The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Sympathy for society's devils?

 


Some people in our society receive little sympathy from the community at large.

I'm not saying that everyone deserves to be forgiven for terrible things they do. Reprehensible acts require punishment. But everyone should be recognized as a person, with a history and feelings, just the same as the rest of us.

In discussion with many about the child porn case I reported last week, many commented that this man deserves to be shot. Although the behavior of this person currently being prosecuted for unspeakable actions toward his own son and the daughter of his girlfriend is disgusting, we should always stop and consider what led to such behavior. Every person in the world has motivations—reasonable or otherwise—driving his or her own actions and every person (unless they're a psychopath) has feelings of some sort.

This man's actions were awful. If he really did produce child porn, as he allegedly confessed to doing, he deserves a harsh punishment, absolutely. We should also consider that many times when a person does something that society at large finds repulsive, it could be due to some sort of mental disorder that is difficult to control.

Currently our criminal justice system doesn't do much to rehabilitate those who truly need help. Of course, we often have no way of knowing if a person's past somehow contributed to awful things they're doing in the here and now. But what is the commitment and responsibility of society to understand? Is it possible to punish an rehabilitate? It's an age-old question. I just think on our road to dealing justice those who should be punished, we should take into consideration that they are human—racked by emotion, goals, dreams, mental issues.

Leaving behind the man accused of child porn, consider a person who caused a deadly incident. I attended the pre-trial conference for Josef Slezak last week. Slezak was the man who crashed his semi into a car on Interstate 80 last year, causing a chain reaction that killed an entire family of five, including a mother, father, two young children and an unborn baby. Although he should have stopped to rest on his drive, although he should have heard those screaming on the radio to slow down, I cannot imagine living with the kind of remorse he must feel. Of course he deserves to be punished, he ended the plethora of possibilities that waited in front of those five people. He ended their ability to love each other and their family's ability to enjoy their presence for years to come. But the things that we regret, like not finishing something by a big deadline, forgetting an anniversary or letting down a friend who needed a favor are nothing compared to what this man must be suffering.

We all makes mistakes. Consider the things you've done that you regret. I still feel bad about misspelling Cabela's in the second story I wrote here. I remember a one letter typo in someone's name months afterward. I cannot imagine living with a mistake like some have to deal with for their entire lives.

Slezak pled no contest as to the counts against him as part of a plea agreement with the state. I have no idea if this was because he thought he deserved to be punished or because it's likely to bring a lesser sentence than if he went to trial. He cried openly when the charges against him were read. There is no way hearing these charges was a shock to him. He had obviously heard them many times before.

Many in the courtroom were obviously uncomfortable by this display of emotion. I don't blame them. They deal with this sort of thing much more often than I do. It would be difficult to feel sorry for every criminal they see and still do their jobs. But I did feel incredible compassion for him. I have no idea what he was thinking. I don't know for a fact if he was weeping out of terrible regret for his actions and their consequences or out of sadness for himself and his own future cut short by prison time. But I think anyone who has a little of a heart has to assume that he must be crushed by guilt.

I think anyone who has compassion must, at least at times, stop to consider the history of those who are convicted of crimes and what motivated them to do what they did.

I'm sure Josef Slezak had no idea when he set out from Milkwaukee last September 8 that he would forever change the course of his own life and end the lives of five others before he finished his trip. It's well known that truckers at some companies are encouraged to drive longer than the amount of time that's legally allowed. It's hard to say whether or not this is what happened to Slezak.

For Slezak, is there rehabilitation in the punishment? You don't have to forgive a criminal to realize that with one slip up your whole life could change as well.

 

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