Justice in America seems to almost always be on the brink of being realized. More accurately, what we think of as justice. . . .
Justice, sometimes, intersects with poetry. At the crossroads of justice and poetry, I met Kathy Boudin. Kathy, as I, is also a poet, and a change agent for a just society. Although poetry brought us together, we were part of an amazing ad hoc committee that changed a law. (I’ll write about that in my next blog post.)
Kathy is an educator. She has a Ph.D. from Columbia University. Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc., has an award in her name, the Kathy Boudin Research and Scholarship Award. Before she earned her PhD, I invited Kathy as a guest speaker to a class I taught, “The Impact of Incarceration on Society and Families,” at York College. Actually, because I taught this class in the Psychology Department, the title of the class was, “The Psychological Impact of Incarceration on Society and Families.” In it, I bought a Hall of Fame group of guest speakers, including Kathy. A week before the class, one of the students with a tenuous connection to law enforcement said, “You’re bringing her to speak to our class?”
Kathy’s reputation preceded her. She was connected to the Weather Underground, and was convicted of felony murder for her role in the Brink’s robbery of 1981.
One of the fundamental problems of the criminal punishment system in the U.S. is that punishment is endless. There’s a start date, but no end date in sight. Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction follow an individual for life. Everyone convicted of a felony becomes a lifer. Although Kathy had served her sentence – some people thought she shouldn’t have been released, despite her “minor” role in the crime as a nonkilling accomplice – for some people, the twentysomething years she served was not enough. For the record, fortysomething years wouldn’t have been enough for these people. Needless to say, Kathy made a positive impact on the students in my class.
We live in a society so punitive, punishment is equated with justice. Anyone who knows anything about justice knows that punishment is not the be all. Punishment is the least effective measure to achieve justice.
Yes, we are on the brink. . . .