Episode no. 513
November 30, 2001
BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Coming up, juvenile justice. They commit adult crimes, but they're kids.
What's the proper punishment?
CHRISTOPHER MANNING: There are some kids who never change, but then there are some kids who -- they make mistakes.
ABERNETHY: And making the religious experience meaningful for people who are deaf.
FATHER MULCRONE: When I started working the deaf community, I had to shut my ears off and look at everything in terms of not how does it sound, but how does it look.
ABERNETHY: Welcome, I'm Bob Abernethy. It's good to have you with us.
BOB ABERNETHY: The war in Afghanistan continues, but here on the homefront there's evidence that some things are returning to pre-September 11th conditions. One example is attendance at houses of worship. The September tragedies prompted a surge in attendance nationwide leading many to believe that America might be undergoing a spiritual revival. But just two months after the attacks new polls by the Barna and Gallup organizations show attendance levels at churches and synagogues are back to normal.
President Bush welcomed home two American aid workers who were held by the Taliban on charges of attempting to convert Afghan Muslims to Christianity. Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, whom Bush called courageous souls, thanked those who prayed for them during their captivity and expressed their pride in being Americans.
HEATHER MERCER: We are so excited to be back, and again we know we're here because of the prayers of people all over the country, all over the world.
BOB ABERNETHY: The announcement this week by Advanced Cell Technology, a private biotech company, that it had cloned a human embryo has drawn strong reaction from political and religious leaders. Pope John Paul II condemned the experiment, as did Roman Catholic and a number of Protestant leaders in America. At the White House President Bush repeated his objection to cloning human embryos.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The use of embryos to clone is wrong. We should not as a society grow life to destroy it.
ABERNETHY: We want to examine now what the scientists did in Wooster, Massachusetts, and what the implications are. Rick Weiss covers biotechnology for THE WASHINGTON POST.
What did this scientist report?
RICK WEISS (THE WASHINGTON POST): This is the first time anyone has made a cloned human embryo, that is an embryo made from a single cell -- it's been done before in farm animals but never before with people.
ABERNETHY: And it's perfectly legal?
Mr. WEISS: It's legal as long as you do it with your own private money and with no federal funds.
ABERNETHY: Why did the scientists think this is ethical?
Mr. WEISS: The idea is to get some stem cells from these embryos -- these are cells that can be grown into all kinds of tissues. It might then be used for replacement parts, basically, to help cure a lot of degenerative diseases.
They also feel like it may be ethical because they're not even convinced these things are really embryos. They're made by cloning, not by fertilization and they're so young that it's not clear to them at least, and to some people, that they have the kind of moral standing that an embryo would have.
ABERNETHY: But, at the same time, anything involving cloning sets off great alarms, doesn't it?
Mr. WEISS: It sure does. We're talking about the very beginnings of human life and made, in this case, with just one parent, not two.
ABERNETHY: Would what was done this week make it easier to clone a human baby, if somebody should want to do that?
Mr. WEISS: This group has said very strongly it has no intention of making a cloned baby. But, yes, the expertise that they are developing could certainly be used by someone else for that purpose if they wanted to.
ABERNETHY: Now the House last summer passed a bill banning all human cloning work. The Senate is now going to take it up. What's the outlook?
Mr. WEISS: I think the outlook right now is the Senate's probably going to try to put it off until February or March. There's so much on the agenda right now and this is so controversial, it's a lot to deal with.
ABERNETHY: The techniques in all this may be new but the arguments, the ethical arguments, are very familiar, aren't they?
Mr. WEISS: This goes back to so many of the other issues we're struggling with about embryos and abortion and other items. It all comes back to what kind of moral standing, what kind of status are we going to give to our vary earliest beginnings?
ABERNETHY: Rick Weiss, many thanks.
BOB ABERNETHY: Now, another ethical question. Should a boy, even a boy who has murdered someone, be put into a prison with men? Advocates of mandatory sentencing caution that these kids must be taken off the street and kept off. Critics warn that a young person spending his formative years in an adult prison has much less chance of ever becoming a productive citizen.
Lucky Severson reports on the moral questions that arise when adult justice is imposed on juveniles.
LUCKY SEVERSON: This is Jeremy Armstrong, growing up in the Wisconsin State Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison for adults. Jeremy was 16 when he arrived here.
JEREMY ARMSTRONG (Inmate): There's no way to describe it. You come here and there's a thousand grown men that -- I mean they're three times your size, you know, and, you know, it's just, it's indescribable. The kind of fear, the anxiety.
SEVERSON: They say things to you?
Mr. ARMSTRONG: They -- "you're going to be a bitch, they're going to" -- you know, it's just overwhelming.
SEVERSON: You must have been very scared.
Mr. ARMSTRONG: I was terrified. The fear is -- it's more than fear, it's like humiliation, shame, just want to die. It's what I wanted to do. I just wanted to slit my wrists and die.
SEVERSON: When he was 15, Jeremy shot and killed a man during an attempted robbery. Even though a juvenile, he was sentenced as an adult to 20 years in prison for reckless homicide. Milwaukee District Attorney Michael McCann says Jeremy Armstrong was tried as an adult because as a juvenile, he would have been locked up for only three years and even as an adult, he could be eligible for parole after five years.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY MICHAEL MCCANN: I think it's terribly tragic. I do think he is a young man with fine potential. I think it tragic. But to say that five to seven years is excessive, I think is unreasonable. You're not going to be living next door to him.
ROBIN SHELLOW (Attorney): We're going to have to write a lot of letters because I don't think ...
SEVERSON: Robin Shellow is Jeremy Armstrong's attorney.
Ms. SHELLOW: I have seen prosecutors and the judiciary take pleasure in putting kids in adult prisons. That is, there is something which says, "Ah-ha, they are far, far away from us and to hell with them."
SEVERSON: Jeremy Armstrong was a good student, almost straight A's, and by all account a good kid.
Mr. ARMSTRONG: School was great. It was like my release.
Ms. SHELLOW: He went to school to escape -- and he worked hard, hard, hard at school and when he got home his world had fallen apart. But for a long time he pretended it hadn't.
SEVERSON: At home his mom was hooked on prescription drugs, but Jeremy was very close to his dad.
Mr. ARMSTRONG: We went fishing. We've been to Canada, we go to the movies, he coached my Little League team when I was in grade school. Just some guys had a best friend to hang out with, that was my dad.
SEVERSON: Then his father got in an accident, lost his job and got hooked on crack.
Mr. ARMSTRONG: We didn't have electricity, we didn't have food. Just needed the money.
SEVERSON: So he held up his father's crack dealer. They struggled and Jeremy shot the man.
Mr. ARMSTRONG: Bad isn't the word. I just did the worst thing a human being can do.
MR. MCCANN: If you're over 10 in the state of Wisconsin and commit first-degree intentional homicide, and charged with that, it must start in the adult court.
Unidentified Policeman: Put your hands on your head.
SEVERSON: But when does a child or an adolescent become an adult? When are they old enough to understand what they've done -- to understand the charges against them?
Vincent Schiraldi is president of the Justice Policy Institute.
VINCENT SCHIRALDI (Justice Policy Institute): A 13 or 14-year-old isn't responsible for their behavior the same way as a 30-year-old is. That's why we don't let them drive, that's why a 13-year-old can't hold a job without working papers or at all in some states, that's why they can't get married, and that's why they can't vote, and that's why they can't drink alcoholic beverages. Why, all of a sudden, when they commit an irresponsible act do we decide they're as culpable and able to understand the ramifications of that act as an adult is.
SEVERSON: Last year 200,000 juveniles in the U.S. were adjudicated as adults. A number that has been increasing every year since the mid-1990s.
Ken Hodges is a district attorney in Dougherty County, Georgia.
KEN HODGES (District Attorney): We've had a decrease in juvenile crime since 1977. I don't know that I can attribute it directly to Senate Bill 440 in the persecution of juveniles as adults, but I think that it has had an impact.
SEVERSON: The Georgia legislature made it mandatory that kids be tried as adults if they commit specified violent crimes. No exceptions.
Take the kid of Dantavious Lowe in Georgia's adult prison at Alto for armed robbery when he was 15.
DANTAVIUS LOWE (Inmate): We do 18 years, but we're not learning there from it. The only thing we learn is more violence because that's all we're really around.
MR. SCHIRALDI: When we put them in an adult system it's tantamount to giving up on them.
SEVERSON: Despite the harsh environment of an adult prison Dantavious has earned his high school equivalency and started reading the Bible and attending church services.
If he had been tried as a juvenile, he could have been sentenced to a juvenile detention center that focuses on rehabilitation. But over the past 20 years funding for adult prison rehabilitation programs has dwindled to a trickle.
Mr. SCHIRALDI: Kids come out of adult institutions every day in America and stick your friends up, steal their cars, break into your house. They're doing it today. This is not some problem that we're going to face in the future. It's happening right now.
SEVERSON: A study of 5,000 inmates in Florida found that kids who went through the adult system were re-arrested 50 percent more often than kids who pass through the juvenile system.
Do you think society would just as soon lock you up in prison and throw away the key?
Mr. LOWE: Sometimes I do. So, sometimes maybe my own family.
SEVERSON: Christopher Manning is in the Alto prison for holding up employees at a fast-food drive-in when he was 15. Under the law his sentence of 10 years was mandatory. He believes that some kids, not all, should be prosecuted as adults.
CHRISTOPHER MANNING (Inmate): There are some kids who ain't going to never change, but then there's some kids who they made mistakes, they're willing to change. But they don't see it like that.
JAMES MICHAEL (Public Defender): Your dad's coming this weekend?
Mr. MANNING: He should be coming.
Mr. MICHAEL: And how often does he get up here?
Mr. MANNING: About every two weeks.
SEVERSON: His public defender, James Michael, says many lawyers believe mandatory sentencing laws have gone too far.
Was 10 years too long for Chris Manning?
Mr. MICHAEL: I think 10 years is too long for almost all of these kids. These will be their life experiences. Their formative years are going to be spent in prison. I find it very hard to believe that kids are going to come out with positive life experiences, ready to go back into society and be productive citizens.
Mr. HODGES: Our philosophy has always been that lengthy prison sentences in prison is a deterrent. I still don't believe we can excuse criminal activity, especially of this nature in someone just because they're 13. I knew when I was 13 that it was not proper to rob someone with a gun or to shoot someone.
SEVERSON: The public perception is that juvenile violent crime is rampant, that high schools have become shooting galleries.
In Florida, a 12-year-old guns down a popular teacher. In Arkansas, two young boys target practice with their classmates. These are high-profile tragedies, but they do not appear to be part of a trend.
At the same time, adult prisons, like this, are filling with kids. Juvenile crime rates nationwide are down, considerably in the last six years. Prosecutors say it's because of the tougher laws, but the statistics don't support that. In some cases, states with the toughest laws have the worst juvenile crime rates.
Since 1992, 47 states have made it easier to punish kids as adults.
Mr. SCHIRALDI: During the 1990s, politicians really picked up on the ability to make hay out of juvenile crime, the ability to pander and to mine the issue for votes. I think they caught onto it. They realized that you could gain higher office on the backs of kids.
SEVERSON: Bishop Richard Sklba, the auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee, attempted to convince a judge to try Jeremy Armstrong as a juvenile.
BISHOP RICHARD SKLBA: The Bible also gives us some direction about encouraging rehabilitation, about turning one's life around. I think that Americans are operating out of fear, and consequently think that putting people out of circulation is going to do that. It may help -you know, in the short range. But it doesn't help in the longer range of rehabilitation.
SEVERSON: Bishop Sklba still visits Jeremy Armstrong in prison. Jeremy most likely won't be released on parole until he's served at least seven years.
But under Georgia's law, Dantavious Lowe and Chris Manning will never be eligible for parole.
When is the worst part of being in here?
Mr. MANNING: Missing everything, even if it's just going to a high school. I never been to a prom before, so going to the prom. See that on TV or going to a football game, so I just miss it. Miss out on all of it. When I get out I'll be 25.
SEVERSON: Chris and Dantavious will be released when they are in their mid-20s. Many Americans think they got what they deserved. But critics say the price is often too high for the kids and for the society they will be ill prepared to enter when they get out.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Here we go again.
UNIDENTIFIED INMATES: (In Unison) Here we go again.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Same old thing again.
Lucky Severson for RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY in Alto, Georgia.
BOB ABERNETHY: Now, ministering to the deaf. In this country, more then 25 million people suffer some hearing loss, and two million are profoundly deaf. How do they worship? How can a worship service be meaningful without music and speech?
In Chicago, Judy Valente visited a deaf congregation and its remarkable priest.
JUDY VALENTE: It is 10:30 on a Sunday morning in Chicago. Parishioners are arriving for mass at St. Francis Borgia Church. Simultaneously, at a chapel right next door, these people are also coming to mass. It is their own mass. They are deaf.
Many houses of worship have worked hard to be more welcoming to people with disabilities, but the deaf prefer to worship within their own community and to be administered to by other deaf people.
FATHER JOSEPH MULCRONE: It's a hearing world and most churches tend to be focused on hearing religion experiences: songs, spoken word.
VALENTE: What goes on here is not only the mass. People arrived two hours ahead of time. Some will stay another three hours afterwards.
LYNN GALLAGHER: I'm the only one in the family.
VALENTE: Like Lynn Gallagher, most of the deaf are born into hearing families. They have grown up with the sense of isolation.
Ms. GALLIGHER: (Through Interpreter) It's very lonely. I always felt very, very lonely. So I do truly feel very much like this is my second family.
VALENTE: At Father Jones church, as it is called, the pews are filling up, but the fact is that while still in childhood, many deaf people become alienated from religious services.
FATHER MULCRONE: Your parents take you on a Sunday and they bring you to this large building and you go into the building, and for an hour, all these people are doing this and your deaf, and you look around, and you see sometimes people are happy, and you see sometimes people are pondering, and you don't get it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There is sin, there's wrong. It's wrong.
VALENTE: Before the mass begins, these deaf children go to religious education class. They are taught both orally and in sign language.
WOMAN: God tells us to always, what? Help? Help. Help each other and you show love. So we're going to walk quietly into church now. Just leave your things.
FATHER MULCRONE: Good morning.
VALENTE: Father Mulcrone entered the deaf ministry because two of his grandparents were deaf. Since even the best lip readers comprehend only about half of what they see being said every minister in this church knows sign language. The deaf are not just attending, some are leading the service.
FATHER MULCRONE: So I'm going to ask Peggy to please come up and do our first reading from the Old Testament.
VALENTE: Peggy Franco, who is deaf, signs the reading.
MARY WRIGHT (Interpreting for Franco): This is a reading from the prophet Isaiah.
VALENTE: Mary Wright watches Peggy from her pew and recites the passage aloud for the hearing people, who have accompanied deaf members of their family to the mass.
MS. WRIGHT (Interpreting for Franco): Look around you. See the people are gathering and they're coming to you.
VALENTE: Mitchell and Laurel Raci, both deaf, come to mass with their daughter, L.J., who is hearing.
L. J. RACI: I do remember when they would come to church with us when I was little and I did often wonder what they were getting out of it.
MITCHELL RACI: (L.J. Raci Interpreting) Growing up, there was no signing and no interpreting, and I just daydreamed in church and I didn't learn anything.
LAUREL RACI: (L. J. Raci Interpreting) But once there is a priest for the deaf, it was very difficult to part with something like that. It's just a wonderful experience.
L. J. RACI: And the first time I came to Joe's church many years ago and saw them lift their hands and respond was -- it was pretty amazing, pretty moving.
FATHER MULCRONE: Now, we're going to pay attention to the Bible. When deaf people read the Bible, they pay much more attention to what God does, than to what God says not because what God says is unimportant, but because what God does they can visualize. When I started working the deaf community, I had to shut my ears off and look at everything in terms of not how does it sound, but how does it look?
Let me tell you a story. There was a young boy about seven ...
So I always have to think when I'm preaching, can they picture what I'm saying? And so, for me, from preaching stories are, are really important because the story allows them to picture the point.
VALENTE: But how can a church full of deaf people experience the music that is so important to many worshippers? One way is with a drum.
FATHER MULCRONE: Most deaf people aren't going to be able to hear an organ playing, or a piano playing. The drum gives them a vibration that they just don't get out of most other musical instruments. and the drum focuses them on the action, the Hallelujah, the Amen, whatever we use that drum for.
VALENTE: At Father Joe's church there is not only music, there is a choir.
FATHER MULCRONE: Music does have a poetry and that poetry can be put into sign language. Deaf people do enjoy singing. But they sing with their hands, not necessarily their voices. The beat may be a little different because it's the deaf beat. A song takes a little longer to sign, so we could be singing "Silent Night, Holy Night," but they might go "Silent, Night. Ho" ...
So we go back out to share the gift of peace with each other.
VALENTE: The traditional sign of peace has a special meaning at a mass for the deaf.
FATHER MULCRONE: It isn't people just turn around and shake the hand of the person next to them. They go out of the pews, they go see everybody else, because it's a real chance to celebrate once again what they share.
What we want to tell God, what?
VALENTE: Some have said it is not a good idea for the deaf to be segregated, that place of worship should find ways to integrate them with hearing congregations.
FATHER MULCRONE: ... take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
VALENTE: Father Mulcrone's response is that in his church the deaf can be true participants with gifts to offer. They don't want to be pitied or made out to be heroic, but they have lived on the margins of society.
FATHER MULCRONE: There is this hunger to know that God loves them, to know that somebody loves them. And so it's real important to feel that God loves you as much as anyone loves you, and as much as God loves any hearing person.
VALENTE: On these Sunday mornings these people have shared not only their faith, but also their often difficult lives. And that is what this mass means to them.
BOB ABERNETHY: George Harrison, one of the Beatles, is being remembered for his songs and for his spirituality. Harrison, who died after a long battle with cancer, introduced the Beatles to eastern mysticism and transcendental meditation during trips to India in the 1960s. He was a convert to Hinduism, who raised awareness of Eastern religions in the west through his life and music.
Harrison's family said quote, "He left his world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death and at peace."
BOB ABERNETHY: On our calendar this week, closing celebrations of the Dalai Lama's 60th anniversary as spiritual leader of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. The rituals and festivities in Daram Sala, India, the Dalai Lama's home and exile, brought to an end the yearlong celebration of his enthronement as Tibet's spiritual head in 1941.
The celebrations included special prayers offered by monks, musical performances and dances.
BOB ABERNETHY: Also on our calendar the holiday commemorating the birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religions. Sikhs around the world celebrate by singing hymns and offering prayers. As Guru Nanak Day approaches Sikhs often hold a continuous reading of the entire Sikh scriptures. Sikhism originated with Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469. He stressed hard work, charity and constant mindfulness of God. Today, there are nearly 20 million Sikhs worldwide, most in India. There are a half a million in North America.
Finally, this Sunday most Christians around the world are beginning the full week period of Advent, leading up to Christmas.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Advent is a time of ...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (In Unison) Waiting.
ABERNETHY: It is a time of waiting, anticipation, penitence and hope as Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Each of the four weeks before Christmas parochial schools, churches and families light a single Advent candle. The light from the flames represents Jesus, whom Christians consider the light of the world. The first week of Advent also marks the beginning of the church year.
And that's our program for now. To find out more about RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY log onto pbs.org or America Online, keyword: PBS.
As we leave you this week, Advent music performed by the Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, D.C.
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