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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Proposition 62 proposes to end the death penalty in California. The death penalty is when the state executes a person for committing a capital crime, like premeditated murder. Instead everyone already sentenced would get life imprisonment without possibility of parole, which is when you get out of jail early for good behavior under supervision. Current California law generally requires that inmates work, and that part of their earnings go toward restitution of the victim, or in the case of homicide, the victim’s family. The bill increases the percentage that may be taken from the inmate’s wages from 50% to 60% to give to the victim’s family. This proposition came about for moral and financial reasons. What is the history of the death penalty, what is the scope of the problem, what are the moral and financial arguments for and against it, and what should we do?

In 1972, 40 states plus the District of Columbia had death penalties. The Supreme Court struck them  down because they were arbitrarily and capriciously applied. Thirty five states created new death penalty laws, but in 1976, the Supreme Court struck down the ones that made the death penalty mandatory for any capital crime. But if judges and juries use their discretion, weighing the variables in each individual case, the ruling does allow them to apply the death penalty (Lincoln, 2016). In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of mentally retarded defendants violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of juvenile killers is unconstitutional. On November 6th, 2012, an attempt to repeal death penalty in California failed (CNN, 2016).

Worldwide, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty since 1976, when the US Supreme Court revived it. In 2010, the US ranked fifth in executions behind China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.  Nationwide, of 8,124 people sentenced to death between 1977-2013, only 17% were executed, 6% died of other causes, 40% got other dispositions including acquittals, and 37% remain in prison (Lincoln, 2016). In California since 1978, an even lower percentage of convicts who get the death penalty get executed, and an even higher percentage sit solitary in cells waiting to be told if they will live or die. Of 930 individuals who have been convicted, only 15 have been  executed, 103 died of other causes, 64 sentences have been reduced, and 748 are in appeals. Of those 748, two fifths have been on death row for more than 20 years. California spends $55 million annually just on the cost of appeals (Padilla, 2016).

Does the death penalty make any sense? Overall, the cost of execution is eight times higher than keeping an inmate in life imprisonment because of the huge costs of a sentencing trial, which is an extra trial required above and beyond the trial that determines guilt vs innocence, appeals, and extra security (Prejean, 1993). Yet even with the high dollar amount, injustices abound. 120 people sentenced to die have been exonerated (USCCB, 2005). The death penalty is applied to a tiny fraction of homicide convictions. The chances of getting the death penalty does not correspond most highly with how bad or heinous the crime.  Instead your  chances of getting the death penalty for a capital crime are much higher if you’re poor, black, or if you live in a southern state like Texas or Oklahoma (USCCB, 2005; Lincoln, 2016). The quality of court appointed attorneys for the defense can be poor. Federal appeals courts find constitutional errors in the proceedings in 40% of cases reviewed (Prejean, 1993). Finally, the death penalty does not seem to serve as the deterrent to homicide as it was meant to be. There is no difference in capital crime rates in states that have more executions (USCCB, 2005).

So are there any good reasons for the death penalty? One big problem with life imprisonment is the possibility of parole. 71.3% of violent offenders are rearrested within the five years after release from prison (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005), and in 1997, a third of prison admissions were from parole violators (BJS, 1999). The alternative to the death penalty would have to be life imprisonment without possibility of parole to protect the public’s safety.

How about the families of the victims? More and more victims’ families are telling us that the execution of the offender does not give them peace.

“No one in our family ever wanted to see the killer of our brother and his wife put to death. We felt instinctively that vengeance wouldn’t alleviate our grief. We wanted this murderer in prison so he could never hurt another person. But wishing he would suffer and die would only have diminished us and shriveled our own souls. Hatred doesn’t heal. Every time the state kills a person, human society moves in the direction of its lowest, most base urges. We don’t have to make that choice. Our lawmakers have the capacity to help us abolish the death penalty and along with it, the fantasy that it will make the pain go away.”

—Mary Bosco Van Valkenburg for her mother, Antoinette Bosco, sister Margaret Minier, and brothers Frank and Paul Bosco (USCCB, 2005)

So the death penalty doesn’t work in terms of costs to the state, nor as a deterrent to crime. Injustices abound in terms of who gets the dearth penalty, and corruption exists in the granting of pardons (Prejean, 1993). Then there’s the moral question. Should the state, in the name of all of us, ever put someone to death when there is even a small chance of killing an innocent person, when we can protect the public’s safety with the alternative of life imprisonment without parole? Even if the convict is guilty, do we have the right to cut off any chance that he/she may repent and do good in the future?  In “Dead Man Walking,” Sister Helen Prejean tells her journey of going through the whole process of appeals and the execution of a man convicted of murder as his spiritual adviser. Two brothers, Pat and Eddie, kill two teenagers in the woods. The older brother, Pat takes the blame though his younger brother, Eddie, did the killing, so Pat gets the death sentence. In the end, Sister Helen leads Pat to apologize to the victim’s family, befriends the father of one of the victims who ultimately heroically accepts the apology, and counsels Eddie, who is in life imprisonment as an accomplice. Even Eddie, laden with guilt over causing the deaths of three people, including his own brother, finds a measure of peace by working hard to give part of his earnings as a token of restitution to the victims’ families. Her description of the execution puts into question if any of us would want to be responsible for yet another death. The miracle is that grace can penetrate even the darkest of situations, like the exchange between Pat and the victim’s father, and how even Eddie improved. I believe that mercy and forgiveness, with life imprisonment without parole to keep the public safe, is a much better alternative than the death penalty.

I urge everyone to vote “yes” on Proposition 62 and “no” on 66.

 

edited by Joyce Tran

References

  1. Alex Padilla, (Nov 8, 2016) “Official Voter Info Guide for CA General Election.”
  2. CNN library, updated 10/24/16, “Death Penalty Fast Facts”, CNN.com
  3. Fay, William, Msg. and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dec. 2005, “Culture of Life and the Penalty of  Death.” Washington DC, USCCB.org,
  4. Lincoln, Alan, “Death Throes: Changing How America Thinks About Capital Punishment,”Harvard Magazine, volume 119, no. 2 , Nov-Dec 2016.pp. 56-95
  5. National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, nij.gov
  6. Prejean, Helen, C.S.J. (1993) “Dead Man Walking” New York: Random House.

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“NO, Peter! You are not an animal!” I cried, as I brandished a towel like a whip to drive my son away from the food. He had that crazed “raw amygdala” gleam in his eye that I have seen on too many occasions, as he bit into a family-sized apple strudal that he’d lifted whole from the platter. I returned the strudal to the platter, only to protest in dismay as Peter snatched a sizzling sausage from the pan with lightening speed. “Stop it! Stop it! Peter, I told you we were having breakfast after Mass!”

We’d already had a long history that Sunday morning. I had to play tug-of-war with Peter to get the bedcovers off, then had to hang the goggles he loves to tap on the thermostat in the hallway so he’d have to get out of bed to get them. I had to set the timer twice for him to finish his bathroom routine. Even so, he refused to get dressed till I’d fetched the black underwear his rigidity demanded be exchanged for the white one I had previously laid out. It was getting so late by that time, that I didn’t even protest, but just ran to make the extra roundtrip to his bedroom clothes drawers.

Getting from the church parking lot to the front door was another struggle. Peter tends to grab my arm and lean hard upon it. I was so frustrated with him, that I shook him loose. I dashed a few paces ahead of him, saying, “Come on, Peter! You know Peggy (one of Peter’s therapists) keeps saying you should practice walking independently.” I kept walking ahead of him, pausing every ten feet for him to slowly catch up.

By the time we made it into the side chapel, we were really late, and had missed nearly half of Mass. I was so upset with his impulsivity and inertia that I didn’t even want to look at him. But when I turned to my Missalette, I saw the responsorial psalm of the day, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.” (Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13)

I felt convicted in my soul. What was I doing, punishing my son with my attitude? He didn’t ask for autism. It’s not his fault that his prefrontal cortex doesn’t have the ready connections to the amygdala that neurotypicals have (NIMH study by Richey and Dichter, Journal of Autism Developmental Disorder, Jan 2015); neither is the miswired circuitry through the basal ganglia causing rigidity and inertia voluntary in the least. But it was Peter who took the initiative. Taking the keyboard, he typed,

Peter: i asdm sorry mom forf everyything.
Mom: I’m sorry too. will you forgive me for the towel and unkind words?
Peter: yes., i actedc badly. i’ll try to do bettter.
Mom: Thanks, Peter, so shall I. Love you.
Peter: i love you too

The rest of Mass flew by. Freed from the heavy angry feeling I carried before, my heart felt light and joyful. My sweet, humble son had not only forgiven me, but had asked for forgiveness, for behavior that was not even his fault, but due to autism. Autism is a heavy cross our children carry. I should be helping Peter carry his cross, but how often do I instead add to it by blaming him for behaviors he can’t control? When he really can’t help it, blaming him for them is like blaming him for having autism, like blaming him for having this cross to carry. I am sorry, Lord. I looked down at the beautiful words on the pages of my Missalette again.Pointing to Psalm 51, I showed them to Peter.

Mom: Beautiful words, aren’t they? They are the words of a famous psalm by King David. Pretty cool that the same words written thousands of years ago express the longings of our hearts even now.
Peter: just marvelous. thanks mom, for making the words real for me.Mom: Peter, you are the one who makes them real for me!
Peter: dear jesusm, may we honor you with our lives and minds, and hearts, amen i thank you for helping me just helping mom hagve gtrace (have grace). amen
Mom: and Peter too! Amen!

Forgiveness. It’s a beautiful thing. It gives life to the dead, and makes all things new. It’s so elementary, we forget about it. Every good parenting book I’ve ever read from Noel Janis-Norton to Dan Siegel talks over and over about how restorative and critical it is for parents to repair rifts in their relationships with their children. How there’s no better way to walk them through the process of asking for, giving, and receiving forgiveness than to demonstrate it in real life situations. How it’s such a great opportunity to grow the children (and oneself!) in perspective taking, problem solving, and emotional understanding. How it makes everyone and the relationship even better and more resilient. But at the time I read all that, I just said to myself at the time, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I know.”

But at that moment in the chapel the rubber finally hit the road. It shouldn’t, but for me it took supernatural grace to say those words, “Will you forgive me?” When I did, it was like opening a door. I felt a mighty rush of a river of grace, love, and forgiveness from Peter. He was waiting for the opportunity. He was just waiting for me to open the door. So I just wanted to pass on the encouragement I received from this experience to encourage you to open the door. Your children are waiting. They need to hear those healing words, and experience the joy of forgiving and being forgiven, a process that is beautiful, even life-giving to a relationship.

It doesn’t even need to happen right away. It’s never too late. We all need time to reflect. When rifts occur, it’s hard to take in the whole situation at the time. That’s okay. The important thing is not to shy away from reflecting upon and confronting the challenges in our lives, including negative interactions with our kids. So don’t be afraid to go back and recollect; take the time and effort to do so. It’s not just my experience, but on talking with other parents it seems that our children may be the most forgiving people on the planet towards us. They want so much to forgive us because they love us so. So if one messes up, or if there’s a misunderstanding, don’t despair. You can always repair. which leads to restoration and respect. Just open the door.

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Thanks be to God and our Savior Jesus Christ for the great gift of forgiveness!

Happy Easter to all!

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11356737-skiing-downhill-in-winter Peter and I went skiing for the day.  It was beautiful and sunny.  Just getting to and from the mountain was fun for Peter because he loves long car rides.  We made up songs to sing on the chair lift together.  He did a great job skiing, following me carefully as we did big long turns, and trying to get his feet into parallel as we traversed the slope.

Unfortunately, at the end we had a couple of mishaps.  When trying to untie my poles (I had threaded the handle loops together to make a CASS hold for Peter), I accidentally hit his fingers with the end of one pole.  Peter was a good sport, just rubbing his hand, without a sound.  I apologized profusely, and he said “I forgive you”  with a repeat-after-me prompt. But at the very end, when Peter was seated in the car, I had just gotten his ski boots off when he reached over and slammed the car door shut.  The only problem was that I was still between him and the door, leaning over to pick up his boots.  Bam!  I felt the car door slam against my head, and screamed in fright.  Peter said he was sorry, and I had him do several do-overs, ie practices, on how to look around carefully for people before you close the car door, and then told him I forgave him too.

So at the end of the day, we made a tally.

Ski trip

Bad Good
   Long car ride. ☺☺☺
  Singing on the chair lift. ☺
  Great job skiing! ☺☺☺☺
Mama hit Peter’s fingers with the ski pole. 😦 Peter forgave Mama. ☺
Peter hit Mama’s head with the car door. 😦 😦 Mama forgave Peter. ☺☺
3 sad faces 11 happy faces

 

What was more, happy or sad faces?  The forgiving made up completely for the accidents, and there was much more good than bad, so we decided we had had a very good time on our ski trip!

We reviewed the day with Papa, using the chart as a memory prompt.

Sometimes our kids can use some help with developing perspective when things don’t go completely right on a given day.  Counting up happy and sad faces helps by providing a concrete visual.  Reflecting on imperfectly good days are a great opportunity to develop perspective on life.

 

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A Process of Reconciliation

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It was the second day of my medical conference- ten hours a day  of lectures and interactive sessions. I loved the learning, but whoa! this was getting a bit grueling.  On one of my check-in phone calls home, my always thoughtfully understated husband lets slip that Peter had a bit of trouble that afternoon.  Eventually I found out that Luke was minding his business (for once not being loud or complaining) practicing the piano when Peter suddenly left his rocking chair where he had been peacefully watching TV to bonk poor Luke hard on the head!  Papa had firmly escorted Peter into another room and told him not to hit. Big sister Judy, feeling the need for a little more in the way of consequences, shortly afterwards got Peter to come up to Luke to say “Sorry.”  Peter was compliant, but she wasn’t sure how much had registered.

So what to do?

Believe me, I was not looking for trouble.  After fighting heavy LA traffic for 90 minutes on the way home, and not seeing Peter much for two days, I really just wanted to snuggle up and watch TV with him on the couch.  So that’s what we did briefly.  But then I felt I really had to address the hitting again.  That kind of aggressive behavior can’t slide by- I felt I had to do everything I could to proactively curtail it.

So I said a quick prayer, and said, “Peter, I heard you had trouble with Luke today.  Did you hit him on the head?”  To make sure he was registering the same memory, I had him fill-in-the-blanks, “Who did you hit? (Luke)” “What was Luke doing? (piano)” “Why did you hit?  Was Luke too (loud)? Did you have reflux? (no)”  I wasn’t getting anywhere with the “why” question- Peter  just looked at me and laughed.

“Well, Peter even if you don’t know or can’t tell me why you hit, you cannot hit.  Hitting is BAD.  It is VERY (bad- I had Peter fill-in-the-blank).  Come on, let’s do some writing about it.”

We then proceeded to the kitchen table where we do our journaling.  I took out his journal, which is divided into an “I like..:)” and “I don’t like…:(” section.  We  turned to the “I don’t like…” section.  I prompted Peter to write the following sorry note to Luke by answering questions on his Vantage and then copying the sentences on paper:

“Dear Luke,

I hit you this afternoon. I do not know why.  Hitting is terrible.  Does your head hurt?  I feel very sorry,  Please forgive me.  What may I do to make you feel better?

Love, Peter

September 20, 2012”

Then we walked over together to find Luke.  He was playing Pokeman cards with big brother Stephen.  “May we talk to you a minute, Luke?  Peter wants to make up with you.”

(I had already talked to Luke about the incident, and ascertained that Luke was ok, and understood his brother was acting out of his autism, and not necessarily from meanness.  Luke has always displayed a remarkable grace wherever his brother Peter is concerned, thanks be to God!)

Luke listened quietly while I had Peter read his sorry note to him.  As Peter read each line, I repeated it (partly because Peter’s articulation is so poor that otherwise Luke would not be able to understand him), and acted out what had happened with two stuffed animals.  Big Rabbit came over and bonked Little Ladybug on the head hard.  Ladybug cried because it hurt. (We also inverted ladybug’s head so it disappeared into her body.) Big Rabbit felt very sorry.  He said, “Hitting is terrible, very bad.”  After the part about “What can I do to make you feel better,” Luke said, “Nothing, Peter, it’s okay,” but I made Big Rabbit reach over and pull Ladybug’s head back out to fix it.  Luke was starting to turn back to his cards, while I tried to frantically whisper, “Wait, Luke!  Ask Peter to give you a hug or something!” Before I could finish my prompt, Peter actually leaned way over and gave Luke the sweetest, light kiss on the head!

I was floored.  Up till then I really hadn’t a definite sign that Peter really understood what we were doing.  He was smilingly compliant and filling in the blanks, but I didn’t know if he was relating what was being enacted with the stuffed animals at all to what had transpired that afternoon, nor if he really understood that he had done something wrong.

But that kiss was all his.  I hadn’t told him what to do.  Luke hadn’t demanded anything.  Peter had initiated his own reparative gesture.  I was so heartened and so grateful.  Thank you Lord, that sometimes our children do understand.  Much more than they can perhaps show us on their own.  So parents, don’t give up!  Even if you’re not sure how much your child understands, keep going through the process and actions of reconciliation, and more may sink in than you expect.

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