no regrets

punishment for parricide.

Many readers will look at yesterday’s post about Noah Crooks as a setback to our efforts. They will look at the decisions that Derek and Alex King have made as a squandering of opportunity, an abuse of those of us who have tried to help them, an argument against leniency or reasonableness in sentencing. They will look at recent articles about Jordan Brown that even in the case of an innocent boy, the system is prejudiced against fairness.

The vast majority of juvenile parricides are serving unspeakably long sentences in prison. In Texas, 40-year sentences seem almost de rigueur. We have one kid who is serving a 99-year sentence, fixed by his jury after only 4 minutes of deliberation. Though ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, some juvenile parricides in other states are still serving Life Without Parole, if not legally, then at least virtually through commutations to impossibly long sentences.

This is not a cause for the faint-hearted. There are likely to be more “losses” than “wins” in our future—at least until society develops more of a gene for compassion.

In the rare event that a juvenile parricide is released from prison, most remain untreated—or unsuccessfully treated—for underlying mental conditions, and have been indoctrinated for years in the prison culture that violence is an effective means of getting what they want. In the free world it isn’t, but many will try.

In ancient Rome, the murder of any father was seen as so beyond the pale that the punishment was for the parricide to be beaten to a pulp, sewn into a bag with a dog, a snake, and a rooster, and to be thrown into the Tiber to experience certain mutilation and death. I think that we have progressed beyond this point—but not that far.

The truth is, parricide is a very complicated crime. In the majority of cases, parricide results from a proliferation of bad parents whom we are tempted to say “had it coming.” In the case of a parent who sexually trespasses his/her child, the “justification” for parricide seems pretty cut-and-dried. The case of a parent who severely beats or berates their offspring is almost as clear. In the cases of parents who are merely inept (such as Terry King), the “justification” for the parent’s fate is less clear. In the cases of mentally-ill kids who kill good parents—a Noah Crooks, for example—the “justification” is most unclear of all and seen as unlucky as an auto accident. To the lazy or credulous jury, sewing the kid in a bag in all cases must seem so much more simple than sorting out all the contributing causes.

In my regular phone conversations with Lone Heron, she has stressed time and again that the decisive factor in a parricide’s redemption is whether or not an offender wants to become self-reliant and go straight. She is in the minority and one of the most admirable people I know. Unfortunately, our practice of trying juvenile parricides as adults (and the press access it provides) helps cement their identities as jailbirds, incorrigibles, and murderers with fawning Internet followings. I have seen it with my own eyes. They are transformed from parricides to parasites, unwilling and incapable of moving beyond the sources of their notoriety.

After the events of two weekends ago, my son Henry questions this crazy commitment to parricides. At one point in the past I had urged Henry to meet with Derek in person and he even considered a roommate arrangement. Luckily, Derek was a no-show and my son was not entangled in my work. Henry knows I will not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and will be satisfied with results that would turn off most other retirees who only want to live out their days in unchallenging ways. My doctor has recommended that I get into a new line of work. My neighbors are relieved that I have sent Derek away and his unpredictability is no longer a factor to be considered.

But like Henry, they all know that I am undeterred. They know that I have no regrets about having backed into this work. They know I am engaged in a lifetime search for kids—even a single one—who will break the mold and defy people’s low expectations.




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3 Responses to “no regrets”

  1. 1 matt
    June 26, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Over the last ten years or so, I have written hundreds of letters to incarcerated kids, most just simple single attempts to brighten their day by letting them know that some people do care about them and their circumstances, but some are ongoing, lengthy correspondences. Some of those kids I met through Dan’s efforts and blog, and some not; either way, I have chosen based upon my own criteria. And like Dan, I have had a few failures, but if I’ve made a positive difference in just one kid’s life, then all of my attempts were worth while, not just the success stories.

  2. 2 SofiaAmtis
    June 26, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Hi Dan, as you said, parricide is a very complicated crime, in fact, it is twice in the ten commandments: “5. Honor your father and your mother” and “6.You shall not murder.” and those are very shocking crimes to the people in general and the “justifications” are very blurred.
    But I think that the ungrateful kids that you had to deal with, should not ruin the incredible work to help the kids currently incarcerated. As Matt said, if it made a positive difference in just one kid’s life. worth it.

  3. 3 Srđan
    June 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    “at least until society develops more of a gene for compassion”
    I disagree. What we need is the gene for prevention. I have never heard of a case of a parricide or any juvenile crime which wasn’t preventable by proper and timely involvement by society. If there was some sort of monitoring for entire families, to recognize potentially damaging environment and if kids felt they were actually protected and cared for by society as a whole, things would be far different. But we don’t care and we let them take care of themselves, any way they can. Then some get killed and some kill. Compassion won’t get us anywhere.

    As for “failures”, if one is in the “business” of helping, then one should provide that help regardless of people (kids) asking for it, realizing they need it or indeed deserving it. If they don’t realize they need help or they won’t admit it help should still be provided. I have only met very few kids who would admit to not knowing something or needing help, even if their lives depended on it. Especially with boys. For example, if you ask them if they know something (especially something they feel they should, for whatever reason), they will say yes (or just nod), even when it’s obvious they don’t have a clue. So if you want to help, you don’t ask whether they know, you just tell them. In my experience and opinion, requiring that kids ask for help and be grateful for it is not the way to help them.

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