Thursday, March 22, 2012

Disposable lives

So how much stupid shit did you do when you were a teenager?

Just think about all the things you did in high school and college. Makes you wonder what you were thinking, doesn't it? You didn't think of the consequences. You were having fun and living life.

For most of us, sometime in our mid-20's we finally caught on to the fact that there were consequences to our actions. We began to think a little bit ahead. We had things to lose.

Teenagers, for the most part, haven't developed the ability to think in the long run. And why should they? Their lives are lived in the moment. The brain hasn't fully matured. The future is an abstraction.

We'll do almost anything to protect our children from the harsh realities of the world around us. There will be plenty of time for them to understand they will have to make choices - some of them unpleasant - as they get older.

But while we are more than willing to do whatever it takes to keep our children in their bubble, we are only too happy, as a society, to lock up those kids for the rest of their lives because of some really bad decisions. While we are programmed to give our kids second, third and even fourth chances, we have no tolerance for the poor choices made by those kids.

Of course Scott Burns, the leader of the National District Attorneys Association, says seeking life without parole for a juvenile is one of the most difficult decisions a prosecutor can make. Because it's all about the prosecutor, you know. I'm not so certain about that, though.

That's because defense attorneys and prosecutors see numbers differently. For a defense attorney, that number represents the tearing apart of a family. We see the effect that number has on parents and siblings and children.There is nothing at all pleasant about hearing a jury sentence your client to years in prison.

For prosecutors, on the other hand, the number only represents a metric of how tough on crime the DA's office can be. It's a notch on the belt, it's a shiny gold coin, it's a quote on the evening news. It's a file being closed and another person locked away.

This isn't to say that teenagers are incapable of committing heinous crimes. They are. Some of it can be explained away by their tragic upbringings: poverty, neglect, abuse. But is justice really served by throwing away another life? By throwing away a life that hasn't even begun?

This is the only nation that locks juveniles in prison for life without the possibility of parole. We are the only society that is so willing to throw lives away.

Some of those lives can be saved. Yes, it will take a shift in attitude. It will take a society that is willing to forgive. A society that is willing to give a teenager a second chance. A society that understands that the mind of a teenager doesn't work like the mind of an adult.

We have a great capacity in this nation for vengeance. What we need is a greater capacity for compassion and understanding. That a young man has been rehabilitated is cold comfort for the family who lost a member to a crime of violence; but locking away that child for the rest of his natural life isn't going to change what happened either.

Our future as a society depends on our children. There are a multitude of politicians who shout as loudly as they can that they are pro-life and pro-family. But their concern for life doesn't extend beyond birth and their concern for family doesn't extend to anyone who doesn't look like them or who grew up in different circumstances.

It is time we stopped sacrificing our youth. It is time to end the insanity of locking up teenagers for life. Maybe our choices weren't nearly as bad nor as destructive - but we all did things when we were younger that we now regret. These lives can still be saved and it makes a whole lot more sense to spend our time and money trying to save those lives than it does to build and deploy deadly weapons.

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