ethics, law, true crime, Trump

Ghislaine Maxwell gets sentenced to 20 years in federal prison…

Thank God for other items in the news besides Donald Trump’s January 6 shenanigans and the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m pretty tired of thinking and writing about abortion. And I’ve been tired of Trump for years now. Nevertheless, if Ghislaine Maxwell hadn’t been delivered a prison sentence yesterday, I could still write reams about abortion and Trump. There’s still a lot to be said and written about both subjects. But I won’t be opining about those two tired topics this Wednesday morning. Today, I’m going to write about what I think of Ghislaine Maxwell’s punishment. So here goes…

Yesterday afternoon– I think it was afternoon in Germany, anyway, Ghislaine Maxwell, former British socialite and ex girlfriend of sex offender extraordinaire, Jeffrey Epstein, finally got sentenced for her role in Epstein’s disgusting crimes against young women. Ms. Maxwell was accused of sex trafficking young women. She befriended beautiful young girls who hoped to become models and lured them to Epstein’s lair, where they would be forced to engage in sex acts with Epstein and his powerful and wealthy friends.

Jeffrey Epstein had been awaiting his own trial when he allegedly committed suicide in jail back in August 2019. Many people questioned whether or not Epstein wasn’t actually murdered, since many high powered people were his friends and stood to lose a lot if he testified in court. How powerful were these people? Well, they included people like Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Kevin Spacey, Itzhak Perlman, astronaut John Glenn, many US senators, and our very own loser ex “president”, Trump.

In 2020, I watched Netflix’s revelatory documentary about what went on in Epstein’s fancy homes in Palm Beach, Florida, London, England, New York City, and his private island in the Caribbean. Ghislaine Maxwell was in the thick of it, and she presented a gentle, friendly face to trusting young women who were looking for a big break. Instead, they were used and abused by Epstein and his depraved, corrupt buddies. When I think about the metaphorical snake pit those women faced, filled with slimy narcissistic scumbags, it makes me cringe with revulsion.

Ghislaine Maxwell orchestrated much of the abuse, funneling girls and young women into the vortex of Epstein’s inner sanctums, victimizing them as she smiled and pretended to be their friends. They would trust a woman before they’d trust the lecherous middle aged men who wanted to use them for their own sexual gratification. Now, those women are living with the aftermath of that abuse, and Maxwell knows that she will be in prison until at least her late 70s. She must also pay a $750,000 fine.

Maxwell was arrested in July 2020, and she’s been sitting in a Brooklyn jail cell the whole time, as her case has slowly ground through the court system. Now, it’s time to get down to business. She didn’t get the five years her lawyers asked for, and she didn’t get the 30 years prosecutors wanted. She might not die in prison, but her life as a socialite is over. As she learned her fate, Maxwell addressed her victims, claiming to empathize with them, and telling them she hoped her prison sentence would bring them “peace and finality”.

I read about this case last night, as many people were still reeling from the Roe v. Wade decision, and learning about Donald Trump’s horrible conduct on January 6, 2021, as Cassidy Hutchinson testified about Trump’s incredibly narcissistic and abusive behavior. Trump was a friend of Epstein’s, and I know of at least one person who described what he did to her at Epstein’s home. A lot of people are quick to deny Hutchinson’s testimony about January 6, and they doggedly defend their man, Trump. I have little hope that Trump will ever face punishment for his crimes against people. But at least they got Ghislaine. I think 20 years in prison and having to pay a huge fine is fair. And in spite of how terrible her crimes are, I hope Ghislaine Maxwell is treated humanely while she does her time in prison.

Someone in the Facebook comments wrote that Ghislaine Maxwell should spend all 20 years in solitary confinement. Against my better judgment, I wrote “That would be inhumane. She needs to be punished, not tortured. America should be above torture (even if it isn’t).

A few people liked my comment, but at least two people gave me grief over it. One seemingly outraged woman asked me if I would feel the same way if it had been one of my daughters who was victimized by Ghislaine Maxwell. To that, I responded “Yes, I would. I don’t condone torture. Twenty years in solitary confinement would be torture.” A man tagged me in his angry comment about how much Maxwell should suffer. I wrote to him that he was entitled to his opinion, but I disagree with it. I don’t ever want to get to a point at which I think torturing other people is okay… even if I completely understand the sentiment behind those thoughts. Solitary confinement, even just for a couple of weeks, is considered inhumane and akin to torture. I am not okay with that.

Once again, I’m left sitting here scratching my head at the logic of some of my countrymen. So many people are happy to excuse Donald Trump for his egregious and well documented crimes against people over his long career as a businessman, politician, and “star”. A lot of them would be absolutely delighted to see him elected president again, even though he boldly admits to having no control over his sexual impulses, abuses his employees, cheats his creditors, and demonstrates an attitude that he is ABOVE the law. But some of those same people want to torture Ghislaine Maxwell. The mind boggles. Maybe it’s because she’s a woman, and women aren’t supposed to be “monsters”.

I remember a couple of years ago, when Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were in the news for their fraudulent actions of trying to buy their daughters spots at prestigious universities. I read so many comments from “outraged” people who thought they should just ROT in prison for decades. What Loughlin and Huffman did were not crimes of violence. Yes, their crimes were dishonest and unfair. Yes, they abused their great privilege and wealth. They needed to be held accountable, and they were. But plenty of people felt that their sentences were too light, and they should be locked up for years.

I remember when 18 year old Skylar Mack went to the Cayman Islands and flouted the COVID rules there. She got caught by the police, and faced incarceration as punishment. At one point, she was sentenced to four months in jail, and some Americans were complaining when her family members tried to get her sentence reduced, which it eventually was. I wrote about her case several times in this blog. A few people wanted to tell me off for not wanting Skylar to rot in jail. My response is that I don’t see how locking up an 18 year old for two more months in a hellish Caribbean jail, potentially traumatizing her for life, would be justice.

Ghislaine Maxwell, of course, is no Skylar Mack, Lori Loughlin, or Felicity Huffman. Her crimes were much worse than theirs were, and she really did legitimately hurt people. So yes, she needs to be severely punished, and it’s entirely fitting that she spend a couple of decades locked up. But even though Maxwell’s crimes against young women were horrific, we are not much better as a society if our response to Maxwell’s crimes is to punish her using methods that are considered cruel by most civilized members of the global community. The United States is supposed to be a first world nation. Americans, as a people, should be above torturing people.

There’s another, more selfish reason I don’t condone torturing Ghislaine Maxwell. And that’s if, by some circumstance, I ever end up on the wrong side of the law, I would not want to be tortured. I wouldn’t want torture for my friends or loved ones, if they ever got sent to prison. I don’t think abusing people delivers good results for society, especially if there’s a chance that a person in prison will ever be released. I don’t want to see that person so completely shattered that they can’t recover. Not only is it not good for them, or their friends and loved ones, it’s also not good for everyone else in the world, who might be victimized if they go off the rails. Abuse has a terrible effect on people. It makes them angry, jaded, and potentially violent. I don’t think that angry, jaded, violent people, fresh from incarceration, are safe to be around. People should be able to recover from their mistakes. Otherwise, why go on living? And what would they have to lose, committing more crimes against other people?

I don’t think there are many truly evil people in the world. As long as someone still has a shred of humanity within them, we should have some respect for them as human beings. Every one of us would want the same consideration. And, as people who haven’t committed serious crimes, we should be at a level at which we can grant basic mercy, even if someone has done something really terrible. Of course, I write this as I’ve also read many comments from people who think anyone who has had an abortion should be jailed for life. It’s probably hyperbole when people say or write these things. I still wish people would stop and think for a minute when they express this kind of vitriol. At best, it’s unhelpful and unrealistic. At worst, it promotes barbaric ideas that put the United States in the same company as Middle Eastern countries where prisoners are routinely tortured and denied basic rights.

But I do understand the outrage… and I do agree that Maxwell should suffer the consequences of her actions. I think that will happen. Ghislaine Maxwell has spent most of her life pampered and cosseted, cushioned by extreme wealth and privilege. Prison will not be pleasant for her. We don’t need to make it worse for her by locking her in a hole for twenty years. That’s extreme, and it would make her go insane… and then we would be obliged to treat her mental illness, although the reality is, she would probably be neglected. And then there would be people who would actually pity her… which she probably doesn’t deserve at all.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of With God in Russia, by Walter Ciszek and Daniel Flaherty

I thought about this book review recently and decided it was time it was added to the new blog. I am reposting it as/is, the way I wrote it on June 23, 2018.

Sometimes Facebook can be a great place to find books, even from memes posted by long, lost co-workers from twenty years ago.  That’s how I happened to read Father Walter Ciszek’s harrowing story of being held prisoner the Soviet Union for twenty years.  My friend, Courtney, is a devout Catholic and she shared a meme featuring one of Ciszek’s quotes.  Not being Catholic myself, I had never heard of the man.  I do find books about the Soviet Union and the prison experience fascinating, though, so I decided to download Father Ciszek’s book, With God in Russia: The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest’s Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps

With God in Russia was originally published in 1964, but it has been republished several times.  I read the version that was released in June 2017.  The price was right at just $1.99.  The book is Father Ciszek’s story written by ghostwriter Daniel Flaherty.  It includes an afterword by James Martin. Father Ciszek, who died in 1984, has been considered for possible beatification or canonization since 1990.  His current title is Servant of God.  

Who was Walter Ciszek?

Walter Ciszek was born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania in November 1904.  His parents were Polish immigrants who had come to the United States in the 1890s.  When he was a young man, Ciszek belonged to a gang.  He later surprised his family when he decided to become a priest.  At age 24, Ciszek entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Poughkeepsie, New York.  

In 1929, Ciszek volunteered to serve as a missionary to Russia, which had become part of the Soviet Union in 1917.  At that time in Russia, there was a real need for Ciszek’s services.  Religious rights for most citizens were curtailed and those who were religious suffered from persecution.  There weren’t many priests around to offer religious services to believers.    

In 1934, Ciszek went to Rome to study the Russian language, history, and liturgy, as well as theology.  He was ordained a priest in the Byzantine Rite and took the name Vladimir.  Just as an aside, not being Catholic myself, I don’t understand the practice of taking different names for religious reasons. I was a little confused as I was reading the book and Ciszek was referred to as Vladimir.

In 1938, Ciszek went to eastern Poland to do his missionary work.  The following year, the Soviet Union invaded Poland and forced Ciszek to close his mission.  At that point, Ciszek decided to go east, into the Soviet Union, under the assumed name Władymyr Łypynski.  He and two others journeyed 1500 miles to the logging town of Chusovoy, where he worked as a logger and provided religious services on the side.  

In 1941, Ciszek was arrested and accused of spying for the Vatican.  He was sent to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, where he spent five years, most of which were in solitary confinement.  During his time at Lubyanka Prison, Ciszek was drugged and tortured.  After enduring severe torture, he signed a confession.  Convicted of espionage, Ciszek was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in the GULAG.  He spent four more years at Lubyanka, then was sent to Siberia, where he worked in mines.  Throughout his many years imprisoned in the Soviet Union, Ciszek maintained his deep faith in God and provided religious services to other prisoners.

In 1955, Ciszek was released from prison and was finally able to write to his family, who had assumed he was dead.  He lived in the city of Norilsk with restrictions.  He wrote of how local authorities tried to get him to take a permanent Russian passport, which he refused to do.  Three years after his initial release, the KGB forced Ciszek to move to Krasnoyarsk, where he secretly established missionary parishes.  When the KGB learned of what he was doing, they required Ciszek to move again, this time to Abakan, a town about 100 miles south.  There, he worked as an auto mechanic for four more years.  

In 1963, he received his first letter from his sisters.  A few months later, the Soviet Union exchanged Ciszek for two Soviet agents who had been held by the United States.  He did not know he was going to be exchanged until he was handed over to a State Department representative, who told him that he was still an American citizen.  He left Russia in October 1963.

From 1965 onwards, Father Ciszek continued his missionary work in the United States, working and lecturing at Fordham University and providing counseling and spiritual guidance until he died in December 1984.  He published two more books, one of which was released posthumously, and has left an impressive legacy to Catholics.

My thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not Catholic and I don’t know that much about Catholicism.  I didn’t read this book because of who Ciszek was in a religious sense.  I read it because I am interested in the Soviet Union and what life was like for people who were imprisoned there.  I spent two years in the former Soviet Union just after it fell apart.

Although Armenia isn’t Russia and it wasn’t part of the Soviet Union when I was there, the Soviet Union had only just fallen.  Some aspects of Ciszek’s descriptions of life there rang very familiar to me.  I’m sure Armenia still maintains some remnants of that time even now, although I can see from pictures and Facebook posts from Armenian friends that the country has changed since I knew it.

Ciszek’s story is very engaging.  Flaherty did a good job making it read as if it came directly from Father Ciszek himself.  He describes the monotony of daily prison life, particularly when he was in Lubyanka and basically sat in solitary confinement for years.  He writes of the struggles of staying nourished while he was at hard labor.  I was particularly fascinated by his descriptions of meal times, when prisoners would bring out a large pot of soup and dish it out to all the prisoners.  The ones who were served first got the thinnest and least satisfying helpings and would demand that the soup be stirred before it was served to them.

In Ciszek’s voice, Flaherty wrote of special duties that would score prisoners extra rations.  For instance, the prisoner that would dump the bucket used for toileting would get another bowl of soup.  The prisoners would be so hungry that some were eager to take on that duty.  Naturally, because it was a prison, a lot of the people Ciszek did time with were actual criminals.  He wrote a lot about the “thieves” who would try to trick other prisoners out of their rations in Machiavellian ways.  

I was impressed by Ciszek’s devotion to God, even when it seemed like he couldn’t get a fair shake.  Make no mistake about it, Ciszek’s time in prison wasn’t fun.  I remember how Ciszek was given extra rations one day, not told that it was to last him for two days he’d spend riding on a train to another prison.  There he sat with his Russian handlers, who had plenty to eat and didn’t share with him.  When a piece of buttered bread fell to the floor on the train, he tried to get it with his foot without attracting the attention of one of his guards.  The guard eventually did catch him in the act, but Ciszek pleaded with him to let him eat the dirty piece of buttered bread.  The guard was indifferent, so he got the bread.  There is something about the desperation of that story that sticks with me.  Ciszek appealed to the guard’s humanity to ease his suffering just a tiny bit and it worked.

Although I am not a very religious person, I am fascinated by people who are committed to their faith, particularly when their commitment is genuine and not motivated by greed or a desire for power (although those people are also interesting for other reasons).  Father Ciszek was able to maintain faith, hope, and courage in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  He did not become a bitter shell of a man who hated God or blamed God for the twenty plus years he spent incarcerated in Russia.  Instead, he turned that situation into an incredible life story, full of adventure and hope.  He sets an example of a man who did not give up or give in to self-pity or doubt.  A lot of religious people, particularly the leaders, could learn from Father Ciszek’s example.

In any case, I highly recommend With God in Russia, particularly to Catholics who aren’t already familiar with his story.  I found it a very interesting and inspiring book.  I suppose the very fact that I read it proves that not all Facebook memes are useless.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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