Worst-case scenario

Chad Escobedo was mad. He was mad at a teacher for calling his mother and telling her he was doing poorly in class.

Chad Escobedo was mad. He was mad at a teacher for calling his mother and telling her he was doing poorly in class. He was mad that his mother wouldn’t let him live with his biological father in eastern Oregon. Unfortunately, Chad let his anger get the best of him.

Last Tuesday 15-year-old Chad Escobedo stood in the grassy clearing across from his Gresham high school. He aimed a .270-calliber rifle at a second-story classroom and fired. He then fired again at a second classroom.

The bullets shattered the windows, showering the classrooms with shards of glass and metal, injuring 10 students. Escobedo then ran home, where he called his mother and told her of what he had done. His mother immediately called the police.

Escobedo faces several charges, which include two charges of attempted aggravated murder. Under Measure 11, passed in Oregon in 1994, “adults” as young as 15 can be convicted with a mandatory 10 years in prison for a attempted aggravated murder charge. No one convicted of attempted aggravated murder will be eligible for early release under any circumstance. If charged as an adult, Chad Escobedo faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison for the attempted aggravated murder charges alone.

Does Chad Escobedo deserve to be in prison until he is at least 35 for his crime? No. He is a troubled 15-year-old in a difficult emotional state and he let his emotions take over. Who amongst us hasn’t been an upset and angsty 15-year-old? Are we unable to empathize with him?

Jerome Miller, founder and executive director of the National Center for Institutions and Alternatives, argues that the U.S. prison system does not work. He argues that the system fosters anti-social behavior through inhumane treatment of prisoners. Miller’s organization is one that develops alternatives to imprisonment and seeks solutions to prison overcrowding. Many in our society agree with Miller. They believe that our current system does nothing more than make criminals into better criminals, rather than reform them.

So is this what we want for Chad Escobedo? Do we want to send a boy who clearly needs intensive counseling and perhaps treatment for depression into a life of crime and punishment because of one large mistake and lapse in judgment at a vulnerable age?

Chad Escobedo, like every human being, has been damaged in one way or another by his childhood. Unfortunately, our society is not one that provides opportunity for, or widely supports, therapy or emotional counseling. Clearly, Chad suffers from great internal anguish. Before the shooting Chad Escobedo had fought with his mother about living with his biological father. This is clearly a subject of contention for the boy and one that speaks volumes of his emotional state. Broken homes make for ideal breeding grounds for fragile psyches.

Though his intentions and actions were reprehensible, no one was severely hurt. No lives were lost and we should keep it that way. Let us not allow our society to throw away Chad Escobedo’s life.

Those of you who fear that we may demonstrate that these kinds of horrendous crimes will go unpunished need to consider for a moment that perhaps punishment would not make good the situation but rather cause further damage. There is the possibility that Chad’s parents and our society as a whole are to blame for this situation. Yes, in the end it was Chad that pulled the trigger, but with the correct pre-emptive support Chad Escobedo may not have shot at his school that day.

Perhaps this could be a chance for a new Oregon and a new face for our justice system. With consideration of the situation, hopefully Chad Escobedo will not be charged as an adult. So if convicted he will not be forced to spend at least the next 20 years of his life in an Oregon state prison.

Chad Escobedo should not be made a villain but he should be helped. Instead of throwing him into a prison we should embrace him and help him. The last thing a troubled youth needs is to be pushed further away and made to feel like he is a bad person. He needs the opposite. He needs to feel that he is loved.

Successful emotional counseling can change people’s lives for the better. I too was once a troubled youth. Without years of excellent counseling I am not sure where I would be today. It would be a shame to see Chad Escobedo not receive the same chance for reformation. Change and growth cannot just be forced upon him. He has to want to grow. But it would be unfair and un-American not to offer him the chance.