This column is about redemption and its promise, about what happens when that promise is squandered and how we react.
Specifically, it’s about Zyion Houston-Sconiers — one of the boys, now men, behind the infamous 2012 Hilltop Halloween robberies.
Last week, he was arrested again, just five months after being released from prison and shortly removed from telling me about how he wanted to make positive gains in his life and maybe influence kids to avoid the mistakes he’s made.
There are those who will point to Houston-Sconier’s latest run-in with the law as a predictable, cautionary tale — arguing that his second chance was not deserved.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
In fact, I’d suggest it’s the exact opposite.
At its core, believing in redemption — and striving for an equitable legal system that does the same — is an act of faith, biblical or otherwise. It’s stories like these — where the inherent fallibility of human beings is laid bare — that makes believing in the power of redemption so critical.
As The News Tribune’s Stacia Glenn reported, Houston-Sconiers was apprehended Tuesday, Nov. 27, after “a Tacoma police gang unit working a street crime emphasis stopped the car he was riding in, and officers found a gun and drugs in a backpack near him.”
The presumption of innocence exists for good reason, and Houston-Sconiers, like all defendants, deserves his.
Still, when word of the arrest reached my desk, my immediate emotions were disappointment and sadness.
Disappointment because Houston-Sconiers apparently put himself in such a situation, and his name again was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Sadness because all the positive things Houston-Sconiers told me he wanted to do have likely been derailed.
A third feeling soon hit, and it’s the one that felt most acute. I was gutted, because I knew what the reaction would be.
I knew the comments and emails would come from the trolls crowing, “I told you so.” I knew Houston-Sconiers’ new legal trouble would only calcify the stereotypes and hate and embolden those itching to brand him an irredeemable “thug.”
It didn’t take a psychic to foresee these things, but that didn’t make it any easier to stomach when they quickly came to pass.
Casting stones, after all, is a human pastime that dates back to the Stone Age.
So it goes.
But what does a story like Houston-Sconiers’ really tell us? Where do we go from here, and who do we want to be?
If we don’t believe in redemption — even when it’s hard — what do we believe in?
Truth is, I don’t know Houston-Sconiers well. We chatted briefly over the course of a few hours back in October. He told me about all the things he wanted to do with his life, and I listened.
He talked about his childhood, bouncing around foster homes and the street, and how he looked forward to sharing his story in hopes of helping kids like him. Later, I wrote that while I didn’t know what his future held and couldn’t guarantee he’d never make another mistake, he’d paid the price for his crime and deserved “the opportunity to write the next chapter of his life.”
They were words rooted in the promise of redemption, and I still believe in them. Despite recent events, I hope at least a few people reading this feel the same
Why? Because when we lose sight of that, we risk losing our shared humanity altogether.
What else do I know?
Clearly there’s a discussion to be had here about criminal recidivism and the factors that play into it. There’s a reckoning to be had with what we’re doing — and, more importantly, what we’re not doing — to prevent it.
Are support systems in place when people exit prison? Are individuals given the tools they need to succeed?
Is our criminal justice system interested in rehabilitation or simply punishment?
As a society, are we actively pursuing redemption or just hoping it happens and then piling on when it doesn’t?
There’s ample evidence to suggest it’s often the latter.
That’s not an excuse for Houston-Sconiers or anyone else.
It’s just the truth.