On Being Mean

Steven Martinez was convicted of raping, beating and kidnapping a woman. As a repeat violent offender he was sentenced to 150 years. Three years into his sentence he was stabbed by a fellow inmate and left a quadriplegic. His medical bills cost the state of California a minimum of $600,000 a year. Recently, at a parole hearing stemming from a new law meant to release prisoners who were too ill to harm society, Martinez, now 42, was denied parole. The board and the prosecutors were not sure that he would no longer be a danger to public safety. He may not have the use of his limbs, he may be totally paralyzed, but Dep. Dist. Attorney Richard Sachs said he was still a threat and the parole board said he could still use his vocal chords which are not paralyzed to order crimes. The ruling was independent of the Supreme Court decision ordering California to reduce its prison population in part due to abysmal medical care. Anyone familiar with the lives of quadriplegics would know that even to use a phone is a big deal and involve others. Perhaps the danger posed by Martinez is far less serious than the one posed from people like Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson, potential offenders, mentally ill and undetected by the systems of our society. There’s also the fact that being quadriplegic is a harsh form of life sentence. Martinez’s attorney summarized the result as fear winning over reason. It may be more than that. Criminals are usually mean and do wicked things, things we deem illegal. Yet, when others, such as parole board members, do something mean we tend to justify, excuse, overlook. Being mean is not in itself illegal, but maybe it ought to be.