Restoring Justice: The Tragic Result of Flaws in the American Prison System

Restoring Justice #1: How Justice Died In The Death Of Clyde

By David Metcalfe

October 29, 2017

Cold Case Christmas Killing

On December 27, 1932, majority of American households were enjoying time with their family, celebrating the Christmas season, and taking time off from the stresses of regular life. The family and friends of Doyle Johnson had no such opportunity. In the family home in Temple, Texas, Doyle’s family took down the Christmas tree and removed the stockings from the fireplace to make room for the influx of people soon to arrive.

Later that afternoon, after all the guests were seated, the minister read aloud, “Doyle Johnson was a beloved husband, father and industrious member of the Temple community. Why he was taken from us, at the age of only 27, we will never know. Doyle lived his life helping people and doing the right thing, and he died that same way. During this difficult time, we take solace in knowing that God will bring judgement upon those responsible for his untimely death, and that although Doyle cannot be here with us, he is in a better place. He will be sorely missed, and we offer our support and condolences to his wife and their infant son.”

Here is a photo of his gravestone, currently located in the Hillcrest Cemetery, Temple, Texas:

Just two days prior, on Christmas day, two men traveling through Temple, Texas noticed a new car parked outside of a house, adjacent to the curb, with the keys still in the ignition. It was the greatest Christmas present these two career thieves could ever ask for. It was literally just sitting there for the taking. All they had to do was get in and drive off, and it was theirs. But there was one problem: the damn thing wouldn’t start. Texas cars in 1932 weren’t exactly made to handle cold temperatures.

While furiously trying to start the car, the Krause and Johnson family, who were sitting in the living room after finishing Christmas dinner, took notice of them. Henry and Clarence Krause opened the door and yelled at them to stop. The screaming awoke Doyle Johnson from his nap, and he proceeded to run outside to see what was going on. Upon witnessing the two men trying to steal his car, he intervened. He grabbed one of the thieves, trying to pull him away from the car. The thief yelled at Johnson, “get back or I’ll kill you!”. Johnson, however, was not one to back away from doing the right thing, and paid for it with his life. The thief pulled out a gun and shot Johnson in the neck, and his blood covered body collapsed to the ground as his family watched in horror. The thieves took off in the car, and upon realizing that the cops would be all over them, ditched the car a few miles away, and were picked up by an accomplice who took them up to Waco, Texas to escape (Doyle Johnson Murder, 2017).

Making Of A Murderer

These two thieves, however, were not just any thieves. Their names were W.D. Jones and Clyde Barrow. Now, you may not be familiar with these names at first glance, that is, until I tell you that Clyde Barrow is, in fact, the Clyde from the infamous pair “Bonnie and Clyde”. W.D. Jones was an avid fanboy of theirs, and at only 16 years old, was allowed into the gang. The accomplice who drove them away was the infamous Bonnie Parker, with whom Clyde partnered with in crime and in bed.

Image result for clyde and wd jones

W.D. Jones and Clyde Barrow in 1933, one year after the Johnson murder

So what’s the moral of this story? Never leave your keys in the ignition? Yeah, that’s one. But I think there’s a deeper moral to this story that can be found if we simply dig a little more into it. Bonnie and Clyde are well known to have committed over 100 felonies, killed 9 police officers and several civilians, and recruited others to join their cause (Guinn, 2010). However, despite the legendary formation of Bonnie as a shoot-em-up, cigar smoking, “Harley Quinn” type character, people who knew her, such as the young W.D. Jones, say she was nothing like that (Jones, 1968). The real killing machine, and driving force of the whole operation, was Clyde Barrow. But Clyde was just a regular kid from Texas. What could possibly have motivated him to become a mass murderer?

The Barrow family was desperately poor. After their farm went bankrupt, they moved to an urban slum in Dallas. They could not afford a house, so they lived under their wagon. Eventually, they were able to buy a tent, which was a significant improvement for the family. They never had sufficient food to eat, never lived in a real house, and never owned a car. Clyde would walk through the nicer areas of town and see the wealthier kids in their homes, eating as much as they wanted, and owning fancy cars parked in the front of their houses. This admiration was fraught with disdain for the inequality he witnessed, and the things he desired but could never have for himself.

As he got older, he grew increasingly agitated and discontent with his life, and having no education or means of getting a good paying job, began stealing things. In 1926, at the age of 17, he was arrested for not returning a rental car on time. Months later, he was arrested for stealing turkeys, alongside his brother Buck. Since he was only 17, he was let off with a warning.

Here is a photo of his first mugshot in 1926:

Image result for clyde barrow

And although he worked at legitimate jobs, it was not enough to ever get ahead in life, and move beyond poverty, of which he so desperately wanted to escape from. From age 18 to 20, he cracked safes, robbed stores, and stole cars. After sequential arrests, he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm just north of Houston, Texas. During his first few months there, he was sexually assaulted repeatedly by one of the other inmates. One day, when the rapist attempted to assault him again, Clyde grabbed a lead pipe and proceeded to bash the assailant’s head with it. He crushed the rapist’s skull, and killed him. This would have given Clyde a life sentence if convicted, but another inmate, already serving a life sentence, took the blame for him.

Clyde was forced to work hard labor in the fields, and was physically and verbally abused by the prison guards. At one point, he got so desperate, he convinced another inmate to chop off two of his toes in order to get out of hard labor. Clyde walked with a limp for the rest of his life as a result.

On February 2, 1932, Clyde Barrow was released on parole. But it was not the Clyde Barrow that had entered prison just two years prior. As one inmate said, he had changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake”. His sister, Marie, is quoted as saying, “Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison, because he wasn’t the same person when he got out.” (Phillips, 2006). The atrocities that Clyde suffered in prison turned him from a poor young man trying to get some money into a hardened criminal looking to get revenge through violence, theft, and murder.

What many people don’t know about Bonnie and Clyde, is that they were not trying to become rich and famous. It was all about revenge. Their goal was to get enough money and firepower to launch a liberation raid against Eastham Prison (Phillips, 2006). Clyde had a death wish. All he wanted to do was live fast, die young, and get his revenge on the Texas Prison system. He hated law enforcement. Every time he saw them, it reminded him of what had been done to him. A few months after his release, some cops approached them at a country dance, and told them they weren’t allowed to be drinking alcohol in public. Clyde Barrow and his friend Raymond Hamilton opened fire on the cops, killing the deputy and severely wounding the sheriff. Killing cops became a sense of release for Clyde, and he continued to do it throughout the remaining two years of his life.

On January 16, 1934, Clyde Barrow finally achieved his goal: he orchestrated a liberation raid on Eastham Prison, and successfully freed several inmates. Here’s the front page of the paper that day in Paris, Texas, just north of Eastham Prison Farm:

Image result for eastham prison farm

This, along with the murders of several Texas police officers, resulted in a massive manhunt of Clyde Barrow and his gang. Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed by a group of police officers in Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23, 1934. The police officers emptied their shotguns on their car, and after that, shot their pistols at them. Bonnie and Clyde were shot more than 50 times each.

Now, let me ask you this question: Did Clyde Barrow receive justice?

To answer this question, I will pretend that this question was brought to the court, in “The People vs. Clyde Barrow”. The People will argue that the government acted justly in their treatment of Clyde Barrow, while Clyde Barrow will argue that the government acted unjustly in their treatment of Clyde Barrow.

The People

“Clyde Barrow is a convicted murderer, thief, and anarchist. Without sufficient motive, other than the evil in his heart, he brutally murdered several police officers and innocent civilians. He wanted to get money at whatever cost it came, and killed anyone who got in his way. His thievery wrecked the lives of hundreds of people who relied on that money to survive and keep their businesses. His anarchist agenda was clear: to kill anyone he felt like, and undermine every good thing this country stands for.

Doyle Johnson’s son had to grow up without a father. Mrs. Bucher lost the love of her life. The three children left behind by officer Eugene C. Moore, and the dozens of others from the police officers murdered, will never forget the evil inflicted upon them by Clyde Barrow.

On May 23, 1934, justice was upheld by 6 brave police officers, who were able to end the abhorrent life of this criminal. This brave act has inevitably saved the lives of dozens more people who otherwise would have been murdered by Clyde Barrow. Although the victims cannot get their money, possessions, and more importantly, their loved ones back, they can take solace in knowing that the perpetrator has been held accountable for his crimes. Vengeance has been achieved for these victims, and in doing so, justice has been upheld.”

Clyde Barrow

“Clyde Barrow was born into poverty. He was robbed of the right to an education. With no way to adequately provide for himself and his family, he resorted to stealing. Now, stealing is certainly wrong, and it was just for him to receive a punishment for it. However, the type of punishment he received was in no way just, and clearly violates the fundamental rights guaranteed to all Americans in the Constitution.

The 8th Amendment asserts the right to not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment. Whether or not a certain punishment can be classified as cruel and unusual is based on 3 criteria: acceptance in society, that the punishment severity is fitting to the crime, and whether the punishment is arbitrary.

Clyde Barrow was raped repeatedly by a fellow inmate during his first few months in Eastham Prison Farm. The guards were aware of what was happening, and neglected to stop it. This crime of omission resulted in Clyde Barrow being subjected to a punishment that satisfies all three criteria of cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, Clyde Barrow was forced to do hard labor, and was subjected to severe maltreatment by the prison guards, eventually causing him to cut off his own toe just to escape their wrath.

After suffering this kind of abuse, the already troubled young man became a vicious criminal. He was not born a monster. The Texas Criminal Justice System’s maltreatment created a monster. Clyde Barrow was not an evil man, but rather someone who was corrupted by an evil system. The reason he committed these horrible crimes was as a response to the evils inflicted upon him. We can clearly see, through the violation of the 8th amendment, that Clyde Barrow was the victim of a severe injustice, and the Texas Criminal Justice System is to be held accountable.”

The Jury’s Verdict

Now that you’ve heard both sides, which one do you believe is correct? Did Clyde Barrow receive justice, or was he a victim of injustice?

Which side you take is primarily going to be dependant on what your view of “Justice” is. The closing lines of Marcia Clark’s character in “The People vs OJ Simpson” captures this beautifully when she says, “Vengeance for victims. That’s what justice is to me…everyone wants justice for victims, right?” (Flynn, 2016). Absolutely! When a wrongdoing is committed against another person, we want to see a punishment in response. It comes from our innate desire for equality. When someone hurts someone, we want them to get hurt, so it’s even. The question becomes not whether we want vengeance for victims, but rather what a victim is.

Did you notice that in both of the opposing statements I made in my pretend court case, the central argument is concerning who the victim is?

In “The People’s” argument, I focused on the people who were hurt as a result of Clyde Barrow’s actions. It focuses the narrative toward the lives that were ended short, and the heartbreak of the families around them. Clyde is always described as evil, reckless, and even psychopathic. It’s very clear that Clyde is the perpetrator, and the lives he took are the victims. In our desire to want vengeance for victims, our response shifts to wanting a punishment for Clyde Barrow, and we will likely believe that the police upheld justice by killing him.

In “Clyde Barrow’s” argument, I focused on Clyde Barrow as being hurt as a result of the Texas Criminal Justice System’s actions. It focuses the narrative toward the atrocities that Clyde was forced to suffer through. The Texas Criminal Justice System is made out to be incompetent, malicious, and unfair. It’s very clear that Clyde’s rights were violated, and it was at the hands of the Texas Criminal Justice System. This puts Clyde as the victim, and our response shifts to wanting punishment for the Texas Criminal Justice System.

Robbing Rights and Creating a Fight

Now, I’m not here to convince you that you should take the side of “Clyde Barrow”. Oh wait, yes I am. Although I’m all for stopping murderers, I would rather them not be murderers in the first place. Justice certainly needs to be active in order to protect innocent people, but ideally it is proactive as opposed to reactive. Are there steps that could have been taken to avoid Clyde Barrow becoming a murderer? Yes.

The reason he started stealing in the first place is because he had no money, and was robbed of a proper childhood and education. Children, by default, have a right to have their basic needs satisfied. Adults don’t, because they have to work in order to get those things. Children, however, have a right not to work, so the only way for them to have a claim to deserving basic needs is if they are entitled with a right to them. The government failed Clyde right from the start by not giving him the basic needs that he was entitled to.

And clearly, there is no reason that anyone should ever get raped in prison. A lot of it happens in the prison showers. Many prisons have no cameras and no guards anywhere near the showers. If you put a bunch of horrible, angry people with pent up sexual energy naked in a room together, there are obvious precautions that should be taken. Having a couple guards at the prison showers, or some cameras for them to monitor what’s going on would be a simple solution that would prevent majority of it. I haven’t studied this enough to make practical recommendations to prisons…yet. However, as far as I’ve looked into it, they could stop it, but they just don’t really care. Since they’re prisoners, many people think it is acceptable to allow them to rape each other. However, this violates several fundamental rights that are guaranteed to Americans, and are in no way taken away upon entering a prison.

And of course, Clyde was subject to abuse through the hard labor he had to do. The extreme measures he took to get out of it show the immense pain that was inflicted upon the prisoners during their labor. Clyde was robbed of three of his rights: the right to basic needs as a child (including education), the right to choose engagement in sexual activity, and the right to not be subject to excessive labor resulting in bodily harm.

As a result, he wanted revenge on the Texas Criminal Justice System. He was convinced that he was victimized by them (and for good reason) and he wanted to take vengeance into his own hands to bring about justice. But what if justice could have been restored a different way?

Obviously, the injustices should never have occurred in the first place against Clyde Barrow. But that’s what restorative justice is all about. It’s a reactionary form of justice, that looks to be proactive in the long run. When an injustice is committed, instead of allowing it to perpetuate more injustice, we can instead find ways to restore justice in a beneficial way for both the perpetrator and the victim.

What if the Texas Criminal Justice System looked at Clyde’s story, and instead of killing him, offered him a sincere apology, and a promise that they would reform their prison to not allow those things to happen to any other prisoners? Since that was Clyde’s primary motivation for the awful things he was doing, there’s reason to believe he may have accepted the apology. He would deserve financial compensation from them as well, and let me tell you, if I was a lawyer in 1932, I would have been happy to represent Clyde Barrow, and work together with him and the Texas Criminal Justice System to restore the severed relationship between them. He deserved an apology, financial compensation, and access to mental health services. If he had gotten those things, it’s still possible that he would have resorted to a life of crime. Some people really are just bad people. However, I have a tendency to believe that people are not bad, just broken. In nearly every criminal case that I read about, I find that something in their life has caused them to be broken. It’s clear that Clyde was broken because of the injustices inflicted upon him, but I believe that there was an opportunity for restoration that was never realized.

70% of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma (Harlow, 2003). The average prison inmate earns about $19,000 per year prior to incarceration (Prisons of Poverty, 2017). Prison inmates are 2-3x more likely to have been physically or sexually abused prior to their incarceration (Harlow, 1999). Crimes are being committed primarily by poor, uneducated people who are often victims of abuse. Clyde was a classic example. What if, while Clyde was in prison, he had an opportunity to get his high school diploma, or learn a marketable skill? Then he would have had other options to earn a reasonable living than just stealing things. Or what if Clyde had access to counseling services, and dealt with the emotional wounds from his past, and became inspired to be a better person?

Conclusion

While it’s natural to want justice for the victims of crime, we need to remember that in many cases, the perpetrator is a victim themselves. Restoring justice when it is lost is a two-way understanding in which both parties grow to understand one another, and come to a better solution than simply revenge. And while there will always be horrible people who do horrible things, we need to give them an opportunity to become better. Treating them like garbage is not going to give them that opportunity.

Dogs don’t naturally just start fighting each other for no reason. People who participate in the grotesque practice of dog fighting train their dogs by starving them, physically hurting them, and leaving them locked in a room for hours by themselves. Then, when they are released in the ring, they kill each other. As horrible as it is with dogs, it is even more awful to witness the American prison system doing that same thing to people. Clyde Barrow was a tragic victim of this corrupt system.

But there is a better way. We need to affirm the fundamental rights of every human being no matter what. When someone commits a crime against another person, it will likely require that their right to certain freedoms be taken away, for the purpose of incapacitation. However, they have not lost their humanity. Taking that away from them is an abhorrent injustice that only serves to breed more injustice during their sentence and upon their release.

As it says in Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you are in prison with them, and those who are mistreated.”

If we can empathize with prisoners, we can understand their humanity and act accordingly. Justice is only just to the extent that it upholds the sanctity of humanity and the innate rights that each person is entitled to. When we recognize this fact, it is only then that we can offer true restoration to those negatively affected by crime.

References

Doyle Johnson Murder. (2017). Texas Hideout. Retrieved from http://texashideout.tripod.com/johnson.html

Flynn, C. (2016). Marcia Clark discusses her rape on ‘American Crime Story,’ shedding light on her drive for justice. Bustle. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/152063-marcia-clark-discusses-her-rape-on-american-crime-story-shedding-light-on-her-drive-for-justice

Guinn, J. (2010). Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde. Simon & Schuster. pp. 174–176. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=uZv9yMrfMmYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Go+Down+Together:+The+True,+Untold+Story+of+Bonnie+and+Clyde&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bp6PUu-mJ6fdsATxpoH4DQ&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Go%20Down%20Together%3A%20The%20True%2C%20Untold%20Story%20of%20Bonnie%20and%20Clyde&f=false

Harlow, C. (1999). Prior abuse reported by inmates and probationers. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/parip.pdf

Harlow, C. (2003). Education and correctional populations. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=814

Jones, W.D. (1968). Riding with Bonnie and Clyde. Playboy. Retrieved from http://www.cinetropic.com/janeloisemorris/commentary/bonn%26clyde/wdjones.html

Phillips, J. (2006). Bonnie and Clyde’s revenge on eastham. HistoryNet. Retrieved from http://www.historynet.com/bonnie-clydes-revenge-on-eastham.htm

Prisons of poverty: uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned. (2017). Justice Center. Retrieved from https://csgjusticecenter.org/corrections/publications/uncovering-the-pre-incarceration-incomes-of-individuals-in-the-justice-system/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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