Sunday, January 25, 2009

On Bicycling and Redemption

Since LAB membership gets me a copy of Bicycling, I usually read it. At least scan it. Sometimes its not worthy of being put, perforated, on a tube of cardboard, since the pages are too glossy. Sometimes there is real journalism in it. This issue contained the real thing. Hence this letter to the mag.

Dear Editors at Bicycling

Every once in a while, your magazine prints a story that drops the usual offerings like a fat guy on a Category I climb. This month's (March, 2009) piece by Steve Friedman "The Impossible Redemption of Jonathan Boyer" is one of them. Like "The Invisible Riders" by Dan Koeppel that you ran a few years back, such work goes beyond the surface stuff and unearths realities that go to the heart of the human condition, which, as that famous cyclist once reminded us, "its not about the bike".

I suspect that like many others, I wrote Jock Boyer off to the scrap heap of history after his arrest and conviction for violating one of our more fundamentally held prohibitions. Fortunately, people like Tom Richey, Judge Meyer, Dan Cooper, and Jock's close friends did not. Fortunately, Steve Friedman has given us a deeper understanding of Boyer. As has Jock's involvement with Project Rwanda.

None of us are as bad as the worst thing we have ever done, nor as good as the best thing. We all hurtle through life on metaphorical skinny, high pressure tires; a badly timed blowout is not out of the question for anyone. I wish Jock Boyer well. Redemption, after all, is the best possible outcome of a run-in with our criminal justice system.

The picture above is from an article "Measured Redemption: The Life and Times of Cyclist Jonathan Boyer". Please go read it so I can justify cockroaching* their picture.

* "cockroaching": Hawaiian, pidgin english for pilfering something (don't bother with the def. in the Urban Dictionary)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh give me a break. Jonathan Boyer repeatedly molested an 11-year old girl over 3 years. He was convicted on 10 felony accounts.

Serving a sentence on probation followed by riding a bike around your mom's house in Carmel and working in Rawanda at the behest of your well-heeled pals and does not exactly constitute redemption. If the journalism was any good or even marginally thorough why didn't the reporter interview the girl or someone who works with sexually assaulted children to see how they feel about Mr. Boyer and his cycling redemption.

Jimbo said...

I read the article and found it quite interesting. It's very easy to second guess a journalist's decision. It's similarly easy to condemn someone or write off someone who's done bad things simply as an unrepentant monster.

As a journalist and someone who once spent time tutoring prisoners, I find the ease of those two choices a little too easy. I ran into many monsters at the prison and many people who I might have later welcomed to my kitchen table for a meal with my family. People are people. There are just as many monsters outside of prison.

Sometimes I think back on the many stories I have written and have agonized over the "if only I had pursued this or that angle" questions knowing now what I didn't know then. In the final analysis, I've found those questions to be a colossal waste of time. Journalists pursue the story they think they ought to pursue at the time. They use the best judgment and resources they have at the time. Readers who rely upon a single tale for enlightenment fall into the ranks of the deluded. No story is as simple as it seems.

I guess in defense of the reporter, I wonder if it would have been "worth it" when all was said and done to seek out the victim and make her relive her ordeal just to satisfy the prurient interests of some readers. Had the victim been interviewed and she stated that she thought Boyer was a monster, would that be in any way surprising? Would it have added anything to the story? Had she stated she had forgiven Boyer, would that necessarily been surprising? Would either statement (or any other thing she might have said) have been worth asking the woman to reach back into a very painful chapter of her past and relive it?

I don't know the answer to that.

I'm not sure I would have interviewed her either. I'm not sure I would have approached the story the same way as the writer. Nevertheless, Bicycling presented a story that left distinct impressions with various readers.

In that respect, I believe the story was good—simply because I believe reasoned contemplation is good.

Do I think Jonathan Boyer is good or redeemed? I don't have an answer to that. The story as presented is but a single point of view and provides only a snapshot of some facts and conjecture deemed important by one writer and a single judge of humanity.

I do suspect that Jonathan Boyer will wrestle with his conscience until he goes to his grave, as will all of us as we sort out all the big and little trespasses we have made during the course of our remarkably short lifespans.

Thanks for the interesting post, Khal.

Khal said...

You are welcome, Jimbo. Your response made it worthwhile.