When a released criminal makes criminals of us all

ROGER SIMON

July 14, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

When Joseph P. Gallardo was due to be released from state prison in Washington, law enforcement officials made sure his old neighborhood would give him a warm welcome.

And when you read Gallardo's fantasies, you wonder why the

neighbors didn't burn Gallardo down instead of his house. (After all, the sheriff conveniently put Gallardo's picture on the poster, too.)

But while I am very happy the law took sanctions against Gallardo for his crime, I don't think we can justify taking sanctions against him for his fantasies.

Not in America. Not yet, anyway.

"We all have feelings that would shame hell," Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote. And in a decent and democratic country, we ought to punish people for what they do, not for what they think or fantasize.

Some of Gallardo's neighbors, who lived next to him for 20 years without incident, are not wasting a whole lot of time feeling sorry for him now, however.

"I'm happy, I'm glad," Carla Heintz, a neighbor of Gallardo's, said of the fire. "I have six children." Heintz did go on to say, however: "Now I'm not sure how to explain it to them."

This is a problem.

"He was a bad man and so they burned his house down," she could say to her kids.

"Is burning houses down a good thing?" her kids might reply. "Can we do it?"

"No!" she could respond. "Burning houses down is against the law! And don't you go playing with matches!"

"So how come you're happy they burned that man's house down?"

"Uh, listen, why don't you go watch TV? I think 'Geraldo' is coming on soon."

We all ought to face a few facts if we want to live in the real world:

Fact One is that virtually everyone who gets sent to prison comes back out of prison.

Fact Two is that these people have to live somewhere.

And Fact Three is that if we behave like the criminals we despise, how does anyone tell us apart?

Joseph Gallardo's neighborhood used to have a sex offender living there.

Now it has an arsonist living there.

Some trade.

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