Tag Archives: law

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row

Frankly my dear, I do give a damn!!

When it comes to fighting for justice, I will personally stand up and be counted, even when the case is rather controversial. After all. it’s easy to have compassion for someone you love. It’s much more challenging when someone has a few prickles…or a past. Yet, sometimes our journey takes us down that road and we are forced to argue the points backwards and forwards inside our heads until we can make sense of it all and hopefully judgement turns to love.

I don’t know if the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia has made International news. However, as citizens of the world, this case affects each and every one of us who believe in the sanctity and importance of justice and the capacity for humanity to change and redeem itself.

We are all called to stand up and fight.

The case I am referring to is the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia: Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who were part of the notorious Bali Nine. Since their conviction, these men have completely turned their lives around and deserve a second chance. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be punished. Just that they don’t deserve to die.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

 

My justification for clemency lies in the science of brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. If you know anything at all about brain plasticity, you will know and understand that these men have changed the very physical structures of their brains through rehabilitation and are no longer who they were. That they are, indeed, very different men. After all, if you have a different brain, how can you possibly be the same?

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry , summed  this up well when he addressed the Melbourne vigil held on 18th February, 2014. Lasry had been involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005. Lasry said that he has visited Chan and Sukumaran in jail in Bali several times and was in no doubt the pair had redeemed themselves.

“The reality is that if Indonesia go ahead and execute these two men, they’ll be killing an artist and a church pastor,” he said.

“The drug traffickers have gone. The drug traffickers left in 2005. “4.

About Brain Plasticity

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity “refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.[1] Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[1]

In The Brain Which Changes Itself, Norman Doidge M.D. a psychiatrist and researcher set out to investigate neuroplasticity. “He writes that the brain can change itself. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature”. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259

This brain plasticity isn’t just something for the laboratory or people experiencing chronic medical conditions or disability. It affects us all and is a more “scientific” explanation for what we have always known: “Use it or lose it!!”

To get an idea of how brain plasticity works, picture an old fashioned telephone exchange with all those cables plugged in. Our brain is built of these cables. So for example if we keep getting angry, those anger pathways will keep getting bigger and bigger just like exercising a muscle. Moreover, the bigger these pathways become, the angrier we will become unless we take action.

Conversely, each and every time we appease our anger and breathe deep, count to three whatever it takes, those neuropathways shrink and actually disappear. These are actual, physical changes in the structure of our brains. The brain map is different.

I have experienced these changes myself after undergoing brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. I have experienced many changes but probably the most surprising is that I can actually play the violin and I now play in an ensemble. That takes some pretty complex brain and physical developments, which I never thought possible. I only took the violin up to help my daughter.

My argument is that through rehabilitation, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have demonstrated that through such brain plasticity, they are no longer the men they were.

Therefore, as an exceptional case and while not dismissing the severity of their crime, these new men deserve a compassionate response…jail not execution!

This quote from US President John F. Kennedy sums it up well:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

Background to the Bali Nine

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were the ring leaders of a group of Australian drug traffickers known as “The Bali Nine”. On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested for planning to smuggle 8.3 kg (18 lb) of heroin valued at about A$4 million from Indonesia to Australia. These men were no angels and heroin, as we know, is a hard core drug which destroys lives. Authorities must do whatever it takes to get heroin off the streets. While people do dispute the death penalty, they are not advocating a more relaxed after to stopping the trade of heroin.

Going back to the time of their arrest, I didn’t have any sympathy for the Bali 9. Due to the very publicised case of alleged drug trafficker, Australian Shapelle Corby, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws had been front page news for some time. I might not agree with the death penalty but Indonesia’s tough anti-drug laws most definitely weren’t a secret.

Australian Shapelle Corby had been arrested in Indonesia on 8 October 2004 when she was found to have 4.2 kg (9.3 lb) of cannabis in a double plastic vacuum-sealed bag in her unlocked bodyboard bag. Corby was convicted on 27 May 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Denpasar District Court and imprisoned in Kerobokan Prison. To this day, Shapelle maintains her innocence and there have been numerous theories about how the cannabis got into her body board bag. Her case became a “cause celeb” and during that media frenzy, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws was made very, very clear.

From where I was sitting in front of the TV, you’d have to be a complete idiot or have a serious death wish to even consider smuggling drugs in or out of Indonesia. I know people talked about making their luggage more secure after Shapelle’s arrest. Indeed, I’d even be checking the paperwork on my prescriptions before heading to Indonesia…especially given the amount of pills I take in a week. They could easily be perceived as trafficking quantities!

Those were the sorts of precautions your average Australian traveler was taking when the Bali 9 were arrested. Nobody wanted to be another Shapelle Corby and we were leaving absolutely nothing to chance. The consequences were just too great.

Given the historical context, the Bali 9 did come across as a bunch of idiots who had earned themselves what’s known as the Darwin Award: http://www.darwinawards.com/ After all, they didn’t need to be Einstein or have some kind of mystical crystal ball to know what they were getting themselves into. They just needed to turn on their TV. Shapelle Corby’s face was everywhere. Remember: Shapelle Corby was arrested on the 8th October 2004 and on the 27 May 2005 she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Bali Nine was arrested On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested right in the middle of Shapelle’s trial. You do have to wonder what they were thinking and if they were even thinking at all and certainly you would never expect these men to amount to anything much at all!!

That was then. This is now.

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Fast-forwarding nine years, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are changed men and are inspiring other prisoners and leading exemplary lives. These are not the same men who were convicted back in 2006. Their names might be the same and they are older versions of themselves but in terms of their soul, spirit, character and no doubt even the neurofibres in their brains, they are not who they were. Therefore, executing these men would be a great travesty of justice.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry has long campaigned against the death penalty and was involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005.

 

Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs  outlined how much the men had changed when she addressed Federal Parliament on 12th February, 2014:

“Both men are deeply, sincerely remorseful for their actions. Both men have made extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate.

Andrew and Myuran are the model of what penal systems the world over long to achieve.

Successive Governors of Kerobokan Prison in Bali – whose prison has given Andrew and Myuran the opportunity to reflect and change – have testified to their remarkable transformation.

A decade on from their crimes, Andrew and Myuran are changed men. They are deeply committed to a new path.

Both men are paying their debt to society. With dedication and unwavering commitment, they are improving and enriching the lives of their fellow prisoners.

Andrew has completed a theology degree in prison. As a pastor, he now provides religious counselling and guidance to fellow inmates. On the day he received the President’s rejection of his clemency application, Andrew’s Australian lawyer Julian McMahon said he was nowhere to be found, for even at this moment of undeniable personal anguish, Andrew had taken time out to comfort a fellow inmate who was seriously ill.

Myuran – referred to by many as the ‘gentle giant’ – has nearly completed a fine arts degree in jail. He has had the opportunity to become an accomplished artist; his raw talent recognised and fostered by his friend and mentor, renowned artist Ben Quilty.

In prison, Andrew and Myuran sought permission from prison authorities and began an array of courses to benefit fellow inmates, and to prepare them for their return to society.

They have led extensive and varied arts, cultural and vocational courses. Some of their courses are aimed directly at drug addicts, equipping them with the skills to beat their addiction, saving their lives and giving them real prospects in the future.

Andrew and Myuran have raised money for fellow inmates’ medical procedures; for victims of Typhoon Haiyan; for Indonesia National Day festivities.

Indeed, such is the profound effect of Andrew and Myuran’s inspiring humility and service, their fellow prisoners have come forward to lend support, even offering to take their place in execution to President Widodo…

Their remarkable rehabilitation, and the circumstances of their arrest, has prompted five successive Australian Prime Ministers to make representations in their name. [2]

What Brain Plasticity Means For Chan & Sukumaran. Why Spare These Men?

If somebody completely turns their life around and becomes an entirely new and different person on the inside, should they still be judged and sentenced to death because of crimes they committed in the past? Although they have the same name and DNA, they are a different person and things become very problematic.

Would justice truly be served and can we as a global community just stand back in good conscience and do nothing to spare these men? Or, do we both as a society and as individuals need to do whatever it takes to prevent such a tragic and unjust loss of life?

The answer is a resounding “yes”!! After all, two wrongs have never made a right!!

Although I have never met these men and I certainly don’t support the use or sale of such drugs, there is such resounding evidence that these men have significantly and are now dramatically improving the lives of those around them as well, rehabilitating and educating other prisoners much more effectively than other methods.

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, whose husband was charged and convicted of a similar crime to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, spoke out in Parliament saying: “criminals can be redeemed – my husband is proof.”

She adds that the laws which underpin the executing these men is the basic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law that has influenced the Old Testament and earlier legal codes in countries around the world. But that’s 3,700 years ago. We’ve moved on a great deal from an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-12/plibersek-these-men-deserve-restorative-justice-not-execution/6088334.

I also thought it was interesting that at last night’s vigil, emotional statements were read from the pair, which acknowledged their original stupidity,  saying that  the “compassion and kindness from people forgiving our stupidity” has made them feel “truly blessed” 4″

Their Last Words

Andrew Chan: “Thoughts from the Edge

“Thank you Jesus that you give me the strength and courage that I need to stand strong and to trust in you when the waters arise.”

“I thank you Jesus that you never give up on me and that your faithfulness is what helps me striving forward. I thank you for all the family and friends you surround me with in life and how your love pours out from them.”

“The Lord is revealing to me through this scripture is about how he’ll fight the battles for us and that we won’t be defeated if he goes ahead of us… The truth is God is remind us that when all seems helpless and you feel as though the enemies army surrounds you, God is telling us to stand still, take up our battle stance but do not move.[3]

Myuran Sukumaran – Thoughts from the edge

“When you are young you think money is the only way to get happiness … after being here for eight years you realize it is not.”

“After being in prison for eight years I only realized when it comes when it comes to drugs nobody gets rich – there are a few people – most get caught and end up in places like this and that’s the lesson.”

“I want to become a better person and I want to help everybody else become a better person as well. It is like a vehicle for everybody to travel in to better themselves.”

Last Words or a New Beginning…

Time is running out and I don’t know what any of us can do at this late hour. I understand that over 30,000 Australians have written to the Indonesian Attorney General pleading for mercy and many many people have spoken publically. Last night, a vigil was being held in Sydney to pray for the men and their families and this was just one of many. I can sense a collective heartache if these efforts fail and these two young men are put to death.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are in my heartfelt prayers.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”.

*Please reblog this post and spread the word. It now looks like the lives of these men rest on divine intervention and people power.

As the saying goes: “Never give up”!!!

Love & Blessings,

Rowena

[1] · Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). “The plastic human brain cortex”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216.

[2] Parliamentary motion: Chan and Sukumaran, Address to House of Representatives Speech, E&OE, Parliament House, Canberra,12 February 2015.

[3] http://www.news.com.au/national/six-living-former-prime-ministers-make-united-final-plea-for-doomed-bali-nine-duo/story-fncynjr2-1227222259664

4) www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-18/vigils-held-for-bali-nine-pair-facing-execution/6143978

Paintings: http://www.news.com.au/world/asia/bali-nine-member-myuran-sukumaran-paintings-in-melbourne/story-fnh81fz8-1227049488225

I apologise  for any breaches of copyright regarding the images used in this post. I am merely trying to support their cause.

Grouchy Dog’s Growlings

“All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.”
― Charles M. Schulz

After my previous analysis of the Golden Rule and uncovering its shortcomings in the cat department, I returned to my research.

I was starting to study situations where cats and dogs not only co-habitate but indeed have become family… even friends. This was most intriguing research because until now, I had never thought that was possible. I was astounded.

Just when I was starting to prove that the Golden Rule was actually more than theory and had real world applications, yet another exception arose.

Here's Lady all sweetness and innocence murdering my ball.

Here’s Lady all sweetness and innocence murdering my ball.

Lady, my canine companion, not only stole my tennis ball. She killed it, pulling out its fur tuft by precious tuft. It was agony just standing around watching without being able to growl, let alone snap. That’s what it means to truly follow the Golden Rule and I didn’t like it.

There's certainly no Golden Rule at work here!

There’s certainly no Golden Rule at work here!

After this devastating experience, I’ve become a little disillusioned with trying to change the world. Instead of the Golden Rule, I’m now considering a different path:

“Do unto others as they would do unto you.”

This seems a much fairer system. That way, if they steal your ball and chew it up, you can destroy their ball…or at least claim theirs as a replacement. After all, why should you go without?

“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.”

Mahatma Gandhi

I have also learned about this mighty force called karma which strikes the offender down and really makes them suffer. Apparently, God, fate or the universe pays them back for doing the wrong thing. It’s like being struck down by lightening. This sounds brilliant…absolutely brilliant! That’s what I call justice.

I love karma. Indeed, I’m wishing a bit of karma on my Lady friend right now!!

It sounds so much fairer than turning the other cheek and putting up with their bad behaviour. It would also ease the load on our judicial system.

You see, the Golden Rule works well when everybody follows it but that’s my point. Most critters don’t. Whether you’re talking about humans, dogs and especially cats, that seems to be a universal thing. Everyone is just out for themselves. It ‘s even dog eat dog out in the real world.

Say I was to stick to my beliefs and stand by the Golden Rule. What would happen to me then? With everybody else just out for themselves, I’d just get bullied, walked over and turned into a flat and furry dog mat.

Indeed, that’s been my experience already.

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

Haile Selassie

I’ve ready told you about what Lady did to my ball but the horror doesn’t end there.

Once I’d finally retrieved my ball, somebody, I won’t mention any names, hurled it into the water again just to drive me stark raving mad. You know how it is. As soon as anybody finds your Achilles heel, they just have to twist the knife and make you suffer. We might not have rabies in this country but I can tell you, I was starting to froth at the mouth from all this stress. Overcome with righteous indignation, my blood was also starting to boil.

Disconsolate, completely and utterly shattered, I was trying to follow the Golden Rule but nobody else was. That’s when I decided the Golden Rule was never going to work. Instead, I had to look after number one.

As I’m sure you can appreciate, that’s a huge philosophical shift and it takes quite a shove to get this big dog to budge an inch. (That is, unless you call “Lady” in which case, I’m there in a flash!!)

Then, as if I wasn’t already emotionally overwrought, I had another look in the water. My ball…my beloved tennis ball which had already been mauled and defluffed… had sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

Heartbreak!

This isn't some exotic tropical fish!! No! It's my ball!

This isn’t some exotic tropical fish!! No! It’s my ball underwater!

Of course, Dad had no sympathy. When he saw me peering forlornly over the edge, he just said:

“It was your own @#$% fault for chewing holes in it you @#$%$#@ dog!!!! He hasn’t been very supportive of my ball fetching career and is inclined to call me: “pest dog”. Talk about showing no respect!!”

Perhaps, I might have punctured my ball in a moment of exuberant, over-enthusiastic chewing but there’s a much more likely culprit and we all know who that is.

My ball after the mauling.

My ball after the mauling.

I know you humans keep telling me that I can’t keep blaming Lady for everything and that I need to take responsibility for my own actions. But fair’s fair. The photos say it all. Lady might have us all under her spell. However, she’s a real little upstart who’ll settle for nothing less than world domination and that all starts with me.

Anyway, following through on my new philosophy of “Do unto others as they would do unto you”, this is my new action list…so much for being a good dog. I’ve decided to go for justice instead:

  1. Drop the kids’ iPad minis in the water and watch the entertainment begin. See if their tortured little faces end up on Funniest Home Videos and see how much they like that!
  2. Ditto for mum and her camera.
  3. When it comes to Dad, I might revisit one of my past crimes and chew through his beloved network cable (again) and see whether he takes responsibility. After all, it wasn’t me that chewed through my tennis ball.
  4. Last, but by no means least on my list…Lady. She’d better watch out the next time she finds rabbit road kill. Next time, she’s going to share!

However, like all my great philosophical theories and rants, there’s always an exception.

You see, while the family might pick on me where my ball is concerned, they actually do a lot of nice things for me as well. Based on this list, I will need to action the following:

  1. Feed them and keep topping up their drinks. This means I’ll need to sign up for some kind of gourmet cooking course. Masterchef, Julie Goodwin, just opened a cooking school locally so I might just have to pay her a visit. She might even off load some of her scraps to a very deserving dog.
  2. Take the family for walks. While they can be a bit slack in this department, I’ll be a lot more considerate and make it a daily or even twice daily treat.
  3. Throw the ball for them: xxwhile they don’t support my ball fetching training quite to the level I’d like, they still oblige. Again, like the walking, I’d ramp this up a bit and really get their heart rates thumping.
  4. Plenty of pats and cuddles.

When you weigh things up in the end, there does seem to be a balance of the good and the bad.

However, while I have managed to develop quite a list of all the good and thoughtful things the family does for me, I’m still not so sure about Lady.She is still only young and I certainly didn’t have this well-developed sense of morality when I was a pup. Yes, I admit I moved like a bullet train once that mighty lead snapped onto my collar. I also admitted earlier that right in the middle of Mum’s worst health dramas, I was fretting and chewed through all the computer cables under the house and was lucky to escape with my life. I could feel this little zap zap in my teeth. I could have been an instant hot dog.

Lady might only be an oversized pup but she definitely seems to be more decorative than useful. That said, not everybody was meant to be useful. Some can get by just by fluttering their puppy dog eyes. Indeed, from what my research has uncovered, being decorative definitely pays much better that philosophical research.

My kennel could certainly do with an upgrade so maybe it’s time for this dog to learn a new trick.

Until next time!

Loving thoughts and deeds,

Bilbo

PS Despite all my grouchy rantings today, I still agree with Cat Stevens:

“I am confident that, in the end, common sense and justice will prevail. I’m an optimist, brought up on the belief that if you wait to the end of the story, you get to see the good people live happily ever after.”

Cat Stevens