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A Victim of Circumstances -- Writer's Poke #357

The death of Jacek’s sister sets in motion a change of events that leads to Jacek committing murder and receiving the death penalty. At least this seems to be the suggestion. After all, if Jacek and his friend hadn’t been drinking vodka and wine, if Jacek’s friend hadn’t accidently run over his friend’s sister, if grief did not force Jacek to leave home, he never would have ended up in a taxi cab, and he never would have had reason or opportunity to kill the driver.

From the moment of the present, it is easy to view the past as a series of unchangeable events. Each event “causes” what happens next. It would be too simplistic, perhaps, to suggest that the death of Jacek’s sister directly causes Jacek to murder the taxi cab driver, but her death does led him down a certain path he otherwise would never have traveled, and that is the real point.

Jacek’s lawyer apparently doesn’t know Jacek’s story until he meets with him one final time before his execution; however, the lawyer always assumes that such an explanation as Jacek offers exists. There must be some explanation, as people just do not go around killing other people for no reason. And the story Jacek tells convinces the lawyer that his convictions are correct. That is, Jacek does not deserve the death penalty. The taxi driver is a victim, certainly, but so is Jacek. Jacek is a victim of circumstances.

The lawyer never grieves for the taxi cab driver, but he does grieve for Jacek. In a sense, the death of Jacek’s sister has caused three deaths, but the lawyer only has the power to prevent one of the deaths – Jacek’s – and his failure to protect his client's life affects him just as much as the death of the sister affects Jacek. The lawyer and his wife have just had a son, but he must wonder if he will be equally helpless to protect him.

Jacek’s murder is a violent act, and under the law he is guilty of the crime he has committed. Explore why his lawyer is so upset. Do you agree that Jacek’s story matters? What role should previous circumstances play in the assessment of a proper punishment.

“I believe that people would be alive today if there were a death penalty.” – Nancy Reagan


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