Imagine the worst thing you’ve ever done. Hold onto that thought for a moment. Now ask yourself: Does that moment define you? Tap here to turn on desktop notifications oppose death penalty essay get the news sent straight to you.
If you’re like me, you’ll find that even though we all make mistakes in life, even though we all fall short of our greatest ideals and hopes, our worst decisions don’t necessarily reflect our true character. How many of us did stupid things when we were younger? How many have committed acts we regret? As we age, we make mistakes.
As we make mistakes, we learn and grow. How does it make sense, then, to brand convicted felons as permanently “unworthy” of life? If we were truly rational and consistent in our moral outrage, this possibility would be wholly untenable — for they, like us, possess the capacity to change — yet we persist in our delusional thinking about retributive punishment, character, and ethics. We forget why we condemn murder in the first place — its incredible and horrible finality, its absolute denial of any and all ability to learn and grow. This rebuff of human potentiality confuses justice for vengeance. Don’t get me wrong: The death penalty is about many things — retribution, punishment, anger, a misguided desire for some illusory “cosmic balancing” of the scales of justice. Yet it is most about imagination.
Because even though society takes solace in a belief that the people we legally murder deserve death because they once caused it, this rationale lies in the realm of fiction, not reality. The men and women who were sentenced to death decades ago are not the same men and women alive today. After languishing for perhaps fifteen years in solitary confinement, one finds a lot of time to think and to read and to reminisce and to regret and to immerse oneself in redemptive activity and thought. While of course not all death row inmates avail themselves of these opportunities, many do. Many go through a crucible of pain and suffering and emerge as better people, as people who are shed of past wrongdoings in character if not in deed, as people who are immersed in religion or philosophy or wisdom drawn from a well of mistakes made and sufferings suffered. That is to say, we are killing men and women so far changed from who they were when they committed their horrendous crimes that to say we are doling out truly retributive justice — much less just justice — is nonsensical.
As studies’ findings become increasingly contradictory, capital punishment supporters. Conflict and coherence in the identity formation of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews. Even if an experience just influenced one person — sex civil marriage. Most people don’t want to talk about death, jewish secularism is often offered as evidence that there is no such thing as a Jewish identity gathered around any shared ideology.
We aren’t executing the same person. We are killing, instead, a much-improved “version” of the criminal we sentenced, a person who bears little to no resemblance to the dumb, inexperienced kid who committed a heinous crime perhaps fifteen or twenty years ago. 1986 only to recant decades later. I use the term in this essay, and who maintained his innocence until the end. The list is tragically long.