“Allgier deserves death by lockup” was local columnist Peg McEntee’s headline in the Salt Lake Tribune this morning. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55018946-78/allgier-prison-death-mcentee.html.csp Curtis Michael Allgier is a face-tattooed skinhead and self-proclaimed member of the Aryan Empire Warriors. Several years ago he brutally killed Stephen Anderson, a Utah Corrections Officer, during a trip from prison for medical care. He is guilty and no one feels he should go unpunished. The death penalty looked to be in his future, but he pleaded guilty which gave him life in solitary confinement.
So the word “deserves” is a catchy headline, but when I read it this morning I had an internal wincing flicker. Books flashed through my mind. I read on to other things. But I kept coming back to the word “deserves” in the headline. Since childhood I’ve had an aversion to the word whenever it’s used in conjunction with the legal system. Administering justice is necessary and welcome. I believe there are a few people who for whatever sad reason must be kept confined and always away from others.
But I don’t want to use the word “deserves” because. Forty minutes have passed since I typed “because” while I stared at a corner of the room. Let me word the results of the forty minutes. Because in this instance the word “deserves” makes me feel participatory. I like McEntee’s views and approach in journalism and when I begin to read her column I expect to gain information, enjoy it or be positively challenged. But this time that expectation had the association of legal and deserve and the combination broke my spell. It was as though I understand, agree and also want to point my accusing finger at him. I do agree there needs to be justice for the death of Anderson and that person is Allgier. I agree with McEntee that Allgier might not realize the demons of solitary confinement. Here’s where I perhaps diverge from McEntee’s headline:
There is no doubt in my mind Allgier needs incarceration, whether for himself or not I don’t know, but we, the society and the grieving Anderson family, deserve the peace. Still, I have to recognize Allgier is a human being. Though I would like to separate myself from him I can’t. I can’t any more than I can separate myself from men, people of a different skin color, a different religion, a different country.
For myself, people of a different gender, skin color, religion and country I want understanding and a peace that allows all of us to live well and safe from intentional harm. Pollyanna? Yes, but not humanly impossible if we wanted it.
When I follow my thinking to a conclusion this is where it has taken me from McEntee’s headline. I would wish for Allgier lessons in reading if he doesn’t read well and a dictionary. Then a few books, slowly, chosen with care. He might refuse like a ferocious dog caught by the dogcatcher. The invitation would remain. There should be paper, pencil, a window too small to crawl through but large enough to show the light of passing days and the black of infinity.