A Life for an Eye

Did you read the 1/22/14 Valley News headline?

It riled my nerves.

I understand the necessity for laws. It's not as if I think Bonnie Johnson should escape punishment for embezzling $600K. It's that the 33-month prison sentence meted out by Judge LaPlante extracts a figurative life for an eye.

The 1004 days prison sentence is far more than one might imagine - especially for a 45-year-old woman who has, until this mistake, maintained an unblemished criminal record.

Will the twenty-four thousand one hundred six hours she ends up serving in prison help repay her debt to society? Will her imprisonment make our community safer? Will it make Bonnie Johnson safer?

In 1,445,760 minutes from now will someone in our community change their mind about embezzling money from their employer because Bonnie Johnson went to prison?

The sad truth is that no one is going to remember Bonnie Johnson. No one except her family and friends who are compelled by love to serve the sentence with her - to help her survive it.

There is someone else who will remember Bonnie Johnson. The next judge who tries an embezzlement case will remember her - or will remember the number attached to the sentence she received and he or she will use that number as a basis for the next prison sentence to be handed down. How did LaPlante come up with the number 33? Was 33 better than 32? Was it better than 34? Was it divisible by his favorite number? Where did it come from? In one word, precedent.

This is the way the law in America works. I am okay with that method except... what if the precedent is wrong? What if it wasn't right from the beginning?

What if we have fallen into a societal rut where we believe the only consequence for crime is a prison sentence? Is there a rule stating federal judges must be devoid of imagination?

What will it take to upset the federal fiasco we have in place right now in this country? It isn't as if there are no alternatives - there are alternatives to prison for crimes such as these. When will America wake up to its own barbarism?

I hope I live long enough to see the day when my children's children read about our current federal incarceration system the way they read about segregation today - that it was abolished.