lessons learned, poor judgment, true crime

If I were in Skylar’s shoes…

Yesterday’s post about Skylar Mack has attracted a lot of attention. Or, it’s attracted a lot of attention by this blog’s standards. This blog doesn’t usually get that much traffic. Ever since I switched platforms from Blogger to WordPress, my hit counts have been down. I’ve been slowly rebuilding my audience since February 2019, but if I’m honest, I’m not in a hurry to do so. I don’t blog for popularity or money. I blog because I feel compelled to write down my thoughts.

I have always been a writer at heart. I’ve always kept journals, even if I haven’t always been in the habit of writing every day. Feeling compelled to write is just one of my innate quirks. I choose to leave most of my posts public because I genuinely enjoy interacting with most people, even if they don’t agree with me. I often learn from comments and interactions with people. But sometimes my thoughts and opinions attract contention, and while a little bit of that is okay, too much can be distressing.

Yesterday’s post about Skylar Mack came about after I’d had a Facebook discussion with some friends about her case. I had posted about it because I read an article about Skylar Mack’s predicament in The New York Times. Then I read some of the comments posted on The New York Times’ Facebook page. The vast majority of the responses left by the masses were really negative. Some of the comments were personal, mean-spirited, and nasty, with some judgments about her character that I felt were unfair. I also read that she and her family were getting hate mail and death threats. That seems very wrong to me.

I started thinking about how I would feel if I were in Skylar’s shoes back in 1990, when I was her age. Like Skylar, I am white and blonde, and come from a relatively privileged family from the South. I can’t help any of those things. They just are what they are. Skylar also can’t help being white or privileged. She’s prettier than I was, and I certainly couldn’t have been a pre-med student because I don’t have a head for math and science, or a stomach for looking at blood and guts. But other than that, we have things in common.

First, it occurred to me that when I was 18, I had the benefit of relative privacy. There was no widespread Internet usage in those days, so people who were arrested could enjoy a lot more anonymity than they can today. Yes, your name might appear in the local newspapers, but not everybody reads the paper from cover to cover and there was no social media feed. Had Skylar Mack been 18 in 1990, she probably would have been arrested in the Cayman Islands and no one would have ever known about it. She also probably would not have gotten a four month prison sentence, because there would be no reason to make her an “example”. Americans would likely not be reading about what was going on in the Cayman Islands and thus would not likely be affected by how strict the local authorities appear to be.

Next, I imagined how I would feel if I were Skylar Mack, being arrested for the first time and having it happen in a foreign country. It would have been mortifying enough if this had happened in 1990, when I was 18. I would have been ashamed, humiliated, devastated, and horrified, without any of what happened being leaked widespread to the media. But in 1990, I would have had the ability to take my punishment without dealing with the court of public opinion chiming in.

Then I started thinking about what it must be like for Skylar and her family to be reading the vitriol being spewed about her case by total strangers around the world. So many people, who have never even met her and know nothing about her, were making sweeping negative statements about what kind of person she is. It occurred to me that while Skylar Mack made a huge mistake, she’s also done a lot of things right. I don’t think it’s right to condemn a person simply for screwing up. Everybody screws up sometimes. I wouldn’t want people to treat me or someone I care about in that way. It’s also not lost on me that Skylar’s family is likely responsible for putting this story out there.

Then I realized that Skylar Mack still has something to offer the world, despite having made a blunder. She has reportedly wanted to be a physician since she was a child. She’s been on the way to making that lofty goal come to fruition. But she’s also 18, and 18 year olds don’t magically become adults with common sense or maturity simply because they have become legal adults.

I have known a lot of teenagers who were very mature for their ages. And I have also known people well into their 30s and 40s who still act like children. I suspect that Skylar Mack is a typical 18 year old, who hasn’t quite crossed the bridge to maturity and is a bit self-absorbed. But, prior to this incident, she’s been on the right track. She still has so many years to go. To read some of the responses on The New York Times, you’d think she should be beheaded for simply wanting to have a good time.

Next I started looking at what actually happened. Skylar chose not to quarantine, but her choice not to quarantine did not harm anyone, as she was not infected. Yes, she could have spread COVID-19 by attending that jet ski competition. She also could have spread it by going to the grocery store or riding a bus. COVID-19 is, unfortunately, a very wily virus that spreads like crazy. I don’t think traveling right now is a smart decision, and I agree that she should have followed the guidelines set to slow and hopefully stop the virus from spreading. But when it comes down to it, she wasn’t a spreader. She could have been one, but she wasn’t, and she was tested twice, then quarantined for the two weeks she was supposed to quarantine. I think that point deserves consideration.

Then I started thinking about the length of the sentence and what it would accomplish. Skylar Mack is a productive young woman who is (or was) on her way to becoming a physician. There could be a day when she’s treating people with COVID-19. Right now, we need people who are willing and able to work with the sick. She did not show the best judgment last month, when she chose to ignore the quarantine regulations. But again, she’s 18 years old, and apparently not fully baked yet. Science has shown us that most people’s brains aren’t fully developed until they are 25 years old. Skylar still has another seven years before she’s 25. It’s perfectly normal for her to have lapses in judgment. From the link:

The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.

In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.

In teens’ brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.

Four months to someone who is 18 will seem a lot longer than it does to someone my age. Having had a look at the conditions of the jails in the Cayman Islands, it occurred to me that Skylar could have lasting psychological damage from being incarcerated down there. A 2018 article about the Northward Prison in the Cayman Islands describes the facilities as “filled to capacity”. An accompanying photograph shows a rather grim looking facility. Another 2018 article describes the women’s prison at Fairbanks as “overflowing”. I see no reason why those conditions would be different in 2020, although they could be.

So here we have a young woman who has never been in trouble with the law and is working toward becoming a much needed medical professional being locked up for months because she had a lapse in judgment– something that is scientifically proven to be very normal for 18 year olds. Her lapse in judgment, while disrespectful, irresponsible, and immature, didn’t actually harm anyone. She was not infected with COVID-19, as far as I know. So sitting in a prison cell would probably not do much more than give her nightmares and ruin what was a bright future.

Last night, just before I went to bed, I saw that the powers that be in the Cayman Islands agreed with me that Skylar’s punishment was too harsh. They reduced her sentence to two months, which I think is reasonable and sensible. She will get a taste of being incarcerated, but won’t have to languish in a jail cell until March. Plenty of people still think she should just sit and rot in jail and have her future ruined. I wonder if they would take an active interest in this case after reading the headlines. When February 2021 rolls around, are they still going to think Skylar Mack should rot in a cell? Or are they just blowing off steam and/or virtue signaling?

I could have added my own comment to The New York Times’ Facebook post. I opted to write a blog post instead, because I have found that people who comment on Facebook are not usually very deep thinkers. They have a knee jerk reaction to something, form an opinion, and spout off. And I am not interested in getting into a pointless argument with someone, especially a stranger, who makes sweeping assumptions about people without knowing the facts or even considering another perspective. That’s a waste of my time and energy, and does nothing more than raise my blood pressure. But I still felt the need to write, so I did.

One of my friends, whom I think leans conservative but wrote that she thinks Skylar should sit in prison, told me that she didn’t think my opinion was unpopular. She based her perspective on what her friends were saying. I could be wrong, but my guess is that a lot of “pro-Trump” types are aligning themselves with Eric Trump’s Tweeted comments about this case.

Let me make myself clear. I may agree with Eric Trump that the sentence was excessive, but I doubt we agree for the same reasons.

I think Eric Trump’s Tweet is likely less about genuine concern for Skylar Mack’s welfare and more about being a privileged and entitled American. That is NOT why I think Skylar’s sentence was rightfully reduced. I genuinely feel that Skylar’s originally amended sentence of four months was unfair and unproductive and could do more harm than good. I think she would get the point just as easily with two months in jail as she would with four months, and there might be fewer lasting effects that screw up her life. And my impressions of what people were thinking weren’t at all based on what my peers were saying; they were based on what total strangers by the thousands were commenting. I think many of those comments were made more out of anger, frustration, and not wanting to look like a “privileged American”, than any real thinking about what actually happened.

As an American who lives in Germany, trust me– I am very aware of how Americans look to others. I don’t want to look like that, either. But I also don’t think it’s right to punish Skylar more harshly simply because of where she came from and what she looks like. I have never met Skylar Mack, but I think she should get the benefit of the doubt, especially since she’s very young and this was her first offense. I’m sure she won’t make this mistake again.

I also became so resolute about this case because I don’t feel like I should be expected to agree with others, simply because others have an opinion that is more popular. Yesterday, several people seemed to be trying very hard to change my mind or convince me that my perspective is wrong, ill-considered, or flawed. Believe me. I have read why so many people think why Skylar Mack should rot in a cell. A lot of those people seem very focused on retribution rather than rehabilitation or genuine correction. I don’t think that is useful, especially since those who are assuming she’s an entitled little shit won’t even care about this in a few days, but this will affect Skylar’s future from now on.

All I did was share my opinion. At the end of the day, that’s all it is… an opinion. My opinion has no bearing on Skylar Mack’s case whatsoever. I never once said she should get off “scot free”. It seems that the local authorities in the Cayman Islands must have agreed with me, to some extent, because they did reduce her sentence by two months. I think that was a reasonable compromise. But the way some people behave, you’d think that sharing and defending my contrary opinion merits some kind of “re-education” effort, as if I can’t possibly see how wrong Skylar was to do what she did. I agree that she was wrong. I just don’t think her mistake merits public flogging and character assassination in addition to a jail sentence and a fine. Several people tried to “correct” my opinion about this case, even though an opinion is all it is. I think the world would be a very dull place if people weren’t allowed to make up their own minds and express themselves.

Like I said, in a matter of days, virtually no one will be talking about this case anymore. But if that four month sentence had stuck, Skylar would still be rotting in jail and potentially exposed to dangers that could permanently affect her health and livelihood. I think that’s worth considering. So that’s why I’ve written so much about this case and expressed myself so stubbornly as somewhat of an ally for Skylar. Plenty of people think she should rot. I want to be among those who think she still has something to offer the world and can redeem herself. I think she could use the support.

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