the devil and the damage done

Judge John Faulkner got it right. The pain, anger and frustration he conveyed in his recent sentence of J.D.

Judge John Faulkner got it right.

The pain, anger and frustration he conveyed in his recent sentence of J.D., a young killer turned honour student, was heartfelt and, frankly, justified.

The young woman’s story careens from horrifying to heartwarming to just plain infuriating.

But the goofy situation may still be salvageable – through courage, generosity and imagination.

The question is whether society will stand by? Or will it act?

The woman stabbed her mother’s boyfriend to death. She couldn’t explain why and a psychiatrist couldn’t either.

She showed a “troubling lack of remorse,” noted Faulkner.

Another grim story. But this one had a twist.

After spending five months behind bars at a young offender’s facility she was released to the custody of the girl’s high school guidance counsellor and his wife.

For the next 18 months, they supported the woman without any support from any government agency or the girl’s parents.

She arrived an indifferent student interested in alcohol and drugs. In those few short months in their care she graduated with honours, was nominated for valedictorian and was accepted to the University of Alberta.

She had also held down a

part-time job, and was generously praised by her boss.

She followed the release conditions imposed by the court flawlessly.

Faulkner, who has doubtless seen many hardluck stories, called this one a remarkable tale of redemption, though he added, somewhat ominously, “the book telling the full tale of this crime may be as yet unfinished.”

Things might have ended well, and easily.

But the guidance counsellor recently lost his job. He and his wife are moving to Edmonton.

They offered to put up J.D., but given their diminished income, couldn’t afford to continue to care for her without assistance – they have children of their own to put through school.

With a meagre investment, the government could have kept the girl in school and avoided the expense of housing her in prison.

But the government’s social service agencies wouldn’t do it.

The situation didn’t fit any of the government’s pigeon holes, noted Faulkner.

And Alberta wouldn’t play along with a jury-rigged fix that would have declared the couple’s home an open-custody facility.

Why the long list of excuses, roadblocks and intransigence?

Because of cowardice.

The bureaucracy and politicians of two jurisdictions are scared witless that, were they to accommodate this woman through some unusual arrangement, she might commit some crime and cause a scandal.

It is easier and far less risky to simply lock her up.

The problem is, we all know it is far more likely she will commit future crimes because of this decision. The only difference is that politicians’ and bureaucrats’ asses are covered.

So, instead of attending university, the woman is headed back to prison for 12 months, “fraternizing with exactly the people she should be avoiding like the plague,’” wrote Faulkner.

“The opportunity to turn this girl’s life around and make her a contributing and non-violent member of society may be irrevocably lost.”

While the door is closing, fast, it is still not too late.

Faulkner ended by expressing the faint hope some other alternative can be found – that this once-violent woman turned honours student can be kept away from the riffraff. That her all-too-rare redemption story can continue.

Already, two generous people have stepped forward and offered to continue their support of the woman.

But now they need a little help, a little money.

Time and again society proves willing to step up and spend huge sums for damaged rinks, chairlifts and foam speed-skating pads.

But fixing damaged people is, admittedly, a tougher sell.

There’s risk.

So far, in this case, the community has been unwilling to shoulder it.

But there’s still time.

This young woman and her guardians need a benefactor or champion.

Someone with faith, imagination and, most importantly, the courage to step up for a troubled young woman.

It seems a bigger leap than it is.

In university, the odds are currently in the her favour. But now she’s in jail, and likely to fall back into her old ways – to become a burden on society.

As Faulkner said, “It’s a no brainer.”

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