“We’re not logical; we’re moved by our deepest sentiments. For the most part, we think about and rationalize later. I mean, look at the world we live in today. What we feel most deeply about, whether it’s wittingly or unwittingly, whether we know or don’t know, whether it’s conscious or with an unconscious drive that’s what we’re going to act on.” -Lee Boyd Malvo
"If you do not confront your pain, if you do not face your problems, they will find you and defeat you..." -Malvo
with the addition of the reputable attourney, Judy Clarke, to his defense.
My interest in the death penalty probably began as an undergraduate with the reading of Sister Helen Prejean's brilliant book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. It is certainly worth your time to read if interested.
In a world full of as much evil as this one, I certainly can understand the appeal of the death penalty, and can't really fault someone for supporting it, particularly if they are connected to a murdered victim. But a good friend of mine works in building cases for death row inmates to stay alive. As you can imagine, it's grueling but good work. She tells me that so many of these inmates, even the ones who are legitimately "guilty," came from out of such awful and unimaginable situations. I'm not surprised, since wounded people wound, as they say.
And yet, there's more. After a murder near my hometown (of 1,400) a couple years ago, three poor and drugged-up young men (of course) were arrested, one of which played on my little-league baseball team way back when. My sister writes them somewhat regularly. And one goes to trial with the possibility of the death penalty.
And then there is the fact that my older brother, who had never before committed a violent act, committed a very-public murder-suicide a little over a year ago in Jacksonville, Florida. So yes, I am close to the issue of young men who somehow reach such desperation. And I cannot help but regard the death penalty as inhumane and lacking any real justice, not to mention that its opposition comes seamlessly, I believe, out of a consistently pro-life position.
To get back to the topic at hand, it seems like Tsarnaev, unlike his older brother, was and is very much "alive" in the fullest sense of the word. Well-liked, good-looking, a high-school wrestler, a scholarship winner, and a pickup basketball player. No doubt full of fear and shame, he has cooperated with his investigators. With his parents across the world, I can't help but empathize with his desire to please his brother to the point of following him to possible death, tragic as that decision really was for him and others. None of this is, of course, to suggest that he isn't responsible for the deaths and woundings of so many.
Obviously, there's no guarantee that Tsarnaev, at 19 years old, won't receive the death penalty. But I hope he doesn't because he's just got too much life ahead, too much life inside him, even if that life is now justifiably pretty closely-monitored inside a tight space.
Lee Boyd Malvo. Malvo, as you may remember, is one of the two D.C. snipers from back in 2002. He was 17 at the time of his arrest. The state of Virginia executed Malvo's mentor, John Muhammad, in 2009.
But Malvo didn't get executed, and Tsarnaev (and the rest of us) would do well to listen and watch him. Josh White of the Washington Post released an interview with Malvo in 2012, to which I listened with much fascination. It is with no intended disrespect to the families of victims during those awful three weeks that I try to take Malvo seriously here. But incredibly and against all the odds, he does seem so so thoughtful, articulate, and vulnerable, even after this much time in prison.
I believe him when he paints the picture of being completely manipulated by Muhammad. As he put it in the interview, "(Muhammad) said 'Jump,' and it was 'How high?'"
But how could anyone have been so gullible?
Malvo, whose own parents all but abandoned him entirely, explains: "He gave me his time! Time is the only thing we possess, and how we use it tells us what we value. He gave me his time, and he was consistent. Even though the consistency was madness, he was consistent. He gave me his time. He was one of the only people who listened…It was that simple because no one else had the time for me."
In a generation of fatherlessness (both physically and emotionally), I do not find his psychology all that incredible or hard to believe. But what really stuck out about the interview was the different ways he's continuing to live a meaningful life: by reading, by writing poetry, and by practicing yoga. "I've had to be my own psychologist, therapist, counselor, and priest. And I've basically spent the last seven years in recovery."
I certainly look forward to watching the rest of Malvo's journey, to the degree that I can. If you have any interest in connecting with him through a letter or by financial support, you can do so through his Facebook page, which is orchestrated by a friend of his.
Boldly, Malvo told White that he didn't think his punishment was necessarily the right one, a statement on which I mostly agree with him. "I was a child, man," he rightly points out. That isn't to say that he shouldn't spend significant time in prison, and he admits as much, but I guess I kind of think he should get a chance to get out at some point, assuming he behaves himself inside those walls.
Regardless of what you and I think about Malvo's punishment, Tsarnaev may very well end up in a similar situation. The two have striking similarities: their youth, their parental absence, their immigration, the role an older person played in their schemes, and most of all, the way neither seems completely cold and hardened, which is what gives me the most hope in both instances. May they find a way to connect.
Question(s) for the reader: Do you think Tsarnaev deserves the death penalty? Why or why not? Do you remember Malvo? Have you listened to the interview?