There is nobody this side of a lunatic asylum that could have a kind word or thought about Bernard Madoff. He has indiscriminately destroyed the remainder of many people’s lives, made wastes of the earlier parts of their lives wherein they worked and saved for a financially secure old age that will now never happen, and ruined many of the proud unique hallmarks of our American civilization: our communal efforts to help the lives of others by supporting and sustaining vast numbers of organized charities. To be fair, he has also hurt people who sacrificed caution on the altar of their own greed. Bill Clinton said, “If something looks too good to be true, it usually is.”
Newspapers have run headlines like “Burn in Hell” and people publicly compete with each other to suggest punishments, each one more barbarous than the other.
Presently, Madoff is confined to a small cell under conditions that, compared to those the terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay enjoy, should make those terrorists think that they have arrived at the Pearly Gates, or wherever it is they believe to be their last deserved resting place. Madoff is even denied the right to read, and since this presumably includes the Bible, denies him the right to religious conversion — a state of grace for which my fellow co-religionists and I wish would occur as soon as possible.
It is easy, in a society founded on the Judeo-Christian principles of compassion, redemption, and forgiveness, to extend these virtues to socially acceptable and attractive individuals. It is much harder to do so with parasitic lice like the Madoffs of the world. To hold out a hand to a hungry child is commendable, self-satisfying, and comfortable. However, to treat Madoff not with mercy, but in a way that allows him to undermine the better angels of our nature, does more to harm us as human beings than he could ever do, and in the last analysis, makes him and others like him, the winners.