Punish The Jerk

If We're Lucky, Maybe Bubba Will Catch Up To J. Fife Symington III In The Slammer.

By Jeff Smith

LET'S POSIT A hypothetical case history in penology, shall we? By way of examining possible outcomes in matters of crime and punishment, and the underlying reasons why human cultures most often prefer that some form of punishment follow most forms of crime.

Smith Let us say that Mater and Pater catch Junior embezzling money from the other children at Sunday School. Should they punish him? If so, what should the punishment be? If, having concluded that Junior should be punished, and that the appropriate penalty should be grounding for, say, two and a half months, should the penalty be imposed immediately, or would it be as well to wait upon a more convenient time? And convenient to whom? To Junior?

And perhaps most importantly, what constructive purpose is being served in taxing Junior with this punishment at all?

So many ponderables, so little space.

To begin with the most clear-cut scenario, let's say Junior has demonstrated himself to be a nasty little shit, selfish and arrogant, but smart enough to learn a well-taught lesson. You catch him lying to these gullible fish in Bible School, where his family wealth and prominence have won him status and sway over the working-class members of the Sunday school class. He's still got the cash in his bank account, so you can recover the victims' funds. Junior is convicted by the weight of evidence against him, the victims are compensated and thus society is healed. Junior himself is taught a lesson both practical and philosophical, so he will mend his ways in future, and both his siblings--who might have been tempted to follow the transgressor's crooked path--are told a cautionary tale.

The answers in the above-entitled action are simple: Of course you punish, you punish sternly, you punish swiftly and you do not fit the punishment to the convenience of Junior, nor even of society. Junior must be taught a lesson and that lesson must serve as a reminder to him, his victims, and society, that there exist values above and beyond might equaling right and possession being nine-tenths of the law.

Fine, but what if Junior has frittered the money away and declared bankruptcy? What if Junior is an only child, so there are no at-risk siblings who could profit from the morally uplifting example of which Junior is made? What if Junior is beyond redemption and will not see his punishment as anything more than being picked on by the same bothersome underclass he conned out of its money in the first place? What if Junior, Mater and Pater, and their entire class recognize no higher moral authority than themselves?

Is there indeed an absolute ethical standard that demands that punishment follow crime (and indeed knows, despite all manner of statutory trickery, what truly constitutes crime) absent any pragmatic redemptive possibilities?

And what if, all other issues aside, there's a big kid named Bubba in the juvenile home where Junior may have to spend his period of grounding, and the aforesaid Bubba was once a victim of Junior's elitist manipulations, and has sworn to pound the snot out of Junior, should the opportunity arise? Should Junior be able to defer or deny punishment, simply because instant karma may get him?

Does any of this remind you of J. Fife Symington III and his efforts to continue his life of country-club ease, while his lawyers file a seemingly endless string of appeals of his convictions for fraud and extortion? It should.

Fife's attorney, John Dowd, said last week that prison inmates represent a threat to his client and therefore that Fife should be allowed to remain free while various appeals go forth. This begs the question: How does this threat, supposing it be true, differ from what Symington might face, should all his appeals fail?

The answer, obviously, is: It doesn't. If Bubba or anyone else--drug dealer (as in the for-instance Dowd mentioned) or welfare chiseler (another class of miscreant against whom Symington made much political noise)--wish to get even with their old nemesis, they're as likely to try later as sooner.

And that, dear reader, is why one should keep one's words sweet, lest one may have, eventually, to eat them. If Fife feared meeting those people in the dark alley that is prison, he first should have treated them with minimal courtesy and second, he shouldn't himself have committed those acts that required his being sent to that same dark alley.

Because the bottom line is that the law generally requires that those convicted by their acts and the facts of crime requiring imprisonment, must await the outcome of any eventual legal appeals in prison.

Now I think we all must recognize that Fife Symington is our metaphoric only child. He's been spoiled and indulged, indeed aided and abetted and taught by Mater and Pater that it's his God-given right to fleece the poor sheep of his metaphorical Sunday school flock. And that fleecing--in actual fact the millions he borrowed by false and lying pretext from union pension funds, and lost on risky real-estate speculation--is gone and largely unrecoverable. Fife isn't going to learn any lessons nor ever admit any wrong; and no siblings nor others of his class or type are likely to see his story as parable for how they ought to be better people.

All that's to be gained here is the old-fashioned satisfaction of seeing a smug, self-centered, spoiled rich kid get what's coming to him.

That's good enough for me. TW

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