Error-free citizens, take up your stones

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2003

Ever make a mistake in judgment? Ever have a bad day, a short fuse, a sense of exasperation? Have you experienced jealousy? Envy? Resentment? Did you act out those feelings?

Thinking Out Loud

Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. He can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com.

Ever been provoked by shabby treatment from family, friends, colleagues or clerks? Tried to endure chronic pain? How about a pounding headache magnified by the sometimes-surreal elements of life to the point you wanted to scream, give up, throw something, hit someone, jump behind the wheel and race away, or get even?

If your answer is, "No, never," pardon my skepticism and please move to the table where the nurse will administer the sodium pentothal injection.

For the sake of discussion, I'll assert that everyone experiences variations of the behavior I've described, that humankind always has, but we don't always admit it of ourselves.

It's difficult to say, "I was wrong." Harder to add, "and I'm sorry." But we are quick to claim, "It's not my fault."

The accused easily spin the 21st century non-apology apology: "I regret if the things I justifiably said or did offended any overly sensitive person. Get over it."

Meet Jim Hamey, poster man for heartfelt mea culpa in the new millennium.

Hamey is, was, a coach with a record of service and a wealth of respect in this community. I don't know Hamey, but his court appearance last week reminded me of someone I do know. The other guy was the head football coach at a college set in a town so small and isolated that the four-year school was the one thing that set the town apart from other one-horse communities in the Rocky Mountain West.

One night, a state trooper followed a weaving car down the highway toward the coach's home - the driver making a U-turn after missing his own street. In a driveway, the trooper began to try to determine the driver's sobriety. The driver was the stupefied coach, who lowered his automatic garage door and went inside his home while the trooper was running the obligatory "wait-right-here" check of his driver's license. The trooper knocked, then pounded, on the front door. No response. Phone calls were made to the house. The coach did not emerge. Officers finally entered the home, roused the passed-out coach and escorted him outside, where he refused a breath test or to provide a blood sample.

After spending the night in jail, the coach offered a non-apology apology, asserted his victimhood, went to court to prevent the suspension of his license and hired a lawyer to defend him against drunken-driving and other charges.

Months later, a jury of his peers convicted the coach on a handful of counts involving dangerous, drunken behavior. Still, the coach said he was innocent. By refusing to accept responsibility for his actions, he polarized the community. The longer he was in denial, the greater the damage.

Have I mentioned everyone makes mistakes? Jim Hamey sure did. He stole $1,000 from the school district that had employed him for 32 years. He took the money in anger at having been forced out as a Juneau-Douglas High School basketball coach. He felt school administrators embarrassed him so he wanted to embarrass them. Clear-thinking? Not at all. But Hamey also was losing some medical insurance benefits and faced the amputation of his foot if a diabetic ulcer did not heal.

Have you ever been stressed to the breaking point?

Unless there's a lot more to this story than has come out so far, here's what sets Hamey apart from other impulsive, one-time crooks:

He pleaded guilty and publicly accepted responsibility and apologized. "I take full responsibility for my actions and I am disgusted by them and embarrassed by them," he said.

As one result, the forgiving side of human nature has begun to pour forth. In the past five days, the Empire has received and published many letters supportive of Hamey, whose remorse registered as genuine with Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins.

"There's nothing this court could do to you for punishment that quite frankly you haven't already done to yourself," she told Hamey.

Those of us who never make a mistake are invited to pass judgment. Any takers?

Reed is managing editor of the Empire.



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