Wednesday, September 16, 2009


In the game of Monopoly, if you land on a bit of bad luck, you go straight to jail. You don’t pass go. You don’t collect $200.

In real life, it’s been 5 weeks since little Sebastian Balch was killed by chronic drunk driver Dion Thomas Gussner, who is expected to receive 16-years in prison when he’s sentenced in two weeks. Mr. Gussner is 31-years-old. Ironically, Sebastian would have just been turning 21 (the legal age to drink alcohol in California) by the time Mr. Gussner is eligible to get out of prison. Considering Mr. Gussner’s prior like offenses: dui and reckless driving, I feel this sentence is too light. Will we all be safe from his obsessive need to drink and drive? Yes, for a time. But what kind of message is this to others who have the same addiction? And yes, it’s also true that there’s no way to bring Sebastian back. Does that mean our criminal justice system is equitable? Does it hold people to task for their crimes? I have to say no, and I’ll tell you why.

I’ve had my share of driving problems. Yes, I’ve been in accidents. In fact, too many, however, the only thing I hurt was myself and my car and never while intoxicated. Because of my 2 speeding tickets (and accidents) I pay around $200 a month for the privilege to drive. This penalizes me in the one place that really hurts every month-- my pocketbook. The accidents won’t drop off for 5 years; the speeding tickets, 3 years. If you add up all the money I’ll be paying for insurance over the next 5 years, the monetary cost to me is right around $12,000. Do you have any idea what it will cost US to imprison Gussner? The price to house every prisoner in the state of California is around $30 grand a year (that doesn’t apply to geriatric and sick prisoners who cost much more). You don’t have to even be a third grader to see the problem here. Call me crazy, but it would be a lot easier to have MY meals made for me, a place to sleep, FREE healthcare, and NOT to have to go to work every day. Excuse my sailor language, but that doesn’t sound like punishment; it’s a fucking vacation.

Many moons ago I studied law enforcement and wanted to be a cop, but once the Department of Fish and Game hired me as a warden, I suddenly realized the truth of what I’d be expected to do: go out into the middle of nowhere and approach hunters with loaded weapons. I wasn’t comfortable with that scenario, so I went back to school to study something more appropriate for me. Still, I received a decent background and degree in our administration of justice system. It simply doesn’t work. The kind of punishment for taking a 4-year-old’s life, for taking any life, except purely through no fault, should be one’s life. I believe in the death penalty for many reasons. Sure, swift, and harsh punishment is the only deterrent to criminal behavior.

Interestingly, the book I’m currently working on (Unknown: The Devil’s Corral) includes a real person, a man named August Vollmer, who is known as “the father of modern law enforcement.” He didn’t believe in putting anyone behind bars, and that doing so only made the person more likely to commit further crimes once he/she got out of prison.

I used to feel that way, but no longer. What changed? Me, I guess. I grew up. It’s easy to train a young child, but once that child grows into adulthood it becomes much more difficult. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This kind of aphorism didn’t come from outer space. Those are honest words. As I get older I realize the truth more. It’s always inside trying to tell me if I listen to myself. And it knows right from wrong.

I wonder if Mr. Gussner heard his own mind warning him not to drive on that day he took Sebastian’s life. After all, he’d done it before, been caught, slapped on the wrist, told not to do it again, and he still threw five shots of whiskey down his throat before getting into his truck. I suppose it doesn’t matter because he didn’t listen to himself, his past, or anything else. We can all relate to that, I’m sure, and feel sorry for our poor choices, but death is final. It’s not a game. You can’t get a Get Out of Jail FREE Card.

Well, maybe in California you can.

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