More Shootings. A Proposal

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The other day, in the wake of the Tulsa killings, I stop to chat to an acquaintance sitting on a low brick wall in front of our building.
I bring up the recent shootings and then ask, ‘What do you think of gun control?’
The person replies, ‘I believe in the second amendment… I listen to such and such podcast and I believe in that. We have to deal with the mentally ill.’
To which I reply, ‘The mentally ill are responsible for some of it but far from all of it.’
The person returns, ‘We have to go to church…’
And I say, ‘I’m not a church going person.’
Seemingly annoyed, he stood up as he readied to leave and added, ‘Go to church.’
End of conversation.
I wish the gunman in Buffalo, NY, the one in Uvalde, Texas, and the one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to name only the more recent ones, had found solace and peace of mind in church. But they didn’t. And if the almighty was looking over them as we’re taught he/she does, then, somehow they got away.
So much for being all mighty and all seeing and what not, because we’re bleeding down here.
It is up to us to come up with solutions because the church isn’t doing it.
The men in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa – it’s men, overwhelmingly, not women who like to shoot innocent people – obviously needed to talk to someone. They did not.
Never mind the second amendment for that won’t be repealed. But we need to find some ways to let people channel their grief and resentment.
Government can help. Maybe churches can, too.
Here’s an idea for government to consider. Create a public website or phone line that does not identify the user, so it won’t be seen as a trap. Encourage those in pain to reach out. If tied to a team of helpers that can quickly go to the assistance of the person, should they so desire, it may add to it.
One possible name for the service is ‘Talk. Save your Life.’ Or ‘Crime on My Mind’. Other names may be more effective.
Start a pilot program somewhere.
I wrote a booklet some years ago titled ‘Letters to a Shooter’ where I try to talk a person out of such ghastly action. I will gladly donate the book to the effort. You don’t have to keep my name on it, either. Take it off and modify the contents as you wish, so long as it facilitates assisting the person in pain.
But we have to do something because we are bleeding.
The defenders of the second amendment won’t budge, bills proposing background checks before purchasing guns will keep being defeated in congress, and we’ll continue to shake our heads as we reflect on the latest shooting, muttering under our breaths, ‘Oh God.’
To the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, will you please step up and remind us of how much are the mentally ill responsible for the madness that afflicts the nation?
Thank you
And let’s get ready for the next one. It could be in my neighborhood or yours.

Oscar Valdes,,, buzzsprout, apple and google podcasts


Years ago, while interviewing a young inmate who was serving a sentence for running a red light while drunk, and crashing into a car carrying an elderly couple and killing them both, he said to me, ‘Two more years and I will have paid my debt to society.’

The crime had been committed when he was under 21. By the end of his term he would’ve served something like 5 or 6 years.

There was something very wrong with what he had said. And the law permitted it.

The thought stayed with me.

There has to be a better way.

Killing someone is killing someone. The killed are gone. To be with us no more, while the responsible party has life ahead.

Is it fair?

Step into a prison for a visit – which I highly recommend – and you’ll be struck by the mass of people stuck in cells, mostly doing nothing constructive, men and women in their prime just waiting for their terms to expire.

Well, I say we’ve got this wrong.

Suppose Jim kills Pete in a robbery or for some other reason.

Jim has a debt to society and to Pete and his family. And he needs to pay it.

But how does being idle in a prison cell improve Jim’s ability to pay his debt?

It does not. But if he was educating himself to make a living or start a business, then the time incarcerated would be well spent. Upon release, Jim would be able to earn money and begin the process of making reparations.

How long would Jim have to make reparations? Forever.

The size of the reparations would vary depending on the income Jim can generate, but the debt incurred is to last a lifetime. And so with other offenses, like rape and child molestation.

While Jim is in prison, the State is investing in his education, an education that allows him to buy his freedom, but he has to pay it back.

Jim doesn’t want to work? Then he goes back to prison.

Jim will need more than an education to become a responsible citizen. He will need psychological treatment to address the impulsivity, poor judgment, addictions etc. that led to his killing Pete.

The State needs to invest in that. And then Jim pays back to the victim’s family for the rest of his life.

What Jim doesn’t need is to be rotting in a cell wasting his potential capabilities.

The State ought to have an obligation to create the conditions that lead to forming responsible citizens.

Keeping people idle in confinement is no way to do that.

Somehow, though, certain societal forces have prevailed to insist that punishment is more important than education. I believe the influence of the Church has played an oversize role in this, but I leave that to others to determine. The emphasis on punishment, however, needs to be changed to one stressing the educational and psychological rehabilitation of the offender.

The length of time Jim would have to stay in prison for killing Pete would depend on his response to psychological treatment and his eagerness to acquire productive skills. Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology and Social work from local universities could be enlisted to contribute to the effort.

After sufficient progress has been made, then Jim would appear before a board made of fellow citizens, the composition of which would vary just as with the selection of a jury (not like presently, where these boards are stacked with law enforcement). The citizens would hear the evidence proposing his release and a decision would be made: Return to society or remain in prison for more constructive work, education, work skills and psychological assistance.

But the incentive would always be there, work hard and you will earn your freedom, a freedom that is to remain conditional on the payment of reparations for a lifetime (for certain offenses).

The notion of buying one’s freedom bother you?

We do it every day. Every single day, when we set out to earn a living, we are buying our freedom. Choose to not make the effort? Then we won’t be able to pay the rent and will have to hit the streets. Is that freedom?

You decide.

Whatever societal forces have shaped the current state of how we deal with crime have not satisfactorily addressed the issue, neither morally nor economically.

Locking up young people in their productive prime is of no benefit to the nation.

It may, in the minds of some, satisfy a desire for vengeance, but that is not making us a better country.

People need hope.

A case can be made that those who have failed, like Jim, did not get the benefit of strong formative forces as they were growing up. If so, while in prison, the State has a chance to make up for its share of responsibility to deliver a fully engaged citizen.

Jim, on the other hand, has to contend with why he failed as a person.

Do we, as a society, keep supporting a system that emphasizes punishment?

Or do we reshape the institution to stress education, personal growth and the earning of one’s freedom to live a worthwhile life and, on the way, pay back those we injured or killed.

Oscar Valdes is the author of Psychiatrist for A Nation, the prison novel Walk Through Your Shadows and other books. Available on Amazon.