Perhaps one of the most famous stories about unjust arrest and imprisonment was about Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”
It may be hard to believe, but there are at least three incidents not far away from these environs that are reminiscent of the famous fictional tale from the pen of one of France’s most famous authors more than 150 years ago.
Valjean, if you recall, was apprehended for stealing a loaf of bread and spent the rest of the story attempting to obtain redemption.
The first of the three yarns closer to home is of a Lake Odessa Lakewood High School student who parked his truck in the school parking lot, where it was discovered by an alert canine he had two spent shotgun shells inside.
The lad explained to school officials that he indeed had been deer hunting the previous weekend and the spent shells, now harmless, were remnants of his adventure.
This incident took place during an “American Hysteria” period in our recent history. School officials were encouraged to root out all students who brought guns or paraphernalia to school property. So the lad was sentenced to a 10-day suspension.
The second of the yarns was of a 10-year-old female fifth grade student during the aftermath of the Columbine shootings in Colorado. There was a spate of anonymous and phony threats made in some school districts, and perpetrators were caught and rightly suspended as a result.
But the fifth-grade girl who got caught up in this hysteria wrote in crayon on a piece of paper a phony bomb threat. She reconsidered not long afterward, crumpled up the piece of paper and tossed it in a nearby waste basket.
A curious classmate retrieved the paper and took it to a teacher and then the school principal. The girl then was brought before the school board and sentenced to a 10-day suspension.
In the third example, an 18-year-old lad and a friend performed vandalism at a rural cemetery, overturning tombstones and wreaking havoc on the the cemetery’s appearance.
Before he was brought before Circuit Judge Richard Shuster, he confessed and showed enough remorse to clean up the mess he had made and even spruced the place up a bit more.
The victims of this crime appeared in court to ask the judge to punish the lad no more because he had done a community service and already had restored the damage he and his friend had done.
The judge, a very popular “hang ‘em high” style magistrate whose demeanor in his courtroom was like a belligerent dictator, disagreed and had the teen offender serve time in incarceration.
I don’t see where justice was honestly served in any of these three instances. I’ve seen people in power overzealously punish offenders who were guilty of essentially minor offenses and who showed remorse and tried to offer recompense.
I would never recommend letting criminals off when they should absorb some kind of penalty, but at the same time, I believe even more in fair treatment given appropriate circumstances.
But we live in a society that promotes public officials to be “tough on crime” instead of demonstrating compassion and fairness.