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?

21 Comments on “You be the Judge”

  1. I believe that you have shed some light on a problem that not all Americans are aware of and have reminded us that we often have a strong opinion when we are in our comfort zones. Remove a person from their safe surroundings and see if their convictions remain the same. More often than not, our bravado falters. I enjoyed reading this blog, Kudos to you!

    • cjwestkills says:

      So true Karen. I was really impressed when I heard Governor Huckabee speak from his experience. It is easy to say what we would do when there is no consequence. I have been amazed by how forgiving people are when they learn Michael’s story.

  2. Kimi Little says:

    It’s such a hard decision. Some people, like Richard Allen Davis, are definitely guilty. Do we really need to have these people have the potential to walk the streets again, or, in the case above, sue the police department. Some people, with the Barry Scheck nad the innocence project, have proved innocent people not guilty. In Michael’s case, could he have done any differently with the background that he had and no clear guidelines? I’m still ambivilent about the book’s ending.

    • cjwestkills says:

      Thanks for coming over, Kimi. These are all hard decisions. When I wrote the ending of The End of Marking Time, I knew it would be a tough one, but that was exactly the point. Reading this blog I hope new visitors who haven’t read the book get a taste for the hot seat I’m going to put them in.

  3. Janice says:

    Wow CJ~ That was intense. Thanks for much for sharing. When I first started reading, I thought it was an opening scene for one of your new book ideas. I had no idea this was a real case. How scary! I really liked how you tied this story and Michael’s story into a present day hot button issue (Casey Anthony). Can’t wait for the next installment.

    • cjwestkills says:

      Thanks Janice. True to your passion to come and read the blog, you are the first commenter ever!

      I’m glad you were drawn into that first scene. I want to write this blog to feel like it is snipped from my books. Yes that case was unsettling. I don’t use real life details in my work, but if I could have, I found plenty of stories like this one.

      Thanks for reading. See you next time.

  4. Randy Black says:

    I agree with Janice. I thought I was in a book. As I was reading it, I’m going…”I don’t remember this scene from TEOMT”. I was drawn in.

    To actually answer your question…I would have voted in the officer’s favor, “based on purely what was described and not knowing any other facts of the case”, it sounds like total self defense to me. Especially with the fact that the inmate had a self made weapon in the first place makes it even easier to vote for the officer.

    • cjwestkills says:

      There were more facts to the case and even what I learned was based on someone’s perspective. Even knowing as little as I know, it is still hard to believe the jury supported the inmate’s case.

      Thanks for visiting on my very first day!

  5. Cookie's Mom says:

    These stories make me cringe too, yet I have never felt that it was my right to decide whether a person should live or die. Some people are so certain of a person’s guilt based on what they’ve heard or read, and all I can ever think is that *I* was not there. *I* can never be sure.

    Congrats on the new blog!

    • cjwestkills says:

      I agree that these decisions are best left to someone with all the facts. I don’t think I’d want the accumulated weight of making those decisions over and over weighing on my heart either.

      Thanks for stopping in!

  6. Frank Cinnella says:

    How long could I go on for about ‘inmates rights”. First off, you have no rights, or at least shouldn’t. Wonder why the ‘return rate’ on inmates is so high ? Just look at the coddling we do of them. It starts in school; ‘time out’ instead of whacking with a ruler; juvenile rapists and killers are released at 18, ‘my parents abused me’ as a defense gets you three years and a short probation for manslaughter, where does it end ? Law enforcement has become the ‘black hat’ in recent years. Why ? BECAUSE THEY DO THEIR JOBS AND YOU CANNOT JUST GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING YOU WANT. For the inmate, he should get the $50,000, but in rolled quarters shoved up his ass $10 roll after $10 roll. And when that’s done, the jurors and judge should get to spend a few days with the inmate seeing as they think he was wronged, and then call for help when he’s stabbing them only to hear “sorry, but this was your idea”. I despise these bleeding hearts that think ‘everyone is redeemable’..the fact is, only your coupons are redeemable for certain. And lastly, I wish the corrections officer had cut off his ‘private parts’ just for good measure, or at least hit him hard enough that walking and talking would become a non-starter.

    • cjwestkills says:

      Frank, I can always count on you to share how you feel! One of the things that came out of my research is that police officers and teachers are aware of who the future offenders are, but they don’t feel empowered to intervene and help these youths sometimes because doing so would be seen as trampling on individual liberty. That was the biggest shame that came out of my research and the reason you see so much effort at redemption within The End of Marking Time. I know there may be a miniscule portion of the population that is wired to be evil, but for the rest of us, I think we will thrive in the right environment. But I do believe we need to be immersed in that environment before we get too far off track.

  7. Brian Whalen says:

    Very intense post! I was hooked right away; then angered by the result; and intrigued by the lateral comparison to the outcome of the Anthony trial.

    To answer your question, it would take someone able to completely separate themselves from emotion and consider the situation solely from a logical and factual perspective. I like to think I could do that, but honestly don’t know if I can.

    Great, great blog!

  8. Melinda says:

    I would love to know the name of the case or a citation to the report of it. I am an attorney in Massachusetts and I haven’t heard of such a case.

    • cjwestkills says:


      I’m not an attorney. The case information I received was to inform my book and I did not collect the names of the litigants. The source was from the Department of Corrections team that works to defend the state when they are sued by inmates. There were many of these cases that we discussed about everything from medical procedures to living conditions. I was really stunned by the cases that the state was losing and what they were paying inmates. One of the recommendations I heard from this discussion is that we should have a single jurisdiction for inmates to file complaints. That would stop them from court shopping until they found sympathy.

      • Melinda says:

        Hi CJ,
        I have heard of some troubling cases but I have serious doubts about the veracity of this one. Unless the DOC attorneys you spoke with left out some crucial facts that might result in such a verdict, a jury verdict of $50,000 or, really, any amount, seems truly unlikely to me. After all, juries are made up of people from the community and most people are not sympathetic to convicted felons who have injured others. Best,

      • cjwestkills says:

        We didn’t talk about the injuries the inmate sustained. Maybe his jaw was broken. Maybe there was a history of animosity with the guard. I can’t know all the facts because I wasn’t there. But I trust my source that the basic facts of the case are correct.

  9. Lil Gluckstern says:

    I enjoyed your first blog very much. it made me think which I hear is good for me. I wonder if Anthony will learn anything from her experience or will she just go for the money and party on. I now will have to read your book which I have had on my kindle since it was born there. I’m incorrigible. My tbr mountain is pretty high.

    • cjwestkills says:

      I’m not sure if Casey Anthony has learned anything but this experience must have put a scare in her.

      Glad you have a copy of TEOMT. Thank goodness Kindle allows you to carry that TBR mountain wherever you roam.


  10. Laura says:

    Hi CJ,

    I read The End of Marking Time as one of my first Kindle books-timing is everything. A fascinating premise and I think it would make a great movie. The balance between safety of the public(and prison guards) and the redemption of those when it’s possible.

    Why are books always better? Actually, they aren’t but we remember the ones we loved as books. There are many-just google for movies better than books for some suggestions. It is usually when the book was not a best seller or fleshed out properly-and the movie is successful because the book was not more widely read.

    But when a book has good bones….any book can become a great movie. And I’m posting here because The End of Marking Time stayed with me (in spite of my belief that it was not among the greats) but yet, it stayed in my mind. That is what a book should do-nice job! Now, go talk to Scorsese …..

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