Mariusz Trynkiewicz (pictured) was sentenced to death in 1989, for the rape and murder of four boys the previous year. However, with the fall of communism in Poland, all death sentences were commuted to 25 years – ‘life’ – in prison.
Trynkiewicz’s sentence was completed on the evening of February 10, 2014. Debate raged across the Polish press, as to whether he should be freed at all. When he was released from prison in Rzeszów late on February 11, it was under heavy police guard, to a secure location, where he will be monitored until his dying day.
We tend to ‘rank’ crimes in order or their severity, and there can never be any doubt that the rape or murder of a child is right at the top of the list. The late Christopher Hitchens, in presenting his version of the Ten Commandments, made number four ‘hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child’. Anyone disagree? No? Good.
What we will debate in Poland over the coming days are the issues of judgment, punishment and forgiveness. Inside-Poland writes and publishes from a definitely secular viewpoint; in the absence of any higher power, we maintain that there is no problem in our judging, punishing or forgiving – for if not us, who else?
The questions should be, what kind of justice, what kind of punishment, can we accept? And what can we forgive?
The crimes of Mariusz Trynkiewicz can never be forgiven. They are simply too vile for their impact to expire after any given length of time.
Can we say, then, that it is a suitable punishment to keep Trynkiewicz in prison indefinitely? The European Court of Human Rights says, rightly, that all prisoners’ sentences should be reviewed at some point – making the ‘whole life tariff’ not illegal, but difficult to apply.
Difficult, but not impossible. And a review does not mean that the prisoner goes free; it may simply be a measure of society’s willingness or readiness to come to terms with a crime. If we, as a society, still need closure, there is nothing wrong with keeping those who we deem an outrage to society in a secure place until we reach such a point, for there are crimes that are universally abhorrent. Keeping Trynkiewicz in jail is a far cry from adding a ‘fiver’ to the sentence of any of the Gulag prisoners who languished in Siberia for no reason other than that they inflamed the paranoia of a totalitarian regime.
For we may judge, and we may punish, and we may forgive. In fact, we must judge and punish, and maybe even forgive; but whatever your thoughts on this case, if we do these things in the name of any but ourselves – be that the law, politics, a deity, or mob rule – we do so falsely. And that is not justice.