Today, the average life expectancy worldwide is in the upper 60s, but that’s more than double what it was less than 100 years ago, according to the CIA World Factbook. And with scientific advancements being what they are, there’s no reason to think those numbers will stop climbing.
Imagine, for example, if science allowed Castro to actually live 1,000-plus years on top of the 53 he’s already been through. We’d have to let him go at that point, right? I mean, he did the time. Besides, wouldn't forcing someone, regardless of their crime, to actually spend 10 centuries in lock-up necessarily violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which bans “cruel and unusual punishment?" Really think about how both cruel and unusual someone spending 100 decades in isolation would be, were it possible, regardless of their offenses.
Another problem I have is terminology. In Castro’s case, he was sentenced to life even before we get to the 1,000 years. Let’s talk about the “life” part first. “Life” should mean life. Period. Obviously, “life” does not mean life because the judge felt the need to tack on the extra millennium. The first order of business would be to change what we now know as “life” to something closer to the truth, like “a very long time.” Or, if we want to leave the word “life” alone, we could create a new category of sentence: “Never.” As in: “I know we said 'life' before, but this time we really mean business. You are never leaving prison.”
It reminds me of the billion-year contracts members of the Church of Scientology are required to sign to be a part of the Sea Org, the group’s elite private naval force. Why stop at a billion? Make it a trillion while you’re at it, I always thought. Words have power, but only if they actually mean something. And if they do stand for an idea, let’s make sure we’re actually comfortable with the implications.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.