This week I will sentence several people to prison. As I prepare, I can’t get Norman Rockwell’s drawing “Freedom from Want” out of my head.

Image credit: "Freedom from Want" by Norman Rockwell From March 3, 1942, © COPYRIGHT 2014 SATURDAY EVENING POST SOCIETY.

Image credit: “Freedom from Want” by Norman Rockwell From March 3, 1942, © COPYRIGHT 2014 SATURDAY EVENING POST SOCIETY.

I wonder whether the people I will send to prison this week share the same image of Thanksgiving as I do. In some ways, I hope they do. Yet, it would make it easier for me if they viewed Thanksgiving as just another day. It helps to dehumanize those who you sentence to prison, but I just can’t seem to achieve that state of perfect nirvana. Poor me.


12 responses

  1. It is axiomatic that one must partake in the blessings of liberty to celebrate them.

    I know of one man who has been behind bars for eleven years — so long, that they had him declared incompetent, which was probably caused by the cruel and brutal treatment, including years of solitary confinement — awaiting trial for a murder he maintains he did not commit. Two trials and two hung juries, and no one voted for Murder One, but he is being held without bail. We should raise our glass of Champagne to the American legal system, which is “the best in the world”[excuse me while I puke]!

    Anywhere else in the world, it would be construed as an egregious human rights violation. But in the good old USA, it is standing operating procedure, as over-zealous prosecutors pursue marginal cases to the ends of the earth to improve their position in plea-bargaining negotiations.

    And you wonder why we have more people incarcerated per capita than any country in the world.

    Remember this on Thursday: What they can do to him, they can do to you. Are you a free man, with inalienable rights? Don’t bet the house on it.

  2. Judge:
    As an aside, if you ever around these parts and get the chance you should visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. You’ll see this and other original works of Rockwell’s Americana, some of which may have the unintended effect of humanizing the previously dehumanized.

  3. Would it solve your “guilty” conscience by delaying the sentencing until next week? Or putting a moratorium on sentencing during the holidays?

  4. dmw,

    Don’t mean to quibble. My conscience is clear. It might be marginally easier to sentence next week or the week after that but that would be a fake fix. Some things are supposed to be hard. All the best.


  5. Judge, When it stops being hard you become a judge with a head and no heart, which Curtis Bok, a great PA judge, describes as a shark in the water. His Wormwood Scrubs is a fine novel and thought piece on criminal law though it may be out of print and Norval Morris a Australian who taught for years at Chicago is still in print and worth reading if you have not.

  6. Many prisoners try to treat the holidays with indifference, but the atmosphere in the jails and prisons gets sad and tense around this time of year. Prisoners are people too, regardless of whether they deserve their incarceration, and lots of them miss their families.

  7. Hi Robert,

    I’ll be in Stockbridge on Thursday for Thanksgiving at my mom’s house. I was a Monument Mountain grad, if you know it.

    Anyhow, your comment warmed me as only those small world coincidences can, which was particularly nice on this freezing morning in Chicago, where I now live.

  8. Reality makes us better lawyers and judges, not weaker. I spent a year in Iraq. Even the terrorists had some minimal level of humanity in the view of most of us.

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