Last week outgoing Governor Haley Barbour caused an uproar in Mississippi and across the country when he granted gubernatorial pardons to nearly 200 convicts. There have certainly been some controversial pardons in our nation’s history that have left Americans angry and scratching their heads. But Governor Barbour’s decision has the entire country outraged. Worse, he shows a complete lack of understanding of why that might be, and has demonstrated a blatant disregard for the feelings of not only the victims and their families, but victims of violent crimes everywhere.
The number of people on the list who have committed violent crimes (murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, rape, sexual assault) is absolutely staggering. So much so that the new Governor, Phil Bryant, is already meeting with state legislators to put some restrictions in place when it comes to granting pardons. Mr. Barbour doesn’t agree with that. He also doesn’t appreciate the perception that 200 people have been allowed to freely walk out the front doors of the state penitentiary in Parchman. Even the way he makes this statement is flippant and callous. Here’s a quote from USA Today:
Barbour said media reports have been misleading and led people to believe he freed more than 200 criminals. He said of his 215 clemency orders, 189 were not incarcerated and “most had been out for years, often for many years.” Of the 26 being released, he said, 13 are sickly and three will still be monitored by the Department of Corrections, “So we’re really talking about 10.”
Haley Barbour talks about those ten individuals as if they were merely a number, a tiny percentage point on a grander scale. But to ten families, they are 100% of the sorrow and fear they have experienced and will continue to experience. No matter how much they heal or where they are in the healing process, most of them will experience grief to some extent when they think about the loss of a loved one at the hands of those monsters released from prison. Family members are afraid of what the murderers will do once they’re out, and one family member said they are all afraid their loved one’s murderer will “come back and finish the deed.” According to a CBS report, eight of those pardoned brutally murdered their wives or girlfriends.
Another article in USA Today says:
Barbour said in a statement Wednesday that some people “misunderstood” the clemency and pardon process. About 90% of those affected were no longer in custody, he said, and his actions were meant to “allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote.”
One of Barbour’s pardoned was convicted for possession of less than an ounce of pot. I get it that people like that suffer probably longer than is warranted by having a felony on their records. I also understand that pardons were designed to correct unjust sentences. But the number of individuals pardoned for things like that make up a pretty small percentage of names on the list.
Being granted a full pardon means your record is wiped clean. I get it that many of these people served their time. I understand that Mr. Barbour feels they have paid their debts to society. But they have not, nor will they ever, truly pay their debts to their victims or their victims’ families.
My dad still has nightmares about an armed robbery he survived (one of five robberies) when he was a bank manager. It happened nearly twenty years ago. I read a fantastic article yesterday about a man who thought he was doing just fine, that he had done all the right things and the trauma of his sexual abuse was behind him. The Penn State scandal triggered a severe emotional reaction in him. He’s fifty years old. After two years of pretty intensive therapy I thought I was doing pretty well and had my emotions and reactions to certain triggers in check. Then I had an experience in the airport security line in Orlando that triggered a flashback so massive I’m missing chunks of time and it took me about three days to recover. It has been almost thirty-five years since I was last abused.
Haley Barbour told Fox News, “But what the state does and has done … most people in Mississippi are Christians or profess to be Christians, and we believe in forgiveness and we believe in second chances.” As a Christian, I also believe in forgiveness – for the truly penitent. I have a hard time, however, with the idea that a murder victim loses his or her life while the killer not only walks free, but walks free with an expunged record and nothing to answer for. I’m really not interested in rapists’ embarrassment, given how long it takes victims to rid themselves of their own feelings of shame. It’s not that I think anyone should suffer. I just think that anybody who is truly sorry for what they did would be willing to accept the lifetime of issues they will face, publicly or psychologically, just as easily as they forced a lifetime of issues onto so many others.
What Haley Barbour has done is a huge slap in the face that says survivors of violent crimes don’t matter. The men who robbed my dad were tried and convicted. I don’t know if they’ve finished serving their sentences or not and, as far as I know, they are not included among those pardoned. My dad once told me no sentence would ever be long enough to ease his pain. I would do absolutely anything to erase the painful memories my dad has. I would give everything I had and then some to make his nightmares of being on the floor with a gun at his temple disappear. I’d make a deal with the devil if I thought it would make him stop hearing his teller crying while an armed robber held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her if she didn’t open a drawer for which she had no key. But I can’t. The best I could hope for is to send him to my own therapist, but I live in a different state, so that’s not exactly feasible. Part of what I’m learning in therapy is how to deal with life events that will occasionally come up and be triggers for me, though they are just normal parts of life for everybody else. No matter how much I heal, getting a handle on that is a skill I will need for the rest of my life. The individuals who abused me will never even go to trial, let alone see the inside of a prison cell.
Like millions of other survivors of violent crimes, neither my dad nor I will ever receive a full pardon. To see the full list of those who have, along with what they were convicted for, click here: List of Pardons.
P.S. – Poppie, if you’re reading this, I love you muchly.