An Argument in Favor of the Cruelty of a Life Sentence
The families and friends of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre were reportedly disappointed and outraged that the murderer of their loved ones was given a life sentence in prison rather than the death penalty. Their grief and anger are understandable, as is their desire for revenge or retribution. If someone murdered someone I love I’d want to kill them myself. But capital punishment is not necessarily the best way to punish murderers. It is in fact highly flawed, both in how it is carried out and whether it can be considered an exercise of justice. Rather than getting into the moral and ethical arguments around state-sponsored executions, consider its effectiveness as a punishment.
A life sentence is not necessarily preferable to a death sentence for convicts. Being alive in prison can hardly be called a life. Having to spend all the remaining years of your life in prison is a horrible fate, a kind of torture. And there’s the possibility that you may be more literally tortured by guards and other inmates. Ultimately, those serving life sentences might find death preferable, a sort of relief.
There’s also the chance that you could be killed while in prison. A schizophrenic convicted murderer and repentant Christian man with a messiah complex could beat you to death with a barbell bar.
Jeffrey Dahmer, according to public accounts, wanted to receive the death penalty, begged for it. That wasn’t an option in Wisconsin, however much he, the family and friend’s of his victims, or the public may have wanted it. They all got lucky, however, when Christopher Scarver caved in Dahmer’s skull with a metal bar.
There’s something to be said for prison justice. It’s not as though convicts get to live happy, safe, and productive lives behind bars. There are those who might function in that environment, who may pass their time reading or painting or becoming indoctrinated into Christianity or Islam, possibly repent, and find a relative peace within confinement. But prisons are still dangerous shitholes. Suffering to some degree is a given. There is a good probability of experiencing violence and even death while incarcerated, a probability which can be raised depending on the nature of one’s crimes. We all know that child molesters, for example, are typically brutalized, raped, extorted, and sometimes murdered by other inmates. That is often the case for other criminals who commit particularly despicable crimes.
As Dahmer’s case demonstrates, being on death row and spending much of the time in solitary confinement doesn’t mean that convicts can’t still be violently killed by other convicts.
The death penalty is often not usually carried out immediately. Nor should it be in most cases because of the possibility that the convicted person is not actually guilty of the crimes they were convicted for, as is way too often the case in this country. Years can pass before an execution is carried out. John Wayne Gacy wasn’t put down until fourteen years after his conviction.
The “Parkland shooter” may live for decades to come, but there is a vanishingly small chance that he will enjoy what’s left of his life. Given the nature of his crime, his apparently subnormal mental capacity, and his bitchish stature and extremely beatable face, he is very likely to be made to suffer.
Nothing can bring back the lives that were stolen. Nothing can be done to actually make it right. But, if revenge and retribution are the goal, and seeing that a killer is punished for their evil acts is what people want, then consigning the rest of their existence to the inside of a prison where they will suffer and be violently abused by other inmates is a decent way to go.