Social & Domestic Issues

To Rehabilitate a Man, Sentence Him to Death

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced that he would consider granting clemency to Stanley “Tookie” Williams, a murdering gang member sentenced to death for his part in four killings committed during two separate armed robberies.

Of course, Tookie probably killed a lot more people than that. I say this not just because it is a strong statistical probability, given Tookie’s youthful pattern of behavior (i.e. shooting folks), but because Tookie is one of the two founding fathers of the “Crips” drug gang, which along with the “Bloods” turned Los Angeles into a war zone during the Crack epidemic of the 1980s.

Even today, decades after Tookie was taken away from his illegitimate brainchild, his creation continues to murder, rob, rape, steal, extort, assault and maim. And, as is true of any other gangster, Tookie is responsible for the crimes of his underlings just as assuredly as he is for his own. So why is anyone campaigning for clemency?

Well, because Tookie is good people now. You see, Bad Tookie, the one who killed people and started a nationwide gang of drug-pushing thugs, no longer exists. Now there is only Good Tookie. Good Tookie writes children’s books and believes that killing people is just plain wrong. These philosophical accomplishments have so impressed some that Tookie was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the credibility and stature of which grows with every new round of nominations.

Good Tookie made his first appearance in prison and is the result of a remarkable personal rehabilitation. This rehabilitation did not happen overnight. At first Tookie couldn’t care less about his sins and victims (all of whom remain dead, I’m told), but as the appeals process became increasingly exhausted, he increasingly saw the error of his ways. If only California would apply its death penalty more swiftly, we might have known Good Tookie sooner. But since a drug dealer on death row has a longer average lifespan than one still on the street, the emergence of this peace-loving butterfly understandably took some time.

Tookie, both Bad and Good, had his days in court, where not even the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could find substantive fault with his convictions, which is remarkable in itself. And now his execution finally looms, set optimistically for December 13. But Tookie did win one appeal–his appeal to the Court of Liberal America, centered in Hollywood, Calif.

There, Tookie’s the poster child of … well, where to begin? He seems to be the living symbol of redemption, prison education, poverty, black victimhood, institutional racism, youth outreach, death penalty abolition, and denim-clad prison philiospher-gurus. He’s had a movie made about him, Redemption, starring Jamie Foxx. Danny Glover and Snoop Dog are firmly on his side. Anti-American international human rights crusaders and their domestic enablers see him as a Jesus figure, except they like him. The Nobel committee was obviously impressed. And it is probably just a matter of time before he is legally adopted by Angelina Jolie. All in all, the transformation of Tookie is a fine example of the unheralded power of the death penalty to rehabilitate.

Tookie is not alone however. Dozens of cold-blooded killers have become writers, poets, lawyers, evangelical preachers, youth ministers, civil rights crusaders, animal lovers and professionally contrite appellants while awaiting execution.

Consider Karla Faye Tucker. She was the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War. I know she filled this important first for women because the media invariably affixed that fact to her as though it were part of a hyphenated surname: Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War on Tuesday … the first state-sponsored killing of a woman in Texas since the American Civil War … clearing the way for her to become the first woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War … Tucker, the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War.

In addition to being a pioneer for post-bellum feminism, Karla Faye was a “born-again” Christian. This was the only fact the media seemed to be more enamored with than her place in the history of the criminal women’s movement. Evangelical Christianity would have disqualified her from holding high office in their eyes, but they believed it made her a more pitiable gurney jockey, so they ran with it. Her conversion occurred on death row, of course.

Before her rehabilitation, she killed a man and a woman with an ice axe while robbing them for drug money. She straddled the victims as she repeatedly plunged the pick into their begging bodies, and afterwards she bragged that their panicked death throes had caused her to orgasm as she killed them.

But then Karla Faye found Jesus somewhere in the appeals process and decided that it had all been wrong. Indeed, she felt so bad about it, that she married her prison minister. The same sociopath who had felt so very good in such a very intimate way about killing people with her own hands (and they remain dead, I’m told), was later helped to rediscover Jesus Christ, conversational politeness, and girlish hair bows by that miracle of the justice system: impending death.

One could fill a thick book with the stories of other such soulless human hazards that have been turned into pleasant community-minded people by some quiet time with their own scheduled mortality.

Can we ever afford to lose this, perhaps the greatest, force for rehabilitation in our justice system?

If you believe in rehabilitation, how can you not believe in the death penalty? Nothing seems to trigger complete rehabilitation more surely than a death sentence. I am all for such rehabilitation. Let’s rehabilitate all child killers. Let’s rehabilitate most murderers of adults. Let’s rehabilitate all the poor misguided souls at Guantanamo. Heck, let’s rehabilitate a few email spammers while we’re at it.

But let’s rehabilitate them all a little faster than we have in the past. Why deny the rehabilitated the joy of understanding the value of decent human life one more day than is necessary?

Good Tookie has said he wants to serve as an example for America’s troubled youth. On December 13, perhaps he finally will. And then maybe they can work on their rehabilitations while such things still matter.


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