16 January 2012

Sensible Sentencing

by Dr Philip Church

As long as I can remember I have read the NZ Herald. When I was young it was delivered each day, and when I left my parent’s home I continued the tradition. It is nice turning the pages of the Herald each day over breakfast. This is about to change, however. Late last year I got a good deal on an iPad, and while on holiday over Christmas and New Year I started reading the Herald iPad App. Since I returned I have kept it up. And there are no advertisements and no racing pages! Just news. I think there is a problem though. It seems to me (at this early stage in my Herald iPad experience) that some news items that appear on the iPad don’t make it to the print edition while some of my favourite columns (e.g. Jim Hopkins on Friday and Paul Holmes on Saturday) don’t make it to the iPad. Neither do the cartoons, although I am not sure that any of the current cartoons are up with those of Sir Gordon Minhinnick (died 1992). I guess it is “market driven,” and they do need to keep selling paper copies. The other problem is that the iPad App doesn’t give the date when a news item appeared in print. Those of us who want to comment on an item can’t give the issue date unless they find it on paper.

One news item that I have not been able to find on paper (although it may have appeared when I was away) was a report on the death of Ken Croskery, the husband of the mother of Michael Choy. You may recall that Michael was the pizza delivery man murdered ten years ago by a gang of thugs, including Bailey Junior Kurariki, New Zealand’s youngest convicted killer, aged just 12 at the time. The article makes saddening reading. You can access it at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10777368.

According to his wife Rita, Ken Croskery died of a broken heart, which she blames on “the trauma of repeated parole hearings for Michael's killers” (NZ Herald iPad App report). Apparently, he died just four days after the death of his friend Bevan Smith whose daughter was raped and murdered. This is just tragedy piled on top of tragedy.

I don’t know how I would respond if my son or daughter was murdered. It is too horrific to even contemplate. But if such a horrifying event were to happen, I hope I would respond differently from Ken Croskery. The Parole Board is required to notify families of hearings, but there is no requirement for them to attend. Apparently, Ken Croskery attended every hearing. Further, according to the Herald iPad report, Ken and Rita Croskery “refused to forgive the youths involved in the attack and were opposed to their release from prison.” Ken was also an active campaigner for the Sensible Sentencing Trust. According to Garth McVicar, the Trust spokesman, they want criminals such as Kurariki to serve their entire sentence. Then there would be no need for such hearings. McVicar is quoted as saying, “They kill one person - but they always kill more than one person... You can't have a life because of all the hearings. The stress is enormous. If they served a true life sentence, the Smiths and the Croskerys could have come to terms with what happened.""

While on the face of it this attitude seems understandable, I suggest however that there is another way. In the January 1983 issue of Christianity Today Lewis Smedes published an essay called, “Forgiveness – The Power to Change the Past.” It is still available online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/decemberweb-only/12-16-55.0.html and deserves careful reading. The sub-heading reads, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

I hesitate to diagnose Ken Croskery’s illness or to condemn him, but I venture to suggest it was more than the repeated parole hearings that did it. I think he was imprisoned in his unwillingness to forgive. I also think that the Sensible Sentencing Trust served Ken Croskery insensitively. These people claim to be acting for the victims of crime, but actually they help people not to forgive. They encourage the victims of crime to replay it over and over again. The bitterness gnaws away inside them, and sometimes, tragically, they die from the bitterness.

Smedes writes, “Forgiveness brings fairness to the forgiver. It is the hurting person who most feels the burden of unfairness; but he only condemns himself to more unfairness if he refuses to forgive. Is it fair to be stuck to a painful past? Is it fair to be walloped again and again by the old unfair hurt? Vengeance is having a videotape planted in your soul that cannot be turned off. It plays the painful scene over and over again inside your mind. It hooks you into its instant replays. And each time it replays, you feel the clap of pain again. Is this fair? Forgiving turns off the videotape of pained memory. Forgiving sets you free. Forgiving is the only way to stop the cycle of unfair pain turning in your memory.”

Michael Choy’s murder was a tragedy for everybody. For Michael, for his mother Rita and for her husband Ken, and even for Kurariki. Sadly it seems that the Croskery family never heard the good news that they could forgive Kurariki, and that could have sent them free. Of course forgiveness is never easy. It is terribly hard. It is far more difficult that not to forgive, but when it is done it is wonderfully liberating – it stops the cycle of unfair pain; the unfair pain that Ken Croskery suffered for ten tragic years.

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