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"All they are doing here is shelving people."
December 4, 2013 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Slide show of Michigan prisoners sentenced to life for crimes committed while they were minors.

There's a range in here -- some say their monsters are dead already, some imply the life sentence damned their soul more surely than their crime. It's really quite heartbreaking, every way you look at it.
posted by mibo (44 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
After reading what they were involved in, I think I'll sleep better knowing they are not coming out or dead already.
posted by Renoroc at 12:59 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Michigan has appeared too many times, in a negative light, on the Blue today.
posted by royalsong at 1:00 PM on December 4, 2013


Michigan has appeared too many times, in a negative light, on the Blue today.

I was going to respond to that with a link to the Heidelberg Project, but... yeah, someone torched another house over Thanksgiving. Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus, indeed.
posted by Etrigan at 1:04 PM on December 4, 2013


i just read through them. some of them definitely belong in jail.

some of them seem like maybe they were fucked up kids and could use some counseling.

but several weren't murders. someone else they were with killed someone.

the one where the two kids killed a friend's abusive father...the one who did the actual killing is out. the other one got life. that doesn't even make sense.

the one old guy says he knows he doesn't deserve freedom. but he says that he sees people who've done things with more intent (I'm gathering he killed the guy because the guy came home while old guy was there) and that they get out.

i think some of these people should get out.
posted by sio42 at 1:05 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


After reading what they were involved in, I think I'll sleep better knowing they are not coming out or dead already.

Really? You're worried about the guy who helped kill his friend's abusive father coming for you in the night?
posted by Silentgoldfish at 1:14 PM on December 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


I hate the idea of life imprisonment, of death penalties, of things that disfigure the soul. However, my pacifism fails at the question of what to do with the bad actors. A person who is prepared to take a life today may not be prepared to do it again in 30 years, but what do you do with them while they're realizing the harm they cause?

If I ever figure that one out, I'm going into the messiah racket.
posted by Mooski at 1:16 PM on December 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


The article says some of them may get out. I think they should be allowed to make a case for themselves. The practice of life sentences for minors does seem cruel and unusual... I would go as far as to say barbarous. I think, given the choice, many of these people would choose suicide over indefinite confinement. Even that would be somewhat less cruel.
posted by holist at 1:17 PM on December 4, 2013


Mooski, there's a great deal coming out these days about the neurobiology and genetics that underlie sociopathy. The call on whether these people are telling the truth when they say they wouldn't do it again is becoming increasingly objective. That way lies the solution, I guess.
posted by holist at 1:18 PM on December 4, 2013


the one who did the actual killing is out. the other one got life. that doesn't even make sense.

This, so many times. Sentences might begin to make sense if they were consistent, but it seems to be luck of the draw, mood of the judge/jury. That said, I know of someone who was convicted of murder as a juvenile, served 13 years or so, and is heading out within the next few years. His accomplice has been out for five years now. The crime was no less heinous than these.
posted by mochapickle at 1:20 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A person who is prepared to take a life today may not be prepared to do it again in 30 years, but what do you do with them while they're realizing the harm they cause?

You keep them separated from society and provide them with counseling, education and generally a reason and an opportunity to rejoin that society. Then you pick people to judge whether they've sufficiently realized that harm and taken appropriate steps to rejoin society, and you don't toss the whole system away when one person out of tens of thousands re-offends.

But before that, you provide ways for people to resolve problems in that society without resorting to violence.

You don't throw them into a cement hole run by corporations looking to shave pennies off of every dollar, and you don't elect officials based on their desire to do that either.
posted by Etrigan at 1:22 PM on December 4, 2013 [33 favorites]


It's complicated. Some of these people will be violent sociopaths who should not be allowed in normal society while they have the capacity to cause more harm, others are more "there but for the grace of God ...".

All of them, all, are by now very skilled in telling people what they think they want to hear, or in saying things that might play well at a parole hearing, so the expressions of penitence or regret should be taken with a pinch of salt.

But there is no pretence at rehabilitation here, these are just cogs in a profitable retribution machine. Really, execution is more merciful and cost-effective than this.
posted by epo at 1:28 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm not asking this sarcastically or rhetorically, but what is a fair prison term for suffocating your 83 year old grandmother?
posted by MoxieProxy at 1:32 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


what is a fair prison term for suffocating your 83 year old grandmother?

As long as it takes to rehabilitate you?
posted by Wordwoman at 1:35 PM on December 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm not asking this sarcastically or rhetorically, but what is a fair prison term for suffocating your 83 year old grandmother?
What would you suggest, MoxieProxy?
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:43 PM on December 4, 2013


Pfft, by that metric none of these people should be left out.

With the exception of the lady who was arrested when she was 24, all of these people have been in jail for so long and from such an early age that I have a hard time imagining them getting along outside.

Think about it. You're thirty, but have the social skills of someone who was put in jail at the age of 17. There's a decent chance you've never even held a job. Institutionalization is a terrible thing to inflict on someone.
posted by pmv at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Renoroc: After reading what they were involved in, I think I'll sleep better knowing they are not coming out or dead already.

You write that as if you could judge the potential of a person based on their photo and a few sentences about something they did when they were kids.

In comparison: the Norwegian prison where inmates are treated like people.
On Bastoy prison island in Norway, the prisoners, some of whom are murderers and rapists, live in conditions that critics brand 'cushy' and 'luxurious'. Yet it has by far the lowest reoffending rate in Europe.

Oh, and the maximum sentence is 21 years, though individuals judged to be a hazard to the public can have their sentences extended repeatedly.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:06 PM on December 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


A kid I mentor, his brother is in prison here in Texas. Drugs, of course, but also he's gotten harder and harder as have the penalties, and as has the life he lived. He's not quite 40, he's now covered in prison tatts, he is sicker by the day almost, he's harder, he's more hate-filled, he is becoming more and more locked into what it seems to him he must be locked into, to have a life of any strength, a life that looks like even the smallest of dignity, he has to be or become scum to keep his head above water in that system.

This last time, he got shot in the leg in a drug deal gone south, and would not go to the doctor or hospital, he finally has to go, he does go and he's got cops guarding his ass, a zillion warrants, and he slips out, past them, he escapes, he's on the run, a week later they catch him at his fathers place but he heads out the back window, they finally catch him on a golf course, he's fighting like a cornered lion. This guy's a trip.

He's a white man. He has no black friends in prison. He has no Hispanic friends in prison. Both of those are absolutely impossible. The only place to have anyone cover your back -- and you need your back covered, every minute of every day -- the only way to have your back covered is by being with your own people.

There is no rehabilitation in US prisons. Period. It's a fucking zoo. No one gives a fuck about anyone except their own people. Anyone getting free from it, from the life I mean, it's as hard as putting a man on the moon or some shit. I've known just a few and they carry marks, they're always on edge, and they can't get regular jobs, they have to find their way somehow, find people who will look at "them" and not some piece of paper, look at them in the eye and ask the questions.

This guy is out in a couple of years. He's tough as an old boot yet he's principled, in his way -- he will not fuck with anyone without cause. God love them if he has cause. I want to ask him what it would be like for me -- a fairly weak man, soft-white-bread suburban guy -- what would happen to me if I got thrown in there, what I would have to do, what I would have to become, would I be able to become that. I'm pretty sure he can look at me and see who I am, and I'd like to get his read. I want to talk to him anyways, just because, and I have an in through his brother, I want to buy him a cup of coffee, shake his hand, welcome him out of there.

I'm not gonna give him a key to my condo, or my pickup.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Our criminal justice system is a disgrace. Juveniles in prison for life for driving a getaway car. No rehabilitation. Shelving people, nothing more.
posted by zzazazz at 3:15 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


[comment removed - make an effort?]
posted by jessamyn at 3:20 PM on December 4, 2013


As long as it takes to rehabilitate you?

That is not the only purpose of prison.

Also, it is worth noting that the title quote comes from a guy who shot his own father in the face with a shotgun.
posted by corb at 3:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I once read about a guy who shot his own friend in the face with a shotgun, and not only did the victim apologize for causing him trouble, the shooter got to keep being vice president!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:51 PM on December 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


Also, it is worth noting that the title quote comes from a guy who shot his own father in the face with a shotgun.

The entire collection of people in this article are doing equally horrific things. Upthread people are sort of giving a pass to a guy who conspired with his friend to murder the friend's father, because given that his father was also an asshole, this crime (conspiracy to commit murder!) seems comparably tame given the company. I could not come up with a collection of people less deserving of forgiveness and a second chance than this if I tried.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:57 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


How about a collection of people who committed such crimes as adults?
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:05 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I could not come up with a collection of people less deserving of forgiveness and a second chance than this if I tried.

Are they deserving of rehabilitation?
posted by Etrigan at 4:16 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


How about a collection of people who committed such crimes as adults?

No, not really, in my eyes. Shooting a family member in the face with a shotgun is not a youthful indiscretion. This is something that the VAST, VAST, VAST majority of teenagers realize is wrong and are able to act in accordance with. If this was a list of people in jail for shoplifting, getting in fistfights, selling marijuana to earn extra money, or a lot of other things, I could see how you could say, "They were young, they didn't realize they'd be hurting anyone!" but when you've put a gun in someone's face and pulled the trigger, I think that line of reasoning goes away.

Are they deserving of rehabilitation?

Sure, if you know of some magical form of rehabilitation that makes these people into non-sociopaths. I wonder if there is, or ever will be, such a thing that will work on people who think that murder is an acceptable solution to the problem of, for instance, not having enough money to take a trip to California.

I am not particularly interested in punishment or vengeance, but at some point, you can cross a line, past which, society is simply better off without you.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:27 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are they deserving of rehabilitation?

Sure, if you know of some magical form of rehabilitation that makes these people into non-sociopaths.


I do. It's called "trying." It's only the first step, but it's a fairly important one in determining who has this magical form of untreatable sociopathy that you can magically diagnose based on a single fact about a person.
posted by Etrigan at 4:38 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shooting a family member in the face with a shotgun is not a youthful indiscretion.

Oh they all shot family members in the face? I thought some of them did stuff like helping friends kill people, stuff that has a tinge of that specifically childish lack of forethought to it.

Anyway, you were talking about a collection of people in life imprisonment for committing crimes, not just one face-shooter. I'm surprised you don't think adults would have on average fewer mitigating factors at play that might earn your forgiveness than children do.

Perhaps your forgiveness sells more dearly than mine. To each his own.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:45 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's called "trying."

Trying what?

... single fact about a person.

"Convicted with a 14-year-old friend of beating a homeless Pontiac man to death in 2008."

"Convicted a firebombing a Saginaw home in 1990 because he and his friend were allegedly upset one of the residents was finding more golf balls in the pond at a nearby golf course. Three children died."

"Convicted in the beating death of the 14-year-old daughter of his father's girlfriend after she reportedly made fun of his acne in 1983."

Each of those is one hell of a "single fact".
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Each of those is one hell of a "single fact".

Yes, they are. It's also one hell of a single fact that you've decided that they are irredeemable. I only wish you could have used your super-diagnostic skills before they did those things.

As for trying what -- anything. Anything besides throwing them in prison with nothing to look forward to but the knowledge that they'll die there. I know, I know, "They didn't give their victims any more consideration." But doing shitty things to people is supposed to be what society prevents and ameliorates, not what it throws up its hands and says "Fuck 'em" about.
posted by Etrigan at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can't get any more mideval on the sentencing. Looking for an "auto-da-fe" movement next.
posted by telstar at 5:10 PM on December 4, 2013


As for trying what -- anything. Anything besides throwing them in prison with nothing to look forward to but the knowledge that they'll die there.

Alright, you do that, more power to you. All this money we're spending on prisons, we might as well try something. Still, I think the fundamental difference on this issue is that some people think there are people who *are* irredeemable and other people think that *nobody* is irredeemable. If you'd answer the question, "What does someone have to do before society gives up on them?" with "Nothing, there is nothing they can do that makes them deserve that" you are going to be fundamentally at odds with everyone who draws that line anywhere else but at infinity, and there are lots of people who do draw that line *somewhere*.

You think I'm wrong for drawing that line, and I think you're wrong for not drawing it, and I don't know how to reconcile those beliefs.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 5:20 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


the one who did the actual killing is out. the other one got life. that doesn't even make sense.

I understand that a bit better after reading the facts of the case, at least.

Sego--the one who didn't actually do the shooting--was friends with the victim's son, Buck, and a guy named Holcomb. Buck had been abused repeatedly by his father and apparently he and his friends had stolen some tools from Buck, Sr that night. When the three friends learned he was looking for them, they decided they were going to take Buck Sr. out.

I would imagine anyone sitting on a jury in that case would have some sympathy for that abused boy. Understandable that Buck might so desperately want to end that abuse that killing his father seemed like the only way forward.

But Buck didn't fire the gun that killed his Dad. Holcomb did. And when Holcomb fired the first shot, Buck Sr. was running away from the boys.

Hit by the shotgun blast, Buck Sr. falls down outside the doorway to the house. He's on the ground, but he's still alive. Writhing in pain, he starts screaming for help.

And this is where Sego comes in. Sego goes over to the injured man, picks him up and drags him back inside so that his friend, Holcomb, could shoot the man two more times.

It's also Sego who grabs a knife and puts it into the dead man's hand, hoping to make this whole thing look like self-defense (despite the shots entering through the victim's back).

Initially, the jury gave Holcomb and Sego similar sentences. Holcomb got out earlier than Sego because he won some of his appeals. Ironically, being charged as an adult by the circuit court worked in his favor to get some felony firearm charges dismissed.
posted by misha at 5:31 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Still, I think the fundamental difference on this issue is that some people think there are people who *are* irredeemable and other people think that *nobody* is irredeemable.

There is a third group -- people who think that society should make more of an attempt at redemption than sentencing minors to life in prison for a single act on their part, no matter how heinous it was. If they end up dying behind bars at the age of 80, I'm fine with that, provided they earn it over the course of their life. The Norwegians seem to have a good idea -- long but not infinite sentences, but the courts can keep you in if you're still a danger to society.
posted by Etrigan at 5:51 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


That still presumes that some people are redeemable, though, Etrigan - or at least, that all minors are redeemable. That's honestly a fine opinion - just not, as expressed above, universal. And as expressed above, it's drawn differently everywhere.

For me, it's acts of pedophilia. Anyone sexually abusing a child has crossed the line into irredeemable for me. I honestly and truly cannot make myself care about what happens to them at all. They are, for me, barely even human at that point.

For other people it may be different. Other people may draw their lines differently, or not have them at all. But it is hard for me to see that point of view - that someone could argue, say, that someone who abuses children sexually could somehow become a worthwhile and productive member of society. Even as a teenager. I would be okay with a life sentence. I'd even be okay with a death penalty - because the crime is so radically, radically, inhuman.
posted by corb at 5:58 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


You think I'm wrong for drawing that line, and I think you're wrong for not drawing it, and I don't know how to reconcile those beliefs.

Okay, but surely you can agree that life imprisonment is ridiculous. Why create this torture chamber and force people to live in it at the expense of the government (and, as such, the people) of the United States and tell them we're going to keep them there forever and they can never leave? Surely, if these people are, as you claim, "irredeemable" then the only sensible response is to just kill them and be done with it.

Right? If not, why? What is the point of imprisoning someone who cannot be redeemed?
posted by IAmUnaware at 6:37 PM on December 4, 2013


That still presumes that some people are redeemable, though, Etrigan - or at least, that all minors are redeemable.

Let me say this again:
If they end up dying behind bars at the age of 80, I'm fine with that, provided they earn it over the course of their life. The Norwegians seem to have a good idea -- long but not infinite sentences, but the courts can keep you in if you're still a danger to society.

Please, read those two sentences one more time.

I am not presuming, nor even saying that all minors are redeemable. What I am saying is that I'm not comfortable with deciding that any minor is irredeemable while still a minor. That decision should be made again and again over the course of a lifetime.
posted by Etrigan at 6:37 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, okay. I catch your meaning now, Etrigan. I took you saying earn it over the course of their life meaning life outside bars.

In terms of life imprisonment, yes, I think most people in prison for life sentences shouldn't have them, and they should be death sentences instead. Life in prison is effectively a death sentence. But from what I gather, people on death row have expanded appeals processes and guarding and such and wind up actually costing more money than life imprisonment, which I confess I don't fully understand.
posted by corb at 6:39 PM on December 4, 2013


[please do not turn this into a death penalty discussion/argument. It's getting off topic.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 PM on December 4, 2013


Etrigan: Are they deserving of rehabilitation?

tylerkaraszewski: Sure, if you know of some magical form of rehabilitation that makes these people into non-sociopaths.

This really irks me - the casual use of the term "sociopath" to paint a broad swath of people convicted for violent crimes.

1 percent of the US population are psychopaths, and that's up to 20 percent to 30 percent of the male and female U.S. prison population. So 70 to 80% are not, but keeping them locked up and away from society for a period of time so they "pay their dues to society" or whatnot doesn't work in the US, as prison doesn't get anyone ready to be part of society again. There's a good paragraph from the article I linked upthread:
"In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings."
That was from Arne Nilsen, the governor of the Norwegian Bastoy prison island, which Nilsen calls "an arena of developing responsibility."

Inmates with up to five years left in their sentence can apply to be transferred there. From that article: "Every type of offender, including men convicted of murder or rape, may be accepted, so long as they fit the criteria, the main one being a determination to live a crime-free life on release."
posted by filthy light thief at 6:58 PM on December 4, 2013


That slideshow was really heavy. And sobering. And heartbreaking. Thanks for posting.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 7:19 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


They are where they deserve to be, and they should stay.
posted by knoyers at 7:41 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Once again saddened that so many people don't thinking trying anything to make sentencing and prison better for the most vulnerable people (kids) in our society is worth it.
posted by agregoli at 6:29 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Grand Rapids Press dragged this whole thing out for a freaking month in the print editions, with detailed bleeding heart stories of each. Before I lost interest, I had pretty much come to the same conclusion as knoyers.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:53 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's important to note that the Supreme Court case the article mentions just held that mandatory life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional. The question is whether this should be applied retroactively -- ie. the people in this slideshow were people who were convicted, by a judge whose hands were tied, to spend the rest of their lives in prison without the opportunity to qualify for parole (which is already an extremely high bar). It's not like this is talking about letting these people walk -- it's actually a really small change, and one that has already been made going forward.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:53 AM on December 5, 2013


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