Human beings are ...
(Since my editor won’t let me use the word I wanted, the most appropriate one, you can select your own. Choose one or all from this list:
Never miss a local story.
That is, admittedly, a bleak outlook for someone known far and wide as Mr. Sunshine, but it’ll probably be your outlook, too, after you see what kinds of people have access to their mother’s computer while living in her basement.
What led me to that un-Christian but unstartling conclusion is what happened after two incidents, nearly two decades apart, about which I wrote in this space.
One concerned a woman, an ex-con, who’d done 10 years in prison for being addicted to heroin. While in the joint, she’d kicked the horse habit, earned degrees and prepared herself to face the world better armed than before.
Despite being released with high hopes, she, like George Jones in his song of the same title, soon found herself “still doin’ time in a honky tonk prison. ... Still doin’ time where a (woman) ain’t forgiven.”
Through tears, she related to me the story of how no one was willing to take a chance on her because of her criminal past. I checked it out and then wrote about it. The same morning the story ran in the newspaper, then-Gov. Jim Hunt called and told me to have her call him and he’d get her a job.
I did, she did and he did.
For weeks afterward, people called inquiring about her.
Fast-forward to two weeks ago. I wrote a similar story on Thanksgiving Day about another woman whose criminal record, despite her post-conviction efforts, was severely circumscribing the future for her children and for her.
After a Thanksgiving Day column about a woman in need of help, a few goodhearted citizens wrote or called to suggest avenues she could try, or merely to say they were praying for her. They, sad to say, were in the minority.
A few goodhearted citizens wrote or called to suggest avenues she could try, or merely to say they were praying for her.
They, sad to say, were in the minority. Most basement dwellers who put finger to keyboard to respond heaped condemnation upon that which the woman was already facing as she tried to repair the damage to her children’s life and her own, damage that she admittedly did to herself.
One kindhearted and helpful gentleman even took it upon himself to look up just about every crime of which the woman had ever been accused, going back more than a decade, and post it online – you know, just in case anyone didn’t know just how unworthy of a second chance she was. I picked the wrong person whose cause to defend, he wrote.
Another fella – I’m guessing a self-righteous church deacon in a church you wouldn’t want to attend – wrote to tell me that the woman probably didn’t exist and was a figment of my imagination, part of some alt-left fake news, whatever that is. Others scolded me for ruining their Thanksgiving feast with the story of a person obviously undeserving of another chance.
You can blame the current coldheartedness on the putridity of recent political campaigns, on the anonymity that the internet affords mean people who wouldn’t have the guts to be mean in person, or on whatever you want.
To me, the “why” is way less important than the “who,” as in “Whose life is so bereft of meaning that they’d take the time to look up and then post a stranger’s criminal history, just in case anyone might be compelled to feel sympathy for her?”
I pity the fool.
Most people were angered that one of her convictions was for Medicaid and food stamp fraud. The woman’s explanation – after admitting that she’d accepted money for her daughter’s health care to which she years later was deemed ineligible – sounded plausible to me. She said she would’ve fought the charges had she known the repercussions would be so long-lasting. Who among us hasn’t accepted a charge simply because we wanted to move on?
Anger toward anyone ripping off taxpayers is understandable, the offense is indefensible and she is paying a price for it. The vituperation toward her for accepting $10,000 in aid to which the government said she was not entitled, though, was nowhere in evidence toward the investment bankers who looted banks of hundreds of millions and ran the U.S. economy aground.
Nary a one of them went to prison or, I’m guessing, faced the kind of personal ire, poison pen letters or long-term consequences directed at the woman about whom I just wrote.
In Eugene O’Neill’s play “The Emperor Jones,” the shady emperor proudly informs his toady, “Now look here, Smithers. There’s two kinds of stealing. There’s the small kind, like what you does, and the big kind, like I does. Fo’ de small stealing they put you in jail soon or late. But fo’ de big stealin’ they makes you emperor and puts you in de Hall of Fame when you croak.”
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Are people angry at the woman because she stole – or because she didn’t steal big enough?