Digging at the confluence of culture and everything else
Paying for Time Stolen
05/02/2014Posted by on
Earlier this week, April 29, at 6:23 local time, a man most of us had never heard of was injected with a drug meant to put him into unconsciousness. Ten minutes later he was declared to be unconscious and injected with two drugs meant to kill him. Three minutes after that, he began to writhe and thrash. Three minutes after that, he was heard to speak. Within minutes, a stay of execution was issued. “Vein failure” was declared to be the problem. 7:06, forty-three minutes afterwards, the man was declared dead by heart attack. Over the next hours and days, pieces were published: was this torture; was this justice?
On June 3rd, 1999, a woman most of us had never heard of went to a home in Perry, Oklahoma and dropped her friend Summer Hair off at Summer’s friend Bobby Bornt’s house so they could convince him to come to a party. They found the man and his two accomplices there, robbing the house. Bobby had been beaten and gagged with duct tape. Summer entered the room, was beaten, and forced to call to the woman. The woman came in and was struck. She fought. She was beaten. The men placed the woman, Summer, and Bobby in the the room where Bobby’s son, Sam was sleeping. Sam had been born just nine months before. Summer was taken away. Summer was raped. She was forced to undress and raped again. She was left momentarily alone in the room and then raped again. Summer was taken back to Sam’s room and the woman, Summer, Bobby and Sam were all bound and gagged. The man and his accomplices found a shovel, and then drove the woman, Summer, Bobby and Sam into a rural area outside of town.
The woman watched as the man and his accomplices raped Summer in a shallow ditch. The men demanded the woman stay quiet about everything that happened. She refused. She was forced into the ditch. She watched as they dug deeper into the ditch. Twenty minutes passed. They shot her. The gun jammed. The man walked to the truck. She screamed and sobbed as the men joked about how tough she was. The man returned and shot her again. She was buried. Later, she finally died. Two weeks before that, the woman had graduated high school. Before that, she had taught at Vacation Bible School. Nineteen years before she was murdered, she had been born and named Stephanie Neiman.
Thirty-eight years, five months and seven days before his death and before the world cared about how he died, the man was born Clayton Lockett. In the months before his birth his mother did drugs. Three years later, his mother abandoned him. His father used drugs and blew the smoke up Clayton’s nose. He was beaten and abused. He was taught how to commit crimes. He was punished for being caught. He joined a gang. Or maybe, instead, fourteen years ago, Clayton Lockett led a conspiracy to lie about what happened thirty-five years ago. Maybe some mix of both.
Two days ago, for the crime of murdering Stephanie Neiman, the the state attempted to execute Clayton Lockett painlessly and humanly. The state failed. Was it justice? Was it torture?
I don’t know if the state owed Lockett a painless death, but the state owed it to us. I know Clayton Lockett owed Stephanie Neiman, Summer Hair, Bobby Bornt, and Sam Bornt more than in life or death he could repay. Before I told you, did you even know their names? Two stories you didn’t know and didn’t care about the day before Tuesday ended fifteen years apart but forever linked. Stolen time for stolen time.
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A tort is a wrong done against a person wherein compensation is forcibly extracted. A crime is a wrong done against society for which punishment is exacted. Between the two there is plenty of muddy ground where compensation and punishment irreversibly mix. The state has few tools, fewer still that it is willing to use. The state can take away your money, the state can take away your freedom, and sometimes, the state will even take away your life. Only with the money can the state give it to someone else. So when money is lost by one wronged, money is given. When pleasure is lost, money is given. When mobility is lost, money is given. When life is lost, money is given. Lawyers do not pretend that money can truly compensate for all losses, but we sometimes agree to pretend to pretend that time really is money.
When crime is punished, then too money will be taken. But money is nothing compared to freedom. The state takes away computers, associates, and solitude first. If the wound is great enough, the state takes away more. The state takes away mobility. The state takes away hope. The state enforces solitude. Lawyers do not pretend that taking away someone’s freedom can heal the wound, but sometimes we agree to pretend to pretend.
We know that killing, whether painfully or painlessly, cannot compensate for a life lost, cannot stitch the wound closed. We know that we cannot fix anything when we take away life. We know that we cannot create time. But sometimes we pretend to pretend.