You be the Judge

A drowsy corrections officer makes his way down the cell block, ever alert because even though it is 4:00 am, he’s surrounded by men who have had their liberty taken from them. Some of these men resign themselves to serve their sentence and live under the conditions they have been committed to. Others make it their mission to lash out at their captors, entertaining themselves by disrupting the lives of all around them or seeking revenge against the society that cast them out. On the front lines of that system are unarmed men trying to make a difference while surrounded by hundreds of men deemed too dangerous to roam freely.

The cell door slides open and the two officers order the inmate out for a search. He refuses and the officers go inside to remove him and search for drugs, cell phones, and weapons.

The inmate shows his empty hands and the officer moves to step past. When they meet, the inmate swipes and in a flash the officer knows what has happened. The blue plastic toothbrush has become a weapon, a razor blade melted onto the end late at night when no one is watching.

Why do these animals deserve razors?

Blood rains down on the concrete floor. The officer clutches his throat, feels the warm sticky pool forming at his neck, and knows he’s near death. The inmate gets ready to swipe again and the officer punches him with every ounce of strength. The inmate stumbles and the officer steps in and hits him again, dropping him to the floor.

Other officers rush their colleague out for medical assistance.

Over a year later the corrections officer sits in a Massachusetts courtroom with his head hanging down, not to cover the scar that will forever remind him how close he came to dying, but so he does not have to face the jury who has just read the verdict. The officer has been disciplined for striking the inmate, but the greatest insult is hearing the jury award. The man too dangerous to live on the outside, the man the officer risked his life to keep locked up so others will be safe, this man who tried to kill him, has just been awarded $50,000 by a jury because the officer used unnecessary force. In the face of losing his life, two punches were too much. Insanity.

What would you have decided if you were seated on the jury?

This is one of the true stories I unearthed while researching The End of Marking Time. I cringed at dozens of stories like this and I wondered how our system could have strayed so far from common sense. I think all Americans are glad for the protections afforded us, but when we see someone who’s obviously guilty (in our opinion) we want them locked up because we want to be safe.

We wonder how Casey Anthony could be set free. We may never know the truth about what happened, but the death of a young child cries out for justice and it is hard for most of us to see Ms. Anthony escape punishment when she failed to report her daughter missing for a month.

Last week I heard former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee ask citizens not to be too quick to judgment. He spoke about his experience being the last man between a prisoner with a death sentence and the execution chamber. He spoke of the awesome responsibility of reviewing a case knowing the life of a person hinged on what you decided. Governor Huckabee said he’d heard plenty of people say they’d be glad to throw the switch that would end Casey Anthony’s life. That’s easy to say when you don’t have that switch in your hands.

We can’t know the facts of either of these cases, but what if I could give you a case and put that switch in your hand? To let you hear all the facts and in the end decide whether the defendant lives or is severely punished? Could you accept such an awesome responsibility?

The End of Marking Time gives you that chance. Let Michael O’Connor tell you his story. When he’s done you can press the red button to see him punished or the green button to let him go free. You might be surprised by your own compassion. Many people are. 

Which button will you press?