in a Roman
wilderness of pain
This is a story about a guy I know who will be warehoused in the state prison until he is dead.
I know more about what landed him there than anyone else does, because I am the only person who ever bothered to try to find out.
Too late, though.
On October 1, 1993, 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped from out of her Petaluma, California bedroom, while her mother puttered about, unawares, elsewhere in the house.
A common, a terrifying, American parental nightmare.
Accompanied by the retroactive remembrance that:
Polly had a lifelong fear of the dark. She could not get to sleep unless there was a little light on. She was scared of a mysterious bogeyman and of the possibility of being kidnapped. It was something she had discussed often with her parents. Marc Klaas would recall with bitter irony how he had assured his daughter “that everything would be all right, I would always be there to protect her.”
Klaas was kidnapped, then raped, then murdered, by Richard Allen Davis. The rape and the murder unknown, to all but those two, for months. For Klaas’ body was not found, and Davis not apprehended, until long after Klaas’ kidnapping had gone viral, via the white-girl-in-distress template ascendant uber alles in American media culture.
When the “truth” did out as to Richard Allen Davis—that he was a career criminal who had earlier been incarcerated for a kaleidoscope of offenses, including kidnapping and sexual assault—the people of the state of California commenced the St. Vitus Dance.
They determined that such a person should never again be allowed to return to the streets to prey on people like Polly Klaas. They went to the state initiative process, originally fashioned to break the strangehold on the state of monied interests. But in recent years most often used to express the worst vigilante instincts of the populace. Eternally recurring the truth of Robert Stone’s words: “American populism, notorious as a pious front for venal corruption, the curse of this nation, and now, empowered by American wealth and resources, a worldwide plague.”
Californians wept and rended their garments, en masse, as they raced to the polls, to make sure that the killer of Polly Klaas would never again leave the big house, but in a box.
Except that this is not what they voted for. They voted instead for a measure wherein life-in-prison qualifying strikes could be both “violent”—i.e., you hurt another human being—or “serious,” the latter those crimes that Somebody had Decided had the mere potential for violence.
Like, say, residential burglary. The thinking being: but what if the homeowner comes home, during the burglary? The burglar might harm them. Whereas, in truth, in the vast majority of cases, at the first glimmer of an additional human presence, the burglar runs off like Richard Pryor with his body on fire.
Further, the three-strikes law provided that once a miscreant had accumulated two strikes, the three-strikes qualifying offense, the one that could send him or her to the state prison for life, could be any felony. As in, petty theft with a prior. As in, shoplifting a piece of pizza. And indeed, there are today people doing life in the state prison, for just such an offense. Under the law intended to send people like Richard Allen Davis to prison for life. But that instead, most often, locks away for life, wharf rats.