“Rehabilitated? That’s Just A Bullshit Word”… These Days
If there are any Shawshank Redemption fans reading this, and I'm sure there are plenty, then you recognize the title of this blog post.
Towards the end of the movie, Red is taken in for his 10-year parole hearing and this is part of his response towards the "young fella wearing a suit and tie so he can have a job." The entire monologue is worth sharing, but as are most things, it's much better in Morgan Freemans' voice. So google it if you want to see what I mean.
The whole debate in this exchange is whether the prisoner is worthy of being let out of jail. Has he been rehabilitated? Is he no longer a threat to society? In the words of Red, "Am I sorry for what I did?... There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. I look back on the way I was then... a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I wanna talk to him. I wanna try to talk some sense to him. Tell him the way things are."
I am writing all of this because a few weeks ago, there was a story in the news that I can't get off my mind. The founder and former CEO of a tech company here in Utah had to step down from his company Banjo after it came to light that in 1990, yes 30 years ago, when he was a juvenile 17-year-old kid, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The story presented that he was the driver in a shooting of a Jewish synagogue.
I was shocked to hear about this because Damien Patton, the person I am referring to, is a good friend of mine. I got to know him through some charity work that I was doing when he was the number one donor at my Black-Tie Gala two years ago. It was a special event to raise money for Operation Underground Railroad and Damien and his wife personally donated close to $30,000 for the cause. I immediately knew I wanted to get to know this man.
This blog isn't an argument over whether Damien should have been punished for what he did. He should have and he was. It's not an argument over whether the Ku Klux Klan is terrible or not, even though it is awful and shameful that it still exists. It's also not a blog to argue whether you think a company like Banjo that uses a lot of public and private data to create real-time information for police forces and the government should exist. Their mission statement is "To save lives and reduce human suffering by delivering critical and life-saving information in seconds… rather than minutes, hours, or days." It sounds like a noble cause to me, but I also like my privacy and freedom, so I won't make an argument either way. I do know that if we ever have an active shooter and someone I love is nearby, I hope to God that the police force in the area is using Banjo.
No, this blog is about Damien. A man that at 47 years old has raised over $220 million and employs 100's of people building a state of the art technology designed to save lives. But it isn't that easy, it's also about a boy that joined the Ku Klux Klan and once said, "We believe that the Blacks and the Jews are taking over America, and it's our job to take America back for the White race." Again, not that easy. It's also about a boy that came from an abusive childhood, ran away from home at 15, and eventually joined the Navy. He learned how to code, developed software now known as Banjo, and has been featured in every entrepreneur magazine in existence.
But let's back up again. 32 years ago, there was a little boy, hungry, out of school, living on the streets, eating out of dumpsters. He was afraid. He was taken in by skinheads and white supremacists, of course, he became one. I don't want to make excuses for his decisions, but can we at least see that they were reasons?
When I was 17 years old, I did a lot of dumb things.
I remember one night, my friends and I decided we were going to go and blow up a bunch of mailboxes with M-80's.
Was it hateful? Yes. Was it dangerous? Yes. Was it stupid? Hell yes, it was. So why did I do it? I was a really good kid, I was. So what happened on those nights when I was destroying other people's property and putting their lives at risk?
Honestly, I was going along with some friends. I felt lucky to be hanging out with them. They were on the baseball team and a few years older than me. They thought it was cool, so I thought I better do it if I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be accepted, and I wanted to fit in. And I had a good home, I had a father and brothers I looked up to that treated me well. I had food on my table and love in my life. Yet there I was.
A few weeks later we decided to do it again, only this time we used baseball bats.
We got caught. We had to buy new mailboxes, apologize to the victims, and I got grounded for months.
Like me, Damien was a scared little kid trying to fit in. 30 years ago! He changed his ways, and after joining the military, he worked with law enforcement agencies in hate group prosecutions, leaving that old world behind. He did exactly what we would hope for any troubled youth to do, turn his ways around, and spend the rest of his life making up for his youth's mistakes. So why did he have to step down a few weeks back? Why did every social justice warrior come out against him and call him a racist member of the Ku Klux Klan as if that shooting was last month instead of 30 years ago? Why is he not allowed to overcome his mistakes as a kid from 30 years ago?
If we want to demonize this man, why even have a justice system to try and rehabilitate people? We should have shot him dead at 17 or locked him up and thrown the key away. Otherwise, why the hell aren't we celebrating him today in 2020? Thirty years after, he almost threw his, and others lives away. This man should be the poster child for how to turn your life around. I've seen it first hand with the generosity he shared to help rescue kids being trafficked all over the world. I've seen it in the way he is passionately builds software to save lives and make the jobs of police officers safer and easier.
How much worse is what he did than what I did? Or what 50 Cent, Nielson Mandela, or Snoop Dog did when they were young and impressionable? Thank goodness we didn't cancel all of them. They should be celebrated because they overcame their circumstances and became something special, just like Damien did.
I guess I feel like if he is going to get demonized, I should too. Can we take a step back and celebrate who this man is instead of what the social justice warriors want and need him to be? If this is the society we want, one where nobody can overcome mistakes they made as scared kids, then cancel all of us.
I'll leave you with the words of Red in Shawshank Redemption cause if we can't see the beauty in Damien's story, then this is how we should treat every kid that commits a crime.
"Rehabilitated? It's just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit."