"HOT OFF THE PRESS" BLOG
Twice, California Parole Board Says Yes, But Gov. Gavin Newsome Says No.
I'm struggling with this. What Ms. Leslie Van Houten did 50 years ago as teenager under the influence of drugs and a violent criminal was savage, senseless, and indefensible. The pain she caused the family of her victims must be incalculable. If I was one of them, I'd probably want her to die in prison for her crime.
But I also believe in transformation and redemption. Not just in the next world but in this one, where it matters even more. Because, if that's not possible, why should anyone in prison bother to change, or try to make amends for the mistakes made in the past, however heinous?
Typical for a politician who hopes to run for higher office someday, Gov. Gavin Newsome parroted a politically correct bromide that no longer fits this peaceful 69 year old woman. He should have had the courage and integrity to admit he fears nearly certain vocal outrage from those who preach law and order, and the understandable ire of friends and families of the murder victims who will carry a profound sense of pain and loss that few others can imagine. Paroles are hard to come by in America and it seems extremely rare for a parole board to recommend parole, twice. The parole board appears to agree that Van Houten is no longer a danger to society. And they should know. They have likely evaluated countless murderers.
In reality, the greatest danger to our society are angry, young, white men with high powered guns. That's who the majority of mass murderers are; that kill indiscriminately at schools, movie theaters, and places of worship. Or, war criminals who enjoy killing prisoners and innocent civilians while in uniform, unlike those who serve under our flag, honorably. How many millions has our country killed? What about Hiroshima, Nagasaki, My Lai, or our drone bombings that kill children in school playgrounds, people celebrating at weddings or mourners in funeral processions in the Middle East?
I'm not suggesting Ms. Van Houten should be forgiven, because to me, some things are unforgivable. And I hate hearing the equally tired old bromide that Jesus forgave his tormentors from the cross, which he did not. Or that forgiveness is not for the perpetrator, it's to make the victim feel better, which it doesn't, and only serves to make those self-righteous observers untouched by the brutality of the crime feel better about living in a violent world.
But if there's no chance of transformation and redemption, or to be truly penitent and demonstrate one's penance by changing oneself, we are doomed as a society and as a species. That's why Pennsylvania Quakers developed the concept of a penitentiary. Where, rather than merely languishing in jail, prisoners would spend their time reflecting on their crimes, becoming penitent, and commit themselves to change. And to try to make amends to their victims.
Unlike Ms. Van Houten, the majority of those in prison will eventually be released to return to society. It would be far better for them to have hope of achieving a goal of freedom, no matter how hard they must work, or suffer, to achieve that. Those who don't change, leave angry, determined to make society pay a high price for their pain. Positive change can be life-giving.
When soldiers of opposing armies come together, years later -- witnessed after the Civil War, and after Vietnam -- they typically greeted each other as comrades, and not as former enemies. Because, each has experienced the horrors of war, and want no more killing.
This woman has earned a second chance at life, for what she has done in the past 50 years to make herself a better person. Science tells us, and the United States Supreme Court agrees, that the human brain does not mature until roughly age 25. Making teenagers psychologically incapable of thinking like an adult, or evaluating danger, or understanding the long term consequences of their actions. That's why every year around prom time, we read about teenagers who were too careless or too busy celebrating their high school graduations, causing them to die in fatal car accidents.
Leslie Van Houten should be released, put on probation, and required to be under court supervision for the rest of her life. And that might give innumerable others in prison hope and a blueprint for change. There's a difference between forgiveness and parole. And it's time, now.