60 Years, Give or Take
John T. Earnest is going to have a lot of time on his hands.
And during that time, he is going to say to himself no less than a million or so times, “What was I thinking?”
Because he wasn’t looking ahead. He wasn’t thinking long term.
Police say that last week John T. Earnest, pissed off about something nobody really cares about, went into a San Diego synagogue and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. Police say he killed a 60-year-old woman who was there to pray for her deceased mother, and wounded three other people, one of them an 8-year-old girl. A real tough guy that John, shooting women and children in a house of worship.
John T. Earnest is enjoying some momentary fame. His face is on CNN and Fox News and will be for about a week more, and then he will be forgotten until his trial and conviction a few years from now which will land him on CNN and Fox News again for a day or two.
But after that zip, nada. No one will be talking about him, no one will even remember why a young, educated, and privileged man gave away his freedom by using violence to make a point.
John T. Earnest is 19 years old. He will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison. That’s a good 60 or so years behind bars. Saying the words “60 years” is easy, but let’s examine what that really means.
That’s 60 Christmases behind bars. No tree, no ornaments, no sitting with the family on the couch opening presents. And 60 Thanksgivings. And 60 Halloweens. And 60 of his own birthdays.
That’s 60 years of no sex, at least not with a woman. No girlfriend, no wife, no cuddling, no exchange of Valentine’s Day cards, no wedding anniversaries.
That’s 60 years of not being able to eat at any restaurant you want. No McDonald’s, no Taco Bell, no Outback Steakhouse.
That’s 60 years of not being able to sit at a bar and enjoy a cold beer while watching sports on the big TVs, or actually going to a live sporting event.
That’s 60 years of not having children or grandchildren. No high school football games, no college graduations, no baptisms, no walking your daughter down the aisle.
That’s 60 years of spending every minute of the day rubbing shoulders with robbers, rapists and murderers, many of whom want to take your stuff, and/or rape you, and/or just beat the shit out of you for the hell of it.
That’s 60 years of prison guards telling you when to eat, when to crap, when to shower and when to sleep.
That’s 60 years of no freedom.
Angry John’s shooting spree lasted a few minutes. His national press notoriety will last a few weeks. And for that he will spend 60 years, or 3,120 weeks, or 21,900 days in a prison cell. Concrete walls and metal bars surrounding him every breathing moment for the rest of his life.
Because he was angry. Or because he wanted to be famous.
There’s a funny but revealing scene in an episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer rushes into a gun store and attempts to buy a gun. The clerk tells him there is a mandatory waiting period, to which Homer says, “But, I’m angry right now!”
Today, around the world, not a week goes by that someone in the United States or Australia or Sri Lanka or France doesn’t get angry and go into a school or a church or a public place and kill innocent people so they can get a few minutes of fame followed by a lifetime of incarceration. What a ridiculous trade off. Who’s negotiating these deals?
It may take a year or two, but one day John T. Earnest, too, will wake up and sit on the edge of his bunk and realize he has another 21,000-plus days of waking up on that bunk in that concrete cell.
And he will say to himself, “What was I thinking?”