Readers respond to "The 'Closure' Myth" by Michelle Goldberg.

Published January 24, 2003 12:34AM (EST)

[Read "The 'Closure' Myth" by Michelle Goldberg.]

My mother was killed by a rapist in 1987. I was the lead-off witness at the trial of her killer. All I had to do was tell the jury that mom had no boyfriends and describe the layout of her house. To do this, I stood at the front of the courtroom, before a floor plan on an easel.

During my testimony the judge called the lawyers up to the bench. While the jurists conferred I glanced at the jury. Their eyes were averted. I looked at the murderer. I think our eyes met -- his eyes were too unfocused for me to know. I felt a cold tightness in my chest. It was fear. I wanted release from the fear.

The thought came, "I forgive you."

The fear went away.

More than that, every feeling toward the killer went away. Sure, I wanted him to be convicted. We were in Iowa, and the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder and first-degree rape was life in prison with no chance of parole. (What a great state, Iowa.) I didn't want him on the streets to hurt other women. But my happiness, my peace of mind, didn't depend on his conviction. I was freed from him. Immediately I had no interest in him one way or the other.

This surprised me about forgiveness. Before this, I thought forgiveness meant I had to like the person I'd forgiven. No. No way. Forgiveness means I let go of any attachment to the pain that person caused, and to the person.

This feeling is a far cry from the desire I'd entertained earlier. I had wanted to put a bullet in his head.

I didn't intend to forgive anybody that day. The thought just came, like a blessing. I was lucky.

Forgiving a killer can't be easy for most people, but you know what? If you want closure, I advise forgiveness with all my heart.

-- Patrick Gillam

While I respect Michelle Goldberg's right to be against the death penalty, apparently she has never been the victim of a crime. I personally support the death penalty for a variety of reasons, one of which is my wife.

Her first husband was murdered along with three other people. The case was air tight, and I was there to support my wife when the killer was finally put to sleep in the death chamber. Afterwards there was a short discussion among the attending family member witnesses, and each one of them felt the murderer got off easy. He got to "drift off to sleep" instead of receiving what he gave to his victims. Where is the justice in that? Closure for my wife was to stop having occasional nightmares about the killer being set free or escaping.

-- Tom Ray

Your article attacking the value of the death penalty to the survivors of murder victims was incredibly one-sided.

You apparently did not see fit to interview one of the many (and may I daresay the majority) of family members who were glad to see their loved one's murderer put to death. You certainly did not interview any of the many survivors of murderers who murder again within prison walls: guards killed for doing their jobs and lesser offenders who were denied their chance to reclaim their lives after finishing their time.

You mention the terrible effect upon families of lengthy appeals processes, but dismiss out of hand that it is the length of the appeals process, not the death penalty, which is to blame. No family member wishes to short-circuit an appeals process that addresses the possibility of a convict's actual innocence -- if for no other reason than to gain certainty that the actual murderer is not free and unpunished.

However, most of those appeals raise no credible claim of factual innocence. Instead they suggest that a better lawyer might have helped a vulnerable jury to overlook the convict's guilt or underestimate the savagery of his act.

-- Matthew Dundon

It seems to me that whether the victims' families achieve "closure" is a moot point. It is simply not the government's responsibility to ensure that its citizens reach emotional breakthroughs. It is the government's responsibility to act appropriately and do what's best for society, and society is not well-served by the death penalty.

The death penalty is not a deterrent, it solves no social problem, it is impossible to undo, and it cheapens us as a society. I do not want the blood of innocents -- or even those who have made a grave mistake -- on my hands. This is a democracy, and the people must answer for the sins of the government.

The death penalty makes killers of us all.

I don't blame victims' families for wanting vengeance. That is a human reaction. But we must hold our government to a higher standard than that of individuals. People will lose loved ones, and sometimes that will be due to the misdeeds of others. That is a painful reality which we must all learn to accept on our own. All the governmental intervention in the world will not change that simple truth.

Government must, then, simply do what is best for its people. And criminals are people too.

-- Aaron Batty

In all the coverage of the death penalty, there is one perspective that is missing -- that when measured against all of the other injustices in our criminal justice system, the death penalty is hardly worth talking about.

The death penalty affects a few hundred prisoners, most of whom will either spend the rest of their lives in prison or eventually be executed. The families may or may not get closure if the killer is executed, but either way they won't get their loved one back.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people sit in prison for nonviolent drug convictions. Many of them are convicted of no more than "conspiracy" charges, which can essentially mean dating or living with a drug dealer.

Do the math. There are far more years of productive, healthy life being lost to the drug war than to the death penalty. The toll on families is far higher. And the human toll of nonviolent offenders being killed or raped while in prison is far higher than that being compiled on death row. Finally, the alternatives are far more clear -- treatment, getting rid of mandatory minimums and complete separation of violent and nonviolent offenders.

Simply put, if every dollar, every minute of energy and every word of rhetoric that went toward the fight against the death penalty were turned toward stemming the suicidal drug war, the benefit to society would be immeasurably higher.

Salon has done a far better job than most commercial publications in covering the insanity of the drug war. The death penalty is an easy story by comparison -- two bitter sides that will never agree. So here's a story -- compare the amount of money that is spent on activism on each issue. Then compare that with how many prisoners are affected.

-- Malcolm Maclachlan

Thank you to Michelle Goldberg for writing about a topic which runs contrary to the prevalent celebration of revenge which has contaminated this country.

As we continue to wear our mantle of victimization, articles and interviews like Ms. Goldberg's clearly state that revenge will not bring release.

We continue to be offered glimpses of how we can choose to grow as a civilization through compassion and education. I guess we have chosen otherwise. This can be seen by the popularity of entertainment which demeans others while we claim the right to destroy another mother's child for revenge and punishment -- not to mention an entire country, in a thinly veiled attempt to secure our oil supply.

Closure is an illusion. People come and go, and all relationships end, by breakup or death. Very bad things, and very good things, happen every day. What we get to choose is how we live.

-- France Senecal

Concerning the death penalty, when exactly did the word "closure" come to be the doublespeak word for "revenge"?

-- Fred Parkinson

By Salon Staff

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