Standing by Forgiveness in Sheboygan County
Jan. 8, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Although most felons struggle to find even the most menial work following their release from custody, convicted murderer Rafael George Macias eventually landed a job with the Sheboygan County, Wisconsin sheriff as a radio technician. People weren’t happy, though, and amazingly, the sheriff stood by his decision to hire Macias in the face of criticism:
The Sheboygan County sheriff is standing by his decision to hire a convicted killer as a radio technician, despite questions in the community about whether it is appropriate for someone with that type of record to be working for law enforcement.
“I’m not going to throw him under the bus. I take responsibility for bringing him on,” Sheriff Todd Priebe said of the technician, Rafael George Macias. “If I had known the gruesome details, I may not have taken him on, but what he brings to our agency is nothing but positive.”
The sheriff wasn’t kidding about the details being gruesome:
Macias was 20 and an airman at Carswell Air Force Base in Texas when he pleaded guilty to killing and dismembering his live-in girlfriend, Julia Adams, also 20, in 1977, according to news reports from the time. Police linked Macias to the crime after he reported her missing, the reports say.
Macias later told police he strangled Adams out of jealousy and put her body into a bathtub, cut it in half with a hacksaw and stuffed it into an Air Force packing crate. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison but was released after 13 after being given credit for good behavior.
It’s hard to say what’s more incredible to me, the fact the sheriff hired Macias and is standing by him or the fact Macias isn’t spending life in prison based on those facts.
Generally, people only pretend that completing a sentence somehow pays the price for a crime. In fact, I’d say that the whole “pay the price” mentality is really just a half-hearted way to distinguish what our system does from mob vengeance and to justify punishments that are often wildly disproportionate to their respective crimes. The part implicit in the concept about how the sentence is what someone owes and nothing more is where it begins to falter.
The reality is that doing the prison time and the probation and whatever else the court ordered is just one part of the price of a conviction. The enduring cost is in the form of opportunities lost. You’re not washed clean when you’re done with your sentence. For the rest of your life, people will label you and judge you based on whatever you were convicted of doing or even the mere fact you were convicted of something. Those questions in the Sheboygan County community about whether a convicted murderer should be working for law enforcement are the perfect example of that.
If not at the sheriff’s office, where should a convicted murderer work? In the elementary schools, perhaps? At a hospital? A boxing gym? McDonald’s? It seems to me that, if Macias really is still dangerous, putting him around a bunch of cops is the best place for him. If that’s the case, I imagine he’s less likely to hurt his co-workers at the sheriff than he would be someplace where a lot of the employees don’t carry guns and regularly interact with dangerous individuals.
The truth of the matter is that the people in the community questioning Macias’s employment don’t want him working anywhere. They’d probably prefer he be locked up forever, or at the very least be kept out of their community. That even applies when the person, like Macias, has proven himself as deserving of freedom following a lenient sentence as someone guilty of the offense in question could be:
While in prison at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, Macias earned his associate degree as a radio technician. Before his release in 1990, he achieved the status of level one trusty, which gave him access to a vehicle and an unarmed supervisor, Priebe said.
After he left prison, Macias got a job with a radio manufacturer, which chose to hire him after he was interviewed by the FBI about his background, Priebe said.
Originally from Indiana, Macias later got a job with a now-defunct company that held the contract to service the police radios for both the Sheboygan police and sheriff’s departments, Priebe said.
Macias also wasn’t exactly a new hire when the sheriff found out about the details of his past, no doubt a major factor in the sheriff’s decision to remain steadfast:
Priebe said Macias had been working on the sheriff’s department radio system as contractor for about 10 years before Priebe took office and hired him in 2011. Macias was upfront about his conviction when he was approached about the job, Priebe said. He was not asked about the details at the time.
As fascinating as Macias’s apparent transformation is, it becomes even more fascinating in light of the fact he might’ve gotten life or perhaps even been put to death had he committed his crime in another jurisdiction. It highlights both the arbitrariness of the harshest punishments available in our society and the fact they may only serve as just punishment to the extent someone who murders and dismembers another person simply deserves them.
I can’t help but wonder how many people we have executed or housed until they died who could have gone on to get degrees, earn our trust, find jobs, and become productive, law-abiding members of society. Is the largely abstract desire to give out big punishments for big crimes really strong enough to overcome the fact some of the people we’re punishing permanently could either sit in a cage forever or undergo real change and do something meaningful with their lives? Are were as a society really better off spending who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to kill or indefinitely hold people like Macias?
Invariably, there are nosy people everywhere, just as there are people who are eager to feel they are better than the people around them. That’s clearly the case in Wisconsin too:
Late last month, an anonymous source leaked the information about Macias’ background to media outlets including the Journal Sentinel and WISN-AM (1130) radio host Mark Belling, who first reported it earlier this week.
“It is being discussed among law enforcement throughout Sheboygan County,” the letter says. “Many find it unacceptable they are now forced to work side by side with someone who committed such a horrible crime.”
I can’t say whether the tattletale who decided to dig into Macias’s past was looking for some attention, or if he or she is just the sort of small person who apparently knows exactly who is worthy to “work side by side” with him or her. Neither option makes the anonymous source an uncommon sort of person. Neither option makes the anonymous source a particular enlightened sort of person, though. The sheriff, on the other hand, sees things differently:
“As far as I’m concerned, he’s a success story,” the sheriff said.
For Macias and people like him to be a success story, they need the opportunity to do it. Many won’t ever experience life outside of prison at all. Of those that do, many will live the rest of their lives with one door after another shut in their faces. Plenty of people want to do that to Macias, but he’s a lucky guy. He’s especially lucky considering that he owes his serendipity following a criminal conviction to a sheriff who happened to stand by him.