It wasn’t quite the response Irv Faunce expected. But when your son is a convicted killer doing time inside the Maine State Prison, your opinion tends to be yours alone.
Earlier this week, as Maine’s peanut gallery applauded the news that a child molester, Micah Boland, had been brutally beaten and stabbed to death at the prison in Warren, Faunce fired off an email to members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Faunce, you might recall, is the adoptive father of Gordon Collins-Faunce, who last fall was sentenced to 20 years for the manslaughter death of his own infant son in 2012.
Faunce’s complaint: Too many people in too many high places seem to be taking last Friday’s homicide in stride, observing that violence “does happen” in prison settings rather than acknowledging that something went horribly wrong. Not to mention identifying and rectifying whatever security lapses led up to it.
Since the attack, a criminal investigation already has produced a murder charge against inmate Richard Stahursky. At the same time, a parallel internal review has been launched by the Maine Department of Corrections.
Faunce, however, wants the Legislature to launch its own probe of a facility that has now, according to Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, had four homicides since 2009.
“ ‘It does happen’ seems grossly inadequate to describe this tragedy,” Faunce wrote. “A more reassuring response would have been an admission … that there are obvious gaping holes in security, and that numerous steps could and should have been taken to prevent this murder.”
Thursday morning, a reply from state Rep. Jethro Pease, R-Morrill, landed with a thud in Faunce’s inbox.
“You make good points,” wrote Pease, a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “However from comments e-mails etc I receive, Mainers have no sympathy for child molesters no matter what. Also the taxpayers are resentful of having to pay to house people that made their own bad choices. That’s the feedback I receive.”
Countered Faunce, “So if, in your view, Maine people have no sympathy for child molesters, does that mean that murdering them is acceptable?”
“My answer is no,” Pease replied in a telephone interview from the State House on Thursday. “It is not acceptable. It’s a murder.”
Right answer. And tempting as it might be to paint Pease as an ends-justify-the-means kind of guy, he simply was giving voice to a disturbingly large segment of the population who, as he put it, “are just not sympathetic with issues inside the prison. Right or wrong, that’s the way it seems to be.”
Take the constituent who greeted Pease while he gassed up at the local station earlier this week. “Well,” he told Pease without a hint of regret, “we got one less at the prison!”
The real issue here is twofold:
First, exactly how did Stahursky, by his own admission, manage to enter Boland’s open cell without anyone noticing, punch him in the head, close the door, tie his hands, kick him repeatedly in the ribs and then stab him in the face and neck 87 times with a pair of handmade “shivs?”
According to a Maine State Police affidavit, it was only when Stahursky appeared shirtless at a guard station and dropped his blood-covered weapons on the desk that the prison staff even realized something was amiss.
Second, beyond the state police investigation of the actual crime, who should be responsible for identifying the obvious failure of the prison’s internal security that allowed the attack to play out in the first place?
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, co-chairs the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and oversaw the Cumberland County Jail for 12 years as the county sheriff. In an interview Thursday, he said this will be the first test of an internal affairs unit in the Department of Corrections that he and his fellow lawmakers insisted upon after numerous sit-downs with Commissioner Joseph Ponte and other officials last year.
“It’s not glamorous and it didn’t make headlines,” Dion said. “But I would tell Mr. Faunce that those are the objective steps that will guarantee to families that we’ve met our responsibilities around (prisoner) care and control.”
That’s not enough for Faunce, who visits the prison weekly. While things have gone relatively smoothly since his son arrived last fall, Faunce said, the nature of Collins-Faunce’s crime coupled with the attack on Boland “certainly increases our concerns about (Collins-Faunce’s) safety.”
“It’s ugly – the whole situation is ugly,” Faunce said. “And it calls for something other than the DOC looking at themselves.”
As Faunce noted in his email to the legislative committee, nobody would have sat still for a self-investigation by the Maine Turnpike Authority when financial irregularities arose there in 2009. While the Attorney General’s Office led the prosecution (and subsequent 20-month imprisonment) of former Executive Director Paul Violette, it was the Legislature that investigated and overhauled the turnpike authority.
Fast-forwarding to the Boland homicide, Faunce wrote, “Nor should we ask the DOC to investigate its own policies and procedures that may have abetted the commission of this horrible crime.”
Rep. Pease, truth be told, couldn’t agree more. He “wasn’t real excited” about the whole idea of the corrections department investigating itself in the first place, and would feel more comfortable if such matters were handled by an independent third party.
“One degree of removal would make a big difference,” Pease said.
The problem, Pease said, is that precious few legislators will spend a lot of time worrying about the welfare of this murderer or that child molester as long as a majority of their constituents yawn upon hearing of the latest shiv attack.
“For the criminal justice committee to get all het up about it, I would expect a groundswell of people to say, ‘Investigate!’ ” Pease said. “But the only one I’ve heard from who says that is Mr. Faunce. The other people I’m hearing from, they just don’t seem to care.”
Again, Pease is correct. Fixation on what a prisoner did often trumps any concern for how he or she is surviving (or not) behind bars.
Still, all that apathy cannot erase the fact that we sent Micah Boland to prison to punish him and, if possible, to rehabilitate him. Not to kill him.
“It does happen,” conceded Faunce, who couldn’t care more. “But it has to stop.”
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: