Parents, Perfection and Prison
Are you perfect -- and lucky? Great. Then maybe, just maybe, you will be allowed to raise your kids. Anything less and I'm afraid you may not legally qualify.
That's because we live in a finger-pointing culture ever ready to criminalize normal parents if they are unlucky enough to meet up with fate. That is: If a tragedy befalls their kids, society doesn't pity. It blames.
You may recall the recent story of Raquel Nelson, an Atlanta mom who got off the bus with her three kids alongside a highway after 90 minutes of riding and waiting. Their house was just across the street, so they scampered to the highway median, as did all the other folks getting off at that stop, because the closest traffic light was about a half-mile walk away. From the median, one of the children wriggled away and was struck dead by a drunken driver. Who was charged with criminal manslaughter?
Hint: Not the drinker.
Nelson was facing three years in prison, but eventually public outcry persuaded the judge to give her 40 hours of public service instead. A new trial also was offered. No sooner had that injustice been addressed, however, than up sprang a new one.
The current heart-lurching case involves a New Jersey woman named Felicia Tucker. She is being charged in the drowning death of her toddler nephew Joshua because he got out of the house Tucker shares with her sister and she didn't realize it until too late. He drowned in a nearby lake.
Now, this is not a woman who laughs in the face of child danger. According to a series of articles in the Courier-Post, Tucker and her sister had been devastated by the death of a co-worker's toddler son, who drowned in a pool in June -- so devastated that the sisters immediately took every precaution against their own kids drowning at home. They emptied the kiddie pool. They were rabid about making sure the doors were always latched. They closed the fence that leads down to the nearby lake.
Yet somehow, Joshua, 2Â½, got himself out the door and down to the lake.
What was tormenting Tucker afterward was whether her nephew suddenly had learned to open the front door or whether somehow it had not been latched. But to the justice system, that should not matter. Something just went horribly, tragically, unpredictably wrong, as things sometimes do.
So a note to police, prosecutors, judges: This is hardly a woman who was negligent. The events that transpired were horrible, yes, but human -- not criminal. Pretending otherwise might make you feel smug or safe or superior. But anyone who has ever been a parent -- or an elder sibling or a baby sitter -- can tell you that life with children is more random than any of us would wish. You can be a caring, conscientious parent and it could happen to you. How would sending this woman -- a mom herself -- to 10 years in prison make anyone safer or rectify anything?
That's an easy question; it won't. It'll just teach us all a lesson: Unless we are absolutely perfect and live in a perfect world, we'd better just be darn lucky.