From the time I could understand the concept of right and wrong, good and bad, crime and punishment I have heard the "eye for an eye" argument. It's how I was raised. That sentiment of judgement was in the fabric of me and I gave the death penalty, frankly, less consideration than choosing what restaurant to eat at. It was a matter for others to worry about. It didn't concern me. Kill a man who murders another man? Sure, why not? An eye for an eye. That seems fair enough.
In the first week of May, 2008, while I was alone in my office at work I got a call about my brother's only daughter. "Tanya has been murdered. Terry stabbed her. She's dead, Wendy. Tanya is dead." As I was hanging up, some office mates arrived and were asking me some questions about work. I remember answering them by repeating what I had just heard on the phone, then walked to a nearby office and started shuffling through papers to find what they were looking for.
From what seemed like a mile away I heard one person say, "I think she's in shock. Look at her. She's shaking." And that's when my consciousness returned to my body and I realized I was quivering like I'd been pulled out of some distant, frozen sea.
The next months, even years were revealing. I was sad, raging, apathetic. Exhausted, I'd forget for a moment anything was amiss, then would suddenly remember with a cold wave of shock and start the cycle over again. The burr under my saddle was that I wanted to settle in my mind on what I thought a fair punishment would be for him. An eye for an eye. That must be the right thing. He killed, he should die.
The angry person in me thought that was not nearly fair enough. He should suffer. A lot. He should stay in prison for his whole life. And not just any prison -- the kind of prison you see in the movies where rampaging gangs of men beat and abuse and kill each other and there is peril at every turn. Would that be fair, that he suffer for a lifetime?
I went through every scenario imaginable -- from the true-life realistic alternatives, to the outlandish never-gonna-happen fantasy. Nothing satisfied me. I was a boiling stew of unresolve. I despaired that there was no kind of justice for me.
These days I think our culture defines justice as "a fitting punishment for the crime." That isn't what justice is, though. The icon for Justice is the lady with the scales who blindly balances truth and fairness.
Justice, in my mind, is the determination of what a person must pay back to the world to offset the damage he or she has done to it.
Killing the man who murdered my niece is not going to bring her back. It's not going to make me feel better because, frankly, I've run through every permutation of his suffering than I can possibly imagine and none of them feel like enough punishment. They seem brutal and pointless. There is nothing to be gained from any of it.
The only possible solution is that he has to balance out the bad he has done with an equivalent amount of good. If he can be redeemed, he must be. And then his life should be forfeit to the service of others until he has paid back the amount of joy and usefulness that left the world when my niece was stabbed 27 times in her bedroom by her own husband.
And in the event that he cannot be redeemed, he must toil in some fashion for the good of others. He must knit sweaters for homeless children until his fingers bleed or he goes blind. Or he must build homes for the homeless or he must grow gardens to feed the hungry. He must sell things he's made with his hands to put a poor kid through college.
Justice is not killing him, it's making him replace what he stole from me and from you. Yes, you.
Because it's not about my niece. It's about violating all of us as humans. Criminals hate and disrespect and so we lock them up like bad children because what else can we do with them?
What we can do with them is turn the system upside down and stop throwing up our hands in despair like confused and frustrated parents. We can admit that our system is broken. We can insist that balance be restored, that justice become about fairness, not about punishment.
I don't want Terrence Hill to die. I want Terrence Hill to make the world a better place. That's what would satisfy me. That's what might give me a sliver of a chance to feel at peace and to find forgiveness within me.