Every once in a while I read an article that saddens me.  The comments on Jesse Whitlock’s story in the National Post did it to me today.  What people forget is that every ‘thug’ has a mother and some kind of family.  Every convict, dope addict and street person has a history that doesn’t start with; “My dream has always to be a failure and now I am.”  We are all born a helpless child.  As we go from infancy to adulthood things can go wrong, poor decisions are made and for some the consequences put you in jail or the gutter.  Sometimes you end up in jail or the gutter through no fault of your own.  The point is everybody deserves compassion.

Gary Dimmock, reports:

Ottawa lawyer John Hale was quick on his feet in Court Room No. 2 on Friday, and as always, had his eye on the ball.

Upset that he wasn’t credited more for time spent in custody, his client, an Ottawa thief who lost his left eye to cancer while at the Innes Road jail, removed his ocular prosthetic and threw it at the lawyer, who caught it after a single bounce off the counsel desk.

“That’s the thing about this business, there’s always something new that happens,” said Hale, who joked that it was a “new form of retainer.” Told it was a good catch, he said modestly, “I could see it coming.”

His client, a thief who steals to feed a drug habit, was sentenced Friday to 18 months. He served about 102 days in pre-trial custody and was credited for 153. He thought he deserved more but he was confused about the process.

Jesse Whitlock, 32, is going back to jail. The lawyer gave the fake eyeball to a police guard for fear his client, who has mental-health issues, would flush it down a toilet in protest.

Gary Dimmock, Postmedia News | March 6, 2015

Jesse has an addiction, mental health issues and lost his eye to cancer.  He broke the law and deserves the consequences but does that give anybody the right to dehumanize him by making jokes about his lost eye and calling him a ‘plague on the community’.

Here are some samples of the ‘milk of human (un)kindness’ from the comments;

I couldn’t figure out what it was, kept getting bigger, then it hit me! It’s his eye piece….

“They wouldn’t have had to take my eye if they had taken the matter more seriously. Sounds like they took the matter more seriously than Whitlock takes our laws. Give him 20 years for being a plague on the community.

Eye see blind justice.

And

Exactly I work in a jail lock up a place before they get transferred to prison or a remand centre . This is the number one thing all new Prisoners say. ” I did not do anything ! I am innocent >>> this is generally followed by >>> I know my rights ! So when I hear this the comment I KNOW MY RIGHTS ! Once in awhile I response to them saying ; Knowing your rights is a good thing, but more importantly learning the rights of the other people and especially in your case it would be more important because that’s what could make the difference in where you could spend many years of your life in the future !

This last comment is very telling in that the author of it generalizes by claiming that all new prisoners without exception insist they are innocent.  Some of them are telling the truth.  There is good evidence to believe that some are wrongfully convicted.  Myles Frederick Mclellan’s book review in the Canadian Criminal Justice Association website points out;

. . . a best estimate basis concludes that one percent of all convictions are wrongful.  These include cases that do not distinguish between personal and property offences or between violent and non-violent crimes.  To apply this estimate to Canada, in 2010, there were 87,214 cases that resulted in a sentence of incarceration. Using the assumption that one per cent of those imprisoned were innocent, the data suggest that there were 872 individuals wrongfully convicted in that year.  There is every reason to believe that as rates of incarceration increase yearly as a function of the current Canadian government’s crime control agenda, that number should continue to rise.

Book Review – Justice Miscarried: Inside Wrongful Convictions in Canada, By Hélèna Katz Toronto, ON: Dundern Press. 2011

When you start dehumanizing people by making jokes about their misfortune and consigning them to the trash it becomes very easy to think that everybody gets what they deserve.  You get to the point where the common mindset is that anyone in trouble deserves nothing but contempt and  the presumption of innocence is trashed.  What about  those who are innocent or wrongfully convicted.  What lessons can they teach us about the infallibility of any justice system?

Black and white thinking takes over.  If you’re in jail your bad.  If you’re not in jail your good.  Sometimes truth and justice gets drawn out of the simplistic picture.

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