Evan Guilford-Blake is, socially, admittedly far left-of-center, He writes prose, plays and poetry for adults and children. His work has appeared in more than 90 journals and anthologies. His prose has won 27 awards and received three Pushcart Prize nominations. His plays have been performed internationally and won 46 playwriting contests. Thirty-nine are published.
His published long-form prose includes the novel Animation and the award-winning short story collection American Blues, for adults; and the novel The Bluebird Prince for middle-grade students (and their parents).
Evan and his wife (and inspiration) Roxanna, a talented jewelry designer and business writer, live in the southeastern US.
I have been a hardcore liberal all my life. And I’ve championed liberal causes from environmental protection; African-American, women’s and gay rights; first amendment rights (even for people and groups whose positions I vociferously oppose; Evelyn Beatrice Hall -- not Voltaire -- had it right about defending someone’s right to speak, even if you disagree); to candidates for office. I’ve spent a lot of intellectual, emotional and physical energy doing so, and I’ve put my limited money where my mouth was.
I’ve even spoken out loudly against capital punishment, and the cruel and unusual punishments imposed by some nations (many of them governed by religious precepts with which I profoundly disagree) that include what I have always thought of as barbarous and inhumane treatment of those found guilty.
But I’m coming around on these last issues. Legalized murder and torture do have their good sides.
After a lifetime denouncing the reported executions of miscreants, stonings, amputations-as-punishment and burnings-out of offenders’ eyes, the recent glut of such incidents, made available courtesy of the Internet, has led me to believe they do have a place in the allegedly civilized world, as well as in the “uncivilized” Third World.
I think, however, that their present use (especially but not only the death penalty) in, for example, the United States, isn’t always just or appropriate -- even when the person suffering the penalty is undeniably guilty (although I will not argue the justness or propriety of the death sentences or executions of merciless people like Dylann Roof, Ted Bundy and Ricky Jovan Gray, even if -- if -- they are legitimately psychiatrically “of unsound mind”).
I will argue, however, that -- whether what’s deemed cruel and unusual punishment is just or not -- it is too limited in its application: Cold-blooded killers are not the only ones to whom it should apply.
No, the question, as I see it, is which other criminals, what other crimes, merit “cruel and unusual” retribution. Those who unapologetically take lives -- that is, commit actual murder -- are simply not the only ones who are deserving of it: There are murderers of different hues, and those who do it indirectly ought to be held just as accountable as those who actually commit the act.
Take, for example, Bernie Madoff. Madoff literally ruined the lives of thousands of people and no doubt shortened the lives of many others whom he thrust -- mercilessly -- into poverty and want: The fact is, to all intents and purposes he killed them -- abused them and left them with neither the will nor the means to live. In my book, that’s murder. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison. He’s now 76 and, according to recent reports, suffering from terminal cancer.
Good. Great! In fact, it’s capital! I’m delighted to hear that my fellow taxpayers and I won’t be providing his upkeep much longer. The sooner the better, incidentally, and I hope there’s a lot of unpalliated pain involved. That may be a cruel and unusual point of view, but it is certainly a justified -- and appropriate -- one for someone who, it may be argued with logic and conviction (no pun intended), is a mass murderer pretty much on par with Jim Jones.
Then there’s Judge Mark Ciavarella, convicted of “selling” juveniles, whom he sentenced for their (usually minor) infractions, to unjustifiable terms in for-profit juvenile detention “facilities” -- in return for substantial payments. Among his victims was then-17-year-old Edward Kenzakoski, with no prior criminal record, who appeared before Ciavarella on minor charges and was sentenced to six months. (He was one of about 4,000 such offenders to whom Ciavarella, or his colleague and co-conspirator, Michael Conahan, issued similar punishments.) Kenzakoski’s parents said he never recovered from the experience, and he committed suicide when he was 23. Ciavarella was ultimately sentenced to 28 years in prison for using those whom he sentenced “as pawns to enrich himself,” according to the federal prosecutors who tried the case. Conahan received 17½ years.
It’s not a bad turnabout-as-fair-play, but hey! -- it’s nowhere near enough. An eye for an eye, please. Even if the latter “eye” was plucked out by the victim himself, and the former “only” provided the stick with which to poke it. The case of Michelle Carter, who pressured 18 year old Conrad Roy III, via text, to take his own life, is another splendid example of how to murder by remote. (Ms. Carter has been sentenced to 30 months, fifteen in prison, fifteen on probation. She, it may be noted, in absentia sentenced Mr. Roy to death.)
But, as I said, murder’s not the only crime that should require just desserts. How about Tyler Kost who, at 18, was charged with sexually assaulting and molesting 11 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 over the course of five years. He served 990 days in prison in a plea deal, pleading guilty only to “touching the breasts of three girls without consent and attempting to have sexual contact with two minors,” a deal which, according to The Arizona Republic, “Even the judge appeared uneasy with.” (Kost, now 20, has since been released. There’s been no report on how any of the eleven -- or three -- girls are doing.)
Or even the case of one Michael Flynn, the former Trump staffer who thus far has received nothing but the slap on the wrist of being fired for corrupt practices that jeopardized national security. And of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, whose plea agreement (for paying hush money in an attempted cover-up for -- allegedly -- molesting a teenager, one of several he was alleged to have abused over the course of his many years as a high school coach but with which he could not be charged because the statute of limitations had run out) resulted in a sentence of 15 months in prison, two years’ supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. On July, 18, 2017, this estimable felon was placed in a "re-entry facility" and was released once and for all on August 16. (The impact on his victims hasn’t been given much attention. But, then, why should it? Hastert wasn’t sentenced for his unchargeable act of causing his -- alleged -- victims’ suffering.)
And speaking of child molesters, how about Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick who is being allowed to live out his days in a “life of prayer and penance,” according to the order of Pope Francis, after close to fifty years of child abuse and payoffs to cover it up.
And there’s former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, impeached and sentenced to fourteen years in prison for doing nothing more than what American politicians have done, with impunity, for decades: attempting to peddle his influence. His sentence, I’m happy to report, was upheld by a Federal Appeals Court on April 21, 2017. That means he’ll have only another seven or so years to rot -- excuse me: to serve -- in prison. Unless the current president (himself a candidate for some cruel and unusual punishment) follows through on his comments regarding that Blagojevich should receive a pardon.
All betrayers of the public trust. All men whose actions have caused Americans to die, or undergo extended anguish, or otherwise suffer pain or disgrace or public humiliation they would have escaped but for the malfeasance of the criminal in question.
And, last but surely not least, the not-yet-proven-guilty Andrew Anglin, publisher of the alt-right The Daily Stormer. In a 2017 lawsuit filed against him, he has been -- alleged -- to have pursued a “terror campaign” against a woman by harassing and victimizing her repeatedly -- because she is Jewish. The suit claims his actions have destroyed her ability to live her life. The woman “has received more than 700 harassing messages, including death threats, and a message on Twitter to her son suggesting that he pursue a free Xbox located inside an oven,” according to The Washington Post. If the allegations are proven true, Mr. Anglin’s actions, I submit, are as grievous and as much a kind of murder as those committed by Bernie Madoff and Dylann Roof. (Think the comparison with those two isn’t apt? I think it is. Roof killed nine people outright and shattered the lives of a few dozen more. Madoff -- indirectly and probably unproveably, to be sure -- caused the deaths of countless of his victims, and psychologically devastated hundreds -- probably thousands -- more. The actions of both were committed in equally cold, equally merciless, equally indifferent-to-suffering blood.)
So here’s what I propose: A new criminal code (and this should please even Jeff Sessions) that strikes back at the malfeasant by punishing him (or her; there have been a few female miscreants whose behavior has been just as blatantly malicious; they get no sympathy from me simply because they are women. Hear that, Kathleen Kane, Corinne Brown, Karla Homolka?) for the impact of the crime, not merely the fact of it.
Please note: What I’m going to suggest is certainly cruel punishment but -- while it may be “unusual” for the United States -- it’s not unusual in the way of the world.
So. Let’s let Bernie Madoff starve to death, and deny him medical care as long as he lives. Will he suffer? You bet he will. That’s the point: His suffering will set him up as an example to the financial community. (While we’re at it, we might apply the same penalty to Enron stalwarts Kenneth Lay -- which, regrettably, would be a posthumous dishonor -- and Jeffrey Skilling, whose 24-year sentence was reduced to 14 years; this incorrigible conspirator and perpetrator of fraud will be probably be released from prison sometime before the end of 2019. Sure he’ll be disgraced, but -- unlike many of the people he defrauded -- he’ll be alive. And financially comfortable. And likely laughing all the way to his mansion.)
Mark Ciavarella? Simple. Cut out his tongue so he can’t speak any more lies, and sever one of his hands -- the one he writes with -- so he’s unable to sign anything, such as an order to imprison a juvenile. I know: He’ll never again be in the position to sign such an order, but other judges will read about it, perhaps even see him or at least his photo, and they’ll shudder to think the same fate awaits them if they commit the same, willful, heinous crime -- regardless of whether its commission results in the suicide of one or more of their victims. Dennis Hastert and Theodore McCarrick? Castrate them, the old-fashioned way, without an anesthetic and while they are fully conscious. That will obviate any possibility either will return to outside life with the opportunity to commit the same -- alleged -- crimes when released. And as a side benefit, it might make them examples to the child-molester community, too, especially to the 300 Pennsylvania priests whose misbehavior has recently been placed in the spotlight.
Think about what you do, people, before you do it! That’s the message this code is intended to convey. If you are found guilty, you will receive the same mercy you bestowed on those you condemned to their enduring pain. No excuses, no claims of mitigating circumstances allowed.
So. Jeff Sessions, unsheathe your terrible swift sword. Mine eyes have seen the vainglory and the inglory. Now it’s time to show its consequences to those who have made it -- make it -- their practice.