Illinois recently joined the growing number of states who have banned the death penalty. The move has death penalty supporters up in arms, worried violent criminals in these states will now see a “free pass” toward committing crimes and devastating the lives of victims’ families. Others say the reality of prison overcrowding could give would-be death row inmates earlier parole dates, increasing the risk they will kill again.
The reality, though, is that the death penalty has failed for years at doing what the measure originally set out to do: become a deterrent to violent crime.
Condemned inmates can sit on death row for years, even decades. That’s saying nothing to the fact that the actual process of execution, in most cases now done by ‘lethal injection,’ can cost taxpayers thousands more than housing inmates year after year. There is also no indication that execution brings any sort of ‘closure’ to victims’ families. In many instances, family members of victims have said traveling to a prison to view the killer of their loved one die only re-opens old wounds they’d spent years trying to heal.
My thought here is not to show any sort of compassion to the men and women who commit violent crime, resulting in the end of someone else’s life. Upbringing, past experiences, and any other excuse for their behavior aside, even a kindergartener knows it’s not okay to kill. I’m also not going to touch on the harsh reality that many people currently sitting on death row are actually innocent, or found themselves, for whatever reason, in ‘the wrong place at the wrong time.’
Instead, the focus of this essay lies on what I consider to be the worst legal punishment possible for murder: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
We all know prison lacks any and all of the glamour portrayed in television and movies. Even with in-cell TVs, Internet access and expanded ‘freedom’ allowed for under ‘good behavior’ provisions, prison life remains a mere shell of what life ‘on the outside’ can be.
Anyone who has ever been confined to their homes for even one day, due to inclement weather or illness, can attest that boredom sets in fast. Now take that confinement, multiply it by all the days of your life, add about a hundred or so of the most awful people on the planet to ‘share’ the experience with you, and you’ve got nothing but a desolate, desperate existence to look forward to. At that point, even death would be preferable to this sort of ‘non-life.’ The mental health issues many inmates suffer from, issues which hadn’t manifested themselves prior to incarceration, can make each and every day their own personal death sentence.
In this regard, sitting in a prison cell, day after day, with nothing to do but think of the actions, choices and circumstances which got you there in the first place, is a punishment I would not wish on my worst enemy.
To know that you will never again take a breath of truly fresh air, see the ocean, hear the laughter of children, or any of the simple pleasures we all take for granted is, truly, a fate worse than death.
by Peter P. Gaseoustania; Gaseoustania Tonight