Hurt parents’ barbs and bitch-outs cut much deeper than their backhands. So let’s send the judge who got rich sentencing juveniles to his friends’ privately-owned jails into a “hostility cage” with victims’ families.
The unedited footage of Sandy Fonzo screaming at former Luzerne County judge Mark Ciavarella is powerful. My own fists were clenched by the end of it: I can only imagine the fury that 370 similarly outraged mothers and fathers would produce. Sandy Fonzo is a woman both desperate to be heard and desperately angry. Though I do not know her, I root for her. Her son’s suicide may have ultimately been his responsibility, but it stemmed from an inability to recover from what happened to him in custody. I’ve seen that trauma up close and the behavioral issues that often follow. Had that been my kid, I don’t think I’d have been satisfied with a verbal confrontation.
I found the footage overwhelming yet so representative of how a lot of us feel about our leaders these days. In considering what sort of punishment might fit essentially the sale of teen lives for personal gain, a desire for retaliation took my imagination hostage and I came up with the double-sided verbal abuse enclosure I like to call a hostility cage.
Simply drop the judge on one side and the families of his victims on the other! Let the parents of the estimated 4-to-5,000 children Ciavarella railroaded into for-profit detention centers wear themselves out at the expense of his emotional stability. If, for three hours a day, every day, immediate family members affected by his greed were given an opportunity to scream themselves sick, the former judge could be driven insane within five weeks. And the sessions could continue. (Damn straight! You know how much money you could make charging admission? Funding for pre-K-12 education anyone?)
The Courtroom as Pirate Ship
Ciavarella and another judge, Michael Conahan, were convicted of accepting $2.8 million in payoffs from Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corporation, owner of two privately run juvenile detention facilities to which the judges issued sentences like 2 years for the 12-year-old who scratched his mom’s car joy-riding. And that’s after they pushed to close down the county’s own juvenile detention center, which would’ve stood in the way as competition. The “Kids for Cash” scandal has been in the news since 2008 and was featured in Michael Moore’s 2009 documentary Capitalism: A Love Story, but Ciavarella’s appeal of his 28-year sentence has forced it back into the spotlight. And re-rubbed it all in Sandy Fonzo’s face.
No, not all of the kids whose sentence was ordered vacated were first-time shoplifters or joy riders, but so what? If the wall we bounce wrongdoers heads against isn’t sturdy, how can we expect ‘em to discover the immobility of consequences? Rehabilitation cannot exist as “a way out” when the system charged with providing a means to assimilation is no more promising than a drinking buddy’s “sure thing” at a racetrack.
But as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, this is only the beginning. If you think jail is only for criminals and “those people,” boy have you got another think coming! This case is not only evidence of how little you need to screw up to have the key thrown away, it points out where our criminal justice system has become a free-for-all. What happens in a free-for-all? Ask Russia, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. Ask Sandy Fonzo. Ask Arizona, where the Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison corp., essentially wrote the state’s infamous immigration bill SB 1070. It’s all about the money. Lucky you if you’ve got a lot of it.