One of my favourite books (and also one of my favourite films) is K-Pax. It’s the first of a trilogy of books and it resonates with me very deeply. Recently I remembered one part of it where the main character (perhaps a mental patient or perhaps a genuine alien from the planet K-Pax) tells his psychiatrist that the whole foundation of the justice system on Earth is universally thought of as being completely insane. How could a system that is constructed around the idea of an eye for an eye ever make sense as justice? In fact, how could it ever make sense as anything other than revenge?
I don’t completely agree with the point, but I do understand it and it resonates with me because it reminds me that we used to burn witches at the stake – but then we grew up. We used to hang, draw and quarter people – but we grew out of that too. We hanged people for murder right into the middle of the twentieth century – but we did outgrow it. Our perceptions of what is a humane demonstration of justice are fluid and generally, they are improving. Maturing even. And that’s important to me for one very big reason. The general public don’t seem to understand just how much being in prison without a concrete release date can affect a person. My hope is, the years will slowly teach them. And one day, maybe we’ll see just how inhumane that can be too, and we’ll find a better way to administer justice.
Oh, and what does ‘K-Pax’ really mean anyway? Well look Pax up in a Latin dictionary. To me, that’s a great place to start.