prison leaves scars on those who live behind the walls, but it does not take away the free will of individuals, and in mr. handy's case, it does not excuse aggravated murder. there's more to the story, of course, including handy's anguished mother begging the victims' families for forgiveness outside of the courtroom, claiming "he was not raised this way." but handy does not want to remember his days as an honor student, a boy scout, and an altar boy. he claims that prison killed all that was good within him.

while prison leaves it mark, there are hundreds of thousands of former inmates who have returned to their communities, changed, but willing to work incredibly hard to rebuild their lives. their stories may not have the high drama that garners media attention, but they are filled with courage, frustration, obstacles, and small triumphs. we should remember them and applaud their efforts even as we condemn the system's many failures.

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