If you were born before 1965 or so, you probably have vivid memories of Manson Girl Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, the deranged woman who joined mass murderer Charles Manson's "family" during the period in which he and his followers were engaged in a murderous rampage through California, murdering actress Sharon Tate and a number of her companions, among many other victims, and who later made an attempt on the life of President Gerald Ford in 1975.
Fromme is, according to author Ivor Davis, who has written two books about the Manson cultists and their crimes, the only person who has ever been freed after attempting to murder a president of the U.S. Davis, who has just produced his second book on the cult, Five to Die:The Book That Helped Convict Charles Manson, states that Fromme, who was angered by his first book about the Manson Family, screamed at him, "Do you know what it feels like to have a seven-inch knife down your throat?" He states that he is "stunned" by the lack of public anger over the release of this dangerous woman, and from where I sit, she is still a palpable threat to him, as well as anyone else who may cross her accidentally or intentionally.
She is, after all, only 60 years old, which is nowhere near old age as that is measured these days. She's still young and strong enough to rebuild her criminal career and do untold harm, and she has never forsworn her allegiance to Charles Manson. I would almost suspect a touch of sexism here, for the perception that female murderers are less dangerous than men still persists, but there have been too many vile male criminals, who committed similar crimes, released after laughably short sentences to support that idea.
It's difficult to see Fromme as anything other than an exceptionally violent and utterly remorseless woman who participated in or helped to cover a number of extremely brutal murders, attempted a couple of her own, assaulted other inmates, escaped once, and threatened the lives of numerous other people, including, I recall, the defense attorney who handled the cultists' defense in the Tate-LaBianca trial; Fromme, displeased with what she considered stalling and ineptitude on the attorney's part, wrote him a letter with some very pointed language. "Maybe we've been too nice," she said in the letter, and the attorney reported having been very afraid of her.
Fromme may be the only person who was ever released after attempting to assinate a sitting president, but she's not the first vile criminal ever released after being convicted of heinous crimes to life in prison. Richard Maust, who raped and murdered a 14- year- old boy in the early 80s here in Illinois, was released after twenty years, so that he could murder three more teenage boys in Indiana about 10 years back. In fact, my strictly anecdotal evidence says that most murderers convicted for life usually don't serve more than twenty years, and end up back on the streets at a sufficiently youthful age to be a massive threat to anyone who might run afoul of their tempers or be perceived as nuisance or hindrance to them in some way.
Maybe Americans are simply too exhausted and numbed by forty years of rampant violent crime, and of outrages committed against us, jointly and severally, by both street criminals and the criminals who run our country, to get outraged about anything anymore. The important thing these days is just to stay alive and protect yourself and the people you love. Most people are numb from the unending stream of violence, and a crime that would have rocked the country for weeks on end before 1965 isn't even front page news anymore. Does anyone remember the workplace shooting rampage here in Chicago that left a half dozen people dead, or the guy beheaded on a long-distance bus in Canada? Probably not, because these types of events have become so commonplace that after a while they all seem to run together to form one vast, blood-soaked canvas of insane violence and brutality, and if you didn't desensitize yourself and will yourself to not think about it, you would go insane.
But everyone asks the same question: why can't we keep these people locked up? Why is a "life" sentance almost never for life, but usually for twenty years? Why is criminal justice in this country so irrational, so senseless, and so rigged? Why do some people serve more time for possession of five ounces of weed than some other folks serve for murder and arson?
We can see from this how we are experiencing so much difficulty in abating the violent crime here in Rogers Park, or the rest of the city for that matter, and why we needn't expect any relief anytime soon, because our justice system is utterly trashed. We hear it so often: the police did their job, the prosecutors did their jobs, the jury did its job, but at sentencing, or on any one of a number of subsequent appeals, the whole thing somehow unravelled and yet another dangerous, volatile person who's proved many times over that s/he is capable of doing vicious damage to another human creature, is out roaming the streets.
We not only have over a million people incarcerated in this country, but we are now so impoverished that many states are contemplating releasing tens of thousands of convicts because they no longer have the space or money to look after them. What, exactly, these people will do upon release in the current economic climate, with unemployment hovering around 10%, is an open question, but it's a good guess that the majority of them will resort to various types of crimes, petty and major, to sustain themselves out here, as many formerly legitimate citizens are now doing.
If ever there were a time to Get Rational and fix our justice system, it is now, and the first and most obvious step in that process would be to decriminalize those offenses known as victimless crimes, or offenses against common "morality", such as drug possession, drug dealing, and prostitution. We arguably never had any business imprisoning people for things like prostitution, gambling, or drug possession, and the case for legalization of street drugs and the complete decriminalization of drug abuse, prescription or "street" is overwhelming.
We could then expunge the criminal records of all people who are convicted only of these types of offenses. That would free up tens of thousands of prison berths and free the former convicts to pursue useful lives and indulge their nasty personal habits in peace. Additionally, we could tax the drugs, levying taxes according to the level of impairment and health risk of each substance, and a portion of the revenues from these taxes could be dedicated to providing clinics where addicts could indulge in the more dangerous substances, such as crystal meth, under supervision and for a relatively low cost.
Unfortunately, this country seems to be on the opposite track, towards ever-greater state control of purely personal behaviors, and our current "liberal" government doesn't seem to take any interest in rolling back the fascistic, no-win War on Drugs, but rather, is obsessed with criminalizing habits and behaviors that, while unhealthy and self-destructive, were perfectly acceptable for decades, such as tobbaco. It is so much easier to make life miserable for cigarette smokers than it is to do anything to reduce our violent crime rates, the highest in the developed world, or rebuild the enonomy on an honest footing.
We can't save people from volunteering to die and engaging in self-destructive behaviors, and we have no right to try. We have the right to hold people responsible for whatever they do behind this garbage, and we have the right to prosecute to the full extent possible for any crimes they commit under the influence. But we have no right to dictate what a person can inbibe, inject, inhale, or ingest, and we have no right to dictate how they use their bodies as long as their partners are willing adults.
The criminalization of "victimless" offenses has done nothing to abate the behaviors prohibited , but has perverted our justice system, enriched criminal cartels, and created a truly lawless society where many people understandably have a hard time deciding what is truly right or wrong; what is truly violative of another person's rights and what is merely "offensive". Let's hope we can finally learn from the Prohibition and stop re-enacting it, and make room in our prisons for the people who really need to be incarcerated.