Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 1999/ 9 Kislev, 5760
Marianne M. Jennings
The elusive human spirit
RECEIVING LETTERS from prisoners is one of the perks of writing a
column. Often, threats from those who truly hate your writings are nearly
indistinguishable from those of twice-convicted thugs. If my mail from
prisoners is any gauge, the joints are full of innocent cherubs fallen
victim to a ruthless criminal justice system. Breaching etiquette, I do not
respond to inmates.
A recent letter, however, warrants a public response. Donna Belva
Marietta wrote from the Estrella Jail in Phoenix proclaiming her innocence
and complaining of her public defender's failure to "put in a motion for
discrimination." This procedural hoop is not one I learned in law school,
but a great deal has changed in the past 23 years. I'm not sure murder is a
crime anymore and there might be jail affirmative action programs now.
Intrigued, I explored Ms. Marietta's, a Pima Indian, case. Ms. Marietta
was arrested on December 11, 1998 with a blood alcohol level of .147, .10
being the level of legal intoxication. She left a bar to pick up her son,
crossed the center line and struck a police officer on a motorcycle, tossing
him against her windshield and then 40 feet into a coma. Officer Gunter has
recovered with permanent damage to his knee and a desk job. Ms. Marietta
says she didn't do it. Accident reconstructionists see it differently and
her public defender advised her to plead. She did and got half of the
recommended sentence of 15 years (7 ˝ years) despite her lack of remorse. "I
know in my heart it wasn't my fault," she writes.
"It's not my fault," like "been there, done that," "don't go there,"
"at the end of the day," and "agenda," is one of those trite phrases that
make me want to say "groovy," so sopping with the age of Aquarius are these
worn expressions. Couple "it's not my fault" with a drunken driving binge
that nets a coma for an innocent soul and you have discrimination. The "it's
not my fault" syndrome has taken on significance Freud would find innovative.
"It's not my fault" has subsidized whims, follies and treacherous acts with
the theory that, well, we just can't control ourselves. No better than
hamsters in heat or lions in a Serengeti drought, we justify with Flip
Wilson's comedic line, "The devil made me do it."
Andrew Goldstein, who pushed Kendra Webdale, a complete stranger in
front of a subway car and killed her, raises the defense of psychosis,
whatever that is. Mental illness has become a complete defense to all acts,
regardless of malice or intent. Find the right syndrome and wreaking havoc
is not a problem.
Worse then the no-fault syndrome is the royalty syndrome under which
otherwise felonious acts are excused by station in life. Heisman hopeful
Peter Warrick paid $21.40 for clothing worth $412.38 at Dillard's with
cooperation from a 19-year-old clerk. In Tallahassee, Florida, such a
discount is grand theft and Warrick, the clerk and a fellow team member,
Laveranues Coles, faced felony charges.
Warrick was suspended from the
Florida State team, but reinstated after the cruel and unusual punishment of
20 hours of community service was imposed. Coles was kicked off the team
owing to previous legal and academic difficulties. Praise the heavens for
hard-nosed coaches! What's even better is William Dockery's, the president
of the Downtown Athletic Club which awards the Heisman, reaction, "If any
candidate is convicted of a felony, he would no longer be eligible to receive
the Heisman Trophy." Oh, self-righteous fiend! Oh, judgmental tormentor!
But better still are the reactions of some of the 900 voters for the Heisman
trophy winner, "It's a hard call," or "I wish we had some guidelines. The
Heisman people and others who sponsor awards have left the door flapping in
the breeze and haven't given us any guidelines on whether character, or
academics, are important."
There was a time when all college students were held accountable for
academic performance and suspended for lack of character. Now the biggest
college football honor in the nation could belong to a thief. You don't
expect perfection and football excellence, but is excluding crooks setting
the bar too high?
Lack of enforcement, for whatever unrelated reason moves the line of
right and wrong, of propriety and impropriety, just a bit each time. Each
level of tolerance discourages compliance. And each devilish act chips away
at the human spirit that once seemed indefatigable. Now the human spirit is
no different from the marauding bear, the laughing hyena or the prowling
In this week of whiney prisoners, excused grid ironers and contrived
defenses to murder, there was a bright spot of reassurance on the human
spirit. Eddie Timanus, the blind reporter from USA Today, is a finalist on
Jeopardy. Blind since the age of two, the man bowls, plays baseball and
beats the seeing at Alex Trebek's game. No excuses, no rationalizations, no
whining, no fussing€” nothing but achievement in a world in which the guilty
are excused for far fewer challenges than Eddie faces.
Eddie stands as
defiant proof of what the human spirit can overcome. He could have listed
100 excuses. Instead, he found a way around them all. I may just respond to
all my prison fan mail with one line: Study Eddie Timanus and then get back
JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State
University. Send your comments by clicking here.
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10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles
©1999, Marianne M. Jennings