Friday, July 15, 2005

WorldCom's Ebbers Gets 25 Years ... Is There a More Christian Way?

Yes, there is a more Christian way...

Update: Restorative justice and restitution are a big part of Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship. He derives his principles biblically and you might be interested. There is a better way.

25 Comments:

At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ebbers was properly viewed as nothing more than a burgular who breaks into thousands of homes and steals. A harsh sentence serves society as a deterrent to those who would commit such crimes. If you want to cry for those commiting non violent crimes who are in jail, you could start with those punished for drug use.

 
At 6:01 PM, Blogger Matt Friedeman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am surprised that Mr. Ebbers' potential is recognized, but not other criminal's. Each person has potential but the American public is worn out with rich, powerful criminals receiving slaps on their hands for destroying people's lives, just because they did not use a gun to do it. It is just as wrong to steal large amounts through fraud as it is to steal small amounts through force. Your commentary seems very strange to me.

 
At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt,

I am a big fan of yours, but I can’t understand how you reconcile Mr. Ebbers not being imprisoned. I believe we do a very poor job of rehabilitating those in our penal systems, but it seems to be a very slippery slope to not incarcerate. If significant crimes are committed (white collar included), incarceration is appropriate. He can chose to contribute to society as best he can from prison. And it can be done.

Kent

 
At 6:09 PM, Blogger Matt Friedeman said...

Friends:

Charles Colson and Prison Fellowship are big into restorative justice. Check out this page and start exploring. There is a better way.

http://www.pfm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Restorative_Justice_Articles&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=9878

Matt

 
At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Matt,

I read Agape Press regularly and agree with their POVs most all of the time, but I had to write to you about your stand on the Bernie Ebbers sentence.

All of us average Americans are tired of executives vandalizing companies for far, far greater sums than petty criminals do and getting away with it because their crime doesn't 'harm anyone'. Maybe you lost a little stock money, but others, Matt, lost their entire future... many lost their jobs... their retirements... their livelihoods... I'm sure families were broken directly because of the hardships his knowingly wicked, wicked ways caused. He didn't fess up -- he was caught, or he'd still be doing it!

Your suggestion of penance, on face, is good, fair and Christian... but you would have to extend it to far too many criminals to keep track of -- why should Ebbers get to live happily at home when so many others, guilty of thefts of far lesser amounts, sit in jail? Your article seems to say he's a genius that could contribute... heavens no! He's a devious and wicked criminal who cannot be trusted, not ever... okay, maybe at 85.

Thanks for listening.

 
At 8:27 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Do you really believe Mr. Ebbers did no violence to investors?

The Bible tells us that the wicked are never satisfied but the righteous will experience peace and sleep and other simple, but important pleasures.

Boardrooms across the world are filled with people who are not satisfied with their lustful sensuality, and brutal power and vast wealth.

They stew in their vat of self-absorbtion. Their passions will rage to the end of this life and into the next, and but never experience the smallest satisfaction. That's Hell.

In fact, I heard one executive describe Hell as a room full of wealthy sophisticates who are quietly, elegantly scheming to destroy one another, never knowing when it would suddenly be their turn to be attacked.

Mr. Ebbers on the other hand, has an opportunity to learn humility in the process of treating others the way he would like to be treated. He can learn the simple pleasure of sweeping floors and washing walls.

He can think about how long it takes to accumulate college tuition or retirement when earning it a nickel or dime at a time.

He can serve as an example to the Wall Street crowd so that they don't trade their integrity for any price.

 
At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In addition to agreeing with all those who disagree with your suggested treatment of Ebbers, I would add that Ebbers surrendered $45 million in assets to be used to partially compensate those he defrauded. Had he voluntarily admitted his fraud and and surrendered his assets, perhaps your argument would have more persuasion. However, he did not quit until he was caught, so he deserves to sit in a cell for the next 25 years, hopefully thinking about all those whose lives he intentionally destroyed by perpetrating the largest fraud in American corporate history. I join others who have commented that if you want to shed tears for those who suffer injustice, do so for those who are true victims of the system, whose "crimes" pale in comparison to those of Ebbers and his ilk.

 
At 9:02 PM, Blogger Rob Gross said...

In addition to agreeing with all those who disagree with your suggested treatment of Ebbers, I would add that Ebbers surrendered $45 million in assets to be used to partially compensate those he defrauded. Had he voluntarily admitted his fraud and and surrendered his assets, perhaps your argument would have more persuasion. However, he did not quit until he was caught, so he deserves to sit in a cell for the next 25 years, hopefully thinking about all those whose lives he intentionally destroyed by perpetrating the largest fraud in American corporate history. I join others who have commented that if you want to shed tears for those who suffer injustice, do so for those who are true victims of the system, whose "crimes" pale in comparison to those of Ebbers and his ilk.

 
At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In addition to agreeing with all those who disagree with your suggested treatment of Ebbers, I would add that Ebbers surrendered $45 million in assets to be used to partially compensate those he defrauded. Had he voluntarily admitted his fraud and and surrendered his assets, perhaps your argument would have more persuasion. However, he did not quit until he was caught, so he deserves to sit in a cell for the next 25 years, hopefully thinking about all those whose lives he intentionally destroyed by perpetrating the largest fraud in American corporate history. I join others who have commented that if you want to shed tears for those who suffer injustice, do so for those who are true victims of the system, whose "crimes" pale in comparison to those of Ebbers and his ilk.

 
At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not believe that any society can prevail that offers one "flavor" of justice to the rich and (in)famous, and another flavor to the "criminal in the street." Severe crimes require severe punishments, and any society that looks with "Christian mercy" on a person who ruined thousands of lives and perhaps helped tear apart thousands of families and yet puts a lone killer in prison for life must ask itself if justice is truly blind as it is supposed to be.

Nothing will further hasten the destruction of social order and the justice system in America faster than the perception and belief that the rich and powerful get leniency for heinous crimes compared to the rest of us. If Ebbers is guilty of his crimes, he should get the same justice as anyone less famous would get. It is not vengance when everyone who commits the same crime gets the same penalty.

 
At 10:24 PM, Blogger Thinking in Ohio said...

All of you are missing the point of Matt's article. He is not suggesting that Ebbers recieve a "lighter sentence" or that he not be punished for his crimes. Take the name Ebbers out of the article altogether and substituted it with the name of a petty bank theif, the principles still apply.

Friedman is criticizing a judical system that uses taxpayers dollars, to house, clothe, medicate and incarcerate convicted felons. He's suggesting that forcing soceity to foot this bill is a continued theft. Moreover, it's not rehabilitative (criminals are seldom transformed in prison) and it does nothing to restore to society what has been lost or stolen. A murderer, a rapist, a drug dealer... maybe they can't repay or restore what they've stolen, but Ebbers could if he were forced to labor within soceity somehow... though I confess it would be a complicated matter finding the means. Matt didn't suggest that Ebbers carry on as an everyday citizen, but that he remain under house arrest while paying his own light bill, food expenses and health insurance.

The point is valid, Ebbers only continues to steal from soceity as we provide for his incarceration. And our penial system is failing fast... what will we do 20 years from now... how many more prisons are we going to fill?

 
At 10:55 PM, Blogger Thinking in Ohio said...

One other thought... does a lot of our anger toward Ebbers emerge from the issue of money? If so, are we any less greedy than him? I'm by no means excusing his crime, I just don't hear as much protesting going on over issues of much greater weight and import in the eyes of God... we "pray" for justice in the realms of abortion, euthanasia, sexual perversions, the war in Iraq... we "fight" for it when it comes down to our pocketbooks. Or am I being too harsh?

 
At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My biggest problem with the post was the timing and apparent reason for it. If the post had read, "Putting people in prison for any crimes . . . Is there a more Christian way?" then the post would have had more credibility with me.

But to nearly put Ebbers in the "victim status" category is a huge disservice to all who seek a court system that is fair and equitable to all, regardless of bank accounts or power.

As to greed and money, I believe that "Thou shalt not steal" is no less a commandment than "Thou shalt not kill." To God both are an abomination and sinful if I know anything about God. After all, there are only ten commandments, so we has best not ignore any of them! Or perhaps we get to maybe obey only eight of ten commandments, and we get to choose which eight? I missed that verse in the Bible!

 
At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The principle espoused is biblical, though to be totally accurate, he must give up everything he owns, if this is required to pay back what he has stolen (Prov. 6:31). What a deterrent to those who would extort others goods, appropriate to the crime and the person.

 
At 8:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt,
Normally I wouldn't bother you over something this trivial but as you've made this mistake so many times recently I feel compelled to point it out. You, and for that matter Bernie Ebbers, are not "from" Mississippi. While you both live there, you both spent the formative years of your lives elsewhere. Please refrain from creating the impression that you are an individual who has been shaped by being "from" Mississippi as it just tends to heap more unneccesary embarassment on an already much maligned state.

 
At 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think these are all good comments. However, our justice system reeks of corruption (evidence famous criminals turned loose, etc). I believe Ebbers will not see 5 years in jail...

 
At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are proposing a special form of justice available only to those who can afford it. What about the 99% of criminals who cannot earn an honest living under home confinement?

To the contrary, it is fruitful when someone with as high a profile as Ebbers is given a punitive sentence...it is a DETERRENT. Others in Ebbers' shoes are much likely to steal the life savings of the unknowing if they know that the consequence is to be confined in a spouses mansion in a retirement above and beyond that which was stripped from the victims.

And don't kid yourself, if the spouse owns a mansion with all the trappings, absent a showing that it was purchased with the ill-gotten gain, the spouse will keep it.

Your form of punishment has Ebbers sipping cocktails at the pool, watching a movie in the home theatre and retiring to a king-size bed that he shares with his wife. Thankfully that will not be the case!

 
At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Rev. Mark Brown said...

Matt,
I see you are being beaten up in the comments department. As a Pastor I try to look at the big picture in as much as I can. I thought what you wrote was good. We need a better way to deal with the criminal system. It takes WAY too much money from the tax payer. What, as you said, Mr Colson is saying, would perhaps ease that burdon. There needs to be punishment for the "white collar" criminal, but is prison the best way to deal with it? In olden times it was up to the family to feed a prisoner. This system would at least offer something along that line. Also, someone who is under "house arrest" does have to stay home, and stay home, and stay home! That can, for some one like Mr. Ebbers, create their own form of hell.
Thanks for bringing this topic up. While the answers aren't simple ones, they need to be thought about.
Mark

 
At 9:46 AM, Blogger Matt Friedeman said...

All:

As to whether restorative justice is for special cases like the likes of Ebbers - no, it is not. Generally (and I think the inference of the article is clear and the update link provided in the original post) mindlessly locking up criminals at the rate we are going with no thought to restitution is cultural madness.

Conservatives often says that government botches things up...well, detention American style is on the high end of both government and botch. I still think there is a much better way that government can administer but lessen the huge recidivism rate and save us a lot of money while introducing restitution and restoration.

Many non-violent criminals should be treated the same. Ebbers is just the case study that, goodness, got our attention.

As to the individual who says I am not from Mississippi. We had a dialogue years ago on the radio about when you can claim real residency from a state. My views that day, as today apparently, were not standard Southern fare.

Favorite answer - when you come across the border and start paying taxes - makes you a resident of any state, Deep South or otherwise.

I am definitely from Mississippi. And so was Ebbers. Ouch and learn to love it. Grin.

Matt

 
At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Ebbers sentencing could perhaps be better if imposed as house arrest and paying his own debts......but the real problem is not necessarily with the Ebbers sentencing. The problem is that the courts have strongly proclaimed that money has more value than life by allowing murderers and child molesters to walk the streets and commit their crimes over and over again. It is absurd to me that a money thief gets more time than someone who violently steals the life of a person.

 
At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think Ebbers should be given a warm hug, a plate of cookies and a thermos of cocoa and sent to his room to really think about what he did. When he can behave like responsible big boy, then he can come down and have some cake.

 
At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Ebbers: It seems that some believe he is a wicked criminal. Worst of the worst that cannot be trusted.

I sense there is much hatred against him. He committed his crimes for the love of money. I must ask, "do you hate for the same, love of money?" For the love of money is the root to all evil.

Rehabilitating does not work in the penal system or out of prison. What does work is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit can and will change the fallen nature of mankind into an ever lasting change.

It is my prayer that he gets to know Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. And that you be healed of your hatred before it grows into something worst.

 
At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of these posts are based on the fact that Ebbers was used as the example. I'd like to give another example: In the mid-70's a woman in a mid-western state murdered her husband. She convicted of murder. Her sentence was 10 years house arrest--she could be out of her house a total of 2 hours per week except when she was at her job--a social worker drove her to and from the job--the two hours were so that she could do the grocery shopping and other tasks that are required by every day life. Why the light sentence? Well, it seems that this woman and her children had been continuously abused by her husband. He doled out money in tiny amounts, beat her if she asked for more or if he wasn't happy with the food she could buy...the judge determined that she was not a threat to society, her crime was one of deperation. Yet she was GUILTY; she had to be punished. Fortunately the judge had not yet been bound by "sentencing guidelines" and was able to base his sentence on practicallity. There were several advantages to this sentence: 1.) the family was kept intact. The woman was able to keep her children with her (saving the state thousands per year in foster care costs for four children). 2.) She was self-supporting; her job paid for housing, food, utilities... (saving the state thousands per year). 3.) She was not in prison where she would become calloused, learn all the ways to commit crime,... (saving the state tens of thousands per year). The cost of her incarceration? $40,000 per year (monitoring and the officer of the court to drive her around). Had she been put in prison, the cost would have been MUCH higher, with little to no added benefit to society. If it weren't for "sentencing guidelines" perhaps there would be more creative sentencing that would save the country/state millions of $$ each year--and be a far greater benefit to society.

 
At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Ebbers broke a law which carries a penalty of 25 years in prison. The purpose of the penalty is to punish the violator and to serve as an example to others.

Certainly, restoration is preferred. However, the price of criminal activity must still be paid, lest others fall to temptation because the penalty of the sin is not so great.

 

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