Justice, Mercy, Punishment & Retribution

Rabbi Mark Borovitz

This week was a typically insane week in my life. On Monday, I went to Federal Court to give testimony for a defendant who was being sentenced and was told by the Judge that my words were not needed but he would entertain all the comments that the victims and the Prosecution wanted to give. Each of us in Court were treated to the same vitriolic diatribes that the victims had put in their letters to the Court! The Judge had no problem listening to all of the people who wanted to speak and tell the defendant how he had ruined their lives. While it is true that he stole a lot of money from these people through a Hedge Fund Scam, it is also true that the person who brought all of this to light was the DEFENDANT! There was no case until the current defendant walked into the U.S. Attorney’s office and told on himself. Instead of wanting to hear about the change in the Defendant, the Court just wanted to hear how bad he was. Is there no place for mercy and truth/the whole story in our Justice System?

It is true that the defendant stole 16 million from Investors and he lied to them about their money. It is also true that the defendant was/is a Compulsive Gambler who lied about his addiction to everyone. He played in High Stakes Poker Games where the buy-in was 20-50,000 dollars and, he played badly. He was losing that much and more 3 or more times a month as well as the losses that he was taking in the market. He took family and friends for a big financial ride and cost them a lot of money. The rest of the story is that the people who are supposedly sophisticated investors believed that they were making 15-20% no matter what the market was doing. They gave him more money based on his phony statements to them. They were certainly not prudent nor did they investigate anything because of their own greed. None of the investors took any responsibility for their part. They accused the defendant of stashing the money away after being assured by the Government that all of the money had been accounted for. True, the defendant lived a lavish lifestyle – the kind that a big-shot gambler lives. True the defendant hid everything from everyone, including and especially his family – just as every addict does to the best of their ability.

All of these things are true, my problem is that the rest of the story was not spoken. The truth that the defendant is in the process of seeing his gambling as an addiction and only the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem, i.e. how to live life as just himself not trying to be anyone else nor do whatever anyone else wanted and/or needed. The rest of the story of how he and his lawyer had spoken of ways to recover some assets for the victims. The rest of the story of how he blew the whistle on insider-trading. The rest of the story of how in the past 9 months he has gone from a selfish, self-centered, egotistical and arrogant …. to a person who sees himself for who and what he is. A person who can admit the truth to everyone and is using his story to help others from not doing the same thing that he did. A person who places more value in Spirit that in $$. A person who helps others just because he can.

Does this mean that he is a wholly transformed human being? NO! It means that, like the rest of us, he is doing the best he can each day and has a firm grip on what behaviors he cannot repeat and ways to not repeat them. Yet, our Justice System wanted no part of the rest of the story, only the picture that they wanted to paint.

From this debacle, I drove to San Diego to visit an inmate at RJ Donovan Correctional Facility. He is dying of Cancer and wanted to see me before he died. We have a very strong connection and he is Catholic/Mexican and I am Jewish/European. I met him in Ione California at Mule Creek State Prison when I went there around 7 years ago to learn about CGA, a 12)Step program that this inmate started in Prison for people who are addicted to the lifestyle of crime, drugs, alcohol, etc. It was my first experience with the steps that felt Jewish! In fact, the CGA program is very similar to the Jewish Program that we do at Beit T’Shuvah. So, I got clearance in a very short time because of the seriousness of the inmate’s condition. I got to the Prison in a little over 2 hours and when I got there, they could not find the inmate. It turned out that he was on his way to the hospital again. The LT was very kind and took me over to the infirmary and my friend was sitting on the gurney waiting for some paperwork from the Prison to go to the hospital. I walked up to him and held his hand, spoke to him and we prayed together. It was a powerful experience. He appreciated it so much. We were talking to each other in the middle of the hallway by an open door with a waiting ambulance while everyone else stood by and watched the love and care we have for one another. Then, a different guard walks by and tells me I can’t hold the “INMATE’S HAND, IT IS A SECURITY BREACH. He was very angry and quite snippy about it. I thought to myself, he is surrounded by cops, he is dying, he is strapped to the gurney and we are praying together. This is a big security Breach?!

Ten days later, I flew up to Sacramento to testify at a Compassionate Release Hearing before the Parole Board. I said that Justice has to be tempered with Mercy in order to be congruent with principles of faith that our country was founded on. One week later, in court in Los Angeles to affirm the decision of the Parole Board granting the release, the District Attorney used my words against the release. This man had served 35 years in Prison, had changed his life and the lives of countless inmates and the DA thought that Justice had not been done yet! The Judge rejected the DA’s argument and granted the release. Richard Mejico, the man in question, died 12 hours after being released to his family.

So, my question as a Jew and as an American is: What happened to Justice? Why isn’t Truth (the whole story) and Mercy not part of American Justice anymore? As a country founded on Religious Freedom and Religious Principles how have we strayed so far away as to make it about punishment and retribution? Do the victims really get healed by vengeance? Is our society better for the anger and rage focused on our enemies? I invite your comments

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4 thoughts on “Justice, Mercy, Punishment & Retribution

  1. Now remember, my grandfather was a judge, and an attorney and a governor. My father, uncle and God father were all attorneys, so I grew up with believing the justice system works because from my vantage point it did. That’s because I only saw the privileged.

    Then my kid got arrested. Let me tell you, no mother should know the Ventura County Courthouse as well as I do, but I am not sorry because my eyes were opened wide and any illusions I have ever had about the Justice System in this country were blown to pieces.

    Since I refused to help my son in any way regarding his misdeeds, and because I believed he should suffer the consequences of his actions, he was at the mercy of the court and the public defender system. I sat time after time in the court room and watched the parade of people who often didn’t know their rights, were absolutely deemed guilty before any spoke a word and often took plea deals rather than have their day in court – even if they were not guilty as charged because they were uncertain of the outcome of a trial especially with an overworked, underpaid public defender.

    Some of the faces of the people I saw in those court rooms haunt me to this day. I wonder what happened to them? How did this system spit them out?

    Sorry to say I don’t have any answers here, but this I know for absolute certitude, our justice system is for sale. I’ve seen both sides. It’s not a pretty picture.

    So many souls lost and discarded. These are human beings; they have Mom’s and Dads and sisters and brothers. They feel, they hurt, they cry. Oh yes, they’ve done some really bad stuff and really hurt other people, I get this, but still they are human beings.

    What never fails to amaze me is the victims who can forgive the person who caused the hurt. These are real heroes and I would like to say I hope I could be like that if I ever, God forbid, was put in that situation. If the victims can forgive, why can’t our Justice System at least entertain the idea that redemption is possible, that nothing is black and white, but shades of grey and try to salvage what can not only be salvagable, but a future resource?

  2. Jeremy Martin May 9, 2010 — 12:56 pm

    My husband is in Avenal State Prison. He has 16 months left to go. He works with the Rabbi on the 3 yard. He asked me to help him find help for him in San Diego. He does not want to be sent to L. A. when he gets out because I live in El Cajon. You can write to him @ Jeremy Martin K86062
    330 124L
    Po Box9
    Avenal, Ca 93204
    I hope you can help us.
    Devorah Martin

    1. Jeremy Martin May 12, 2010 — 2:29 pm

      I sent you my husbands address can you sent him papers to inroll in your program. He wants your help.
      Thank You

  3. Jeremy Martin May 12, 2010 — 2:33 pm

    Send me info on things that are going on there. I e-mailed you to send an application for my husband he needs your help. Thank You

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