It’s the story of a girl, a court, a country. It’s also the story of how, in our eagerness to protect people as a mass, we forget to care for the individual as a person; of how, in our eagerness to show our concern for humanity at large, we forget to be humane.
I came to know of Ashley Jones only yesterday. She is twenty-one. She has already spent seven years in prison. She has been sentenced to spend her lifetime in prison, without parole. Because, when she was 14, she helped her 16 year old boyfriend kill two people and attempt to kill two others.
All the victims were Ashley’s relatives. The dead were her grandfather and her aunt. The wounded were her grandmother and a younger sister.
Why did Ashley stab them and set fire to the household to hide evidence of her act? The prosecuting lawyer says it is because Ashley’s conscience has not developed. When she does something wrong, or plans to, her inner voice. we are told, does not counsel her.
I wonder if anyone has asked why Ashley’s inner voice did not develop.
Ashley herself says that everyone she loved, everyone she trusted, has let her down. Her mother was a drug addict and her step-father had sexually abused her. Even before the assault for which she was sentenced, she had tried to kill her mother when she was pregnant. Her grandparents took her in, knowing she was a difficult child. Her grandfather disapproved of her boyfriend and questioned her relationship with him.
Obviously, Ashley did not have a normal upbringing. Her individuality, her role as a unique person in this world with unique needs, desires, fears, joys appear not to have been heeded or understood.
Ashley, it seems to me, was suffering more from lack of love than absence of conscience. Perhaps, her inner voice did not develop because it was not nurtured in sufficient warmth.
I think I have ‘developed’ a conscience, because my inner voice tells me what is right and what is wrong. So, do I always listen to it? Not necessarily. So, do I always feel remorseful when I don’t? Sometimes. So, do I make amends? Sometimes. But then, I also have loved ones whom I can trust and who haven’t let me down though I haven’t always listened to my inner voice.