Saturday, December 6, 2014

Serial and other criminal justice uncertainties.

I have been listening to a weekly podcast called “Serial” since its unveiling. The show is structured in a format where a long story is told piece by piece over a series of weeks kind of like a TV show might be or how I imagine an old radio drama would have been. This podcast has been on for 10 weeks now. The topic of this podcast is a murder trial that took place in the mid 90’s and the conviction of a defendant who at the time was in his teens. If this piques your interest go check it out. I will not get into the details of the story here.
I don’t know if the defendant was innocent or guilty and to me that is not the most interesting part. If the police arrested and the court convicted guilty man then I guess that is good. But what interests me is the theme of the investigation, which is the police work and trial that took place. It is a constant reminder to me of the flaws in our system. It is a good system but it is inherently flawed and open to manipulation and exploitation. In this podcast many questions are brought up and discussed. It seems hard to believe that this many things could be left open ended in a case and that so much evidence one thinks exists in a case was not present in this case.
This story reminds me of other stories I have heard or read about. The book “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham details the wrongful conviction of a man for murder who is sent to death row. This book show in disturbing detail the strange  twists and turns an investigation and trial can take leading to an innocent man being sent to death row.
In a recent story a man in Texas is scheduled to be executed after being  sentenced to death during a trial where he called Jesus and JFK to the stand. In this story the guilt of the man is not in question but the penalty is and the conduct of the court is. A man that is clearly mentally ill is allowed to represent himself and then sentenced to death despite the fact that it is illegal to execute someone who is insane.
When I hear of these strange occurrences in our criminal justice system It creates significant cognitive dissonance for me. It just does not commute. Growing up I learned how our justice system works and it seemed fool proof. Police investigate and arrest the guilty party based on evidence, the lawyers try the case with the facts weighed against reasonable doubt, and then the jury makes the decision based on the evidence. How could it go wrong? Apparently very, very easily and in so many little ways that all compound each other to make potential fiascoes like the few I’ve mentioned as well as I am sure countless others I am not even aware of.
I think part of the problem with accepting the faults in our system is that for the most part unless you work in the system or experience the system first hand most people are truly ignorant of how it works other than the cursory education we receive on the subject probably in elementary school. Then we grow up watching television shows about police and lawyers and courtrooms. In these TV shows everyone is honest and competent and respectful of the law. Justice is served. These are the ideas that permeate us as we grow up. Most people, myself included, probably get their knowledge of the criminal justice system from “Law and Order”. Don’t get me wrong I love “Law and Order” and other similar T shows but in those shows we only see the good stuff. The stuff that makes good TV. We don’t see the minutia, the mistakes, the errors, and we don’t see all the strange things that can apparently happening our system that we are never aware of until people report it to us.
When I come across these instances of inconsistent execution of our criminal justice system it really makes me feel like any outcome is possible for anyone who is involved with the system. It is really a cause for concern for me. I don’t pretend to know how to fix it. That is for smarter people than I. But it does seem clear that we somehow need to do a better job on a variety of fronts. I don’t envy the jobs anyone in the legal system does from police to lawyers to judges and juries and all the support staff surrounding them. They have some of the most important jobs in the country and some of the most highly scrutinized jobs in the country.
I think for the most part our criminal justice system gets it right but when it goes off the rails, boy does it go off the rails.

Ideas that never see the light of day

I find that throughout the day I have a variety of ideas come to mind.  Bet this happens to you too. I often have enough ideas pop into my head that at some point I have forgotten at least one or more of the ideas I thought of. Some ideas are not important and are little frivolous things with really no significant consequences if I forget them. Other ideas are more important to me and may have to do with business, photography, art, dogs, or a variety of other topics that interest me. Some of these ideas are things that I would like to research a little more or read up on. Some of them I would like to write down and see if I can find a way to make these ideas work for me in some real way and incorporate them into my life. To help me do this I have started writing things down more (typing them up in my Evernote app). This way I at least don’t forget them and can come back to them and reference them and rewrite things and make changes and updates as I find out more information.

I find that actually making my ideas happen is where my shortcomings factor in. I love to think of things and think about things. I have a constant flow of information that I like to read and listen to and this inspires me with new ideas and thoughts frequently. And these ideas get added to my list. I write them down and describe what I think I would like to do. And then……. And then nothing. It fizzles out. That nice long list of ideas and goals and projects that I have generates very little actual action. Nothing gets produced. Nothing gets done. It’s not that I stop thinking about the ideas or topics I have noted. It’s that I just can’t bring myself to make any further progress. I am a world class procrastinator for one. I can always find a reason to put things off or something else I can do instead. Like write down more ideas. I also, as many people probably do, experience significant anxiety about taking any further action on a variety of tasks. This part of making it real creates some real, at least in my mind, fear. Fear of exposing myself to the world, or that one person I have to send this to, to try to move on to the next step. I am afraid I will be rejected. Afraid to be exposed as a fraud. Afraid to succeed? If I take that next step and I am not rejected then I have to do more work and then probably expose myself to even more people and possibly even more rejection. Is it in my head or is it real? I don’t know. Maybe it’s both.

While the fear and anxiety may be real, is it justified? If I am rejected what have I really lost or suffered? There is no real physical threat but the threat is to my psyche and my psyche is very sensitive to that threat. I should be able to overcome it. I tell myself this all the time. It is not logical to fear sending an email, making a phone call, or submitting my photography to an editor. What is the worst that can happen? They can tell me no thanks or just ignore me. And I have been told no in the past and it hasn’t hurt me and it hasn’t closed the doors to those opportunities. I can contact other people with my ideas and get a yes eventually if I keep trying. So why is it that I have such a hard time moving on to this phase of idea and project fulfillment? Perhaps I will never know. Maybe I am not meant to know. It seems so simple. Just write a letter and hit send. But it is so much easier for some reason for me to sit here in my cozy box in my comfort zone where I do not have to take that chance. I don’t have to reach out and make contact and expose myself. Will I ever be truly happy in my career that way? Probably not, but I will be safe. Do I want only to be safe? No I want to be happy. I have spent my whole life with the single-minded idea that I want a career I enjoy and find fulfillment in. SO why is it so hard for me to take the necessary steps to make that happen. Why am I afraid of finding happiness, of fulfilling myself? Maybe I am afraid that after all of this work and thought I will be wrong and I will not be fulfilled by my choice of pursuits. Maybe that is the real fear that is holding me back.