According to reports in this paper, Michael J. Ginsburg was sentenced last Friday to up to five years in prison for selling drugs, and in particular, selling them to Lauren Pacenta, who died in November 2005 as a result of ingesting those drugs. After reading the article several things struck me as unfair, especially Ginsburg’s sentence.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Ginsburg deserves prison time, it’s just that five years seems too short a time to be put away for dealing drugs that kill people. A drunk driver that causes an accidental death gets more time in most states. What message does the legal community send when the maximum sentence for a drug-related death is so inadequate?
Then I was almost shocked by the letter Ginsburg’s parents had written to Judge Harold F. Woelfel Jr., ostensibly for the purpose of reducing any prison time, commenting that “warehousing addicts didn’t help society.” But I recalled earlier this year, when Ginsburg returned to the area, the people at his rehab facility expressed similar sentiments.
It was this past August when we received an almost sugar-coated story about the efforts of a Mid-western rehab facility. The brief from the Narconon Arrowhead treatment center extolled the virtues and talents of one Michael J. Ginsburg, who had once again taken up performing and teaching violin in and around Canadian, Okla.
When I called to speak to someone at Narconon, they were immediately suspicious as to my intentions. Well, I guess I would be too, since it was hard to keep the disgust out of my voice when I asked if the publicist who wrote the brief had any idea of what Ginsburg had done. There wasn’t too much they would tell me, other than what their brief said about the success of Ginsburg’s rehab. Although I asked to speak to him and left my phone number, I never received a return call from Ginsburg.
Back to the sentencing, I was very glad to hear that Judge Woelfel didn’t buy the load of fertilizer that either Ginsburg’s family or the wonderful folks at Narconon were selling. Woelfel said that Ginsburg’s efforts at rehab were commendable, but he would not let that dissuade him from meting out the required punishment. You go Woelfel! Too bad the law isn’t always just, or Ginsburg might have had more than enough time in prison to write an entire opera.
The whole situation with drugs is disheartening, especially for those of us who are parents. Despite what may be a good upbringing, even an upper-class lifestyle such as Michael Ginsburg probably enjoyed, drugs are sold and subsequently bought by kids and adults who are ultimately destroyed by them. What’s so unfair is that Ginsburg has the chance to rehabilitate himself, Lauren Pacenta does not.
In a just world, Ginsburg would spend the rest of his life in a continual effort at making up for the loss he caused in the Pacenta family. Also in a just world, anyone who knew Lauren, especially the friend with her that fateful night before Thanksgiving in 2005, would make it their business to tell everyone they know about Lauren and the result of her choice to do drugs.
No life or death should be without meaning. Lauren Pacenta’s short life stimulated a community to take an active role into the causes and results of teenage drug use and abuse. But it will take the continued effort of everyone that knew her, to make sure that no one else in this community suffers her fate.
As to Ginsburg’s future, and those who commit similar crimes, I hope the efforts of State Rep. Russ Fairchild to change the law to impose stiffer penalties than Ginsburg received meet with success. When I was a kid, we played baseball in the streets and had a rule — two fouls (foul balls) and you’re out. Lawmakers in Harrisburg could learn from that.
When it comes to a person’s death, three strikes is two too many for the guilty party.
MIKE TISCHIO: 570-742-9671