The school of redemption
Published: Sun, August 6, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.
By Todd Franko
We forgive. We hate.
They are two polarizing traits that distinguish humans from all other species.
In America, we are exceptional at both, and that is the paradox in “The Land of Dreams.”
We watch news footage of kangaroo leadership and human atrocities in far-flung places and convince ourselves that we are an advanced and reasoned society as we sign checks to the needy, walk racetracks for cancer, build homes for the poor and so on.
All of it, though, conceals an ugly American truth – like a waterway masking a nasty shore.
We are the world’s best at punishment.
The International Centre for Prison Studies reported our American imprisonment at 716 per 100,000 people, followed by such world powers as, ahem, St. Kitts & Nevis (714), Seychelles (709), U.S. Virgin Islands (539), Barbados (521), Cuba (510), Rwanda (492), Belize (476) and Russia (475).
The Council of Europe measured criminal justice systems of like-minded countries. Our rate of 478 per 100,000 far exceeded Canada (188), Australia (130), New Zealand (192) and Japan (51).
These measures do not take into account the thousands of citizens trying to walk a straight line amid a societal minefield of demands such as: check this previous felon box, sign these criminal registries, don’t be this close to this place, call here at this time, don’t own this, pee here, work there and more.
Hell – in many parts of our glorious land, criminals get to pay for this privilege to be caught one inch out of line.
So by many measures, we are a society that has perfected punishment.
It is perfect, after all, right? Not one innocent person has ever been incarcerated and not one perpetrator has ever lived a purposeful life again after their crime.
That’s the legacy that now emerges in a great debate here in Youngstown in our religion that is football.
On the Youngstown State University football roster is Ma’lik Richmond. He played a role in one of the most heinous chapters in recent Ohio high-school football history in Steubenville. Richmond’s sex crime – as a teen against another teen – was horrific. What adult leadership in the city did then in trying to hide the crime was shameful.
That was Steubenville 2012.
In Youngstown 2017, Ma’lik is trying to walk on to the football team after enrolling last August.
It’s not a popular decision for many. But equally, it has support from many.
That’s how the team’s 2017 campaign will begin.
Much of the uproar is about letting a sex offender enjoy the privilege of playing on the team. Among the talk on social media:
“You give second chances to nonviolent offenders. Not to rapists.”
“Ask his victim if she believes he deserves a ‘2nd chance.’”
America – the land of perpetual punishment.
What Ma’lik did was reprehensible.
But finding punishment equitable to the pain endured by the victim is something we will never reconcile in any world calculation.
In mankind’s worst of crimes – murder – all advanced societies long ago abandoned the rule that all killers must be killed. From that foundation, all other punishments trickle.
We cannot possibly lock up forever all violent offenders – despite our best attempts.
So if we are to not lock up offenders forever, then re-entry and redemption are the paths we must plow. We trust the creation of those paths to be made at impartial times by impartial parties.
To ask a victim and family to decide on when and how punishment ends for a perpetrator is as skewed as asking the same from the perpetrator and that family. It’s a slippery, subjective slope.
Richmond’s five-year path to redemption has included a juvenile detention facility, a return to his high school and his football team (the latter I think was incorrect). It continued to one university setting, and then to another and then to YSU and now to YSU football.
All of it unblemished, as best as officials can determine.
Of the many things Youngstown State University is known for or is becoming known for, you can include a title of The School of Redemption.
From coaches to city corridors to athletes to students. If there is a national poll for rebuilding or redeeming careers, the current YSU might be ranked No. 1.
The latest chapter is Ma’lik.
If we’re enjoying much of what the university is now under President Tressel (as we seem to be) and what the team is now under Bo Pelini (as we seem to be), then this decision with Ma’lik deserves the same amount of opportunity as their other decisions.
This is their decision that they will own – made not just as president and coach, but also as husbands and fathers of daughters.
People who chide such decisions rarely have the privilege or pain of looking into someone’s eyes and making life-changing decisions such as this.
Criminals have that chance. And that they make the wrong one is always tragic and often fatal.
Our system says most such people will live amongst us at some point again.
Hopefully they see how other humans act with a life’s fate in their hands and can learn accordingly.
That’s the School of Redemption.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.