Compassion and Justice

John 8:1-11

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Working within the Criminal Justice System, or even being involved in an adjunct profession that interacts with the system, can’t be an easy job. Having worked in public safety for the last 24 1/2 years, I can attest to the difficulties involved in dispatching, responding to and mitigating all kinds of problems and immediate threats. My experience has shown me that the best solutions are those that address the fundamental cause of the problem. These solutions are sometimes difficult or impossible to come by, for all manner of reasons, and that includes the lack of institutional or political will, or cooperation to achieve consensus between stakeholders.

Two stories in the local papers this morning greatly illustrate to me a need for balance, creative thinking, and compassion with some people who have been branded with what is turning out to be the 21st century’s version of The Scarlet Letter; “Offender”.

The first involves a woman who admittedly did a terrible thing; after the apparent exercise of some measure of grace and mercy by certain components of the justice system, she additionally had her sentence suspended, reportedly because of the effects of Huntington’s Disease.

She apparently violated her probation last month by assaulting someone in the nursing home she had been living in, and by being evicted from this facility and not reporting her change of address. According to the Sentinel article, she was arrested in Boulder, transported back to Grand Junction, and jailed. Her failure to comply with the terms of her probation apparently justified the issuance of a warrant, her transport across the state, and incarceration, all at taxpayer expense.

To be sure, she brought this upon herself, even after a considerable amount of grace from the judicial system to keep her out of jail. Her disease process may be getting the best of her, for all we know or should know. The concern here is not with the justice system as much as the media.

How was the public interest served by today’s story?

Are we any safer from the knowledge that this woman continues to suffer at the hands of her own heredity, as well as her own choices? Is that knowledge, and subsequent public scrutiny, perhaps being exploited to bring attention to the taxpayer dollars being spent to transport her from the Front Range and incarcerate her? Or at an even more basic level, is the last sentence in the article the most important one? This could be one of those rare news stories where the lead appears at the end:

Buescher is not related to state Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction.

Perhaps Mike Wiggins and his editors would like to expand on why they felt it was necessary to parade this unfortunate soul in front of the community again. Looking forward to reading more about this, but preferably not in the newspaper.

There’s one other unfortunate soul with whom I’m much more familiar with, and whose misdeeds have been chronicled by several local media outlets, most recently in today’s Free Press. I’ve spoken with this gentleman on numerous occasions in the course of my work. He is clearly frustrated by the circumstances of his life, many of which can be sourced to the destructive forces of aging and/or poor lifestyle choices. Several times he’s chosen to call my work and vent some of his frustrations. That’s inappropriate and can be illegal (as he is finding out..repeatedly), but he doesn’t seem capable of learning this lesson anymore, if he ever did.

As the story reported, myself and several of my colleagues have been listed as victims and/or witnesses in the various criminal proceedings against this person. I recently completed and returned a Victim Impact Statement to the District Attorney’s office, with roughly the following included:

This gentleman’s problems would be more appropriately addressed by the Human Services infrastructure of government, instead of the Criminal Justice system. The court would best serve the needs of society and the defendant by assuring that this occurs.

I would hope that Judge Flynn makes sure that the Adult Protective Services division of the county Department of Human Services is directly involved in the gentleman’s placement in a living arrangement that addresses his basic needs, and assures that his communication with the outside world is appropriate to those needs.

These people are God’s children as well. While those of us involved in these systems of man are scurrying about to make sure that earthly justice is served, we as a society need to make sure that in the larger scheme of things, we are emulating something much more basic to our survival as a civilization.

Addendum 1/9/08 1245: In the interest of fairness, Paul Shockley and his editors at the Free Press are equally culpable here, if not more so because their story was on Page 1 above the fold and continued into the inside pages. I didn’t see the paper until Saturday morning; this is a side effect of printing the paper out of town, I guess. I should have looked online, though.

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2 Responses to Compassion and Justice

  1. Michael says:

    John-I feel compelled to what I know in addition to what is in the paper. What has happened around Christy Buescher is a tragedy many times over. Your compassion towards her is very admirable. I can’t comment on the Sentinel’s decision to publish this story but I can help on the last line.Bernie Buescher is my father. My sister Marcia went by her middle name Christine, we all called her Christy, until after my Aunt Marcia had moved to Denver. As you can imagine two people named Marcia Buescher was confusing. During the trial two additional unfortunate things happened. Many of my sister’s friends thought that this Christy Buescher was my sister. Christy’s accident was the day before my sister got married so you can imagine the stress that caused. In addition there were a couple of “If Bernie Buescher can’t control is family why should we elect him” type letters to the editor at the Daily Sentinel.Given all that I think the line at the bottom of the article is the only fair thing the Sentinel could do if they choose to publish the story.Thanks,Michael Buescher

  2. John Linko says:

    Michael:I appreciate your perspective and feedback.I agree that the sentence at the end of the story was necessary if they were going to publish anything at all. It felt to me as if that line was a poorly veiled justification to further publicize this woman’s unfortunate circumstances. In hindsight, this is even a further indictment of the Free Press’ coverage, as they published a more comprehensive story and did not mention this.I’m hopeful that her case will be quickly adjudicated, and if her physician’s findings continue to be substantiated that she will be sentenced to the care she needs.Thanks again for your comments. My best wishes to your family.John

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