To the Editor:
In West Warwick last week, a 42-year-old man who I don't know personally was appointed to a town board, despite a felony conviction on his record. Long ago in another time in his life back in 2000, he was a 23-year-old working at Metacomet Country Club. One night during a low point in his personal
life, he was drinking heavily and stole some tournament memorabilia and was subsequently arrested. That tournament was a fundraiser for a fallen policeman, and one might imagine that the arresting officers were not sympathetic toward him. There was likely sufficient evidence for a larceny charge, but he was charged with felony embezzlement and convicted. While
he never went to prison, he was handed a life sentence. From that day forward, every time he applied for a job, he was looked at as an embezzler.
When stopped for speeding, his conviction was displayed on the screen in the officer's patrol car, raising doubt. Co-workers, business colleagues and people he has dated have all likely checked into him and always had their suspicions.
Politics is a dirty game and it infiltrates every aspect of our lives. In West Warwick, which like my city is struggling with unfunded pension liabilities, local politics are extremely contentious. Somewhat distinct from Warwick where a single faction dominates the political landscape, in West Warwick two robust movements have emerged with each side engaging in
open warfare in an attempt to destroy the other. Despite the battlefield conditions, and though his conviction remained, this man decided to get involved in politics and apply to a town board. As soon as he was appointed, the long knives came out, the media was notified, and WPRI 12 presented him to the people of Rhode Island in their report as the "felon
on the West Warwick pension board." At 42 years old he now gets to relive that infamous night when he was 23, as his character and reputation are being destroyed right before our eyes.
I have followed the reaction to the story across social media, and to my surprise the public generally doesn't seem to care that he has made a strong effort to rehabilitate himself and step forward to serve his community. He is being portrayed as a terrible person who hates the police and stole from a dead officer, and therefore he deserves to be publicly humiliated.
My question is: when is a man allowed to be free again and move on with his life and become the greatest version of himself? As a child I was taught that people are human beings, fundamentally flawed, born with original sin, and that our sins may be forgiven. Have we now decided that destroying a
man's character is justified, so long as it serves our political objectives?
I used to believe that Americans are compassionate and forgiving people, willing to accept the flawed man who has fallen and quick to celebrate his comeback. Now I wonder if we have lost that spirit of forgiveness, and have become so hopelessly divided that our stances on political issues now
define our value as human beings.
The day before this report was filed was the anniversary of The Station fire, and I wrote a post on my Facebook page reminding everyone about the brave heroes who ran back to the fire in an unselfish act to try to help free someone else who they probably didn't even know. The basic theme was to remember to look out for each other, be compassionate, and try to make a positive impact in other people's lives any time we can. This weekend,
Catholics around the world are praying for a renewal of trust and faith in the Church and to renew those whose faith has been shaken by scandal. I think everyone in our community, religious or not, should consider forgiveness for people whose crimes were much less egregious than the terrible acts committed by priests. Young people will always make mistakes, our criminal justice system is not fair or equal, and the court of public opinion is unforgiving. I hope that at some point this man who
seemed only to want to serve his community and put himself out there at a vulnerable time in his life will be forgiven. I have never met him, but I am certain that this is a man who is a much greater person in real life than the one he plays in this story. He deserves a second chance.
Dan Elliott was the Independent challenger in the two previous elections for Rhode Island's 20th House District seat.