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Erasing Hate
October 31, 2011 4:33 PM   Subscribe

A reformed skinhead, Bryon Widner was desperate to rid himself of the racist tattoos that covered his face - so desperate that he turned to former enemies for help, and was willing to endure months of pain in a journey from racism to redemption.

direct YT link for the associated press video
posted by mannequito (161 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
There appears to be a 44min TV movie as well as a 90min theatrical version: Trailer.
posted by rhizome at 4:47 PM on October 31, 2011


It's not just people with racist tattoos who eventually think better of it. Anyone who opens a tattoo removal parlour is going to get rich in the coming decades.
posted by joannemullen at 4:50 PM on October 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


Anyone who opens a tattoo removal parlour is going to get rich in the coming decades.

Nearly everyone I know has at least one tattoo, and almost none of them regret it -- even the old folks who have really saggy skin and tattoos that now look like crap. The ones who do regret their tattoos regret the specific tattoo, not tattoos in general, and so they have opted to get the old piece covered up with something better, rather than get have it removed.

Back on topic, I'd like to see a fuller video about this. The fact that a movie is coming sounds intriguing, but I can't get the trailer to work.
posted by asnider at 4:55 PM on October 31, 2011 [18 favorites]


It took a minute or two for the trailer to start. Just give it time (and I'm on a 40-megabit connection; I think the other end is getting slammed).
posted by mrbill at 4:57 PM on October 31, 2011


This is pretty interesting. Facial tattoos have always been the "no turning back" of several subcultures. Once they can be effectively removed, will people look for even more permanent declarations of their allegiance?

Beyond that, I'm impressed that this guy (and his family) went as far as they did, and that the change really seems to have come from within -- they just got sick of the way they were living their lives. Which is different from the usual redemption story.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:57 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I read up to the point where the black woman came up to him after watching the documentary and hugged him, saying "I forgive you." Then I teared up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:58 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


This reminded me of the story of Rabbi Weisser helping a Grand Dragon of the KKK rehabilitate himself from a lifetime of hatred:

That simple moment of kindness unlocked something in Trapp, and he began to struggle with regret over how he’d lived his life. He’d had doubts before, and Weisser’s phone calls made those doubts harder to ignore. A few weeks later, he called Weisser. “I want to get out of this, and I don’t know how,” he said.

It is a pretty amazing story.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:01 PM on October 31, 2011 [21 favorites]


I saw the story and yes he did remove his tatts, but did you see all the scars? Seems more they cut away skin and did grafts rather than laser stuff like the story said.
posted by Tech Historian at 5:09 PM on October 31, 2011


Nearly everyone I know has at least one tattoo, and almost none of them regret it -- even the old folks who have really saggy skin and tattoos that now look like crap. The ones who do regret their tattoos regret the specific tattoo, not tattoos in general, and so they have opted to get the old piece covered up with something better, rather than get have it removed.


Yeah but this is the first generation of widespread dumbasses running around with two full sleeves by age 22.

Im Gen X and I have 7 tattoos myself, but if I had sleeved up that young I would definitely be regretting it now.

Its also gonna be incredibly lulzy to see what happens with all the goofballs that thought that wide-gauged plugs in their earlobes was a good idea.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:09 PM on October 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. It's nice that sometimes, people change.
posted by theora55 at 5:11 PM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


A few years ago I read about a radio station that held a contest where people who regretted their tattoos could submit stories about why and the winner, based on votes, would be able to get it removed at the radio station's expense. I remember two of the stories, one vaguely and one specifically:

1. A man who had "tattoos of a very bad man on my face," presumably Hitler, and the shame he felt when his young child would ask him about them, and

2. A girl with an embarrassing rabbit or bird tattoo on her arm. She hated it.

The girl won and this story has always made me really sad.

Personally, I've never understood tattoos any more than I've understood racism.
posted by dobbs at 5:16 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


All right, I'll be the first to say it:
Fuck that guy
I wonder how many people's lives he ruined irretrievably before getting his free pass.

$35k buys a lot of clothes for a lot of inner city kids...
posted by biochemicle at 5:17 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Redemption isn't free. It takes courage, humility, and sacrifice.
posted by troll at 5:22 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wonder how many people's lives he ruined irretrievably...

Ruined irretrievably?

Probably none.
posted by General Tonic at 5:25 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


>Fuck that guy

I dunno, it sounds like he led a pretty bad life and hurt a lot of people, but, if there is no way for him to stop doing that, why would he or anyone else like him try?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:29 PM on October 31, 2011 [20 favorites]


Its also gonna be incredibly lulzy to see what happens with all the goofballs that thought that wide-gauged plugs in their earlobes was a good idea.

Seems to be still working out for my girlfriend.
posted by josher71 at 5:29 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many people's lives he ruined irretrievably before getting his free pass.

Actually that's a good point. I believe that almost anyone should have the opportunity to redeem themselves, but I also believe that people should pay for their crimes. I get the distinct impression that Byron has killed a few people and possibly crippled a few others. He should probably be in jail.
posted by Edgewise at 5:31 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Part of the point of the violence and the tattoos is "no way out." this guy is trying to show that that is a lie, which takes some effort. It's not like he's been given some cushy life, after all....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:32 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, but this part I don't agree with:

$35k buys a lot of clothes for a lot of inner city kids...

That's just not how things work. If they did, I would never hope to one day buy a nice car.
posted by Edgewise at 5:35 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


He should probably be in jail.

To be fair, though, he was in jail. Given who he was, I doubt the prosecutors or judge cut him much slack for being just a troubled youth or anything, he was in jail for whatever they could make stick. Presumably he's done his time, and thus shouldn't be in jail.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:35 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


I wonder how many people's lives he ruined irretrievably...

Ruined irretrievably?

Probably none.


From the article:

[He was] a mean and scrappy brawler with a penchant for slicing victims' faces with a straight edge razor ("I wanted to leave a gash that would make them remember me for the rest of their lives")

He was also a founding member of a group that explicitly said they would murder anyone who crossed them. I am fine with him getting his surgery and whatnot and glad he stopped being an extremely evil asshole, but "redemption" in my mind would be him spending the rest of his life saving orphans from burning buildings or something, not deciding to stop being a terrible person because he doesn't like that lifestyle anymore.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:35 PM on October 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


Some people talk a good game about wanting to change, but never do. Some people begin to take steps to actually change. Is it not possible to imagine that this guy is only at the start of a long journey? What good does it do anyone to say "fuck that guy (who's making an effort to change)"? Should no one ever even try?
posted by rtha at 5:36 PM on October 31, 2011 [67 favorites]


He wanted to scream at the world that he was a good father and husband, that he had changed. He wanted to beg people to look beyond the markings on his skin, to give him a second chance.

Interesting, how Mr. Widner resented being judged by the coloring of his skin.
posted by George Clooney at 5:36 PM on October 31, 2011 [36 favorites]


To be fair, though, he was in jail. Given who he was, I doubt the prosecutors or judge cut him much slack for being just a troubled youth or anything, he was in jail for whatever they could make stick. Presumably he's done his time, and thus shouldn't be in jail.

From the article:

By the time he was 30, Widner had spent a total of four years in jail, accused of murder and other charges, though he was never convicted of a major crime. Victim intimidation, he says, took care of that.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:36 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wonder how many people's lives he ruined irretrievably before getting his free pass.

However many there were, it's still less than there would be if he hadn't changed in the first place.

(come on, dude, have you NEVER made a mistake in your own life? You've NEVER hurt any other human being ever in your life because you didn't know any better?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:38 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


(come on, dude, have you NEVER made a mistake in your own life? You've NEVER hurt any other human being ever in your life because you didn't know any better?)

We're talking about murder. As burnmp3s quoted:

By the time he was 30, Widner had spent a total of four years in jail, accused of murder and other charges, though he was never convicted of a major crime. Victim intimidation, he says, took care of that.

Sounds like he's practically confessing. Of course, this could be the fault of sensationalist journalism. But the man also explicitly admits that his calling card was slicing faces with a razor.
posted by Edgewise at 5:41 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


He should probably be in jail.

Right now, if we take him at his word, he's a changed man, regretful and repentant, and on his way to building a better life. Why fuck that up by sending him to jail and risk filling his life with hate and violence again?
posted by rocket88 at 5:43 PM on October 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


to me, it seems that we as a nation are losing touch with the fact that prison is supposed to be a place of rehabilitation, not just incarceration.

this man genuinely regrets what he's done and genuinely wants to move forward in a positive way, and still people think he should just be locked up like an animal because fuck him and "i'll bet he did worse stuff than our system of justice was able to pin on him".

well FUCK YOU, TOO. his debt to society was fulfilled, and now he wants to continue to better himself and his family. this kind of thing should be held up as a rarified example of when the system actually works, not a rallying cry that we should just punish people harder and harder in an effort to make them pay for imagined or projected crimes that the prosecution was unable to convince a jury he committed.
posted by radiosilents at 5:50 PM on October 31, 2011 [68 favorites]


(come on, dude, have you NEVER intimidated a witness to get away with murder because you didn't know any better?)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:51 PM on October 31, 2011 [19 favorites]


Define "intimidated".
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:52 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


his debt to society was fulfilled

No evidence of that. If the article is correct, he admits to having used victim intimidation to avoid conviction. That pretty much guarantees he did _not_ fulfill his debt.

It would be one thing if he was claiming innocence and people just assumed he had done worse, but he admits (again, based on the article) to having gotten away with serious crimes. He shouldn't get a pass on that, the moral thing to do is to own up to those crimes and face his punishment.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:55 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Victim intimidation, he says, took care of that.

Um its not on me to define it.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:56 PM on October 31, 2011


Once they can be effectively removed, will people look for even more permanent declarations of their allegiance?

Most of the serious bodymod stuff is still fringe, but it's a lot less fringe than it was a decade ago.
posted by mhoye at 5:57 PM on October 31, 2011


"Define "intimidated"."

Getting breathed on by this guy? I'm not sure why anyone in this thread would doubt the fear that he was able to inspire and apparently back up.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:59 PM on October 31, 2011


to me, it seems that we as a nation are losing touch with the fact that prison is supposed to be a place of rehabilitation, not just incarceration.

This guy doesn't need rehabilitation. He sounds very well self-rehabilitated to me. I'm not being sarcastic; I believe in his sincerity. But while prisons are supposed to serve a rehabilitory function, yes, they also serve other functions. And the point of punishment for crimes is not solely rehabilitory. Maybe it is for you, but for the rest of society, it is also about deterrence. It's not all carrots...sometimes there is a stick.
posted by Edgewise at 6:01 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nearly everyone I know has at least one tattoo

So surprisingly generational. I think I've known maybe a handful of people with tattoos in my life total, and I spent half of my adulthood hanging out in low places with bad people -- drug dealers, ex-cons, musicians, SAILORS OMG, etc -- who, at least back in the day, were statistically more likely to have ink.

I'm 46, for reference.

I suspect jessamyn's right about the potential income upside of tattoo removal services in the future. Or maybe I am that far out of touch -- and have lived in Asia so long, where there is still quite a lot of stigma attached -- that I underestimate the number of young people who are totally committed to the idea.

There was an essay I read years back, which I've tried to find again to no avail, that proposed that the bodily mutilation becoming so prevalent in Hollywood films (this was a good 15+ years back, maybe) was seeping out into the culture at large (or maybe reflecting it -- I read the thing a long time ago) and manifesting in a kind of Hatred of The Flesh in our society, and increasingly violent 'gonzo' porn, the obesity epidemic, plastic surgery and more were all loosely connected.

I wish I could find that essay again. I think there was something to it -- although it's entirely possible that the original did not stretch nearly as far as I am characterizing it as having done -- and I am inclined to think there may be a dotted line between that idea and body modification, even the most benign (like tattooing), for some people who do it.

That suggestion may infuriate those among us who are actually tattooed, and I apologize, but aside from a brief flirtation with the idea when I was young and dumb (a stylized world map across my back updated with flags for the major centres I visited, because I wandered, a lot), I have difficulty understanding the urge as a positive thing for some, and I would like to, a little better.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:04 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


You've NEVER hurt any other human being ever in your life because you didn't know any better?

Oh come on. This guy has admitted to spending almost his entire life doing really terrible things, and created an entire organization around doing those terrible things. And now he has stopped, which is great, but that does not suddenly make this a feel good story for me.

I mean, what if instead of slashing people with straight razors and possibly murdering and paralyzing them (the article is not clear on those points), he was a serial rapist who created a pro-rape organization and then many years later decided to quit. Would he suddenly be redeemed as some sort of model of courage and bravery? No, he would be an asshole serial rapist who is no longer raping and promoting rape anymore.

I've seen people trash talk celebrities on this site because they made one racist comment 30 years ago and then immediately apologized for it. And yet many people in this thread are defending a guy who was well known as one of the most brutal white supremacists in the country. He seems like a nice enough guy now, but I don't know how you can look at the things he's done and think it somehow evens out to something positive in the end, this is a sad story of someone that has done things that he will never be able to redeem himself for.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:06 PM on October 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


Long live the new flesh, stavros!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:07 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I totally understand why this story makes many people feel good. It makes it seem like the sort of people who do horrific and sociopathic things towards other humans can change and become just like the rest of us. It's a huge relief in a way. But to me there's a chord of bullshit running through the whole thing. His stated reason, assuming it is true, for wanting to get the tats off so that his children could have a decent lifestyle and because he was sick of the way he was living. For the betterment of his children, of his own offspring --and of himself. That is not in any way some kind of altruistic, unselfish motivation to me.

And I don't buy that this guy just made some silly mistakes in his life. The man, at the very least, brutally mutilated many people by his own admission. That's not like a normal human mistake. That's a person who has something very, very wrong with them that tattoo removal doesn't take away. And if he really saw the light and is ever so sorry, then why doesn't he march down to the police station and admit to the crimes that *he said* that he was not convicted of because he successfully intimidated the witnesses?

Yes, I think people should have the chance to redeem themselves. Yes, I think it's for the best if this guy is really doing his best to live a productive life. No, I don't think there is anything feel-good about this story. No, I don't think there is anything fundamentally changed about this man. Yes, the money could have been better spent, although, if it's true that a very small proportion of people are responsible for most of the crimes, that's debatable if it's keeping him out of crime even for a little while.
posted by cairdeas at 6:08 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand Metafilter. Put up any post on prison systems in America and you'll get a long discussion about the horrors of the prison-industrial complex and how unfair sentencing laws are and what an embarrassment it is that the US has such a high incarceration rate.

Introduce an example of one of those prisoners in that system genuinely seeking redemption, and it's a "Throw him in jail" pile-on.

If you want a redemptive, fair prison system, one without unnecessary incarcerations, one with some belief in the power of people to change and without abuses then you have to reconcile yourself with the fact that some of those people who are being redeemed are people whose crimes unsettle you.
posted by schroedinger at 6:14 PM on October 31, 2011 [127 favorites]


No sympathy for this douche.
posted by secondhand pho at 6:14 PM on October 31, 2011


schroedinger -- I agree. I call that "Michael Vick syndrome".
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:19 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


The process of removing those tattoos.
posted by blob at 6:20 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand Metafilter. Put up any post on prison systems in America and you'll get a long discussion about the horrors of the prison-industrial complex and how unfair sentencing laws are and what an embarrassment it is that the US has such a high incarceration rate.Introduce an example of one of those prisoners in that system genuinely seeking redemption, and it's a "Throw him in jail" pile-on.

schroedinger: I can't speak for anyone else, and I don't have enough time to do the topic justice, but some of my many problem with the prison-industrial complex are that it incarcerates people for crimes they didn't commit, that it is racist, that it keeps people under inhumane conditions, that people are locked up for non-violent crimes, that people are punished in cases where rehabilitation would be *more effective,* that non-violent offenders are locked up when they're not a threat at all to the community, and so forth.

This is not in any way the same type of situation to me. This man acted like an ultra-violent sociopath for many many years. I don't know that I believe violent sociopaths *can* be rehabilitated. If he's trying, that's great, but I just don't buy that it's so quick n' easy (tattoo removal torture porn nonwithstanding) as how it's being framed here. But either way, the man said himself that he committed crimes that he was never convicted for due to his witness intimidation.
posted by cairdeas at 6:21 PM on October 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


This guy is not a prisoner. He avoided the prison time he should have served (he was in jail, not prison, because he was not convicted --- again, according to the article). Prison is not just about redemption, it is about deterrence and punishment as well.

This guy was guilty, he was not falsely convicted or given a trumped-up sentence. Quite the opposite, he got off on crimes he admits to committing, while his victims had to live with the consequences.

I have sympathy for many in prison today, for all sorts of reasons. This guy is someone who beat the system, not someone who was wronged by it.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:23 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


cairdeas: And if he really saw the light and is ever so sorry, then why doesn't he march down to the police station and admit to the crimes that *he said* that he was not convicted of because he successfully intimidated the witnesses?

This is, I think a very very important point.

Seems to me that this man is more reformed than redeemed, which is still something.

It's just something outside of the rigid hero/villain narrative. I mean, the fact remains that he's done some really terrible things, but if he's not gonna do them anymore, and he's not gonna teach his kids to do them, then we've still got the best possible outcome out of this whole thing.
posted by emilycardigan at 6:24 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


This man seems to be very, very effective at violence. Deep, organized, hateful violence. And he's trying to break away from that life, and what?

"No sympathy for this douche."

"It's not all carrots...sometimes there is a stick."

"Fuck that guy"

Really? It's not like he changed his name, or fled to the Seychelles, or somehow wiped away his past. That will always mark him, for those who care to look.

I think more time in prison would be appropriate, especially if there are other crimes involved that he escaped justice for.

But wanting him to be permanently marked for the rest of his life? Continuing the cycle of violence, inflicting that life on his children, preventing integration into society that will hopefully end the hate?

Maybe we should just tattoo 'POOR IMPULSE CONTROL' on his forehead and leave it at that.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:24 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand Metafilter.

Here-here!

Introduce an example of one of those prisoners in that system genuinely seeking redemption, and it's a "Throw him in jail" pile-on.

I'm probably not representative of the typical mefite, so I can only speak for myself. That being said, I don't share this feeling that prison's sole purpose should be a redemption mill. I understand the fact that some people respond better (or exclusively) to the stick as opposed to the carrot, and if you want to produce consistently law-abiding behavior in those people, you have to demonstrate consistent punishment of law breakers.

If I thought that the only purpose of prison was to make people realize that what they had done was wrong and swear to never-ever do it again (and mean it!), then sure, he's done his time. But that's a little too Pollyanna for me. In other words, turning your life around does not absolve one of murder. Because it's not all about him (Byron) and what he does. It's also about society and consistently applying the laws as written. And I have no problem with that when it comes to murder.
posted by Edgewise at 6:24 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


But wanting him to be permanently marked for the rest of his life? Continuing the cycle of violence, inflicting that life on his children, preventing integration into society that will hopefully end the hate?

I'm not sure who said any of that. I just think he should be in prison if he truly committed murder and got away with it.
posted by Edgewise at 6:26 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


This guy doesn't need rehabilitation. He sounds very well self-rehabilitated to me. I'm not being sarcastic; I believe in his sincerity. But while prisons are supposed to serve a rehabilitory function, yes, they also serve other functions. And the point of punishment for crimes is not solely rehabilitory. Maybe it is for you, but for the rest of society, it is also about deterrence. It's not all carrots...sometimes there is a stick.

The justice system is a cargo cult, built on ritualistic practices with meaning but no efficacy. Sacrificing a rehabilitated man on its altar serves only the priests.
posted by Jehan at 6:26 PM on October 31, 2011 [20 favorites]


If you want a redemptive, fair prison system, one without unnecessary incarcerations, one with some belief in the power of people to change and without abuses then you have to reconcile yourself with the fact that some of those people who are being redeemed are people whose crimes unsettle you.

And no, I disagree with this.

Mind you, I'm not saying I disagree with the fact that some people might be redeemed even if their crimes unsettle me. Sure, that could be true.

What I disagree wtih that that I have to automatically give credence to anyone who says they have changed, no matter what their crime was, or else I can never have a redemptive, fair, prison system.

Sorry. There are way different rates of recidivism for different kinds of crimes, and different rates of recovery for different mental illnesses and personality disorders. I'm never going to buy that a 17 year old who is in jail for GTA has the same chance of changing as a lifelong violent sadistic face-slasher. I think to do so would just be to ignore plain reality.
posted by cairdeas at 6:28 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sacrificing a rehabilitated man on its altar serves only the priests.

What about deterrence? What about the rule of law? We're not talking about crimes of conscience or victimless crimes. These are victimful crimes.
posted by Edgewise at 6:29 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The process of removing those tattoos. - That's just incredible. At least in photos, you'd never know he used to be tattooed so heavily.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:30 PM on October 31, 2011


Edgewise, what is the 'free pass' that is being referred to in this comment?

I understood it to mean that people will no longer have an immediate, visual signal that this is a bad man, to be avoided and feared.

What did you take it to mean?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:34 PM on October 31, 2011


I can believe prisons are in dire need of reform AND believe that some people should still be in them until the day that gets worked out.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:36 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is pretty interesting. Facial tattoos have always been the "no turning back" of several subcultures. Once they can be effectively removed, will people look for even more permanent declarations of their allegiance?


Bright young man who served me in the bakery the other morning has a home made tattoo on his neck. The word "Foxy" surrounded with a few stars. Similar style as an school girl would scribe on a pencil case. Neck tattoos seem a large commitment.
posted by the noob at 6:37 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man of Twists, the "free pass" that biochemicle was referring to is the fact that the guy tacitly admits to literally getting away with murder via witness intimidation.
posted by Edgewise at 6:37 PM on October 31, 2011


Or at least, that's how I interpreted his comment...he might have been referring to the face.
posted by Edgewise at 6:38 PM on October 31, 2011


I'll never understand the desire some people have for vengeance. Never.
posted by smcameron at 6:39 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'll never understand the desire some people have for vengeance. Never.

That's nice. I hope you never do.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:43 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sacrificing a rehabilitated man on its altar serves only the priests.

What about deterrence?


I'm not sure how many racist thugs are thinking, "Hey, if I somehow get out of jail someday, and I get my face tattoos removed, perhaps I can get away with some people thinking I'm a good person." I just don't see any deterrence to the whole situation. It's unique, and hardened criminals don't normally think about their exit strategy into non-violence and redemption.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:43 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Incarceration's deterrent effect is dubious at best.

The rule of law is being maintained. We do not have double jeopardy in this country. He was tried and wasn't convicted, regardless of the reasons. Sorry. Unless you have evidence of some crime that he hasn't been tried for, there is no way to both maintain the rule of law and have this man in prison.

Further: imagine that this man was arrested, tried, and convicted for some sort of racially motivated murder. Imagine that he was placed in prison for 10 or 15 years.

Do you think he would have renounced his racism in prison, a la American History X? Does that seem likely to you?

Why or why not?

A further question for consideration: what does society as a whole have to gain from placing this person in prison?

He has two children: is society more likely to benefit from those children if one or both of their parents are in prison or outside of prison?

What good do you want? What is the positive outcome you want to see? How would the world be a better place if he were in prison?

I would also like you to consider how fungible you think pain is. How many years does he need to serve per face slashed? Does the physical pain inflicted by the tattoo removal process serve as a downpayment on that? Once he has paid sufficiently into society's painbank to recompense his victims, how shall that payment be delivered to them or their next of kin?

My opinion is that he had evil in his heart and did evil things. I don't think we can pay for those evils out of his hide. I don't think vengeance serves any purpose - it merely piles on more evil. I think the best possible future is that he is allowed to live a life that - perhaps - he doesn't deserve, and he rears happy children that themselves lead happy lives.
posted by kavasa at 6:43 PM on October 31, 2011 [25 favorites]


On post: I understand the desire for vengeance. I just don't think any good comes of it.
posted by kavasa at 6:45 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


> I'll never understand the desire some people have for vengeance. Never.

That's nice. I hope you never do.


Don't be so condescending.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:46 PM on October 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


On post: I understand the desire for vengeance. I just don't think any good comes of it.

If vengeance made his victims feel any better, would you define that as a good?

I agree with you. I'm just wondering.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:47 PM on October 31, 2011


Prison is not just about redemption, it is about deterrence and punishment as well.

Who is going to hear about this story and come away thinking, "well, this guy's not in prison, might as well go ahead and commit those violent crimes I really wanted to commit out of either hatred or a lack of self-control?"

Let's say this guy is so committed to the idea of rehabilitation that he stays out and never commits another crime. Put him back in, maybe he gets sucked back in just to protect himself from other gangs, starts contributing to terrorizing and destroying the souls of other inmates, maybe kills one of them (possibly some unlucky guy who wouldn't have deserved it even under an eye-for-an-eye system). If our prison system weren't a big lethal dehumanizing Lord of the Flies rape-centric dungeon, maybe I could see the point of punishment for punishment's sake. But it seems to me more like the reason for a prison system is to keep people locked up until they can reasonably be expected, given the severity of their crimes, to control themselves (which may never happen). While all ours does is torture people, cruelly and unusually.
posted by Adventurer at 6:47 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't be so condescending.

I wasn't trying to be. There are people I would love to wreak vengeance upon - people who have hurt me deeply. I would be happier if I didn't want that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:48 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I agree with Schroedinger. He was clearly a thug (though the article is very coy about how bad of a thug he was), but I have a lot of sympathy for someone who made a bad choice very young and has to live with it later. I've met a few heavily tattooed Nazi skins over the years, and they all had pretty much the same story of how they got there, of being scared and young and feeling like they needed the group for protection and identity.

I'm man enough to admit that if I was 16 and on the streets or tossed into the pen for a few months, and I was told I had the choice of joining some Aryan Nations group, or getting my ass kicked every day and being a sex toy, I'd fucking fight for that tattoo. It's a shitty, shitty choice to have to make, and I'm incredibly happy that 99.9999% of us on MeFi have never had to deal with crappy no-win choices like that.

So sure, I believe in redemption and second chances. I don't see a reason why a terrible choice someone makes early in their life necessarily has to ruin the rest of their life. I mean, fucking Idi Amin got to live out his life in luxury, and Kissinger is venerated as an elder statesman; one racist thug that wants to turn his life in a new direction seems like something good in the world, and worth encouraging.
posted by Forktine at 6:51 PM on October 31, 2011 [16 favorites]


Incarceration's deterrent effect is dubious at best.

Oh, and what of incarceration's rehabilitory effect? I bet that's even more dubious.

If you really doubt the deterrent effect of incarceration, what do you think would happen if we just didn't put people in prison anymore? Do you really doubt that crime would increase? Unless you think that it wouldn't, you actually agree that it has a deterrent effect. Unless, that is, you are a strong believer in that actual realized rehabilitory effects of prison.

The rule of law is being maintained. We do not have double jeopardy in this country.

Good point. You are technically correct. On the other hand, it doesn't make me any happier, knowing that he deserved to be incarcerated, even if he wasn't.
posted by Edgewise at 6:52 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know about painbanks and "evil" and making people pay for things out of their hides, kavasa. I'm not exactly sure I follow all of that stuff.

As far as I am aware, the facts bear out that it vanishingly rare that people who engage in the kinds of criminal acts that this man has engaged in ever change. Even now, the man admitted to crimes that he's not attempting to atone for. That's why I'm going to keep my skepticism, and not feel like I want to hug the world because of this story. It has nothing to do with revenge. It is skepticism based on the plain facts.

Though it's a tangent for me, as to this:

He has two children: is society more likely to benefit from those children if one or both of their parents are in prison or outside of prison?

I think the best possible future is ... he doesn't deserve, and he rears happy children that themselves lead happy lives.


It would be interesting to see likely outcomes for children of a parent with a history of extreme criminal violence, to see whether their outcomes are better if that parent is incarcerated during their childhood or not.
posted by cairdeas at 6:53 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would believe in his "redemption" a lot more if he actually wanted to pay for his crimes. He wants a normal life, that much seems clear. But that doesn't mean he has been rehabilitated, only that he wanted out of that lifestyle. Those are hardly the same thing. Very easy to talk about feeling sorry for what you did, but all the "pain" he suffered here had actual benefit to him (removing the tattoos makes him more employable, able to participate in society, etc). So there's no obvious reason to believe it's anything other than selfishness. In which case there's also no reason to believe he wouldn't do it (be violent) again in the right circumstances.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:57 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think cairdeas is right to be skeptical, if for no other reason than the fact that we should be aware that the media telling this story could be distorting things a lot, as in any case where a story is filtered second-hand. Even so, I am ready to accept that this man may well have changed his outlook, attitudes and behavior, while at the same time believing that he really ought to be in jail if he has murdered someone. I mean, geez, we're not arguing for the death penalty here, people. Just prison time for genuine straight-up murder. Not self-defense, not under coercion, not as a minor, not an honest mistake. I thought this was a no-brainer.
posted by Edgewise at 6:59 PM on October 31, 2011


If vengeance made his victims feel any better, would you define that as a good?

It was pretty widely thought that there was a better than decent chance that Troy Davis didn't murder Mark MacPhail, and that the actual killer had gone unpunished, but MacPhail's family was so set on closure through vengeance that every stay of execution caused them pain, and some of their supporters cited that pain as evidence that the execution should proceed, as if their desire to have it over with had anything to do with whether the evidence should be reconsidered. If I thought somebody murdered a member of my family I'd want to stake that person through the throat for starters, but I would not want to live in a country that would let me do that. How many wars started that way?
posted by Adventurer at 7:01 PM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm amazed--and this isn't specifically about you, stavros, but about all the ways I hear this sentiment--how unimaginative people are about what purpose tattoos might serve and how quick they are to go to the SELF-MUTILATION!!!1! angle. Some interesting recent work [PDF] has been done on what people's motivations might be. Amy E. Littell (who was once a therapist of mine) suggests in a dissertation from 2003 entitled "The Illustrated Self: Construction of Meaning Through Tattoo Images and Their Narratives" that people with tattoos often get them out of a desire for a kind of psychological self-protection, which strikes me as being pretty far from the self-mutilation narrative and pretty far from the regret narrative, too. Memoirist Stacy Pershall suggests something similar.

I get, of course, that this context is different--this guy has some serious regrets. But if we're gonna go down this road, then what I can offer is this: I have tattoos because it is part of what I have had to do to make my life worth living. My life, mine, one of significant trauma and abuse and illness. Projecting one's own impressions of how one might think or feel about such a choice doesn't get you any closer to understanding how I've actually experienced it.
posted by liketitanic at 7:01 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hey, let's open a fun can of worms. Who thinks that Roman Polanski should have charges dropped if he truly honestly regretted raping that girl? This is hypothetical; I know he hasn't demonstrated remorse. I'm saying, if he really did regret it, would you call it a wash? Bygones and shit?
posted by Edgewise at 7:03 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


his thoughts were red thoughts, I didn't read it as condescending either.

My hobbies are violent, my profession is violent (sometimes) , I steep myself in it and use it practically every day. I can understand the seductiveness of using physical force to solve problems. It is something that I deal with constantly.

I hope never to be in a position where violent revenge is a *good* idea - I would most likely go for it. I have in the past. I think it is a good thing that there is a way out for people in situations like his, a path that moves them away from self-reinforcing violence and into larger society.

I don't know that 'redemption' is a good word for this sort of thing. Freedom? Liberation? He's not attempting to atone for his crimes, but move beyond them, to prevent them from destroying the life he's creating.

That's not a bad thing. It may not be the best thing, but it is not bad.

Edgewise I think everyone is talking past each other now. We don't disagree.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:04 PM on October 31, 2011


I'm going to put up a project on Kickstarter or some such site for reenum's House of Tattoo Removal and Ear Repair around the year 2020.

All my investors will be repaid within 3 weeks and I will be rich beyond my wildest dreams.
posted by reenum at 7:08 PM on October 31, 2011


I'm not wise enough to know what is the right thing here.

I don't think there's anything that could happen that could make right what he has done, not really. And surely he does not "deserve" any of this help, mercy, and forgiveness that he's receiving.

But I'm glad that there is a place for undeserved mercy in this world. I hope he makes the most of this opportunity. I hope he actively works to be an example others can follow to leave the movement. I hope he raises those kids so they know love and tolerance. I hope he suffers with the memory of what he's done, and one day, decades from now, with years of good works behind him, I hope he finds peace.
posted by kprincehouse at 7:08 PM on October 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


Very easy to talk about feeling sorry for what you did, but all the "pain" he suffered here had actual benefit to him (removing the tattoos makes him more employable, able to participate in society, etc). So there's no obvious reason to believe it's anything other than selfishness. In which case there's also no reason to believe he wouldn't do it (be violent) again in the right circumstances.

He and his family had to move because of death threats that were a direct result of leaving the organization. I hardly think he's taking the easy way out. You say he wants "out of the lifestyle" like he wants to drop his Dungeons & Dragons crew or quit the local kickball league. If you are a prominent member of a violent gang organization then trying to get "out of the lifestyle" is a choice difficult and dangerous enough that going ahead with it is a direct repudation of everything that organization stands for.

Does everyone here feel the same way about Felicia Pearson from "The Wire"? She murdered someone at fourteen and I never saw extended discussions about why David Simon was giving her an acting job and all of that.


Hey, let's open a fun can of worms. Who thinks that Roman Polanski should have charges dropped if he truly honestly regretted raping that girl? This is hypothetical; I know he hasn't demonstrated remorse. I'm saying, if he really did regret it, would you call it a wash? Bygones and shit?

If his expressions of honest regret resulted in the loss of everything in his life, his entire social circle and lifestyle since he was a teenager, death threats and fears of violence against him and his family for the rest of his life, regular painful physical surgery for almost two years, and he began to frequently publicly speak out against rape and sexual assault then I think people might take it a bit more seriously, yeah.
posted by schroedinger at 7:10 PM on October 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


kprincehouse, I totally agree with you. When I say he should be in jail, I don't say it out of hatred or as any kind of implied imperative. He sounds like he's now a decent fellow (according to the woman writing the story) and I hope for the best case outcomes.
posted by Edgewise at 7:11 PM on October 31, 2011


Ah, deterrence: so effective throughout history?
posted by ovvl at 7:11 PM on October 31, 2011


And the point of punishment for crimes is not solely rehabilitory. Maybe it is for you, but for the rest of society, it is also about deterrence.

Yeah, because prisons in the U.S. deter crime. They don't incubate it or anything like that at all.

Blah, blah, I got all the cliche Mefite opinions on the American prisons and the double standards in sentencing, and all that.

But let's be real, instead of living in perfectionland.

In the real world prison serves one of two functions (hint: one of them is not deterrence): punitive and rehabilitative. It's true that some people cannot be rehabilitated. Some people probably just need to be locked up, pretty much forever. Other people need to be rehabilitated, and can be. Our system functions on the premise that it is essentially both. We know that it's punitive because we have life without parole and the death penalty but we also know it is rehabilitative because we have parole. Of course, there isn't a whole lot of rehabilitation going on in American prisons, we know this to be true because of the high rates of recidivism. Paroled convicts are pretty low on the social strata, so the deck is already stacked against them.

In this situation, we have someone who has already "self-rehabilitated" for whatever that's worth. If we take him on his word, then the function of prison for someone like him, who can, apparently, be rehabilitated (because he claims to have changed) would only be punitive. This doesn't really serve society in any meaningful way, other than giving us the ability to say "fuck that guy" or "yeah, we locked his ass up forever". Great. That's a good thing? To toss away the key based on assumed past crimes? It doesn't make sense to me. Not only does it make no sense, it actually costs our society more. Financial costs are the most obvious. But throwing away the key also irrevocably changes the lives of every single person who is close to the incarcerated person, and probably not for the better in a case like this.

tl;dr - If you said "fuck this guy" or something like it, you make no sense. Stop posting, for our sake and your own.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:15 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe we should just tattoo 'POOR IMPULSE CONTROL' on his forehead and leave it at that.

I once saw an episode of MTV's "True Life" where people had tattoos they regretted. One of them was an unfortunate young man who would get new tattoos every time he got drunk. His tattoos were terrible, just things like "Loser" and "White Trash" emblazoned on his chest.

He wanted to get the tattoos on his neck and arms removed so that he might move up in the world. The treatments cost $1600 a pop and I think would only remove one square inch of tattoos. His mom even said she would help pay for the treatments if he didn't get any more tattoos.

Sadly, towards the end of the episode, I saw a dark apartment with the young gentleman already rip roaring drunk. His friend had already gotten out the tattoo needle and was preparing to ink the young man as the friend had probably done many times before.

Seeing the young man the next day, with the frustration burning in his eyes and the disappointment of his mother thick in the room made me feel, for a second, what it must feel like to have so little impulse control that you cannot think beyond a night or a moment.

I hope he got his tats removed. But something tells me he likely just got more of them, perhaps on his face.
posted by reenum at 7:15 PM on October 31, 2011


bodily mutilation manifesting as a Hatred of the Flesh...That suggestion may infuriate those among us who are actually tattooed, and I apologize, but ... I have difficulty understanding the urge as a positive thing for some, and I would like to, a little better.

I'm not tattooed either, but I've considered it a lot. I'm an ordinary-looking middle-aged woman. For me, a tattoo is a symbol, something so important I never want it to be far from me, something that means so much to me I've written it into my flesh and will carry it with me until my body is gone. There are a few ideas that fit that description for me, and the fact I consider them deeply private and personal is part of the reason I haven't committed to a tattoo. I don't want to have to decide whether to explain to a bus driver or a little kid at the beach what that picture's all about. But I understand why someone would want a tattoo even so, and I can imagine that for some, telling the bus driver is like bearing witness is in certain religions - "I experienced this, and it changed everything."

I think that's why I'm conflicted about the subject of this film - he committed himself to his racism, he wrote his hatred in the most public parts of his very flesh, his tattoos shouted his ideas at everyone who saw him. But now he rejects them, and he just wants to go unnoticed. Why should we let him get away with it? Well, dang. He underwent 25 laser treatments over 16 months. He's paid for his freedom with pain. He's still talking about it in public, he's still bearing witness. But he doesn't have to talk over the shouting of his ink.
posted by gingerest at 7:18 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would the tenor of this thread be as forgiving if he had raped instead of murdered and mutilated?

Serious question.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:22 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nearly everyone I know has at least one tattoo, and almost none of them regret it -- even the old folks who have really saggy skin and tattoos that now look like crap.

Back in the early 70's, I used to go to clubs on the Northern Soul scene. I remember one guy back then, had the word 'Riker' tattooed on his forehead,

Riker were the pharmaceutical firm who produced Durophet and Durophet M in the UK -- capsules known colloquially as 'Black Bombers' and popular because they contained 20mg of amphetamine. (A dexedrine tab was just 5mg.)

I always wondered whether this guy regretted such a profoundly open homage to his drug of choice. Presumably, it's hard to get any kind of a job with a facial tattoo, but a facial tattoo that declares your allegiance to a particular brand of strong amphetamine really did seem like a bridge too far.

Perhaps he'd had it amended to read Biker when he thought better of it?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:22 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


To all you who disparage deterrence, would you truly be comfortable in a society that doesn't have punishment as a deterrence? Would you feel safer in a world where people don't go to jail? I mean, how extreme are you willing to take your argument? I believe that there are people who are perfectly law abiding, who, if they truly lived in a world where there was no punishment, they would certainly be criminals. I don't believe that everyone responds the same way to rewards and punishments, and to keep some people honest, you have to have that system there. Does this seem crazy to you? I think it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone responds the same way to the same set of incentives and disincentives.
posted by Edgewise at 7:22 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm going to put up a project on Kickstarter or some such site for reenum's House of Tattoo Removal and Ear Repair around the year 2020

What will really make this work is if you also set up, nearby:

- a bar that serves cheap jager shots and closes late, and

- a 24 hour tattoo parlor, with a book of terrible tattoo designs.

You can get 'em coming AND going!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:22 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm really enjoying the conversation about rehabilitation and redemption and things like that.
posted by box at 7:24 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Would the tenor of this thread be as forgiving if he had raped instead of murdered and mutilated?

Personally, those are all horrific crimes. The sad fact is that not everyone can be changed, but in cases like this, I think a second chance is deserved. I don't think it is possible to apply any kind of blanket statement to all rapists, murders, mutilators, etc. Each case must be taken on its own.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:25 PM on October 31, 2011


Man of Twists, the "free pass" that biochemicle was referring to is the fact that the guy tacitly admits to literally getting away with murder via witness intimidation.

Wait, hold on. The article says that he was accused of murder and OTHER MAJOR CRIMES.

He wasn't convicted or [murder or other major crimes] because of VICTIM intimidation. Presumably you can't intimidate your murder victim into not testifying at your trial. I really think it's a pretty big leap to say that he basically admits to murder.
posted by entropone at 7:27 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Senor Cardgage probably not, but for somewhat different reasons.

Can someone explain to me why getting the tattoos removed is a bad thing?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:28 PM on October 31, 2011


I believe that there are people who are perfectly law abiding, who, if they truly lived in a world where there was no punishment, they would certainly be criminals.

On what do you base this belief? It sounds like an unsupported assumption to me. People don't just start using hard drugs en masse in places where laws are very lax, why would they just start a-murderin'?
posted by IvoShandor at 7:28 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Oh, and what of incarceration's rehabilitory effect? I bet that's even more dubious.

If you really doubt the deterrent effect of incarceration, what do you think would happen if we just didn't put people in prison anymore? Do you really doubt that crime would increase? Unless you think that it wouldn't, you actually agree that it has a deterrent effect. Unless, that is, you are a strong believer in that actual realized rehabilitory effects of prison."


I believe that incarceration has a very limited, specific deterrent effect: it keeps the imprisoned person from comitting more crimes against the un-imprisoned public. This is largely why we imprison people, so we can keep them from committing more crimes.

There's also a yet more limited broader effect in terms of deterring other people from comitting crimes, but this is only as effective as their belief that they will be caught and convicted. Not only does this chance vary widely, but the human ability to successfully and accurately calculate those sorts of risks is very poor without a lot of specific training that most people don't get. By which I mean most people severely underestimate their risk of getting caught and punished, which means that punishment's deterrent effect on the population as a whole is pretty crap.

"If vengeance made his victims feel any better, would you define that as a good?"

Yes, actually. So I should amend my statement to something like "the evils of a justice system that seeks vengeance outweigh its goods." As Adventure points out, it results in a drive to convict someone, anyone, regardless of their guilt.

Returning to the subject of the post: I think that there's a lot of anger at the unfairness of it. It's not fair that this guy was a racist fuck and then someone paid for his tat removal and now he has a wife and 2 kids and he gets to live as a normal poor person and no one need ever even know that he was a racist fuck.

We all want to be Brad Pitt's character in Inglorious Basterds, carving swastikas in the heads of Nazis. It's not fair that he gets away with being evil and now he'll grow old and his new buddies probably won't know. Everyone should know, forever, what he did.

And, you know, I sort of agree. It is unfair. It does kind of suck. Nonetheless, I'd rather live in this unfair world than in another, fairer one where he was stuck with his tats and his past until he died in prison.

Further, I would remark that it is often the message of violent groups that once you're in, you're in for life. You can't get out. I think we desperately need every single possible example that in fact, no, you can get out. That it's not forever.

Senor, I'm not so much talking about forgiveness. It's up to his victims if that's something they can or want to do or not. My principle concern is: what will be the best outcome for society as whole?
posted by kavasa at 7:29 PM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


^
For the record, I never stated that we should live in a world where there is no correctional institutions, just wondering where that is coming from.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:30 PM on October 31, 2011


That pretty much guarantees he did _not_ fulfill his debt.

Ah, so it'll be the full pound of flesh then, Mr. Death?
posted by a shrill fucking shitstripe at 7:32 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Presumably you can't intimidate your murder victim into not testifying at your trial.

Hey, that's a pretty good catch, Perry Mason! Seriously though, you're right about that, he's not tacitly confessing to murder there. However, I'm going to say that it still sounds like the guy committed murder and got away with it. Please keep in mind, I'm not convicting him. I'm just saying that it sounds like he should be in jail.
posted by Edgewise at 7:33 PM on October 31, 2011


The sad fact is that not everyone can be changed, but in cases like this, I think a second chance is deserved.

I'm not sure I can agree. I see nothing in the article that would suggest that he deserved a second chance - it seems to me that when he made the decision to have the tattoos removed, her had not made the slightest attempt at atonement (although I do note that he's now going out and speaking against racism...etc.).

In the long run, I suspect there's a reasonable argument to be made that society is better off now that he has a second chance. The costs of trying and convicting him for his alleged crimes, then the cost of imprisoning him, and then the impact of his possible backsliding into a life of crime due to his imprisonment most likely do not outweigh the benefits of having him living within the law and being a productive member of society, and being an anti-racism advocate.

tl:dr he doesn't deserve a second chance. But it's good for everyone that he got one.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:36 PM on October 31, 2011


To all you who disparage deterrence, would you truly be comfortable in a society that doesn't have punishment as a deterrence? Would you feel safer in a world where people don't go to jail?
posted by Edgewise at 10:22 PM on October 31


What are you talking about? How do you go from "deterrence is not effective" to "NO PRISONS EVAR"? There was a great comment above that mentioned the difference's between prison's deterrent, punitive, and redemptive effects. American prison systems, the way they currently are, are pretty terrible at redemption and good at punishment. They're ineffective as a deterrent because deterrence in general is completely ineffective. Seriously, look up behavioral psychology studies on the effectiveness of getting people to not do things because of threats. It's pretty laughable.

You want to punish people, keep prisons. You want to redeem them, help reform our prisons. But don't for a second think punishing someone makes someone else think twice about their own actions. In the real world, that doesn't happen. 99.9% of criminals perform crimes because they don't believe they'll get caught--that the punishment will not happen to them.
posted by schroedinger at 7:37 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, the above bit about deterrence isn't liberal-lovey-woo-doo, it's practical fact. Human beings in general are not deterred from things they want to do.
posted by schroedinger at 7:38 PM on October 31, 2011


Ack. Terrible proofing in my last post. I meant, the costs of imprisoning him would be massive, with few if any benefits. The benefits of his second chance have few, if any costs (apart from comfort to his victims).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:38 PM on October 31, 2011


If only he had told his story in terms of gats and hoes we wouldn't have to wonder whether he deserved some punishment or not.
posted by rhizome at 7:39 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Its also gonna be incredibly lulzy to see what happens with all the goofballs that thought that wide-gauged [...]
ow ow ow urgh cringe ow ow
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:39 PM on October 31, 2011


Also, the above bit about deterrence isn't liberal-lovey-woo-doo, it's practical fact. Human beings in general are not deterred from things they want to do.

I always loved to read about the pickpockets who worked the crowds at public executions for theft.

There's the maximum deterrent happening, right there in front of your face, and all these guys can think of is what a great opportunity this is to maximize their profits at theft.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:41 PM on October 31, 2011 [11 favorites]



Man of Twists, the "free pass" that biochemicle was referring to is the fact that the guy tacitly admits to literally getting away with murder via witness intimidation.


The article is really coy about the details of his crimes, probably because he is, as well. In fact, he might well have very little idea about those crimes -- right at the end of the second part, it says:
Bryon has constant nightmares about what injuries he might have inflicted - injuries he can only imagine because so often he was in a drunken stupor when he beat someone up. Did he blind someone? Did he paralyze someone? He doesn't know.
Add in that he has strong and contradictory needs to both exagerate his crimes (in order to appear more repentant and deserving of help) and minimize them (to avoid being prosecuted or retaliated against for those actions), and I think you'd have to treat everything written in the article about his crimes with a mountain of salt. Beyond it being clear that he was a violent thug, I don't think there's much we can say with certainty about what he might have done, and to whom.
posted by Forktine at 7:50 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


"In a nutshell, then, what I'm getting at is that the project of law, ever since the Code of Hammurabi--the entire idea that we can maintain social order by obtaining voluntary adherence to a code of permissible behaviour, under threat of retribution--is fundamentally misguided." --Charles Stross, Rule 34.

Prison is bullshit. The purpose of laws, why we have them at all, is to reduce social problems and increase social benefits. Prison, especially as envisioned in the merciless United States of America, does not do that. Indeed it does the opposite of that.

Pretty much any other means whatsoever at all of punishing people, be it infliction of physical pain, involuntary servitude, execution, loss of privileges, shaming, financial cost, anything at all is better at reducing social problems than prison is. Prison is an incubator of social problems.

If the man is redeemed, let him live a good life. If he is not, then kill him quickly and without regret. Either is a better outcome, for him and for the society in which he lives and for the world, than putting him into a United States prison.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:00 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I disagree wtih that that I have to automatically give credence to anyone who says they have changed, no matter what their crime was, or else I can never have a redemptive, fair, prison system.

I don't think in this situation asks for 'automatic credence.' This is not a man in front of a parole board saying "I'll be good. I learned my lesson." This man asked to go through not one procedure, but twenty-five of them.
Widner had never felt such pain. Not all the times he had suffered black eyes and lost teeth in bar brawls, not the time in jail when guards - for fun - locked him up with a group of black inmates in order to see him taken down. His face swelled up in a burning rage, his eyes were black and puffy, his hands looked like blistered boxing gloves. He had never felt so helpless or so miserable.

...The cameras didn't spare the details, capturing Widner writhing and moaning in agony. Widner didn't care. If anything he felt that he deserved the pain and the public humiliation as a kind of penance for all the hurt he had caused over the years.
Over and over again he went through this procedure. He could have stopped this at any time. To go through that, heal for a awhile, and go through each scheduled appearance, knowing what it will be like, the time it takes to heal only to go back in again. This was not a simple quick-fix procedure.

He made a voluntary, repeated payment of long-lasting pain for his crimes and choices in life. That needs to count for something when considering if his motives are true. Additionally, his pain does not stop when the skin heals. He will face the rest of his life remembering that pain, and all the memories of his crimes and people he has hurt, many known only to him, perhaps, will not disappear, nor will any time someone looks at his record for a job, the stigma of his history will not, unlike his tattoos, be removed.

On the other hand, he could be fooling us. He could have gone through all of this just to get a clean slate and get away with his actions, laughing all the way, playing us for naive, sympathetic idiots. Evidenced by the choices he made and the price he had to pay just to get to the lowly rank of 'guy with a violent record' makes this very unlikely.

If a guy that goes through all of this after stating his beliefs and actions were wrong, and goes through that much pain in an attempt to rebuke the person he was, and puts his life at risk by making himself a public figure and a target for retaliation by skinheads and other groups, then what acts can someone do to at least earn the benefit of the doubt?

Prisons can do four things: inflict an amount of pain, which is abstract and subjective (save for the death penalty), take time, which is at least finite, band convicts together, which propagates more crime, and rehabilitate, where the results will always be suspect by the public.

So until we can meter pain, and invent an agony booth that will dole out the 'just' amount of pain for the crime committed, and navigate an ethical minefield and invent a way alter future behavior through brain/personality alteration, and invent a way to prevent social interaction with other criminals without the negative effects of solitary confinement, prisons will continue to be inefficient, ethical mess it is now.

Although, a large, technologically advanced society that has perfected the most efficient and effective punishment/containment/rehabilitation system might, as a side-effect, not be the best society to live in to begin with.
posted by chambers at 8:02 PM on October 31, 2011


I'm going to combine my response to kavasa and IvoShander, because there is a common argument that emerges from the two of them. On one hand, kasava says:

I believe that incarceration has a very limited, specific deterrent effect: it keeps the imprisoned person from comitting more crimes against the un-imprisoned public. This is largely why we imprison people, so we can keep them from committing more crimes.

I had earlier stated my belief that some people refrain from criminality because there is a chance that they will be punished. IvoShander questions this:

On what do you base this belief? It sounds like an unsupported assumption to me. People don't just start using hard drugs en masse in places where laws are very lax, why would they just start a-murderin'?

So what emerges are two viewpoints. According to me, there are some people who respond to the deterrence offered by the criminal justice system. It would seem that both IvoShander and kasava dispute this (on preview: and a bunch of others). Any security that comes from imprisonment, according to kasava, is that which comes from keeping criminals off the streets. [schroedinger admonishes me to look up studies about the laughable effect of threats to get people to not do things. Sounds pretty broad, schroedinger.]

To respond, let me refine my position a little. I'm sure that many studies show that deterrence has little effect on criminals, for instance. What I'm saying is that these studies are looking at the wrong group. Habitual criminals are pathologically unreceptive to the disincentives of imprisonment. It's hard to prove my assertion because the only way to demonstrate it would be to remove all punitive consequences for behavior and observe the results i.e. complete anarchy.

As to why I believe this, I have a number of reasons, none of them strictly scientific. One is direct observation: I have noted over time that while many people respond more to positive reinforcement (what I call "carrot people"), a certain minority seem to respond nigh exclusively to disincentives ("stick people", aka assholes). I have also observed that this seems to be a prevailing opinion throughout history, not just of the masses but also most wise men and philosophers. That's not an argument, but it helps me feel that I'm not crazy for this loopy idea that I'm advancing here. Again, I don't have strictly scientific reasons for these beliefs, but I suspect nobody really has any scientific support for or against such broad positions.

Obviously, this has gotten too abstract, since we are no longer talking about the topic at hand. Whatever, dude got rid of tattoos, turned his life around, now he's nice to kids. Maybe he committed murder. Maybe not, maybe he only slashed faces. Either way, he's a swell dude now, so I guess it's OK. A black woman forgave him!
posted by Edgewise at 8:07 PM on October 31, 2011


Previous MeFi discussion on retributive vs. rehabilitative justice in the US prison system
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:07 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'm pretty comfortable trusting the Southern Poverty Law Center to determine whether the guy is serious about changing his life around.

Also, part of their conditions in helping him find a donor for the tattoo removal, remember, was that he provide all sorts of information about the structure of the various hate groups he had knowledge of, which likely helped prevent or bring prosecutions for other crimes; as well, he had to speak out publicly against his previous affiliations. All of this before even getting help finding funding for the tattoo removal. So our timeline goes:
1. public repudiation, helping provide intelligence against other crimes, and drawing death threats from his previous affiliates
2. get anonymous donor who puts other restrictions on the money (admittedly good for him ones that will help him be positive, contributing member to society)
3. many painful procedures to get tattoos removes, further public repudiation
4. living rest of life in secrecy to avoid violent reprisals
Prison is going to be more retributive than this how, exactly?
posted by eviemath at 8:15 PM on October 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


"Either way, he's a swell dude now, so I guess it's OK."

Who is saying this?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:19 PM on October 31, 2011


It's hard to prove my assertion because the only way to demonstrate it would be to remove all punitive consequences for behavior and observe the results i.e. complete anarchy.

Well, we can look at situations where criminal penalties have been entirely removed for previously prohibited behavior. Portugal's drug legalization scheme comes to mind, and it basically refutes your argument. Granted, it isn't murder or other serious crimes but I think it provides a cogent starting point for the idea that it isn't fear of punishment which reduces "bad" behavior.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:19 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


IvoShandor, I think the difference between crimes like drug abuse and murder is more than just one of degree. In one, the harm is perpetrated mainly upon oneself, and in the other, it is visited primarily upon others. To put a more fine a point on it, I can say with relative confidence that I would not have abused heroin if it was legal, but there were times in my life that, had there been no deterrent consequences for crimes of violence, I could not be so confident that I would have refrained from such. I guess part of my reason for believing in the value of deterrence is that I can say it has had an effect on me. If we truly lived in a society where we could get away with it, who would not have shoplifted at least once or twice? I can see myself being tempted in that situation.
posted by Edgewise at 8:26 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who is saying this?

Certainly not you. I'm not being 100% serious.
posted by Edgewise at 8:30 PM on October 31, 2011


IvoShandor, I think the difference between crimes like drug abuse and murder is more . . .

I don't know about that. How does one explain the dramatic rise, and then fall of violent crime in the U.S. Punishment was always there, when murder was epidemic in places like Chicago circa 1994. And it was still there when murder rates began falling to present-day levels. On its face, its evidence against the correlation of violence and punishment.

I'm sure some people might commit violent crimes if there were no punishment. Certainly. But by and large punishment doesn't stop people from committing violent acts. And I have never advocated that punishment should be completely eliminated, just re-examined and reformed.

Programs that work in reducing violence don't focus on punishment. Take a group like Cease Fire, which has proven successes because it is a new approach to violence, instead of the old "throw away the key" approach. If you haven't seen "The Interrupters" I highly recommend it. Violence in major American cities is still epidemic despite the across the board reductions. The way to combat it is not and never has been an avarice to punish. It just doesn't stop it. Picking up a gun, in a lot of places, is a lifestyle based on environment, not an solitary act of hatred. In the type of environment where this happens it's more about maintaining dignity and respect amongst ones peers than it is anything else.

I still don't believe that punishing the clearly rehabilitated serves any real purpose, other than pure retribution. In the end, that kind of attitude is detrimental to our social compact.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:42 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


She grew tired of telling her children they couldn't watch certain Walt Disney movies because Hollywood was controlled by Jews, or listen to rap music, or eat Chinese or Mexican food.

Raising little racists can be so exhausting, can't it?
posted by nathancaswell at 9:06 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Whatever, dude got rid of tattoos, turned his life around, now he's nice to kids. Maybe he committed murder. Maybe not, maybe he only slashed faces. Either way, he's a swell dude now, so I guess it's OK. A black woman forgave him!"

To steal a page from the mods: please don't do this.
posted by kavasa at 9:12 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would the tenor of this thread be as forgiving if he had raped instead of murdered and mutilated?

This 2009 thread, about pretty much that, is similar in tone to this one.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:29 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


$35k buys a lot of clothes for a lot of inner city kids...

What if it allows him to integrate back into normal society and be a better father? What if it helps convince other racists to see the light?

Anyway, the story is interesting, and he did a good thing. I can't blame you if you still hate him. But the question of how else he could have spent that money is a red herring. You can make almost anyone sound evil by framing the issue as "Could they have spent their money more altruistically?"
posted by John Cohen at 9:39 PM on October 31, 2011


How does one explain the dramatic rise, and then fall of violent crime in the U.S.

I can't explain it with any framework, and it seems like I'm not alone in that. But this, to me, seems to be besides the point in two ways. First, this is all occurring against a baseline of some punishment. I've been objecting to the idea that punishment is not a deterrent to society at large. Recent fluctuations in degrees of punishment are marginal. I don't think it's a linear curve, whereby more punishment always equals more deterrence.

But, to bring it back to the original story, I believe that punishment acts as a deterrence when it is applied consistently, according to consistent principles. I don't think this guy has done enough, according to our collective principles, to earn a reprieve, if he has truly committed murder. I believe that it trivializes the crime, and it risks the impression that these were merely youthful misadventures and indiscretions. I mean, listen to the tone of some of the people here. "Haven't you ever made a stupid mistake when you were young?" That attitude certainly trivializes murder and mutilation.
posted by Edgewise at 9:40 PM on October 31, 2011


Oh, and the other way that this is all besides the point: this particular story isn't going to make a significant dent, one way or the other, in whether or not prison sentences deter people from murder. That would seem to be a point in your favor, but I still feel it is necessary to draw a line. If we applied the same relaxed standard consistently, I believe that it would trivialize violent crime.
posted by Edgewise at 9:45 PM on October 31, 2011


the facts bear out that it vanishingly rare that people who engage in the kinds of criminal acts that this man has engaged in ever change

Do the facts bear that out? He was a member of a violent gang and as part of that gang he fought, maimed and probably killed. This kind of group exists all over the world and in some communities it's more rare for a young man not to join than to join. Besides gangs, there are the many child soldiers around the world who kill and kill brutally. I think there are a lot more people out there who have killed others than we want to know about. What probably keeps most of them from stopping and living another kind of life is the fact that they die or end up in prison long before they have the chance. what I'm not so sure about is that they are all sociopaths incapable of remorse.

What's interesting in this case is he started wanting to get out when the organization tried to promote him beyond violent thuggery. Once you have to strategize and plan a movement, then you see if the ideology means anything to you beyond a rationale to work out your anger and pain or gain a sense of camerederie by hurting others. He also joined/started a family that he really cared about, thus not needing the pretend family anymore.

However, what I'd want to know and didn't really get from this story is how much of his current social life reflects integration. I can understand not wanting to be part of the White Power movement anymore and not wanting to be a violent thug, but it's a step beyond to really renounce racism and work at it. It's a step most people never take, but it's one he might have taken because, unlike most, he has nightmares about the consequences of his racism. I just wonder if he's really doing anything about the racism and it's telling to me that the articles don't really focus on that other than the fact that a black woman hugged him. That's the story of redemption I'd be really interested in, how much his heart and mind have truly changed toward others.

Would the tenor of this thread be as forgiving if he had raped instead of murdered and mutilated?

I don't know about the thread but I know that I rather assume he did. Abuse and misogyny seem very common with skinheads. Just in general, sexual violence goes hand in hand with other forms because it is a powerful tool for intimidation. In my opinion, what separates sexual violence from other forms is the reaction of the broader community (minimize and excuse) and its commonplace nature. That's it though. I don't think he's a sociopath because he has killed and I don't think sexual violence necessarily makes one a sociopath either.
posted by Danila at 9:45 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


I just wonder if he's really doing anything about the racism and it's telling to me that the articles don't really focus on that other than the fact that a black woman hugged him.

That caught my attention as well. I wonder how much he was rejecting the lifestyle of the white power movement and how much he was rejecting racism. His wife talks about the hassle of restricting her children from seeing movies made by Jewish studios, but not why it's ludicrous to even want to do this.
posted by Edgewise at 9:51 PM on October 31, 2011


Another reason the money's a red herring: he didn't have $35,000 to do whatever he wanted with. The second article makes it very clear that he couldn't afford the treatment. He was only able to do it because of an anonymous donor. He didn't have the option of writing a $35,000 check to your favorite charitable cause.
posted by John Cohen at 9:53 PM on October 31, 2011


Anyone who opens a tattoo removal parlour is going to get rich in the coming decades.

*flexes bicep Jar-Jar*

ME-SA NO-SA THINK SO!

*stares silently at own arm for several minutes, knocks back ninth shot of bourbon, picks up Gillette and commences self-mutilating*
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:53 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just a couple quick things, because between tattoos, incarceration, and deterrence this thread has too much personal stuff for me to get involved:

First a somewhat semantic point: the headline posted by the op says simply "skinhead" where it should say "racist skinhead" or "neo nazi skinhead." It's semantics but it really counts.

Also,lots of us in this thread are presenting deterrence, punishment,and rehabilitation as the only goals of incarceration. This ignores simple incapacitation, which has been a huge argument for incarceration, especially in the time since we have learned of the ineffective nature of deterrence. (I'm not making an argument for this guy's incarceration based on incapacitation. I'm opposed entirely to incarceration in the USA, regardless of the goals or the crime. Just trying to make sure we're all clear on the details of the American criminal justice system.)
posted by broadway bill at 10:05 PM on October 31, 2011


but "redemption" in my mind would be him spending the rest of his life saving orphans from burning buildings or something,

Frankly pulling off being a good stepfather to multiple children is enough. Not everyone is equip to orphanage fire fighting, and we're not talking about making him a paragon, just a healthy, non-violent adult. The point is not sainthood, but a restoration to health.

various posts advocating more punishment

According to this man, one of the things that motivated his crimes was a sincere belief that the victims were dangerous, bad and wrong. Part of taking the moral high ground is trying to use other coping skills than what you accuse people of using, and thus there is some sense in trying to avoid making other people hurt as a way of getting the results you want.
posted by Phalene at 10:06 PM on October 31, 2011


I mean, listen to the tone of some of the people here. "Haven't you ever made a stupid mistake when you were young?" That attitude certainly trivializes murder and mutilation.

Some of us are talking about the tattoos that are the subject of the story, rather than murder and mutilation. (I am not sure where those topics come in - the guy did four years total, and he talks big about how he carried a straight razor, but the closest the article comes to reporting his crimes is to say he was accused of murder. The SPLC profile says he was all about the drunken brawling. Not sure how well deterrence works when people are vested in exaggerating their criminal history.)
posted by gingerest at 10:14 PM on October 31, 2011


The rule of law is being maintained. We do not have double jeopardy in this country.

Absolutely right; he can't be retried for murder. He can, however, be tried for jury tampering, which is a felony.
posted by tzikeh at 10:59 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


She grew tired of telling her children they couldn't watch certain Walt Disney movies because Hollywood was controlled by Jews

Wait, just certain ones? What Disney movies are Jewish-er than others? What's the hierarchy here? Is it whether the movie was primarily produced in Hollywood or not? Is it allegorical? Where's the line? INQUIRING MINDS
posted by rhizome at 12:31 AM on November 1, 2011


"Very easy to talk about feeling sorry for what you did, but all the "pain" he suffered here had actual benefit to him (removing the tattoos makes him more employable, able to participate in society, etc). So there's no obvious reason to believe it's anything other than selfishness. In which case there's also no reason to believe he wouldn't do it (be violent) again in the right circumstances."

This is a silliness to which the reductio ad absurdum response is that it's trivial to cast all motivations as selfish, including things like giving to charity. Further, adding caveats like "the right circumstances" means that your complaints about violence are incoherent — might a right circumstance be protecting his children from Nazis?
posted by klangklangston at 1:17 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, I want a second try at expressing my stance on this in a more measured fashion.

The thing about the story that complicates the issue for me is that this guy's remorse is basically situational, i.e. that his main concern is that he 'can't live a normal life' as a guy who's marked himself in this fashion. I'm not saying he should be in jail if he's done his time, I just wonder if he's approaching it with a truly repentant attitude.

On the other hand, maybe making a show of being reformed suits him at the moment because now he's seeking employment, and he needs someone else (apparently someone particularly charitable!) to help him out with the costs. I would have to ask that person if they felt their $35k-for-good-works was being well-spent.

I'm not against second chances, but do think that if you are trying to find a benefactor to do your restitution for you for what's essentially a poor personal choice, then you have to make a very compelling case.

Hope that suits a bit better than my first post
posted by biochemicle at 4:01 AM on November 1, 2011


Wait, just certain ones? What Disney movies are Jewish-er than others?

Pretty sure that Aladdin is way down at the bottom of that list.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:37 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not against second chances, but do think that if you are trying to find a benefactor to do your restitution for you for what's essentially a poor personal choice, then you have to make a very compelling case.

I think this is getting a hold of the wrong end of the stick. First, it's not like he got a benefactor to do this for him; he seems to have convinced a high-profile anti-racism group of his sincerity, and they found him a donor. And it's not like this is a convenience; with those tattoos, he literally has no options. If the goal is to let him build a life that isn't violence and hate, the operations were pretty much a necessity. So, the value of that donation? I guess that's between the donor and Widner.

I don't really see this as "Widner gets off the hook." He used to be a symbol of one thing, and he was trapped in that life by a bunch of decisions he made while really young. The violence, the criminal record, his social group, the tattoos -- all of these served as a cage, ensure that he would continue to be a symbol, to engage in violence, to spread hate, etc. By leaving, trying to build a new life, and, most of all, by erasing the tattoos, he has sort of inverted his symbolism -- he's made it clear that there is a way out, and that might make it easier for others in that movement to leave. Which weakens a group that is badly in need of weakening, in my book.

As for punishment, I can't really speak to that. As discussed above, there are a lot of reasons to think that his criminality is either made more extreme or downplayed for effect. Whether that is Widner's doing or the reporter's, I don't know. It's not like he is really off the hook, though, is he? He still has people who want to harm him and his family; he still has a fairly tough row to hoe economically. I can't forecast what he will do with his life from here on out, but I still think he is a symbol that there is a way out, and that is a good thing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:39 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hope this guy never plays football again!


wait, what?
posted by orme at 5:40 AM on November 1, 2011


Senor Cardgage: Would the tenor of this thread be as forgiving if he had raped instead of murdered and mutilated?

Although murder is treated by law as a more serious crime, there's more of a negative reaction to rape. I don't know why this is, but sex crimes are socially less acceptable than murder.

This is why you'll never see a tongue in cheek daytime TV program called "Rape she Wrote", why there aren't more rape based video games & why you have sex offender wings in prisons.

So no, the tenor of the thread would not be as forgiving if he had raped instead of supposedly murdering. Because societally, rape is a less forgivable crime.
posted by seanyboy at 5:42 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is pretty interesting. Facial tattoos have always been the "no turning back" of several subcultures. Once they can be effectively removed, will people look for even more permanent declarations of their allegiance?

The Yakuza pinky dismemberment has always been more badass than a teardrop tattoo. And still, Yakuzas are pretty much the only people in Japan with tattoos.
posted by Theta States at 7:37 AM on November 1, 2011


Wait, just certain ones? What Disney movies are Jewish-er than others?

Walt Disney was notoriously anti Semitic (a general bigot, really), so maybe the films that were produced under him are the ones suitable for future racists?

(See, in particular, Pinochio.)

The ones that were made under Eisner (starting with The Little Mermaid) were definitely problematic, but significantly less anti Semitic.

/derail
posted by emilycardigan at 7:53 AM on November 1, 2011


[Couple comments removed; please find a better way to express frustration with other people's comments than "fuck you people".]
posted by cortex at 7:59 AM on November 1, 2011


(Er... Pinocchio.)
posted by emilycardigan at 7:59 AM on November 1, 2011


His wife talks about the hassle of restricting her children from seeing movies made by Jewish studios, but not why it's ludicrous to even want to do this.

IT was the journalist who said this - it wasn't directly quoted. I don't think the two are incompatible. I think in any environment where everybody thinks X and you find X strange behaviour or restrictive, you're going to wonder why and pick holes in it eventually. I grew up in a small and extremely provincial town, and it never made sense to me as a teenager to not go to a particular pub because it was rumoured to be a gay pub. Years later, the people that used to tell me that started moving away and getting gay friends and a different perspective.

I just finished watching the first series of The Wire and one of the things that struck me about it was that once you were someone who grew up in that lifestyle, you were there for life. If you leave, you can't come back to see people, and you can't tell the truth about who killed whom. There was no way to just go back to school, or enter a different profession, or make a different living, no matter how much you had, and you could be shot at any time. I thought of that when reading this story - that it was a society that one could simply not just decide to leave.


This is why you'll never see a tongue in cheek daytime TV program called "Rape she Wrote",

I saw a Family Guy episode that centred around domestic violence yesterday. That is a show that trades on sick jokes - one of the main characters is verging on being a sex offender, a minor one is suggested to be a paedophile - but it was pretty jarring for a comedy show.
posted by mippy at 8:42 AM on November 1, 2011


Is Pinocchio a fair criticism? I've heard reference to the anti-Semitism in Disney and not understood it (it's been years since I've seen classic Disney) but it's based on a story pre-dating Walt by a long way. I know fairy tales have all sorts of interpretations and subtexts, but I'd be interested to know what Disney in particular brought to this.
posted by mippy at 8:47 AM on November 1, 2011


What's strange about the reactions to this story is not so much that people here don't forgive him or absolve him of his crimes (alleged or otherwise); that's understandable, he seems to have been rather ugly and brutish in his past.

No, what I find most strange is that someone DID forgive him, someone DID help him out, and everyone is pissed off over it, because why, "no fairs"? Seriously?

Seriously, you take away the "nazi" factor and you are just parroting "welfare queen" rhetoric, you DO realize that, don't you?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:00 AM on November 1, 2011


(Also, it's a shame he went through all this trouble before that make-up commercial with the Zombie Tattoo guy came out.)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:01 AM on November 1, 2011


Late to this, but I think there's also a benefit to society to not have someone walking around as a human billboard for hate and intimidation. It's not just better for him that he doesn't have those tattoos anymore, it's also better for all the people who would have continued to feel fear, intimidation, and social devision.
posted by mercredi at 9:57 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some people talk a good game about wanting to change, but never do. Some people begin to take steps to actually change. Is it not possible to imagine that this guy is only at the start of a long journey? What good does it do anyone to say "fuck that guy (who's making an effort to change)"? Should no one ever even try?

I don't think anyone is saying he shouldn't try, but I wouldn't expect everyone to accept the new him at face value. Me? I think people like that are irredeemable.
posted by squeak at 10:07 AM on November 1, 2011


IT was the journalist who said this - it wasn't directly quoted.

Well, that's the thing, isn't it? It's easy to read this article and get the impression that the Widners have given up their racist ways. But nowhere in the article does it actually say that they have rejected racism per se. Not that I think that should be necessary to view this story as redemptive, because it's one thing to be racist and another thing to be a violent thug. It's just that I'm getting the feeling we're being sold a story that is a cleaned up version of reality (what else is new?)
posted by Edgewise at 10:56 AM on November 1, 2011


No, what I find most strange is that someone DID forgive him, someone DID help him out, and everyone is pissed off over it, because why, "no fairs"?

I wouldn't describe my reaction this way. I would say rather than just because SOMEONE forgave him doesn't mean that I do. Those people who forgave him were speaking solely for themselves, and I don't claim that they shouldn't have done it. It's just that they don't speak for me.
posted by Edgewise at 10:58 AM on November 1, 2011


I agree with mercredi that not having the guy walking around with the tattoos effectively spreading hate speech is a positive thing for society as well as for him and his family.

As well, Edgewise are you seriously sorting people into two classes:
(i) criminals - people who ignore the legal deterrents against anti-social action (though they may have a much more complex set of other incentives affecting their behavior), and
(ii) everyone else - who are swayed more strongly by legal deterrents against anti-social behavior than by any other incentives in their lives?
Have you considered the potential classist implications of this classification scheme?

Hmm, trying to phrase another thought so that it won't come across as a personal attack. Let me try this: I am also concerned that you seem to think that most people are prevented from doing violent, anti-social things by threat of external retribution rather than by an internal conscience. This is not healthy, whether in an individual or in a society.
posted by eviemath at 11:51 AM on November 1, 2011


I'm trying to think about the rape question, and why it might seem more disturbing (aside from the fact that I'm personally much more likely to get raped than murdered; more likely to get raped than a lot of things). One is probably just that it's a perversion of an act that's supposed to be the opposite of what rape is about: maybe love, at least lust, pleasure, possibly the creation of life, certainly the most intimate act available to two people (or more, but on some level it's still going to be a one-to-one interaction). Whereas murder or even just hitting somebody is not a version of anything else. Another is that rape involves prolonged personal contact, akin to beating somebody who can't move for several minutes; in what it requires of the perpetrator it seems more like torture than a swift purposeful act of violence. (Of course, some of this dude's crimes could have fallen into that category, but I find that I'm more open to the possibility of redemption for people who committed crimes as part of a mob, even if one of those crimes was rape, than as a matter of individual initiative.) And finally, to me, I guess because there's at least the promise of an orgasm at the end of it for the perpetrator, I'm much more suspicious of somebody who promises never to rape again than somebody who vows never to commit another act of violence, provided the latter wasn't a serial killer. Maybe that's unfair or under-informed, but I think that's what I'm bringing to it.
posted by Adventurer at 11:59 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Edgewise brings up forgiveness, too. I think the issue of forgiveness is kind of beside the point. What should happen to this guy is an issue of social justice, the social good, and his personal redemption. Whether individual people whom he has hurt forgive him is a very personal decision for those people, and a separate issue. But while I do think that the story overall had a positive outcome, that it was good and fair that the guy had his tattoos removed, and that there should be no place for vengeance in a justice system, I was unimpressed by the way the article portrayed the anecdote of the black woman coming up and offering her forgiveness to him after watching the movie about his journey to leave the hate groups he was involved with, as if she was forgiving him on behalf of all black people or something.
posted by eviemath at 12:00 PM on November 1, 2011


Hmm, trying to phrase another thought so that it won't come across as a personal attack. Let me try this: I am also concerned that you seem to think that most people are prevented from doing violent, anti-social things by threat of external retribution rather than by an internal conscience.

No offense taken. I am glad to tell you that your fears are unfounded: I do not think that most people obey the law out of fear of punishment. Well, that may be simplifying things a bit. Let me be more clear.

I'm trying to make the case that, if people think about it deeply enough, they will realize that punishment generally has a deterrent effect on crime. I'm speaking very broadly and making the case by comparing current society versus an extreme hypothetical society that doesn't punish criminal behavior.

My personal feeling is that most people would be reasonably law-abiding with or without the criminal justice system, in most situations. The key is "most people" and "most situations." For instance, I don't think that most people will commit murder if there are no legal consequences for it. But a few dysfunctional individuals would take full opportunity to do so (I call them "stick people," as opposed to the far more pleasant "carrot people.")

Not only that, but even normal people would cross the line under unusual circumstances, and might be willing to break the law in many small ways that they don't already, like occasionally shoplifting or something like that. The combined effect from all these non-majority situations would still dramatically lower quality of life for almost everyone.

As to your description of my categories of people, you're simplifying just a little bit. I wouldn't divide them into criminals and non-criminals. I think there are probably a lot of people in jail who don't fit that profile for criminals, and there are a few people who do who have yet to see the inside of a prison. I'm talking about hardened criminal behavior, the sort that does not lend itself well to reform. Perhaps I'm talking about sociopaths; no doubt many of these types are sociopaths. I lack the expertise to say. There has been recent literature about how sociopaths are immune to therapy and reform, and suggestions that they may be more common than we think. I would call them "rotten apples" instead of "criminals," because the overlap is far from complete.

As for considering the potential classist implications, I don't really care. I'm more interested in identifying what I consider to be true before filtering it with concerns about the implications. What if the truth is classist? To be honest, I try to avoid obfuscating issues thusly.

So, in the old argument about whether human nature is inherently good or evil before society comes into the picture, my answer is that it depends on the human, and the situation he or she finds him or herself in.
posted by Edgewise at 1:16 PM on November 1, 2011


I don't think anyone is saying he shouldn't try,

It's only three words, but I think fuck that guy is a pretty clear message that whatever he does, it isn't enough. If that isn't a "so don't even try" message, then I don't know what it is.
posted by rtha at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


squeak: I don't think anyone is saying he shouldn't try, but I wouldn't expect everyone to accept the new him at face value. Me? I think people like that are irredeemable.

I don't think anyone is truly irredeemable. Maybe there are people who have caused too much harm to ever be balanced out by future good they could do, but that's different from "irredeemable". (Yes, semantics, different definitions, etc.)

This guy? He hurt a lot of people, very likely committed both rape and murder, and encouraged and aided others to do the same. Then he turned around and provided intel on his former allies, underwent painful surgeries, and is now a living symbol of the fact that you can, in fact, leave that kind of movement.

I can't say whether this balances out; there are too many ways to measure that. It's certainly better for him to be walking around without tattoos than with, and for him to be raising children to be tolerant rather than going around hurting more people. Better enough to justify the cost? Feh, I don't know, it was private donor money anyway. The "but the money would be better spent on..." game is pretty much useless, IMHO.

Ultimately I can't side with those who say "Throw him in jail", but I don't think he should be trusted very far, either. Deserved or not, I am glad he got a second chance, and I hope he proves that it wasn't a total mistake to give it to him.
posted by Zimboe Metamonkey at 1:53 PM on November 1, 2011


Stavros: That suggestion may infuriate those among us who are actually tattooed, and I apologize, but aside from a brief flirtation with the idea when I was young and dumb (....), I have difficulty understanding the urge as a positive thing for some, and I would like to, a little better.

I have two tattoos. I got the first one as a reminder of some bad stuff I'd gone through and overcome. I'm glad it's there, because when the bad stuff came back the tattoo didn't let me forget how (and why) I beat it before. It's part of the reason I'm still here.

The second is my wedding ring. We started with ordinary rings, but at some point my wife lost hers. On our eighth anniversary we got matching tattoos instead. They simultaneously symbolize permanence (for obvious reasons) and the need to keep working on the relationship (finger tattoos need to be touched up every few years or they start looking crappy.)

Hope that helps. /semi-derail
posted by Zimboe Metamonkey at 2:10 PM on November 1, 2011


Perhaps I'm talking about sociopaths; no doubt many of these types are sociopaths. I lack the expertise to say. There has been recent literature about how sociopaths are immune to therapy and reform, and suggestions that they may be more common than we think. I would call them "rotten apples" instead of "criminals," because the overlap is far from complete.

I think the real problem is you make a lot of assumptions about criminal psychology and sociology based on a layperson's knowledge and your feelings. This isn't a good basis for decisions about crime and punishment. Although you can find plenty of information on the web about personality disorders, diagnosing someone you read about in a news article is not going to be possible, especially since you have no formal education or training. What might be more fruitful is to study how different countries approach the problem and their outcomes, which is much more nuanced than "carrot and stick" thinking.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2011


I think the real problem is you make a lot of assumptions about criminal psychology and sociology based on a layperson's knowledge and your feelings.

You say that as though we were all wondering what the "real problem" is. I'm glad you finally arrived.

Frankly, I don't think anyone has anything to go on here other than personal conjecture. The fact is that scientific studies reveal pretty narrow and qualified information. Perhaps you'd willingly trust clinical psychologists to setup a society for you, knowing that they are "experts" of the human mind. I am aware that psychology has a lot to say about the particulars of the human mind, but, outside the laboratory, I have very little faith that they can really point to answers here. They're still a long way from understanding the fundamental basics of how the brain cognates. This is just a guess here, but I suspect we know about almost every organ in the body than the brain.

Also: listen to yourself. "Hey, stop having an opinion, you're not an expert." Do you usually convince a lot of people with that argument? Do you usually convince a lot of people with that argument?

Although you can find plenty of information on the web about personality disorders, diagnosing someone you read about in a news article is not going to be possible...

You're getting really confused here. First, I am not diagnosing any specific person from a news article. I'm talking about a broad class of people. Second, if you read closely, you'll notice everything I say is peppered with disclaimers. I cop to the fact that we don't really know what happened, that I am not a professional, etc. etc. Excuse me for having a conversation about something without being the eminent expert that you clearly are. I guess I didn't take the right major to have an opinion about human nature.

What might be more fruitful is to study how different countries approach the problem and their outcomes, which is much more nuanced than "carrot and stick" thinking.

Oh, so you'd prefer to talk about apples and oranges rather than sticks and carrots? Yeah, that sounds like a "fruitful" conversation. Fortunately, it's already been going on for over a century and is doing fine without us, so consider this a little side conversation.

If you have a specific contrary opinion, state it. Your attacks on my qualifications to opine on human nature lack actual content. You don't even state a point of disagreement per se. If you didn't notice, your high-handed approach gets my dander up, so please don't bother until you're ready to engage as equals.
posted by Edgewise at 4:27 PM on November 1, 2011


Your attacks on my qualifications to opine on human nature lack actual content. You don't even state a point of disagreement per se.

I wasn't aware I was attacking you. Perhaps you're taking this too personally.

I disagree with the approach you're taking, which comes down to, 'I feel this way.' Conversations about the correct approach to crime and punishment in the US often boil down to personal opinion and gut-level thinking, which is one reason we have the system we do and why it fails to work well. I don't understand your antagonism to the study of psychology, nor why you seem to feel I'm attacking you by bringing it up.

I am aware that psychology has a lot to say about the particulars of the human mind, but, outside the laboratory, I have very little faith that they can really point to answers here.

That's too bad you feel that way. Criminal psychology is actually in use in many different areas of our criminal justice system, although it's not much of an influence as to how we in the US design our prison system.

I'm curious why you feel this way.

Oh, so you'd prefer to talk about apples and oranges rather than sticks and carrots? Yeah, that sounds like a "fruitful" conversation.

What is wrong with looking at crime and punishment elsewhere? Does human nature differ based on where borders are drawn?

If you didn't notice, your high-handed approach gets my dander up, so please don't bother until you're ready to engage as equals.

Wow ... Again, I think you're taking this too personally.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:01 PM on November 1, 2011


Edgewise, we seem to be in agreement on the ideas that most people are basically good, but that the incentives that structure people's lives do have an influence on their choices and actions (thanks for the reassurances!). The thing is, legal consequences are just a very small subset of the incentives and consequences for different actions that most people face, and kind of a remote one at that. The argument that some of us are making in this thread is that there are better, more effective incentive structures than incarceration (or - more to the point for the discussion of whether the subject of the original post should be facing jail at this point - than seeing that other people who have committed some anti-social activity of the same sort that one is considering have been incarcerated), both currently in play, and that could be set up (and have been in some other societies).

In answer to an earlier question: personally, I can in fact envision a society without jails that would potentially be better than current US society. It would have to be different from current US society in other respects as well - just getting rid of jails in the absence of any other changes might not be great - but with a focus on social justice more broadly, on preventing the circumstances that we know tend to lead to crime in the first place (just and culturally sensitive programs to help ensure that children grow up in healthy, non-abusive homes; ensuring that all children are housed and supplied with adequate nutrition and health care; and providing high quality educational opportunities for all people, at all ages, regardless of their circumstances, for example), treating drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue, treating mental health as a health issue rather than a criminal issue (i.e. providing adequate health care, both physical and mental, for everyone), tighter restrictions on national and international finance that would help restrict both organized crime of the currently illegal sort and of the 2008 financial crash-destroying the US/world economy sort, creative forms of restorative justice in the cases where all parties are willing to participate, or relocating offenders with proper supports to help them integrate successfully into their new communities if necessary - with these sort of supports, yes, I think we could move beyond a justice system based on incarceration and have a much healthier and more humane society along with it.
posted by eviemath at 6:08 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm talking about a broad class of people.

You are making assumptions that people fit into broad classes and are generalizing about what is the best approach given this information, which all boils down to your feelings. I am not discounting your feelings but don't understand why you think they are particularly meaningful, especially given that you wholly discount the practical application of psychology. Don't you think other people have spend their lifetimes looking at these problems might have better information and answers to your questions, or do you think their information based on empirical study isn't as worthwhile as your feelings?
posted by krinklyfig at 6:10 PM on November 1, 2011


They're still a long way from understanding the fundamental basics of how the brain cognates.

Hmmm ... please don't take this the wrong way, but are you a Scientologist? The only reason I ask is because I never see the word "cognate" used as a verb except by Scientologists. If so it would explain why you aren't so much in agreement with psychology. But if not, then nevermind, just a fleeting thought.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:29 PM on November 1, 2011


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