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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

After Tookie: Rename the Penal System, Dismantle the Religious Right

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The origin of the term "penal system" is Christian, from the Latin poenitentia. The original "penitentiaries" were meant to be places where criminals could reflect on their sins and repent. However well-intentioned, they turned out to be grueling, 200-year-old experiments in brainwashing that has yet to end -- "A Clockwork Orange" in Puritan clothing.

Nevertheless, the concept of repentance, redemption, and forgiveness are central to the Christian religion. If Tookie's transformation doesn't constitute repentance and redemption -- a form of "living amends" -- then not only is the term "penal system" a joke (we knew that already), but Arnold is putting the lie to the Christian face of Republicanism.

If Tookie doesn't deserve forgiveness, nobody does. If nobody deserves forgiveness, the churches are lying. If the churches are lying, where does that leave the Religious Right?

Arnold Schwarzenegger: slayer of myths.


UPDATE: The execution may have taken place by the time you read this - it's scheduled for later tonight. Consider my use of the present tense in that light. (And see my response to his death: "Celebrity Executions, From Tookie to Jesus.")

Several commenters have remarked on Tookie's celebrity status. I've thought about that a lot, too. No, he shouldn't be treated any differently because he knows Snoop Dogg.

I don't think the State should execute anybody - for reasons too lengthy to go into here. But a system that claims to be about "rehabilitation," then executes the rehabilitated, is guilty not only of killing but of hypocrisy.

Others have commented on Tookie's unwillingness to apologize. He has apologized for helping to create the Crips, and doesn't admit guilt for the murders that are sending him to his execution. His claim of innocence is the reason he has "never apologized," which many have used as justification for his death. What is he is innocent? What a hideous Catch-22 that would be. Matters of guilt aside, he has dedicated his life in prison to helping others.

Let's assume he's guilty, as the courts have found. I'm not suggested putting him on the street, but - barring a new hearing and a reversal of the conviction - leaving him to a lifetime of incarceration. There, he can use the "penal system" for its intended purpose. That's something that doesn't happen too often. The life story of the "first gangsta" would end with an ironic twist - with decades of life behind bars, rehabilitating the meaning of the name "penitentiary."

That would be a humane outcome. As of 10 pm Pacific Standard Time, it's still not too late.

A Night Light