It's time again to give you a say on what you read in this space. Your recent letters have ranged from praise to rage - on crime and justice topics as diverse as prison reform, child molesters and crime statistics. Some of you dislike this column so much you can't wait to read it every week just so you can write me with a complaint.
I like that.
If my words do nothing more than open your mind about important national topics then I've done my job. It doesn't matter if you agree with me or not. It's social enlightenment and dialogue I'm after.
There was much reaction to the column, "Is Rape Okay With You?" which revealed that each year 60,000 prisoners are sexually attacked either by another inmate or a guard.
Ralph Logan, a retired state prison warden said, "You are right on the money ... the general public would be shocked at some of the brutality that goes on in our prisons. The strong prey on the weak and there are times officers know what's going on but don't want to be responsible to report it."
Kathleen Koehler wrote, "Society's responsibility does not end with sending one to prison. To ignore abuses, or the possibility thereof, is enabling and insuring that it will happen."
But no letter was more gut wrenching on this topic than the one from Charlie (last name withheld) who told me in his extended family there are six victims of sexual assault. He calls it an epidemic we, as a society, are afraid to effectively address and he added, "I'm most disturbed by comedians and filmmakers who joke about bending over to pick up the soap in prison. It's not a joke. We should be past that."
I agree, Charlie.
Enough of the positive feedback, let's get to the down and dirty.
Reader Thomas Williams claims I bring "an unwelcome slug of crime drama" to his newspaper. Williams took great exception with the column I wrote called "The Crime Clock and You" disseminating annual crime statistics released by the National Center for Victims of Crime. The stats give citizens the mathematical likelihood of one falling victim to a violent crime. Williams believes my work, "...revolves around ginning up fear over violent crime, whether it's in her column or her previous work on Hard Copy and other television shows."
Wait, let me get this straight - discussing annual crime statistics amounts to "ginning up fear?" The experience (and thick skin) I've gained working on various television programs taught me a major life lesson: If we don't try to understand and deal with the dark side of life it will come back to haunt us. If we don't probe, say, the inner workings of a serial killer's mind or what happens later in life to an abused child or how we can make our justice system better then we'll pay the price down the road. Discussing crime and its impact on society can, in my opinion, only make us safer.
About the column on the 175 year prison system given to faux preacher Tony Alamo for taking children as young as eight as his "brides," reader Ron Herman wondered what I meant when I wrote that authorities have been reticent in the past to charge religious leaders. "I am confused by your statement that, 'the doctrine of separation of church and state caused authorities to shy away.'"
Simply put, prosecutors have often passed on such cases believing they are too difficult to win. The defendants always claim they are above state authority due to the Separation Doctrine. I'm glad to say that's changing as we see from cases like Alamo's, the Yearning for Zion Ranch arrests and the recent conviction of Mormon separatist Warren Jeffs.
On my rant about it being high time film director Roman Polanski faced justice for having had sex with a 13 year old I heard from Patrick Riley. "If the case is prosecuted it should be done behind closed doors with the press kept out so that it doesn't become OJ Simpson revisited and the girl can tell all the embarrassing details without having (it) splattered all over the newspapers and TV."
Being a champion of the free flow of information as a way to true enlightenment I can't agree.
And, finally, Diane Layden has written yet again to decry my use of a sexist term. I referred to government officials as "city fathers". She implores me to inspire more young women to civil service by switching to the gender neutral term "city leaders." Point taken.
To head off another scolding I'll admit now I recently used the term "bail bondsmen" referring to those who help suspects get out of jail. I'll say I'm sorry in advance because I just don't think the term "bail bondsperson" has the same ring to it.