Opinion: Lessons Learned from a Convict

Life is a collection of decisions and the outcomes they cause. It’s probable that we all have a particularly shameful moment in our lives where we made a bad decision that affected other people. We may be able to ask for forgiveness, but we have to live with the consequences of our actions. In the court of law, a person’s punishment is determined by the intent, severity of the crime and the suffering imposed on the victim. Any crime where bodily harm is caused is taken as a serious offense.

The consequence for the offender, if convicted, is a criminal record to warn potential employers and police officers that the person has a criminal history. Once one has a criminal record, it is hard for the public to dismiss that illegal past decision. Convicted felons lose basic citizen rights including the right to vote, to serve on a jury, to possess firearms and to own a professional license or permit. A felony record mars a person from employment in the corporate world as if it were a crimson letter emblazoned on the cover page of your resume.

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

On April 8th, 1988, an adolescent male attacked a Vietnamese man named Thanh Lam with a large wooden stick outside of a convenience store . As the attacker cracked the victim’s face and knocked him unconscious for two cases of beer, he punched a bystander in the face so hard he lost sight in one of his eyes. Even though the assailant was tried as an adult for attempted murder, he pleaded guilty to assault and only served forty-five days of a two-year sentence. The reason why any of this matters to the public today is because not only did the assailant get off easy on a violent attack, but because he became a Hollywood icon worth $200 million. We know him today as Mark Wahlberg.

Before he starred in major movies and produced hit shows like Entourage and Boardwalk Empire, Mark Wahlberg was a juvenile delinquent terrorizing the streets of Dorchester. What makes Wahlberg different from the hoodlums I knew growing up in Harlem is that he was an aggressive racial bigot. At fiftteen, Wahlberg and his friends chased a small group of young black children on bicycles, all the while throwing rocks while chanting “Kill the nigger!” over and over again.

The following day when Wahlberg and his friends saw the same group of black kids at Savin Hill Beach for a class trip, they proceeded to throw rocks at the kids again: this time striking one girl on the forehead only to be scared off once a teacher ordered an ambulance for the girl. Mark Wahlberg was not your ordinary rebellious hoodlum; he was a violent menace on the fast track of prison and that is where he ended two years later after assaulting Thanh Lam. However, he got out early.

The fact that he only served forty-five days of a two-year prison term is unjust because the punishment does not match the severity of the crime. His early release is also a slap to the face of justice. It’s an example of white privilege in that if he were a minority, they would have thrown the book at such an offense. I have known plenty of juvenile delinquents who went away for several months for minor infractions of petty thievery.

Rikers Island Photo courtesy of Tumblr

Rikers Island. Photo courtesy of Tumblr

One of the delinquents I knew in my neighborhood was thrown into Rikers Island correctional facility, an ill-reputed jail complex in New York City, for stealing an iPhone. He ended up killing a more violent criminal who attacked him, and now he will never get out. The American prison system is a social injustice in its own right because of the way it treats prisoners, especially minorities. Wahlberg’s early release is just one example how biased the system is.

I don’t want to make this an issue about racism in the United States or even about the prison industrial complex. I’m not arguing that Mark Wahlberg’s pardon request should not be accepted: he turned his life around, provides for his kids and is a role model. He shows that even if you are a troubled youth, there is still a chance to turn your life around if given the opportunity.

I want to underline, most importantly, that the scale of justice is balanced because Lady Justice is supposed to be blind to race, economic status and religious differences. In the past few weeks, we have seen decisions of the court marred by human failures and narrow-minded beliefs. Justice should be equal for all. Justice cannot be applied to some case and not to others because the accused is a different race, nationality, or religion. When you’re at Boston College reading the news or when you graduate and serve on a jury, make sure to look at all of the evidence presented by both sides. Make your decision without showing favoritism to one side over another.

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