When I was growing up and misbehaving, my grandmother used to say, “Watch it! You’re extremely close to being put on my ‘S&*T List.’” That warning was always enough to curtail my objectionable activity and to keep me from finding my name on my grandmother’s unenviable ledger. I was not exactly sure what would have happened had my name been inked in my grandmother’s register, but it was clear from her tone that shame, fear, and regret would have been part of the torment. Her cautioning emphasized that a list punctuating poor conduct was intended to be punitive.
Near the end of Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” there is a powerful scene between John Proctor, the protagonist who has been accused of practicing witchcraft, and Thomas Danforth, the Chief Magistrate. Proctor has decided to avoid The Rope (hanging) by signing a document that confesses his sin as a witch. Upon learning that Danforth plans on publicly posting his confession to the church door, Proctor refuses to hand over the signed document. When Danforth conveys that the confession will not be valid unless it is nailed upon the church door, Proctor responds with, “I confess to God…God knows how black my sins are. I have confessed myself! Is there no good penitence but it be public…You [Danforth]are the high court, your word is good enough.” And when Danforth continues to insist that Proctor’s name be secured to the church door for proper testimony and wonders aloud why Proctor will not allow for his name to appear in public, Proctor exclaims, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” Danforth’s insistence that Proctor’s name be made public spotlights that posting his name was part of the punishment. The Salem Witch Trials provided insight to the extensive damage that came along with public shaming via lists on church doors: personal lives were devoured; and families were shattered.
Miller was no stranger to being “listed.” During the era of McCarthyism (named after Senator Joe McCarthy) in the 1950’s, Miller refused to name “names” (Communists) during a congressional hearing and was subsequently blacklisted in Hollywood. Miller’s placement on that ignoble list prompted him to travel to Massachusetts, and research The Salem Witch Trials. Miller later admitted that “The Crucible” was an allegory to McCarthy’s oppressive tactics. McCarthy’s List brought staggering struggles for those that were on it. Many lost the opportunity to work in any capacity for years. Those on the list had their names and legacies wrecked.
Currently, as the battle against the Registry rages, it is important to point out that the Registry is tantamount to punishment. Recently, in a ludicrous explanation, the 10th Circuit explains, “The statutory text itself explains that ‘it [was] not the general assembly’s intent that the information [contained in the Registry] be used to inflict retribution or additional punishment on any person,’ but rather [the law] was intended to address ‘the public’s need to adequately protect themselves and their children’ from those with prior sexual convictions.” The whole point of incarcerating someone is to punish that person AND protect society from that person. Once that person has been released from prison, any official attempt to serve notice to the public about that person’s crime is extending retribution.
Lists that include names associated with prohibited behavior are antagonistic and harmful. A “Most Wanted List” is intended to lead to the capture and punishment of those on it; a “Detention List” posted in a classroom is expected to shame and punish those on it; and even Santa Claus has a “Naughty List” that is designed to expose and punish those on it. The creators and supporters of The Registry understand the destructive power it infuses into society. And it is their callous disregard for honorable justice that has led to colossal calamities. State and Federal Governments can gin up any pomp and circumstance they want regarding the notion that the Registry is only instituted to protect the community; it is unadulterated hogwash. The Registry is punishment. Anyone who believes otherwise is officially on my grandmother’s “S&*T List.”