For me, and possibly you, the Manson “family” has been a reoccurring presence. I was 11 when the Tate-LaBianca murders happened, and certain names were indelibly etched into my memory–Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten. Their names have kept popping up over the years, usually in relation to parole hearings. And each time, the gruesome details are recounted.
Except for Manson, who is insane, all developed into model prisoners. And interestingly, after all this time, only one of them has died–Susan Atkins, in 2009, of cancer.
This morning, I read that Leslie Van Houten was denied parole for the umpteenth time. Parole was recommended, but Gov. Jerry Brown denied it, saying she “currently poses an unreasonable danger to society.” I’ll confess, there is a very large part of me that wants to see her released. She’s not the same person she was at age 19. But after reading, again, what she did in 1969…well, it’s shocking.
In Norway, the maximum prison sentence is 20 years, regardless of the crime. A person might remain imprisoned longer than that, but the initial sentence doesn’t go beyond 20 years. There is no “life sentence,” and certainly nothing like our obscenely unjust “three strikes” laws, which are so beloved by law-and-order politicians.
Part of the reasoning, in Norway, is that people change over time. I’m reminded of the scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” where Red says at his parole hearing, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left.”
Norway apparently believes in redemption and life-change. In America, our focus is punishment and vengeance. You can argue that some of these Manson fanatics did redeem themselves, but must continue paying the consequences. I don’t know. It’s an interesting discussion to have.1 Comment