Turn the Other Eye Into a Cheek for an Eye
by Winter Goebel
I made the mistake of starting some conversations at work by saying “Hey, Governor Quinn abolished the death penalty in Illinois.” I’d thought this good. It was the only news item that night that didn’t tighten my jaw and provoke a “Jesus Cuh-rist” or deeply troubled sigh. One coworker thought the abolition itself was the error, stating “They’re going to regret that.” Another said, “Yeah, great, now anyone can kill anyone they want and nothing happens.” Nothing except maybe life in prison, which who cares? Free meals.
Patients were generally of the opinion that the death penalty will be missed by all save the state’s criminals, who will now enjoy carte blanche commission of their crimes. Several claimed the abolition a violation of the tenet “an eye for an eye,” which was attributed to Jesus. This muddled quotation of dogma depends mostly on the dogma’s quotability, and abets the thought of oneself as unassailably right without the complication of thinking about it at length, or at all. The idea does appear in the Bible, but in the Old Testament. Jesus, that old contrarian, told us to turn the other cheek not to avoid a second slap after the first but to invite another. As for “an eye for an eye,” it originally appeared in the Code of Hammurabi, which manages to be both rough as fuck and somehow fair: “If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.”
Which brings me to the sole dissenting workplace opinion, voiced by a patient, that “Prosecutors made a lot of mistakes in those cases.” Which is true. Think of a word, and the word is “oops.” Now think of an oops with thousands of Os and each O’s a whole life. Anyone scared of the revocation of the death penalty can research wrongful capital convictions, and feel scared of and saddened by the death penalty. If the Code of Hammurabi is relevant, which is questionable, it takes a lifetime to parse just who should putting whom to death here.
Think of a word, and the word is “oops.” Now think of an oops with thousands of Os and each O’s a whole life. Anyone scared of the revocation of the death penalty can research wrongful capital convictions, and feel scared of and saddened by the death penalty.
Or it takes an hour and fifteen minutes to watch The Ox-Bow Incident and a moment to identify with a cinematic fiction: One a drunk clown of a townsperson, rednecked in grayscale, who’s won. One a horseback Henry Fonda, his hat high-crowned and wide-brimmed, riding back to town at sunrise. He has failed but done his best.
Image Source: William A. Wellman, from The Ox-Bow Incident, 1943.
Winter Goebel is from Delton, Michigan, and loves her parents. She has a degree in English literature and works as a mental health counselor. She believes in stars behind the orange light of night skies in big cities, literacy as an instrument of popular education, and most likely you.