As each panelist speaks, the room is intensely quiet. It takes a special kind of bravery to participate in such a panel. These are wounds that will never heal. Luster takes out a photo of her son, a handsome young man in a white tuxedo, and leans it against her bottle of Calistoga. Marcum says that most perpetrators of violent crimes don't think about what they do. If their victims' families talk to them face to face, "the impact is immediate." He also adds, "Don't look to the criminal justice system to solve these problems."
As panelists recount their lives, audience members nod often, or shake their heads at some point made. These attendees comprise the Bay Area's prime export -- sensitive, financially secure white-wine liberals. This is why they're here -- to get a quick hit of compassion, perhaps make a mental note about contributing some cash, high-tail it downstairs for the jazz concert, and then it's back on the boat for dessert. During an open Q&A segment, a man stands up and notes that since 1984, 22 prisons have been built in California, but only one institution of higher learning. One woman sitting in a lotus position, wearing a Russian hat, reminds everyone of an important recent conference convened by the Dalai Lama.
There are no clear-cut solutions discussed, because it isn't that easy. One thing is immediately apparent: Everyone is on the same side. We all want to stop crime. But one can't help but think this panel would be more effective if it were hosted in an actual working prison, where incarcerated criminals could witness first-hand the strife that violent crimes create. The most conflict seen the entire evening was a moment when Brenda Johnson wanted to say one more thing, but was cut off as the panel ended. As a heartless, jaded journalist, I guess I expected more for my free ticket.