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On John Fetterman’s Ridiculous ‘Shawshank Redemption’ Metaphor


When does someone who’s committed a first-degree murder deserve clemency, Semafor’s David Weigel asks Pennsylvania senatorial candidate John Fetterman.

He responds:

It’s really a very simple choice. I believe the perfect metaphor is “The Shawshank Redemption.” That’s a touchstone that virtually everybody has seen, everybody understands. I’ve asked people, would you want Morgan Freeman to die in prison or not? And I’ve never met anybody that says, “Yeah, he should die in prison. I would have voted to have him die in prison.”

I certainly don’t believe Morgan Freeman should die in prison. He’s a national treasure! Also, Morgan Freeman is an actor—not God or the president or Nelson Mandela or the stern-but-caring principal of an inner-city high school in Paterson, New Jersey. A metaphor is never perfect because it is never literally applicable to the situation at hand. “The Shawshank Redemption,” though, is an especially terrible metaphor here because the central purpose of the movie is manipulating viewers into feeling sympathy for fictional inmates — some of whom have committed premeditated murder. It’s a great movie. But if a real person who went by the nickname “Red” cut his wife’s real brakes for real insurance money, and then ended up murdering four innocent people who really existed, they almost certainly would deserve to die in prison.

In this world, Fetterman voted to release a murderer who stabbed and beat to death a 72-year-old man on the street and another killer who bound the hands and feet of his victim before shooting them multiple times in the back of the head and another who stabbed his victim 26 times with garden shears in a parking garage and another who used a pair of scissors to kill his girlfriend’s mother. Fetterman was the only member of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons to cast a vote to free a man convicted of beating and fatally shooting a police officer’s 17-year-old son. None of them remind me of Morgan Freeman.

A few days ago, Fetterman claimed to have “always” supported life sentences for first-degree murderers — which is probably true in the way he has “always” supported fracking. But it’s one thing to champion genuine criminal justice reform, and another to hire Mumia Abu-Jamal’s “buddy” to help you hand out clemencies to brutal, sometimes sadistic, murderers. (I wonder who Abu-Jamal is in Fetterman’s “The Shawshank Redemption” metaphor? Probably the innocent Andy Dufresne.) In this interview, the candidate says it’s a no-brainer to release anyone who is “deeply remorseful” and “elderly.” Maybe all of these murderers deserve to be free. Maybe they pose no harm. But only someone who is having trouble distinguishing between real life and fantasy, or a sociopath, would call those “very simple” choices.

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