My mentor once told me, “The crowd is always wrong.” I imagine this sentiment amounts to heresy in a world enamored with democratic ideals, but the flip side of democracy has always been the lynch mob.
I was talking the other day with the mother of one of our parricides. Her husband, she said, was the local telephone man and universally loved by their small community. But at home, he was a monster. The son was unknown to the community, as was what he endured at home.
The jury was out exactly four minutes. They didn’t try to uncover what was really going on. The mob agreed on only one thing: someone must pay. Their decision was made before the trial even began. It was the popular way to think. As a result, a 16-year-old boy received a 99-year sentence in adult prison, with all that entails in the popular imagination. I’m sure the jury thought they’d performed a good deed that day.
They didn’t. They only made a bad situation worse. That boy was Travis Tyler, and he has been incarcerated since 1995—19 years—only two years less than I have been mourning the death of my wife (which has been forever). I thought I had it bad, but this young man’s fate is far worse.
Who would blame me if I were to turn my back on Travis? Certainly few people in the town of Tuleta TX (a small place—population 288—59 miles from Corpus Christi). Certainly few of the people in the town’s 84 families or 119 households, or who work for the oil companies in the area, the grocery store, the water well service, the community center, or who attend the Baptist church.
They banished a murderer from their midst. That’s all they know or care about. Learning what really happened creates a mental strain. It’s hard. It involves stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Exercising understanding and compassion is beyond them.
I don’t care what unthinking people like this think of me.
When I first took on the cause of Jordan Brown five years ago, it seemed that the whole town of New Castle PA was against him. I know that this was not literally true, but the people who were not allowing themselves to be manipulated by the victim’s vengeful family, a corrupt county prosecutor, and dishonest police were hanging in the background. I think I was the first writer to have defended the 11-year-old, and though the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has still not treated Jordan justly, Jordan has won every appeal since he was unjustly incarcerated, and the boy is still able to hold his head up high as one who has defied mob rule. I am proud to have played a small part in lessening his ordeal.
Yesterday I was abandoned by a journalist who, as it turns out, has been fielding the comments of people close to her of the futility of taking on parricides as a cause. Some even suggested that this mission is a scam (I have been scammed, but have never made a promise to my parricides I haven’t kept). I think the demoralization she feels as a result of the resistance she’s encountered is just a temporary thing, and that I will possibly hear from her again. But maybe not.
These parricides need somebody who will never give up on them, even for a day. That is my function, even if I take a beating from the people of New Castle or Tuleta or a hundred other places in America.
I may bend in the wind, but I won’t be uprooted. Reverses will happen, but they don’t matter in the long run. You and I are here to stay.
Groove of the Day