THROWN AWAY PEOPLE

With approximately one out of every hundred of us locked up, mass incarceration should be on all our minds. The subject is ugly and probably causes some discomfort, but ignoring it isn’t going to solve the problem. One in a hundred is a problem. Those numbers make us the most incarcerated country in the entire world. Every day that passes that we avoid fixing the problem is one more day that one in one hundred of us lives in a cage. Cages are necessary sometimes, but so many of them are filled to overflowing with throw away people that shouldn’t be there. And, nobody even knows.

I made a promise to myself from the start of this. I can’t tell the story of anyone that committed a violent crime.   There are so many inmates that never physically harmed anyone, and I don’t need to read about anyone that actually committed a crime involving violence. I have a lifetime of nonviolent offenders to write about. Then I read about Shimeek Gridine.

Dana Battles was the victim. I made a small effort to locate him, and ask his thoughts, but was not able to, and I didn’t feel comfortable looking very hard. I respect the victim’s privacy and can’t imagine the affect this crime might have had on their lives, although I would love to know what their feelings are on the sentence that Shimeek Gridline was given. I will assume that Dana was scarred physically and emotionally, to some degree, for life. I don’t ever want victims to be overlooked in the telling of a story. Shimeeks’ story doesn’t lessen the price that Dana paid.

Shimeek was 14. From all accounts he had a solid family foundation, and I read that he played Pop Warner football. His mother lost her job not long before the incident, and they moved in with Shimeek’s grandparents.

I know that Shimeek was cared for, but going through some instability that may have included the recent death of two relatives. He was fourteen. I have had a few fourteen year old kids and been one myself. It goes without saying, he wasn’t yet wise, or mature, or fully developed in any way. Who knows if he was shaving yet. I know that he didn’t have the capacity to fully understand actions and consequences. An educated and experienced judge, adult, lawyer, prosecutor, parent – all those people should know that.

The day that the crime took place, Shimeek was with a 12 year old boy. They had a small shotgun, and claimed to have found it under a car. I am not sure it is overly important where the gun came from, but we will assume the boys found it.

The two boys probably felt a little invincible with gun in hand. They attempted to rob a man at gunpoint.   I don’t suppose we can ever know what was going through Shimeek’s head when his finger tightened on that trigger enough to set the gun off.   The man was grazed in the head and shoulder area, was hospitalized and released the same day.   I don’t know the severity of his injury, or if there was any scarring involved, but he was sent home from the hospital the same day that he was shot.

Shimeek Gridine turned himself in to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, accompanied by his grandparents. In reasoning that I don’t quite understand, he was charged as an adult. The boy went before Judge A.C. Soud, without a jury. Shimeek’s family was supportive and their presence was noted in the courtroom. Judge Soud explained that, because Shimeek had so much support, he should have known better. He was sentenced to seventy years for Premeditated Attempted Murder and twenty five years for Armed Robbery.   The sentences would be served at the same time and there was no possibility for parole. At the age of 14, a seventy year sentence will probably last longer than your life, earning release at the age of 84.

I can guess that Shimeek was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was not privileged. He probably saw his mother struggling to take care of him, and I am sure he knew some hardships. He played in a neighborhood where you can find shotguns under cars. Most likely the sentencing judge could not have a full appreciation of the child standing in front of him and his life experiences.   What I find more frightening about his case than anything else, is the power of one man’s words. With a few sentences a man in a robe essentially sentenced a young boy to never be free again. One man had the power to throw a child’s life away, and did so because he felt the boy had a supportive family and should have known better than to shoot a gun aimed at somebody’s head.

Shimeek is no longer a child. He lives in a prison in Florida. He is scheduled for release in April of 2079. I will be dead by then. Some people worry about prisoners being too comfortable. Most prisons in Florida do not have air conditioning.   In order to keep from being idle, inmates get to grow a lot of their own food. Although Shimeek may get to do something to earn some type of job experience in the future, he has no future outside of a cage, so it is irrelevant in his case.   At today’s cost to house an inmate in Florida, it will cost taxpayers $1,264,480 if he lives for the seventy year sentence. That price will surely go up as the cost of keeping someone incarcerated increases over that seventy year time. At that cost, Shimeek could have been sent to college, and also been given a personal therapist and personal jailer. Imagine if he had been sent to college after spending four years in a juvenile facility, and agreed to donate a certain amount of hours a year in his given profession as a payback to society for his extremely poor judgement. With that solution, we would be receiving tax money and time from Shimeek, rather than paying to cage him until he dies. He may have been the first in his family line to graduate college, and he may have started a bright path for an entire new generation. We won’t know that though. All we know is that our tax money is going to cage him to death. It is so much more convenient that way for the system, I guess.

A man in a robe couldn’t come up with anything more creative than seventy years in a cage at a pricetag of $1,264,480. This brings me back to the most frightening part of this story. What kind of power are we giving to individuals with our tax dollars and our lives in their hands? I doubt that the Judge has given Shimeek Gridine much more thought. I, on the other hand, will never forget him. With one in a hundred of us caged, nobody should. Shimeek Gridine has changed my world.