Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Compassion For Aaron Swartz

On Sunday I read the story of  Aaron Swartz, who was a brilliant young man in his 20's raised in Highland Park, Illinois.  He was an advocate for free and open Internet access to academic papers.  He, in fact, developed a free encyclopedia reference guide while only in high school.  Imagine the potential.  

In his quest to achieve his goal of Internet access, federal prosecutors say he broke into an office at MIT and somehow downloaded millions of journal articles.   He was to stand trial for breaking in and theft for illegal downloads.  His family believed that Aaron could have received a prison sentence as long as 30 years.  Imagine the waste.  

The prospect of facing the time in prison was not what troubled Aaron.  According to his father, "he worried that a finding of guilt could diminish his prospects forever.  If you look at a life like Aaron's and you see a felony conviction, it substantially restricts what you can do with your life."  Aaron hanged himself last week.  He was 26 years old.  My daughter's age.  Imagine the heartbreak.  

I've had to face the loss of a friend who hanged himself.  He too was waiting for his trial on a felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon.  Stupid.  It wasn't the potential prison time he worried about.  He knew, if convicted of a felony, he would lose his job at the bank.  He would lose his insurance.  Everything snowballed in his mind.  He would lose this, he wouldn't be able to do that, how would he support his elderly mother, where would he go.  He once asked me if he was found guilty at trial, would they take him in right away or would they allow him to go home.  I now know why he asked me that.  His attorney kept delaying the hearings.  She thought time would be his friend.  He couldn't take the pressure any more.   His elderly mother saw him hanging from the rafters in his garage.  Imagine the shock.  

Federal prosecutors spend a load of time on nothing.  I wish they'd come to Chicago and put away the animals that destroy lives.  Where did the drugs come from that found their way into my son's school?  Get to work.  It took years and stupid amounts of money to prosecute Aaron.  For what?  It took years and stupid amounts of money to prosecute Blago.  For what? 

It takes extraordinary courage to face time in prison, the loss of your name.  It takes extraordinary courage to face the loss of your freedom.