In January this year, I saw and heard some more distressing things than some people see or hear their whole lives. I cannot go in to detail about those things, so I’ve been working on something a little different.
I’ve had the lives of numerous people in my hands, and I’ve never felt anything even close to the weight of that ever before.
What follows is a piece that I hope gives a small insight to the weight of that feeling:
Some would think it a powerful feeling to know that a person’s life may hang on the passing of their judgement. I can tell you with absolute positivity, it is not a powerful feeling. It is not a feeling one wishes to experience at all, in my experience. Knowing you could be the reason an innocent person spends their life in purgatory; or that you could be letting a horrid excuse for a human being roam free – that is certainly unsettling, to say the least.
You might see someone and, based only on their appearance, you could assume a multitude of things about who they are. They may appear to be a hippie, who enjoys being outside and eating vegan food. They may appear to be an executive who earns upwards of six figures and keeps their style in check. They may appear to be a self-loathing teenager who only ever ventures outside of their bedroom to retrieve sustenance and tend to bodily functions.
Picture this: A middle-aged man, let’s say around sixty years old. He wears his hair slicked back every day with more gel than he needs for the thinning black twines. He is short, but not so short that it’s comical. He has a gut, no doubt formed from years of indulgence in beer and spirits, but it’s not massive; it’s enough to make him seem more than a little bit lazy. His skin is porous and greasy and his brows are unkempt, sprouting in all directions and joining at the top of his nose. His nose, in fact, looks almost as if a shrunken eggplant has been jammed between his eyes; it’s crooked and shiny, but it’s aged with dimples and cervices. He has thin lips, the kind that make you wonder how it would be possible for him to kiss someone with any degree of comfort. Under those downturned lips, his chin is pressed in as if he’s just eaten lemon-rind and despised the taste. His neck almost doesn’t exist, it seems to be a gathering of skin bundled up between his chin and his top shirt-button. The shape of his face is discomforting – it’s angular, but still rounded at the cheeks and temples, almost as if a love heart is resting on a bean-bag. His suit is ill-fitted, bagging at his ankles and sagging off his shoulders, made from a dull greyish brown fabric – his moccasins clash with the whole look. The shirt he has buttoned up so tightly is an off-white shade, and it is not clear whether this is intentional or if it just hasn’t been washed. His hands are plump, and his fingers are short and stumpy. The hairs protruding from his knuckles resemble the hairs on his head – stringy and greasy. These features, distracting as each or all of them may seem, pale in comparison to one thing, though… Behind the small, highly magnified lenses that sit atop his nose, are eyes so sinister, you cannot find any kindness in them, no matter how long you search. They are embedded deep underneath his brows, the darkest black-brown irises darting around, as if he is taking inventory of the people watching him, and when they hit you it feels like your soul freezes. You want to look away, but he has you locked in his gaze and the longer you stare, the heavier your heart feels. He projects his thoughts on to you, and you can’t stand it; you need to get away, as far away as you can, and never stop.
Now, imagine you had been told that this man is guilty of a crime so horrific it makes you physically repulsed. Imagine you had to decide for yourself whether this man deserved to spend possibly the rest of his life being tortured and beaten until he becomes less than a shadow of the man you see now.
You will probably admit to yourself that the above fellow may well be completely innocent of any evil. But you can’t help wondering what he could be capable of; you just can’t escape the feeling that he is filled with a depravity so unfathomable it has swallowed him whole and replaced the person who used to be an average human with this unthinkable tyrant.
Could you still make that decision, knowing you could be dead wrong?