Letter to the Editor: Sentence should include rehabilitation

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express

Yates County Court Judge W. Patrick Falvey was justified to sentence Steven Eldridge to 12 to 24 years imprisonment for causing the accident that killed six members of the Amish community and injured several others.

But I also believe Falvey’s comments at sentencing should have included a few kind words about Eldridge and encouragement for Eldridge to participate in prison substance abuse programs and to otherwise continue to rehabilitate himself.

Perhaps Eldridge is already on the path to rehabilitation. Eldridge asked for - and received - forgiveness from the families of his victims. He pled guilty, without receiving the usual sentence reductions offered defendants in exchange for guilty pleas. If Eldridge had been convicted by a jury, Falvey could not have given him more prison time than he imposed after Eldridge’s guilty plea. Eldridge also waived his appeal rights.

Eldridge’s public defender said his client pled guilty to spare the survivors the further anguish of testifying at a trail, and to show he was genuinely remorseful and wanted to take full responsibility for his actions.

When people forgive they do themselves as well as the forgiven person a favor. Harboring hatred, resentments and bitterness only worsens the suffering endured because of the actions of the wrongdoer.

As a college student during the 1960s, I frequently abused alcohol. On one occasion when I was 18 years old, I was in a car with several intoxicated college friends. The driver had the car at 95 miles per hour on a dirt road. On another occasion, I was so intoxicated that I drove the wrong way on a major highway. But for the Grace of God, I got on the right side of the road before I might have wreaked the same kind of havoc Eldridge wreaked. I also drove under the influence of alcohol on other occasions without getting caught.

Today, as a clean and sober senior citizen, I wonder how I could have been so stupid. As Shakespeare bewailed, “Oh! That man should put an enemy into their mouths to steal away their brains.”

Alcohol is also a “gateway” drug leading to the abuse of other drugs. I smoked enough marijuana in my youth to realize I needed to eliminate it, along with alcohol, from my life.

Would I have any kind regards for Eldridge if people dear to me were among the casualties of his recklessness? I honestly don’t know. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We want forgiveness for our own transgressions, but it is more difficult to forgive those who have harmed us.

Nevertheless, while I believe Eldridge deserved the prison sentence he received, I also like to envision a better world in which forgiveness and redemption can bring out the best in human nature and potential for both the forgivers and the forgiven.

We send convicted felons to prison as punishment for their crimes. Prisons should also have rehabilitative functions so that, hopefully, felons will lead law abiding, productive lives when they are released. This is my wish for Steven Eldridge.

Joel Freedman