20
Jul
11

redemption

I am sitting at the keyboard today preoccupied with what is happening in Pensacola. Alex King has a court appearance and, with the help of his attorney Adam Ellis, will try to help the court understand why he ran on foot from the scene of a traffic crash on February 19th.

The Florida Department of Corrections has ginned this into a violation of probation charge for which Alex has been held in jail for five months—three months longer than the maximum sentence for the incident that is being adjudicated. In other words, we are still awaiting word about whether the court will judge Alex guilty or innocent of fleeing the scene, yet he has already served a sentence that is 2½ times longer than would be possible in the worst case.

But this is no ordinary case, and at this point it no longer has anything to do with justice. The Florida state bureaucracy has focused on Alex as an object of persecution because it failed in its initial bid to give Alex a sentence of more than 20 years for his role in the death of his father when he was 12. It is about retribution, pure and simple.

The bureaucrats will of course say that this has nothing to do with the murder of Terry King; that the violation of parole is connected to an “escape attempt” dating back to the time that Alex was incarcerated at the Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Corrections Center (OJOCC), a private for-profit prison operated by a British company, Securicor (now G4S). I visited there. The place was so grim, my first reaction upon hearing about the escape attempt back in early 2005 was, “If I were in that place, I’d want to escape too.”

The only problem was, Alex came under the influence of another kid who convinced him they could get away with an escape and they attempted it. Alex was so desperately unhappy at OJOCC, he probably felt he had nothing to lose, plus he was ill-equipped to resist the other boy’s influence. Because of his authoritarian upbringing in both his family and in prison, Alex has had a tendency drummed into him to comply and follow, and (as he has become more independent) to “go along to get along.” He never had the opportunity as a youngster or teen to learn the dual lessons of freedom and self-responsibility through the normal trial-and-error most of us took for granted in our own lives.

Yet he makes no excuses for himself. As Alex told me a couple months ago, “I don’t have the luxury to make small mistakes.”

Anyway, back on March 5, 2005 both boys ended up spending the night in a classroom instead of their cells—nothing of practical consequence. But Assistant Attorney General Daniel P. Hyndman saw it as an opportunity to come down hard on the kid, and the court proceedings dragged out over a period of years and cost us over $30,000 in expenses plus hundreds of hours of effort by his pro bono attorneys Jayne Weintraub and Steve Potolsky. Weintraub and Petolsky won Alex a sentence of five years’ probation, while the other boy (who had instigated the attempt) got an extra three years in prison.

It remains to be seen which of the boys got a better deal. Serving the full term of a prison sentence in some ways offers a cleaner outcome. When the sentence has been fully served, the state no longer has its hooks into you. By contrast, probation and parole are set with all kinds of trip-wires which, as we are seeing in FDOC’s arbitrary decision to treat a traffic offense as a probation violation, is not a safe or predictable situation. Until the traffic accident, Alex had been fulfilling the conditions of his probation perfectly. He had been getting excellent grades in school and had avoided any unlawful or prohibited activity whatsoever. The state’s decision to file a Violation of Parole (VOP) against Alex for a traffic infraction demonstrates that this matter is not being fairly handled by the state with any reasonable sense of proportion. It shows the state’s main focus is relentless, unforgiving retribution. It shows the state has little interest in Alex’s ultimate redemption and prefers to keep him in bondage.

The Latin word redemptio means  a “ransom-price.” The English word redemption means “repurchase” or to “buy back.” In Exodus 21:8 of the Old Testament, “redemption” refers to the ransom of slaves into freedom. In the New Testament, “redemption” refers both to deliverance from sin and freedom from captivity. There is thus a metaphorical sense in which the death of Christ is believed to have paid the price of a ransom, releasing Christians into liberty from bondage to sin and death.

The idea of redemption is so powerful (and so opposite from the norm of American justice today), we have decided that the work we do collectively for Alex and for all other young people will hereafter be happening under the moniker of “The Redemption Project.”

Whether you want to read into the name Christian values, or the values of other world religions including Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc., the basic idea is that we can buy back kids’ freedom through our own sacrifice, that our ultimate goal is a young person’s redemption.

As we are learning through the experiences of Alex and other kids who have aged into young adulthood, winning one’s redemption is a lifelong challenge. Anyone with a felony record finds liberty very difficult to attain  in our unforgiving society, no matter how much time passes, no matter how admirably one has lived over the years.

As I was doing research the other day in connection with James Prindle’s pending sex charge, I was dismayed to learn that a Republican congresswoman, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, even wants to bar some people who have been labeled as “sex offenders” from being buried in national cemeteries. Not content to see some offenders persecuted beyond their prison sentences, Hartzler apparently wants to hound and humiliate them even beyond death. Hartzler is calling her bill the “Hallowed Grounds Act.” But there’s nothing holy, Christ-like, or Godly in what she’s promoting. Statutory rape laws and prosecutions have become so extreme in some jurisdictions, an estimated 20% of all teens who engage in normal sexual activity are at risk of being so labeled and ruined for life.

It is high time that we bring a new spirit to justice in America. Our current era of retribution must come to a speedy end. Now is the time for compassion, forgiveness, love, and redemption—especially for kids.

If no one else will take the first step, we must.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Johnny Cash performing “Redemption”

 

(postscript)

I heard from Alex, and Wednesday’s court appearance was a “plea hearing” where Alex and his lawyer informed the court they were ready to go to trial. His next court date is August 1st, which will be devoted to jury selection.

He told me the prosecutor had pressured him to accept a plea deal, and even threatened to raise the stakes if we went to court. Alex said our original strategy calculus still held, and that defending ourselves in Pensacola against the traffic charge is still the best place to stand and fight. Plus we’re prepared for it.

Alex held his ground and basically said, “See ‘ya in court.”

(post-postscript)

July 21, 2011

The State Attorney’s Office has filed a “Nolo Prosequi” motion that was posted to the court records at the end of today’s business day.

I haven’t talked with anyone in Pensacola since the motion appeared, so I can offer little insight. But it looks like the state has chosen not to prosecute the case and is dropping the charges.

Right now I’m feeling grudging appreciation for the prosecutor’s good sense (and hope I lose the grudge tomorrow or the next day).

For Alex, of course, I feel elation for the outcome and admiration for the calm and thoughtful way he has been handling the process.

We are not home-free yet, but at least we can now return to Okeechobee without baggage.

(post-post-postscript)

July 22, 2011

I guess the victory lap last night was premature. I also have to take back what I said about appreciating the State Attorney’s good sense. He doesn’t have any.

We are continuing to watch the court records and it now appears the State Attorney is going to charge Alex with hit and run. Alex is to be arraigned on August 19, 2011. That is why they dropped the charge of leaving the scene of an accident.

The State Attorney has made good on the specific threat he made for no other reason than Alex refused to accept their plea bargain deal. Let me ask you this: how can the same behavior be both a misdemeanor and a felony? Logically it cannot be both, and cannot be changed by subsequent behavior.  Obviously the law in this case is just a tool of state  intimidation and coercion. It does not relate to objective truth.

Hit and run is a third degree felony and could include added time as a habitual criminal since it occurred while Alex was on probation and/or less than 5 years upon release from prison.  The maximum sentence is up to 5 years in prison.

Alex told me all of this before. We’re still ready.

This confirms my premise that this whole affair has turned into a vendetta against Alex King. It has nothing to do with justice.


12 Responses to “redemption”


  1. 1 matt
    July 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    The “Redemption Project,” what an excellent and most appropriate name!

    Let us hope and pray that Alex’s case is resolved favorably, and that he can soon resume his education and journey through life . . . but you know it can’t end there; there must be continued support to help him find safety, love and acceptance, a chance to heal, and promise of opportunity for a positive future.

  2. July 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Thanks, Matt, It’s no surprise to me that you have the spirit. So happy you’re with us!

  3. 3 Kelly
    July 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    I cannot believe Alex is still locked up. It’s completely unfair. I do see that he has to go back to court in August. Does that mean the case was continued today? I wish him the best of luck and hope he is out soon.

  4. 4 David A. Dailey
    July 21, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Amen, brother!

  5. 5 Gloria
    July 21, 2011 at 3:26 am

    I am like kelly still shocked at the treatment Alex has been given. Is so shameful, once again Florida show us that there is not justice. What a damn Shame!!! the way they are treating Alex. I wish Alex the best of lucks and hope he is out soon.

    Vicky hartzler of Missouri must come from the time where the witch hunts was the order of the day right? how pathetic that bill, if ever is approved, what a shame for a country who labels itself as a christian country.

    But now that you mention it here there is an interesting article about one of those labeled as “sexual offenders” that now that …… woman want’s to forbid from being buried in national cemeteries. (rolling eyes, really how pathetic some people can be.)

    The Accidental Sex Offender

    It was a classic teenage love story. He was a football star, and she was a cheerleader. They met, they fell in love, they started having sex. And then the cops got involved. Fifteen years later, they’re still paying the price.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/13/the-accidental-sex-offender_n_897427.html

  6. 6 Gloria
    July 21, 2011 at 3:54 am

    Sorry but I just read this that let me speechless. I had to put it here.

    New Mexico woman battles youth sentencing law

    Vengance as it most shameful.”I would like to see the age limits removed,” she said.
    That would mean district attorneys would have the latitude to prosecute ANYBODY as an adult, REGARDLESS OF AGE.

    http://www.elpasotimes.com/sunbowlmania/ci_18480854

  7. 7 Gloria
    July 21, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Sorry Dan for not understanding all that legal talk, but does that mean that Alex is free? because if so I’m very glad to hear that. :)

    • 8 Gloria
      July 21, 2011 at 7:23 pm

      Thanks for the explanation Dan, I wish Alex all the luck in the world. I hope Okeechobee does the same and drops the charges. Good luck Alex.

    • July 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm

      Not free yet, Gloria, but closer to it. Alex must now return to Okeechobee to face the violation of parole charge, but the VOP is not substantiated with a conviction. It is a dismissal whichhelps make the VOP appear to have been groundless, which it was.

  8. 10 matt
    July 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Rather unexpected good news; thought he might have to wait until his next hearing before such an announcement. Hopefully Okeechobee moves quickly on this, preferably without moving him back there to resolve the now apparently baseless case. Still, this entire incident has likely cost Alex a great deal emotionally, and it would seem likely to take some time to recover and get back on track. He has already demonstrated the drive and dedication to improve his life, and I am confident that he can do it again, with continued support from his family, friends, and you and your readers.

  9. July 22, 2011 at 1:13 am

    Some encouraging news which I will pass on to “The Gang”. Good to hear that Alex is bearing up well through what must be a very trying time for him. Will E-mail today about other things we have discussed about his and James’s situation. Cheers. £ance.

  10. 12 Gloria
    July 23, 2011 at 7:44 am

    so repugnant and shameful. :(


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