Lifers and Redemption

Most all lifers in Massachusetts are first offenders. Most are in for killing a family member or girlfriend. We are not talking about serial killers here. I do not believe Massachusetts has any of the characters we see on such shows as "Criminal Minds" or "Law and Order." Still, it does not matter. Any murder is a sad and tragic affair for both the families of the victims and the family of the perpetrator. It is the kind of loss that few get over and most never forgive.

I read an article in the paper about a man giving a victim impact statement in court after the conviction of a man that killed his daughter. He said (I am paraphrasing): "I was a Marine, and we were told that Marines do a tour of duty at the Pearly Gates. When you die, I will be there waiting for you, so I can escort you straight to hell". As a former Marine, I thought this a powerful statement at first, but then I realized that this poor guy is going to carry a heavy burden, and he believes that he will still be carrying it after he dies. My heart went out to this man. I too have a grown daughter, and I wonder what my reaction would have been if it were me?

People who demonstrate a disregard for human life need to go to prison. They need to be taken out of a civilized society and be locked away. But, forever? One moment in time, one senseless act, one lapse of judgment — one idiotic and thoughtless act is all it takes to never have a second chance in Massachusetts.

There are good and sound arguments on both sides of this issue. Those who lost the family member feel that if you take a life, then you should pay with your own. An eye for and eye as it was. Others feel you should be kept in a cage unto death. Either way it is still a death sentence. One is an injection or a shock, while the other is more heinous. It is a slow and torturous death by savage increments. A death that can take 50 years before the doctor pronounces you to be, in fact, truly and finally dead.

There are no perfect people. Far as I know, only one has ever been recorded in human history, and that man was crucified for false allegations against Him.

Lifers and Redemption . . .

I always ask people: "Are you the same person now that you were twenty years ago? Every single person answers in the negative. We age and we become more patient, more tolerant of things that in our youth would have sent us into a rage. Some, in order to be at peace, become more forgiving. These imperfect people understand that in order to be forgiven they must forgive. Even without the religious connotation, it is important to forgive in order to prevent ourselves from the ravages of hatred for those things out of our control. Un-forgiveness is a cancer. It eats away at our hearts and destroys our inner harmony. It sends out a charged field that can be felt by anyone that comes in contact with us, no matter the topic of conversation nor the largest of a smile. It is a foul and debilitating legacy handed down to our children and to our neighbors or friends. It is the stuff that turns doves into hawks and disagreements into a war, like the second, that netted over 50 million dead before it ended.

Over 39 years ag, I was sent to prison for life. Despite being the stereotypical "innocent man," I have forgiven everyone that graduated to a higher station in their lives by taking mine away. I stopped telling people about my case over 30 years ago, because I saw the way they would roll their eyes or in some cases say: "sure, everyone in here is innocent." But, I tell them, there were neither eye witnesses nor incriminating physical evidence of any kind in my case. All the prosecutor had was my Vietnam War record, in a period of time in American history where we Vietnam veterans were ostracized and reviled by a large segment of this country who believed the war was wrong and that we were all "Baby Killers." On the stand, the prosecutor asked me if it wasn't true that I had killed a lot of people in Vietnam. He screamed this in my face. It was the cruelest wound I ever received. I am now the walking dead that trots the cement floors of a man-cage. I forgive them all for what they did.

This forgiveness was a process that took years. It was not easy. It would have been had I been a bigger man or a seasoned veteran of Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, and Self-Love. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, I was a proverbial stranger in a strange land. An involuntary outcast in the very country I was prepared to lay my life down for (and in fact, bled copiously for from bullet and shrapnel wounds).

Lifers and Redemption . . .

I try to stay present in the moment. It is important to me and to my development as a good and decent person to remain always vigilant in the pursuit of enlightment, or at least to be able to treasure each moment as a gift, and it allows me to die in this cage in some semblance of decency and peace.

   Joe Labriola, Prisoner
   March 31, 2012

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