Monday, February 09, 2004

Birthday In Jail
Matthew Limon "celebrates" his 22nd birthday today, in a Kansas jail. He has served 4 years of his 17-year sentence, and it looks likely that he may not see freedom until 2017, after he turns 35. I just can't imagine that! I can't imagine what the past year of his life has been like; that glimmer of hope when it looked like the Supreme Court was going to look at his case; then actually vacating the decision and remanding it back to the Kansas Courts this past summer. Finally getting the chance to imagine what his young adulthood might be like. Waiting all summer and fall for the painfully slow legal process to take its course. The optimistic press reports after the oral arguments in December. Then bam! The constitutionality of the Kansas law that treats heterosexual and homosexual sexcrimes differently upheld!

How did Mr. Limon take the news? What was it like for his lawyers to break it to him? What have those long nights alone in a jail cell been like, the hope that it might be over soon gone, vanished? How do you explain to a young man that he must stay in prison for another 13 years, that he will be 35 years old before he will be able to begin his life? How do you console a young man who during his sentencing hearing 3-1/2 years ago admitted to thinking about suicide many times while in the county jail awaiting the sentencing decision?

I've read that damn case a number of times in the past 10 days since the decision has been handed down. I've tried to analyze it, see what went wrong, figure it out. But each time I stop. This is not some college assignment, this is a real person who's life has been robbed. Regardless of how one feels about sex between an 18-year-old and a 14-year old (the complicating factors of each young man's mental capacity is sort of a "wash" as each had been determined to be about 6th grade in terms of emotional development), it boggles the mind that anyone can think that lengthy jail time is the answer. Even young Limon has actually managed to convince himself that he's a bad person, deserving punishment, and he begged for help to change at his sentencing hearing.

When I turned 22, I was a senior in college, having just heard that I had a job waiting for me in New York upon graduation. I didn't have specific plans of what I wanted to do with my life - generic bachelor's degree, job in a Midtown office. But it was my life, waiting to be lived, experienced, make mistakes - meet new people, fall in love several times, move a dozen times around the city. Horrible tragedies, great disappointments - all that - but it was mine to figure out for myself. I was free to discover the harsh limitations of life, but also to stumble upon the beautiful reasons why it is so precious, so amazing. We should be outraged each and every time that it is taken from someone. This past year I've had numerous discussions with friends and acquaintances about gay marriage, gay adoption - the inequality, the unfairness, the hopes, the worries. And I wouldn't want to choose only one area where the pain is so overwhelming, so unfair to anyone else; but freedom - being able to wake up each day and decide for oneself what he or she wants to do - isn't that the barest minimum of fairness? Whether its your crappy job, your awful school, looking at your miserable life partner - that's for you to decide. But the State - the government, taking away your basic freedom for 17 years rather than 15 months, merely because your sexcrime was with the same, rather than opposite, gender - how does one make sense out of that?