From the editors
While more than 100 people “liked” our January cover on Facebook, the devilish baby—illustrating Abigail Tucker’s exploration of whether or not we are born with a sense of morality—bothered some readers. “I was left baffled as to why you would choose the negative side of human nature without at least including the positive alternative,” wrote Teresa Cullen of Irvine, California. (Hey, we opened the story with a photo of an angel-winged infant!) But for others, the cover did what we’d wanted it to do—pique curiosity. “Can’t wait to read this!” Lisa Charland said on Facebook. Our December issue, about the recipients of the first Smithsonian American Ingenuity Awards, is still inspiring commentary, especially about the legal reformer Bryan Stevenson, who convinced the Supreme Court to end mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders.
Consider the Victims
While I have long known Bryan Stevenson [“New Life”], admired his intellect and worked at his side to abolish the death penalty, I am also the member of a family that includes three people murdered by a juvenile sentenced to life without parole. Stevenson’s contention that the United States is alone in such harsh sentences, and we are “sentencing children to die” have been only a little less troubling than his unwillingness to embrace the victims of these crimes in his well-funded juvenile justice reform campaign. But we expect better from Smithsonian magazine. There should have been at least passing mention of the victims murdered by Mr. Stevenson’s clients. Victims whose lives have been torturously ended and whose families suffer without end from these crimes. Victims who are so quickly forgotten while their offenders are the focus of well-intentioned social action.
Jennifer Bishop Jenkins
The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers
As a prison psychiatrist, I have seen the gross overrepresentation of young African-American males among the incarcerated. Stevenson’s legal endeavors, especially for youth, are crucial, but one aspect seemed to be missing. So many of the African-American males that I met revealed a horrendous history of being subject to physical, emotional and sometimes sexual trauma in childhood. They don’t need long prison sentences. They need psychiatric treatment, especially psychotherapy. In too many jails and prisons, this need is not addressed.
H. Steven Moffic, M.D.
Freedom of Information
I think free information has elevated many people from their narrow intellectual level, which might not have been possible without the web [“The Spy Who Came in From the Cold 2.0”]. Don’t oppose Web 2.0 because of Internet bullying and the stealing of personal information. Jaron Lanier should come up with a framework by which we can stop these illegal activities.
The Roots of Evil
I’m afraid Ms. Tucker missed the boat on what we’re really looking for: the root causes of psychopathy [“Born to Be Mild”]. There’s looming evidence that psychopaths are born, not made. Researchers are starting to identify the traits of psychopaths based on brain-wave patterns, which raises the question: How do we deal with a born psychopath?