I read every word of Carleen Turner’s letter to Judge Aaron Persky begging for leniency for her son, Brock Turner. When the letter first appeared in the media, I decried her as tone-deaf, but I had not read the entire letter. I read media pieces that quoted from her letter. As a parent, I really owed it to her to read the whole thing and try to put myself in her shoes. As a progressive feminist, I owed it to her to try to consider things from a prison abolitionist perspective.
Prison abolitionists are people who are seeking to reduce, if not outright eliminate prison from our justice system. Honestly I am not at the point of elimination of prisons, but after reading Sarah Beller’s case that demanding to lock up Brock for decades would not provide his victim justice I am rethinking the mom's letter. Beller points to survivor Jane Doe’s letter:
“What I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing.”
Keeping this in mind as I read through Carleen Turner’s anguish over the fact her son is now a convicted rapist helped me better view her tone-deafness.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not excusing her tone-deafness or her inability to see her son’s guilt. But she is correct when she lists the litany of things that Brock will have to do now that he has been deemed guilty by a jury—whether he spends 10 days or 10 years behind bars. Having to register as a sex offender eliminates any future he would have as a volunteer with young children, including any children he may eventually have. His scholarship was revoked. Brock has been banned from competing in the sport he has participated in since he was 4 years old. From how I view prison abolition, these repercussions fit.
Of course, most of what Carleen writes is offensive to me and only increases my anger over this case. Her cries of “Why him? Why HIM? WHY? WHY?” made me have to resist the urge to throw my phone across the room. Perhaps she should ask her son why!
As a parent, I understand the need to believe your child. But come on, Carleen, two men who had never met your son, or Jane Doe, saw him raping her! Snap out of it!
Maybe if she faces the fact that he did what he was convicted of, Brock can find a way to truly apologize for his act. And then the survivor can finally have the justice and peace she seeks.
Has Carleen even read Jane Doe’s letter? She should because the two of them have a lot in common.
They both have a soul-crushing feeling. Jane Doe got hers from Brock raping her. Carleen from a jury finding her son guilty. Jane Doe cannot eat. Neither can Brock. As a mother, Carleen should understand that the loss of appetite can originate from both violation and guilt. Carleen has a hard time decorating her home, while Jane Doe has decorated her room with a drawing of bicycles. Jane Doe has lost her joy, and Carleen has as well.
Why is it that Carleen Turner seems to have failed to consider what her own daughter would be going through, if she were in Jane Doe's shoes and she was the victim's mother instead of the rapist's?
Carleen wrote eloquently of how even after Brock leaves the county jail, he will live in a cage that is the sex offender list. Can she—just for a moment—imagine the cage that Jane Doe has been living in since she was raped? The fear of strangers? The fear of fun? The weight of ensuring that her sister does not continue to blame herself for tending to a drunk friend and leaving her sister alone? I was once the sister left alone in a public space, too drunk to know much more than to stay where I was because someone would eventually come for me. Thankfully someone did.
And what about the fact that Brock has a sister? Why is it that Carleen Turner failed to consider what her own daughter would be going through, if she were in Jane Doe's shoes and she was the victim's mother instead of the rapist's? How could she beg for leniency as the mother of a daughter?
As parents, we are supposed to help our children see when they should recognize when they've harm someone else. It is our responsibility to help them take responsibility for their own actions and make amends.
First and foremost, Brock Turner needs to acknowledge his guilt and behavior. Perhaps he can think about that during the few months he will spend in prison—hardly an appropriate punishment given his crime.
We must also acknowledge that Jane Doe did request imprisonment for Brock Turner. However, she also showed mercy in asking for him to not be locked up forever. (Surely she never expected "not locked up forever" to be less than a year.) But she was able to see Brock Turner, her rapist, as a human being. I wish his family could do the same in accepting that he needs to be punished for his actions.