When news broke this week about the sensible demise of modern-day millennial Ariel Castro, my favourite part was the on-cue newsgasm from one CNN starlet.
“Shocking and surprising news out of Ohio this morning,” she gasped, her lips as perfectly parted as any Jenna Jameson offering. I always wonder how they do that – getting their brow to furrow right at that sweet spot between shock and surprise. Can they teach that, or is it a gift – like Miley Cyrus’ way with a cordless microphone? The best though was the hot red screen query running just beneath the journalist’s spray-tanned cleavage. “Justice Denied?” it begged. I’m still not sure if the reference was to Castro or the pundit’s plunging neckline – or why we should care either way.
This year I’ve spent some time in the company of a 57-year-old who has lived the past 31 of them behind bars. Gaton is a lifer, with a 25-year minimum for a double-homicide that he didn’t commit. But he knows who did, and won’t pull the trigger so… whatever.
I enjoy my regular Big Yard strolls with Gaton. In the soft spot between his indignity and despondence resides a comfortable intellect and a vulture’s eye for inconsistency. He’s the sort of guy you enjoy solving the world’s problems with.
In the shadow of Castro’s ridiculous sentence last month, I asked Gaton the question that 37 million Canadians are asking about their own bogeymen. What about Tori Stafford? If a guy kidnaps your 7-year-old daughter, rapes her, smashes her skull in with a hammer, and then goes back to his day of merry crack smoking, what do you do with that guy when you catch him?
“You cut his balls off and kill him,” said Gaton. Of course, that’s the answer you would expect from a man bereaved of his own chance at progeny. I once told Gaton about a con in my cellblock who spent his kid’s Christmas money on a few grams of hash. As I recall, his pronouncement for that faux pas was about the same. Or maybe it was just one testicle. Gaton gets generous around Christmastime.
The thing is, you need not be a convicted double-murderer to know the right answer to this question. I asked my mom – an ordained Christian minister. I don’t think she nipped the family jewels, but I do remember something about an axe. My wife – the most non-jaywalking, never-text-while-driving Canadian I’ve ever met – prefers a heap of medium-size stones and a large cauldron of tepid tea (because piss must come from somewhere). You don’t even want to know what my aunt’s answer was. She’s from Saskatchewan. In Saskatchewan, they teach butchery and competitive wood chipping in grade school. In Saskatchewan, problems just go away…
So if everybody knows the answer, what seems to be the problem?
“In the United States right now, they think as much as 11 percent on death row are innocent. That’s the problem,” said Gaton in his Sunday broken-English. In other words, it’s another prairie paradox: Do 10 guilty men live so that no innocent man hangs? After David Milgaard’s 3-decade sleepover in a high plains penitentiary for another man’s deeds, Canadians are justifiably rope-burned. But on the other side of that slipknot sits wee Willie Pickton draining remote control batteries until God says otherwise. Does this highway come with a centre line?
“If you wants a death penalty, he don’t come cheap,” said Gaton. And then the man who would know laid out for me the speed limit for an ethical lynching.
Rule 1: Hit men don’t count. As long as Corporate Canada (or their cut-out proxies in the PMO) send paid assassins to deliver their agenda, the underworld gets the same consideration. If soldiers get medals for their dark deeds, then a mob triggerman at least gets a hall pass. Do we look like we’re laughing?
Rule 2: Colour matters. There’s a reason so many innocents bunk on death row in Texas. Too much black and not enough green. If you want to have a real conversation about capital punishment, you better get your wallet out. Right now the Queen’s crimson horseman gets an unlimited public dime to prove its case. If Canadians want to start casting stones, then they better make sure that Marvin Bob from Canada’s poorest postal code (East Hastings) gets that same dime. Without Jack Harris and Eddie Greenspan invoicing Legal Aid, the gallows would just be an Indian reserve by another name. What – you thought the lady’s scales were for flour?
Rule 3: The “how” is open to discussion. The “who” is not. You want justice, you pull the trigger – push the plunger – turn the key – whatever. And then sleep with it. Life is not a spectator sport, folks, and neither is justice. Until those most deeply touched by violence start getting their hands wet, tough on crime will just be another recycled hashtag from the pudgy powers that be.
How’s that for shock and surprise?