Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Mr. Madoff

When I heard about the Madoff scandal, I was irritated. It bothers me that people are so greedy. It bothers me that our capitalistic society has driven people to "capitalizing" in order to benefit themselves. It bothers me that we take so much pride in this capitalization.

My dad asked me if I knew of anyone who had lost money and was hurt due to Madoff. (I assume he was asking about wealthy people.) At this point, as far as I know, no one I know invested with Madoff and our non-profit was not affected by that... as far as I know. But as I was driving home last night, I heard something very troubling. Dallas County's Innocence Project has been affected by his panzi scheme.

I have written about the Innocence Project before. Since 2001, 20 convictions have been overturned in Dallas County solely because of the tireless work of the Innocence Project. Twenty innocent people spent years in jail but have now been freed. How many are still out there who have yet to receive their exonerations??

I think of James Woodard, a man who served 27 years for a crime he didn't commit. I met Mr Woodard at an Innocence Project press conference and asked him to come speak to a group of students at our Urban Experience program. Mr. Woodard was gracious enough to drive from Fort Worth to Dallas to do just that. Most amazing to me was his kind spirit and lack of bitterness. I can't imagine not having met him. I can't imagine him still being in prison for something he didn't do...all because someone named Bernard Madoff used and abused people and their money for his own benefit.

What he has done may seem like it has to do with money. It may seem like greed and something that should be punished. But his crime is much greater than that. Because of Madoff, many innocent people will lose their life, their families, their livelihood. Not only that, as innocent people spend their lives in jail, their children are also affected... by not having an available parent... by not having the income that a second parent could provide... by facing stigmatization because their parent is in jail.

The JEHT (Justice, Equality, Human dignity, and Tolerance) Foundation that supported the Dallas County Innocence Project was in talks with Dallas County and DA Craig Watkins to give as much as $15 million to fund more of these efforts. All has been halted now.

Maldoff deserves a very harsh punishment... many life sentences for his act. It's Christmas and it seems crass to be wishing someone many life sentences. But then I think of the families who are spending Christmas without their innocent mother or father... and may never get to enjoy that feeling ... or the people who are sitting in a jail cell year after year, wishing they could be with family and friends on the holidays.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Madoff.
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