Jerry Sandusky has been sentenced. No fewer than 30, no more than 60 years await him behind bars. Many, especially on Twitter, think that’s too lenient. 30 is too short. It is not so much the fear that he will lumber out of prison at age 98 and hurt someone else as it is the sense that he still needs to be punished. That the life sentence (for a man 68 years old, that is certainly what this is) is not enough. That he deserves to suffer.
His remarks have certainly done nothing to lessen this feeling. If anything, they’ve fed it. He’s bizarrely unrepentant, disgustingly defiant. What he’s done would still be awful if he were shuffling around cringing and begging forgiveness. But he isn’t.
In court, he offered a strange rambling statement that included such surreal non-sequiturs as, “I've forgiven, I've been forgiven. I've comforted others, I've been comforted. I've been kissed by dogs, I've been bit by dogs. I've conformed, I've also been different. I've been me. I've been loved, I've been hated.” And this came after public statements insisting on his innocence and trying to blame his accusers.
No wonder everyone’s still baying for more punishment.
Justice is often less precise than we would like. How many years for doing irreversible damage to a life? How many for damage to The Program? There’s no satisfactory equation.
But this anger only leads to somewhere uglier.
Among the top tweets pertaining to his sentencing (it is possible to make a good joke even about something like this, from “I don’t care what anyone says, Sandusky will always be the King of Pop” (Trevor Moore) to “sandusky got 30 years which doesn't sound like a long time but i’m about that age & believe me lots of [crappy] things can happen in 30 years!” (lauren ashley bishop) ) were several making crude and sadly common prison rape jokes. “The last words Jerry Sandusky's attorney said to him before sentencing: ‘DON'T DROP THE SOAP!’ ” tweeted the parody account @RealSkipBayliss, earning 122 retweets. “Congratulations to Jerry Sandusky on getting 30 years in prison! bring lube,” quipped Jo Koy, earning 271.
This isn’t funny.
That is not part of the price prisoners owe to society. Not even Jerry Sandusky. It is not part of the sentence. Nowhere in those 30 to 60 years is it included or implied. And the disgustingly widespread assumption that it is, the punch line of joke after exhausted joke in movies and on Twitter and in comedy clubs only contributes to a culture where more people, behind bars, deprived of the basic protections of civilian life, expect to suffer still further and more fundamental indignities.
No one deserves that.
No matter how unsatisfactory we find the sentence, the thought that Sandusky may not be safe behind bars is not a consolation but a sign that something is deeply and profoundly wrong in the system.
What Sandusky did was tragically awful, as everyone is eager to acknowledge. His grotesque acts cannot be undone. Perhaps they can never be atoned for. They can only be lived with, day by day, no matter how long he rots in jail. But one thing is certain: More wrongs won’t fix this.
Don’t wish that on anyone. Don’t assume it’s part of the price. Not even for Jerry Sandusky. If this case has reminded us of anything, it’s that this is no joking matter.