This is not a column about Ariel Castro. Not directly, anyway.
In all honesty, I think most of us have given more mental space to him than we really wanted to. And when word came this week that Castro had killed himself in his prison cell—well, the response was about what you’d expect for a man accused of kidnapping and long-term sexual slavery.
“Now he’s facing real justice.”
“He held those women for over 10 years and he couldn’t take a month in jail? Coward.”
I understand, believe me. When someone tied up in that kind of enormity decides to save everyone the trouble of deciding what to do with him, there’s a certain grim satisfaction for many. Probably not so grim for some.
But something’s bothered me for a couple of days now. A worn spot of sympathy, where my heart has been quietly pacing, over and over.
In all the hoorah over finding Castro dead … we’re forgetting that someone had to find him.
Someone discovered the body.
And I can’t really imagine being in that situation at all.
Discovering a suicide is traumatic enough for anyone, of course. The human mind doesn’t readily let go of a death, especially a violent one. It puts the event on replay, maybe trying to make sense of things, maybe just unable to turn away, like a driver passing a traffic accident.
But this wasn’t just anyone.
This would have been a prison guard.
And that has to introduce another level of mixed feelings.
On the one hand, guards aren’t immune to revulsion. They would have read the same news stories the rest of us did, would have seen the same photographs and heard the same statements. They would have known who they had and likely – no matter how professional they might be – known the same disgust any of us would.
But a guard is responsible for a prisoner’s safety. The first duty is to make sure the prisoner stands trial, that he doesn’t flee the people’s justice by whatever method.
And so, finding this hated man dead on your watch, having to try to revive someone the country despises, having to think afterward about how it happened, about what crack in the wall of attention let it happen … well, layered on top of the usual trauma, that’s a potential emotional storm to rival Katrina or Sandy.
I’m not saying Castro will be missed. I am saying someone will be scarred.
And isn’t that often the way of it?
Nothing we do happens in a vacuum. As the saying goes, you can never do just one thing. Every action has its consequences, its ripples, its people touched and affected though never seen.
When I was a teenager, I talked a friend out of killing himself. I’m still not sure how. I look at his life now and his wonderful family and realize how many lives that touched, many of whom I still haven’t met.
When I was in junior high, I was regularly bullied. That shaped my life, too. And but for the actions of others in that life – parents, teachers, friends – that life could have fallen into a shambles, with consequences for every friend I’ve made and life I’ve touched since.
I don’t want this to turn into a remake of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” But it’s worth thinking about. There are always people standing to the side who will feel a decision that was never made with them in mind, from the personal to the geopolitical. Who receive the gift or bear the price for what someone else has done.
We need to stand ready for those people, whether to recognize or to aid. They may have been unintended, but they cannot be forgotten.
Whoever the guard was, I hope his friends and family are there for him tonight. I hope his boss and his co-workers are. I hope he’s less shaken than I fear, more resilient than I hope.
Because there’s a person in this column that I’ve thought quite enough about.
And I refuse to let him have one more victim.