Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 337- A different path

Dear Mr. President,

Today I caught a girl my own age shoplifting. She told us she's been using heroin since the age of 17. She has two children, who she no longer has custody of, and was visibly suffering the effects of her addiction. While I have no regrets about catching her and sending her to jail, I was a little shocked by how much sympathy I felt for her situation. I couldn't help but wonder how easily I might have found myself down a similar path. I can't imagine the life decisions that lead to an existence like hers, but, even after I clocked out for the night, her story lingered in my mind.

It reminds me that criminals, the anonymous numbers filling prisons around the country, are all stories and decisions and pieces of families. That they are not anonymous. When a friend pointed out to me that you finally got around to issuing pardons for non-turkeys, I was hopeful that you'd had a similar reminder, that your compassion for those who have wandered too far down the wrong path was guiding you to act.

Sadly, your 9 pardons all went to offenders who were not currently serving prison time (and a few who never received prison time at all.) Instead of using your Presidential powers to commute sentences and give worthy applicants a second chance at life, you seem to be on track to match Presiden't Bush's abysmally thin pardon record.

Mr. President, you have a difficult job. Getting legislation passed, appointees confirmed, or policies changed requires the cooperation of the near-useless houses of congress. You don't get to wave your hand and change the world, or even the country. But the pardon is one power that is left almost entirely to your own discretion. You could make a difference, change the lives of so many who have been unjustly punished. This is something you don't need the Republicans to agree to, something you don't have to negotiate through endless bureaucratic nonsense. You have the power to look past the numbers and the sentencing minimums and recognize the human stories behind the charges. I was reminded today how random and cruel life can be, how any of us could find ourselves years down the wrong path with no viable way out. If I had your power, I'd want to do whatever I could to help give people a second chance.

I hope that, going forward, you make better use of that power.

Respectfully yours,


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