Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It Springs Eternal - With Update

Al Gerhardstein is a civil rights lawyer, and a good one.  For years, a substantial part of his practice has been suing the prison system in Ohio over various sorts of misconduct and brutality.  He, far more than almost anyone else on the outside, knows how prisons work and what goes on behind the concertina wire.
Terry Collins worked for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for years.  When he retired, he was the Director, overseeing the entire state prison system.
They aren't what you'd call natural allies.
So when the two of them join together, well, it's probably worth paying attention.
Clarence Carter, while in the Hamilton County jail waiting to be sentenced for aggravated murder, killed Johnny Allen.  He, in turn, is to be murdered on April 12 at the death house in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.  The Parole Board said to do it.  The Courts aren't likely to intervene at this point (though one never knows).  Mostly what's left is the hope that John Kasich, having signed off on the murders of two men already this year will be disinclined to sponsor the killing of a third.
It's pretty evanescent that thing called hope.  We want to grab hold, but there's nothing to grasp.
And then Gerhardstein and Collins, speaking as one, give us a hint of something solid.
Alan Johnson, in the Columbus Dispatch, reports that they wrote a letter to Governor Kasich.  Both signed it.  They told him that there's simply no reason to think Carter's was a planned, premeditated killing.
"It is much more likely that this was an inmate fight that got tragically out of hand," Collins and Gerhardstein wrote. "Inmate-on-inmate violence in lockups is often pursued to establish oneself as fearsome and to deter others from threatening or attacking the inmate."
Yeah.  That's what happens.  It's not right.  It's not good.  (And, by the way, they were at it for 25 minutes before a guard intervened.)  But it's not the kind of crime we're inclined to think of as the worst of the worst, which is what the death penalty is, supposedly, for.
It's not likely the letter will change anything.  Kasich has made clear that he has no qualms about killing, and Carter's ultimately an easy case for that.
But what Gerhardstein and Collins demonstrate is that even the easy cases aren't so easy.  This business of figuring out who really should live and who really should die, it's tough.  And if you take it seriously, well, it's impossible.
Which is one reason we ought to give it up.
Until then, and while we wait, there remains what Emily Dickinson called "the thing with feathers."
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
I've just posted, here, the complete Gerhardstein/Collins letter to Governor Kasich, along with additional commentary (tough, it's my blog).

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