Kai: Ok so there’s this kid we want you to meet. He did something … terrible. And his story really challenges the conversation we’ve been having so far in this podcast -- about what we consider fair and just when young people commit violent crimes.
He has a great name that well we just can’t tell you. We’re gonna call him Honor instead -- cus its kinda related.
WNYC reporter Sarah Gonzalez has been following his story for the past 10 months.
SARAH: Before I tell you about the worst thing Honor has ever done in his life … just meet him with me.
Honor is sitting at his kitchen table wrapped in a royal blue blanket, hiding his face. So I do what I usually do with shy kids.
SARAH: So this is my recorder.
I show him my equipment and put my headphones on him.
SARAH: No I hold the mic though.
HONOR: I hear like something. Oh my god my voice is weird! Oh my god it’s so gross. It's so gross. Take it off.
Slooowwwwly he starts coming out of his blanket … He kinda looks like he’s going bald.
He’s barefoot, shirtless and in his boxers. Blanket on the floor, now. Hairy chest out. And he has a big scar near his heart.
And Honor’s goofy. So’s his mom. They’re suuuuper close. They both get what they call their “pregnancy cravings.” And right now they’re obsessed with pork buns from Trader Joes.
HONOR: It’s so good and soooo soft.
MOM: And fluffy! Soo good.
HONOR: It’s like a dumpling of heaven, but its not a dumpling.
MOM: It’s a Chinese pork bun. Once you heat ‘em up, they look like big fluffy marshmallows…
His mom is spunky. And she’s funny. She keeps her bills with the takeout menus “so they can marinate,” she says.
She has a pretty serious case of anxiety and is on medication. She hates a crowded bus and a busy Manhattan street. So … she relies on Honor a lot -- when she feels like shoving someone who bumps into her.
MOM: It's that calming voice.
HONOR: Mom, it’s not worth it. Just let it go. Just ignore it. And move on.
MOM: I be like oh ok I'm gonna be good now. In my head I tripped the person. I be like good. And then I feel better, cus you know I got to be good.
HONOR: If none of that works I promise her coffee.
We’re gonna get to … “the incident,” which is what Honor calls the crime. But he’s had a complicated life. And he’s been fragile for a while …
Honor is the baby of the family. He has one older brother and one older sister on his mom’s side. And he says all the bad things started happening when he was nine.
HONOR: It was grandma’s death, then homelessness, ‘cause you remember we got evicted and then we started bouncing around?
MOM: That’s what I was saying, yeah.
They spend years in homeless shelters.
HONOR: Then it was the diabetes.
Type 2. It’s what his grandma died from. Honor takes insulin shots every day.
HONOR/MOM: And then cancer.
Leukemia. In 88 percent of his blood. When he was 13. That’s why he looks like he’s going bald. It’s the chemo. The big scar on his chest is where they administered it.
They’re still living in shelters when Honor’s going through chemo. And by this point in his life, he blames himself for everything. Thinks his cancer is making things worse for his family.
HONOR: Because I exist, just merely for that reason I put my family through hell.
When he’s 15, they all get into public housing after being on a waitlist for 5 years. Honor’s still too sick to go to school so teachers come to him – for a year and a half.
When it’s time to go back to school, he starts getting panic attacks and eventually he just stops showing up... One day he tries to commit suicide. Takes his mom’s pills.
HONOR: It was called Doxepin. D-o-x-e-p-i-n, which is like very heavy sleeping pills and I took about like 5 or 6.
And it’s right at this point that a psychiatrist at his leukemia clinic thinks it's time to start Honor on anxiety medication. But the night before he’s supposed to get his first prescription ... “the incident” happens.
KAI: The incident ... I’m Kai Wright, this is Caught, and in this episode reporter Sarah Gonzalez confronts violence.
The reality of violent crime is it is always a messy, complicated thing. But ever since Willie Bosket -- who we talked about in the last episode -- and since the brutality of the crack trade in the 80s and early 90s, we’ve built a justice system that recognizes NONE of the complexities of violent crime… It just punishes, harshly and with finality, even when you’re a kid ...
But “the incident,” and its aftermath -- it’s a story of how we just might, finally, be able to walk all of that back.
HONOR: The day of the incident, it happened at like 1 something, like 1:30 in the morning, on Friday the 13th.
SARAH: It’s the anniversary of when Honor found out he had leukemia. And his mom says he hates this day.
MOM: He was hungry. (laughs) He wanted pancakes. So I was actually making pancakes.
So it’s 1 am and it’s just become Friday the 13th. Honor is 16 years old, waiting for his pancakes. And he's wearing a green bathing suit in the middle of winter, for some reason.
His older sister ... who is 22, and a key character in this story, comes home. She’d just been out celebrating a raise she got at work. She’s an electrician.
She’s with her 2 year old daughter and a friend, and she and her mom start arguing. They have a history of getting in physical fights, and this time, the mom calls 911.
MOM: I says ‘I need you to send the police here. I can't do this anymore.’ I says ‘I'm constantly fighting with my daughter. I want her removed from my house.’
They each claim that the other started getting physical first. The phone falls to the ground. The 911 operator still on the line, listening.
Honor’s in the kitchen. He was waiting for his pancakes. There’s a knife stand near the sink. Right … there next to him. And he pulls one out.
HONOR: And then it wasn’t until after my sister left and I looked at my hands that I realized that, “oh my God, what have I done?”
I picked up the phone and said, “Hey look I need an ambulance over here my mom is hurt. I stabbed my sister. Just get over here immediately
I admitted to it on the 911 call, I was more worried about my mom than anything because like before I grabbed the phone I grabbed the rag to wrap around my mom's arm because she was cut and I was trying to like stop the bleeding. Like holding it. So, “Hey look I need an ambulance right right right away. My mom is hurt. I stabbed my sister. And this this and that. Yeah.”
…Yeah. Honor says he doesn’t remember doing it.
HONOR: This is not me. This is something I would never even think about doing.
MOM: It wasn’t him. It wasn’t him at all. (sniffles.) Gulp. It’s hard just talking about it. Those are both by babies. My son my daughter. (cries)
Honor stuck the knife four and a half inches into his sister’s lower back. Near her kidneys. She’s alive. They just haven’t seen her since the night of the incident.
Honor also sliced his sister’s finger … and her face. The knife split a nerve on her left cheek, and it left that side partially paralyzed.
That night, police arrive within minutes. They follow the trail of blood looking for Honor’s sister but she already left for the hospital with her friend..
Police find the knife in the sink, and they take it away in a children’s shoe box. They tell Honor “get your ID and change out of your bathing suit.”
Honor grabs the first pants he sees: pajama pants. Fuzzy ones with beer bottles all over them.
HONOR: Beer bottle pajamas. Out of all the pants I could have grabbed. Oh my god this is so bad.
He’s sitting in the precinct stressing out about these PJs.The judge is gonna think he’s drunk. Why didn’t he just grab his Mario Brothers’ pjs instead? He can’t stop thinking about these damn PJs.
Meanwhile his hands are still covered in blood. Honor says officers don’t let him wash up for like 13 hours…And he says he doesn’t want his hands anymore.
HONOR: I don’t want to hurt anybody anymore. I want to take away what caused this whole thing. It was crazy, I was going insane it felt like.
SARAH: Were you thinking like I wonder what happened to my sister or like?
HONOR: No, cuz they told me. Yeah. So. They told me how, like, um, she was able to go to a hospital. How like the injuries are very severe. I’m like, Jesus.
Even though Honor’s 16, he’s in a cell with adults -- waiting to see a judge. Right now, 16 year olds are considered adults in New York.
They all get cheese sandwiches for lunch and this one guy who looks like he’s in his 40’s asks Honor for his mayonnaise packet in exchange for an apple.
HONOR: I’m like alright, here. Cus I don’t use mayo, so.
The rest of the time Honor says he’s just sitting there.
In his fuzzy warm beer bottle pajamas.
19 hours later he make his first appearance in court. It’s 8pm. The court officer tells Honor to step up, stand next to his attorney and face the judge.
And now – now, his mom says – he looks like Honor again.
MOM: When I seen him in the court, then you could see that it was my baby. He didn't know, like, what was going on. He was scared. You could see it. (sniffles) And then for, for people to just make him out to be a monster, and he’s not. Deep breath in.
She’s talking about the prosecutor.
The prosecutor asks the judge to set Honor’s bail at 50 thousand dollars. Makes it seem like Honor might hurt his mom if he’s out.
…But the judge determines Honor’s not a flight risk. He’s released. No bail required.
“Listen to me very carefully,” the judge tells him. “If you do anything to harm your mother or make her feel afraid of you, you’re going to end up in jail.”
“I’m releasing you now,” the judge says. “But you shouldn’t be under the misunderstanding that because you’re a kid, and you’re sick, you can’t end up in jail.”
“Do you understand?” the judge asks him.
“I understand completely,” Honor says.
KAI: So now what?
SARAH: So now the case starts. This is just the very beginning.
And I should say that if Honor had stabbed some stranger on the subway, he probably would not have been released. He would have been seen as a danger to society. But because he stabbed his sister -- and because he did it in an effort to protect his mom -- it’s different.
But he is facing serious charges. He’s being charged with:
Endangering the welfare of a child, because … remember his sister’s 2 year old was in the room that night. Criminal possession of a weapon … the kitchen knife. Assault with intent to disfigure, destroy or amputate...and...attempted murder.
KAI: God that is a long, grim list.
SARAH: And those aren’t all the charges.
KAIi: So what does that all add up to? How much time is he facing?
SARAH: So about six weeks after the incident Honor goes back to court.The prosecutor tells the judge that’s Honor’s sister still can’t close her left eyelid. And she shows the judge pictures of the injuries.
The prosecutor says she’s still determining what would be an “appropriate sentence” for him.
So Honor doesn’t know how much time he’s facing. But I know that attempted murder could carry 25 years in prison.
KAI: 25 years in prison. So what’s it like to face that as a 16 year old kid -- especially this one who is fighting leukemia … and struggling with anxiety. He’s already attempted suicide once.
And on the other side … what does Honor’s sister want? And what should she, as the victim, expect from our legal system? That’s up next.
KAI: So we know that Honor has a couple serious illnesses, and there are mental health concerns. But mental health issues aren’t necessarily a defense for committing a crime.
And even though Honor isn’t sitting in jail right now … prison is still on the table. And in fact, if he’s convicted as an adult, the judge HAS to give him prison.
SARAH: Honor comes back and back to court multiple times over the next year. Usually nothing significant happens. But every time, Honor and his mom think maybe this will be an important court day. Maybe his sister will be there. Maybe … this will be the day Honor gets sentenced.
Honor is in the adult system. His case is being heard in New York County Supreme Court. The criminal side. But he is in a wing that’s only for teens. Teens as young as age 13 accused of the most serious felonies, often violent.
They get the same tough prosecutors that adults get … but they are assigned a special judge who only hears the cases of minors.
Honor’s judge is Edwina Richardson-Mendelson. She’s been hearing at least 30 cases a day in Manhattan for the past two years.
SARAH: Everyday you see 30 young people?
JUDGE: That’s a good day, remember.
SARAH: Right. (Laughing)
JUDGE: Some days it’s more.
She keeps a note on her bench with one word on it:
JUDGE: And it’s a word that I wrote and its, “individuate.” It is, ugh, a reminder that every single person, every single situation requires and deserves and individual look. So the word is individuate.
Judge Mendelson can’t speak about Honor’s case specifically … but she says that not every option in our justice system involves incarceration. There are paths and tunnels and escape routes. Even when we look at cases involving serious violence.
JUDGE: We have an array of laws that provide for different sentences for different circumstances. And one of the sentences is probation! Which is a not an incarceratory sentence.
Honor gets a shot at one of these alternatives to jail.
While he’s waiting to be sentenced, he’s accepted into a family therapy program run by a group called Families Rising – its part of a non-profit. And every Thursday for the next 6 months, a therapist comes to his apartment.
MOM Hi Sarah. Sarah: hi.
His dog runs out every time. Does a couple laps and jumps on the kitchen table.
HONOR: Whoa. Whoa. Get down! …
SARAH: Oh Doggy!
HONOR: Coco, stop it!
The therapist sits between Honor and his mom. I stand with my equipment crashing their family therapy sessions … and Honor -- Honor’s usually trying to distract us.
HONOR: Her voice reminded me of like one of those stereotypical white girl s that you see on TV like, “Oh my God, Becky.”
STEPH: Hahaha. D’you just call me a stereotypical white girl?
This is Stephanie Lawrence. She’s a Functional Family Therapist. That’s what it’s called. And the family loves her.
MOM: You did sounds like that, “well, girl, Becky.”
STEPH: Stop analyzing me!
MOM: Hahahaha. She’s running my line.
STEPH: Ahhhh this job. Hahahaa.
MOM Isn’t it wonderful?
Stephanie is not an advocate though. She has to let Honor’s judge, his prosecutor and his defense lawyer know how he’s really doing. Even if its bad. And there are terms:
The court requires Honor to enroll back in school. He goes to class every day. No one at the school knows about the “incident.”
He has to call a number every night to meet his curfew … and he’s encouraged to follow his doctor’s recommendations. So he starts anxiety medication.
And Honor and his mom both have to participate in therapy … and reach certain benchmarks.
So here’s how this program works:
If the judge determines Honor’s successful … she can give him this special status that allows him to avoid prison. No prison. And probably even more importantly … this status allows him to avoid a permanent record, too. This is a big deal. Data shows that having a violent felony on your record makes it hard to get a job, an apartment … get financial aid for college. It just makes it hard to move on with your life -- even if you do serve your time.
Families Rising’s whole thing is getting young people to avoid that permanent record that follows them for the rest of their lives.
But one of Stephanie’s first challenges is getting Honor to focus in therapy. He pulls up YouTube videos all the time.
VIDEO: Hi, stranger. It’s been a while.
This one’s his favorite. An animated clay figure is on its stomach with its clay butt cheeks exposed.
VIDEO: It's OK. You can look at my butt. Hahaa.
It starts weird, but Honor’s kinda weird. And it gets good.
HONOR: It’s like he's your conscience. It’s like, “You are good. You can do this.”
VIDEO: You're so hard on yourself. But you're wonderful and worthy of being loved.
HONOR: Even if you have no one, you have him.
VIDEO: I love you.
Honor is struggling with feeling connected to anyone, including himself.
HONOR: Being human is like have a heart, people care, you have value. But if you don't, if you believe you have none of that. Then you can't technically call yourself a human, can you?
STEPH: Yeah. That, that makes so much sense.
Stephanie is working on why Honor blames himself for things he can’t control -- like his grandma’s death and becoming homeless. Feelings that she thinks can contribute to violent outbursts.
HONOR: When you mention triggers, its like, I have triggers but the thing it’s not violent triggers, its more like emotional distress triggers.
HONOR: Like whenever something happens I become sad, not angry. I become the opposite of what they accuse me of.
STEPH: That’s, that’s, that’s where we want to go. So let’s...because it’s not just about anger...
KAI: So Honor is getting treatment instead of waiting in jail until he’s sentenced. And that sounds like it’s pretty great for him. But am I right that the family therapy doesn’t include the sister? And she’s at the heart of this whole case.
SARAH: Right, no it doesn’t include the sister. She has an order of protection against her mom and her brother. They haven’t seen her or talked to her since the incident. And they can’t even have indirect contact.
KAI:: Do you know what his sister thinks about all this?
SARAH: It took me months to find her because she used to live with her mom and her brother and they didn’t know where she went after the incident. And because of the order or protection they could not in any way try to help me find her.
But finally she called me.
She said, “That’s my little brother … I changed his diapers. He also took a knife out and tried to kill me,” she said.
She thinks Honor should be in jail.
She told me, “When kids do something bad, they need to be put in time out. Honor needs to be put in time out.”
And this -- this is what we, in the U.S. expect as a society. When young people commit certain crimes -- violent crimes -- we expect them to be punished like adults. And we revolt when we feel like anyone is getting off the hook too easily.
KAI: Which I guess makes it even harder to accept that somebody like Honor, who stabbed his sister, would get therapy instead of jail time. But Sarah I know you've reported outside the United States and found that not everyone thinks this way.
SARAH: Right. In many countries minors could never face the same harsh punishments that adults get -- no matter what crimes they commit.
In Germany, you can be considered a minor up until age 24. That’s about when the research says our brains mature -- from a juvenile brain with inconsistent impulse control … to an adult brain that more fully understands consequences.
And minors there could never serve more than 10 years in prison. Officials in Germany say “prison destroys the personality” of a young person. If they’re in there too long, they say they don’t function well in society anymore. Which then means more crime.
KAI: How expensive is Honor’s program? I imagine it's more expensive than locking him up.
SARAH: Well, incarcerating one 16 year old in an adult jail in New York City for a year costs more than 118-thousand dollars. The Families Rising therapy program costs less than 10-thousand dollars.
And research in the U.S. shows that putting kids in prison for a really long time doesn’t actually make us safer. The system we have now is more just about punishment. Even though we know that giving people help -- rehabilitating them -- that’s what makes them more likely to live a life without crime.
And in therapy, Honor is slowly hitting some of the benchmarks his therapist wants him to.
STEPH: Is it true that everything bad happened because of me?
HONOR: No. Because in reality when you look going back to my grandmother's death, no one played any part in it. It just happened.
LAWRENCE: Out of everything that we've done so far, that change, that shift, is what you've needed.
It’s been 7 months since the incident and Honor’s getting close to finishing the therapy program.
Part of Stephanie’s job is to build him up and that includes preparing Honor for a setback. Preparing him for what the prosecutor -- the DA -- might say about him in court.
Stephanie: Let's just imagine next time in court right ((..)) Maybe the D.A. is just -- you know says something right? Or maybe you overhear something. And and those negative thoughts come up again. What do you do with those? What do you do with those in that moment when you’re stressed?
HONOR: Well what I would do is, I basically won’t take it to hearrt, because like, one, it’s just an opinion not a fact. It’s what they think of me. Because we all know that I’ve been doing great. If its a court case or just my mental health in general, I’ve been doing great, so as long as I know that, none of that bothers me. Because I already know what’s the truth.
12 days later Honor goes back to court … and it doesn't quite work out that way.
Honor’s sister has just written a letter to the judge, describing her trauma. Says she can’t smile or raise an eyebrow. And she can’t work as an electrician anymore.
Honor doesn’t know about the letter.
BROTHER: You’ve got this, man I’m telling you, he’s got this.
His older brother’s rubbing his shoulders, telling him, he’s got this.
BROTHER: I’ve been telling him he’s got this whole thing, man. He's got it. I got a lot of love and prayers going for him every day.
STEPH: Yeah that's precious. I love that. That's family therapy done right. We can phase out because we know that the family is there and they've got his back.
They’re all doing everything they’re supposed to. Stephanie stopped reminding Honor about curfew months ago.
STEPH: I had this fear of like, oh no he’s not calling, it’s going to be my fault blah blah blah. And then when I checked curfew -- he was perfect. He had called every single night.
Every night at 7:47 pm. Just to make extra sure he didn’t miss the 8 pm curfew.
Yesterday Honor was giving a presentation in school about Greek mosaics for his global history class.
Today he takes his seat before the judge … and the prosecutor says something he wasn’t expecting. She says she wants to give Honor 5 years in prison, five years of probation, and a permanent record.
When we walked out of court together -- that was the worst I’ve ever seen Honor.
SARAH: I couldn't see your face when when the D.A. said …
HONOR: My face was just like just kill me now.
MOM: But she. Ahhh.
HONOR: I feel like I want to die right now. I just want to jump in traffic. I don't want to be here anymore.
MOM: Don't say that baby. It's. It's hard. To hear. You know somebody say five years in jail.
HONOR: That's what's going to happen. I know for a fact cus given my life.
MOM: The 5 years?
MOM: No don't even, no.
HONOR: Mom, that's going to happen. Given the track record of my life, I always had the worst possible bullshit happen to me.
KAI: Wow, dark day.
SARAH: Yeah. And here’s the thing. Honor knows that he stabbed his sister. And he doesn’t have a problem admitting that. But he says he wasn’t trying to kill her. He doesn’t want to plead to that.
But if he does. If he does take responsibility ... and plead guilty … the judge says she’ll let him be out in society for two years to prove to her that he doesn’t deserve to be in jail or get a permanent record.
KAI: Wait no record?
SARAH: Yeah, it’s huge. This is the ideal outcome of the Families Rising therapy program.
But Honor can’t stop going to school. He can’t commit any new crimes, obviously. He has to keep taking his medication, and keep seeing his psychiatrist -- court-mandated.
If he does that for two years … no prison and no record. But if not … he’s looking at up to 25 years in instead of just five.
… And Honor has no faith that he can actually avoid prison.
MOM: The judge already feels you have been doing so well that you don’t need to be incarcerated. She said it! So what you gotta go to court-mandated therapy. You’re gonna do it anyway.
HONOR: I don’t like my therapy being mandated.
MOM: But don’t feel like that. Alright but look you’ve been doing it though, without anybody asking you. You just gotta behave and you’re not a bad kid, you’re always well behaved.
HONOR: I just, I just, I just got a bad feeling something’s going to fuck up along the way.
MOM: No. I think we should. Yeah I don’t like the way you’re feeling, so, I’m sorry, Sarah.
SARAH: No, I totally understand.
KAI: So what did he choose?
SARAH: A month later…he decides to plead guilty. Says, yes, he attempted to take his sister’s life.
So he has his freedom, right now. But he has to go to court every 3 months to prove he’s complying with the terms of the court.
KAI: And has he been complying?
SARAH: So three months after he pleads guilty, we all go back to his first court check in. It’s been a full year since the incident. And his hair is starting to grow back in.
And honestly, it’s hard to picture Honor doing anything violent. And it’s easy to forget that he’s fragile. And that he’s struggling with a lot of things.
JUDGE: No talking please.
But Honor -- is not not doing well.
JUDGE: Recalling from the Part 73 calendar, calendar ...One moment please.
He tried to commit suicide again. This time he took 15 of his mom’s muscle relaxers.
He was in the children’s psychiatric ward for 13 days over Christmas. And he’s missed about three weeks of school.
Honor and his mom volunteered this information to everyone in court. They didn’t have to. As far as I can tell, no one would have had a way of knowing.
And this doesn’t look great for Honors case. It raises questions about his stability.
DEFENSE LAWYER: Umm your Honor I did.
So his defense lawyer recommends a new therapy program.
LAWYER: He did have the Families Rising program, he successfully completed, but there are a lot of issues that he’s. He has a lot of challenges.
JUDGE: Do the people have any opposition or position on that request?
PROSECUTOR: The people have no opposition and agree with the defense that it’s best to get someone in the home.
JUDGE: Just to be clear we are in a post plea posture and we’ve been monitoring the young man. There have been no other arrests, is that correct?
PROSECUTOR: That’s correct.
JUDGE: Alright. So how are you doing?
HONOR: Ok, as of so far.
JUDGE: It’s good to see you today.
HONOR: Good to see you too.
JUDGE: We will be back. Your attorney asked for a month, I’m going to go a little longer. If he’s acceptable, please begin the work.
HONOR: Ok thank you so much.
JUDGE: Thank you. Take good care.
He’s now seeing a new therapist twice week … and he’s in a program to help him make up missed school work.
Honor has one year and 7 months to go -- to prove to his judge that he doesn’t deserve prison and a permanent record.
KAI: But what’s his sister think? I mean is this fair to her? She’s the one who has permanent nerve damage?
SARAH: She thinks the judge gave Honor a free pass. She actually has a lot to say about this whole situation. And we were supposed to meet up for an interview. She gave me her address. But then she sent me a text at 5:30 am canceling. I have seen pictures of her. And every once in a while she says she’ll call but then doesn’t.
Okay, I’m gonna read you a text from her:
“Honestly, at this point, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. He got away with attempted murder. No jail time. No parole, NOTHING. Because of his age. I don’t care if he’s my little brother. He almost took my life in front of my baby girl’s eyes.”
By the way she just had her second kid … and she says she’s happy with her little family. And that she’s in a really positive place.
And Honor --- he can see why his sister wants him in jail.
HONOR: Yeah, I can.
SARAH: You can?
HONOR: Yeah I can. Cus that’s very serious. It’s not like I punched her. I stabbed her. So its like, what would you expect if your sister stabbed you? What would you want for her?
What would you want for the person who hurt you? This is what Honor’s story pushes us to think about.
Do we punish people in order to make it fair to their victims? Does that make it fair to them? Should our justice system just be about punishment? Or should we do whatever makes people less likely to reoffend?
DWAYNE & KAI TWO-WAY:
KAI: I’m back with lawyer and poet Dwayne Betts – and Dwayne, to me Honor’s story begs this larger question about how we actually fix the problems that come before AND after a violent crime. And even with all the conversation we’ve had in recent years about reforming the justice system, this is one place where we don’t seem to be having any real discussion.
DWAYNE: We don't have any real victims services in the United States. We don't ask questions about what does it mean to make somebody whole after some thing, some tragic thing happens to them. You know we have for a long time just thought prison was the solution, and it would make people feel better to know that the person that harmed them went to prison, and frequently we say that because we expect them to be harmed in the same way when they go to prison. But, but that's not sufficient. And that hasn't left anybody whole.
KAI: It's actually the way we've defined justice right? I mean that is how we've defined justice, is whether or not you get thrown in jail.
DWAYNE: Oh, man. So I was – years ago, I was on a panel, in Chicago, and it was me, defense attorney, prosecutor. Listen, and we're talking about whether or not juveniles should get life without parole, for any crime. And a woman stands up and five women stand up with her, and she makes this arguing about, "Listen, you have somebody on the panel that's representing criminals, defense attorneys, the medical field - nobody represent victims. And I want to know what would you do if it was your child who got murdered."
And what I said was I hear your pain … and then I explained that you know, I exist in this world as a victim of violent crime, as a perpetrator of violent crime, as the family member of both victims and perpetrators of violent and nonviolent crime, and it's not as if I'm on a stage representing any one of those identities. In fact I'm here because I want to try to represent all of those identities.
And then I told her about a poem by A. Van Jordan, in which he says, a politician is speaking and says, “What would you say if somebody asked you what would you do if it was your wife who was brutally raped and murdered?” And in the poem Van Jordan says, in the politician's voice, “It depends on if I had a moment to breathe.”
DWAYNE: The question really is this is the system about vengeance or justice. And those aren't synonyms and a way do we keep those from synonyms is to institutionalize a moment to breathe. And that's what the justice system is.
And if it was me, it absolutely depends on if I had a moment to breathe.
KAI: Coming up, the Supreme Court tells judges, hey, take a moment and breathe before handing out sentences to kids.
STEPHEN: Our slogan really became simple which was, “Kids are different. And they shouldn't be subject to the ultimate penalty because they're so different.”
That’s next, on Caught.
Caught is a production of WNYC Studios and the Narrative Unit of WNYC News.
This episode was reported by Sarah Gonzalez.
Dwayne Betts is a consultant on the podcast.
Bill Moss mixed this episode with help from Matt Boynton.
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Hannis Brown is our composer and Students Taja Graves-Parker, Alberto Lugo and Sean Gary from Building Beats provided additional music.
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And I’m Kai Wright. Thanks for listening.
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