Punishing the Conductor

Trains(PDF, TRIGGER ALERT) is an chapter in Nathan McCall’s autobiography. It is a chapter about a brutal rite of passage. Trains is an unflinchingly honest account about a gang rape.

This is one of the harder passages I’ve had to write about, largely because I have a hard time getting past my initial impulse to grab a sharp broadsword and start swinging. The gang rape isn’t senseless – and that almost adds to the horror of the thing. Through a brutal twisting of intimacy, it’s about reinforcing power, about cementing complicity, and, as the author points out, self-hatred.

And that’s why I haven’t just wanted a broadsword.

The narrator is clearly unhappy about his prior experience, about his complicity in a heinous act. He is no longer the boy he was at thirteen, no longer on the lifepath his compatriots were likely to find themselves on.

Instead, he is an educated individual, able to reflect and bring understanding to this act that, from his account, is not isolated.

When you hear that over a fifth of women to a third are sexually assaulted by the time they reach college, this isn’t what you’re envisioning.

And it’s not what the author would do now. He is a different person.

So whom do we lash out at?

A co-worker told me of a doctor who was suspected of killing his wife, but released due to a lack of evidence. Twenty years pass, during which he remarries and becomes a pillar of the community. He has children, and there is not the slightest problem with the law. Until someone re-opens the cold case of the first wife’s death. There is new evidence – or the old evidence is re-examined, it doesn’t matter which. Now they bring this doctor to trial, convict him, and send him to prison.

The man they convicted was not the man who committed the crime. Those who commit crimes of passion rarely repeat their crimes. He was, instead, a father, a loving husband, and a pillar of the community. By locking him away twenty years later, they did not help the community, they harmed it.

Likewise, with this essayist, it is pointless to agonize over the guilt of the author, or to wish revenge upon him. Instead, we must learn what we can from the violence they perpetrated, and do whatever it takes to stop the machismo desire to gain status through the destruction of others.

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