Facing Up to Our Mistakes

Felicity Huffman (L) and Lori Loughlin (R). Courtesy of nytimes.com.

By Tanner Weigel, Editor-in-Chief and Staff Writer

Earlier this year, I wrote about the U.S. college admissions scandal that was unfolding at the time. Since then, many individuals were charged with crimes. But while some defendants have entered plea deals,  others continue to fight the charges against them. I have been most intrigued, however, by one of the more high-profile defendants—Felicity Huffman—and the contrast her experiences provides to that of other parents charged in the scandal.

For her role in hiring a proctor to fix answer on her daughter’s SAT, Huffman pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy, and was sentenced to 14 days in U.S. federal prison. It’s worth looking closely at one of her statements from the sentencing:

“I accept the court’s decision today without reservation. I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge Talwani imposed. I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.”

A judgment of whether Ms. Huffman was truly sincere, and whether the punishment was too lenient (though it probably was), is not the point. Instead, I simply submit that the sentiments expressed in that statement are exactly what I would expect from someone trying to truly face up to their mistakes: an unreserved and unequivocal admission of guilt.

As a result, Huffman will finish her prison sentence, and be able to rebuild her life, as other defendants still wade through their court proceedings.

Indeed, prosecutors have been warning for weeks that they would bring additional bribery charges against some defendants, causing four parents to change their pleas to “guilty” in order to avoid a higher potential sentence. Imagine that. Only the threat of additional punishment pushed these people to humble themselves and face up to their crimes. Still, others—including Lori Loughlin, of Full House fame—have not relented in their insistence of innocence, and now face those additional bribery charges.

NPR has reported that defendants who have rejected the new plea deals face up to 45 years in prison if found guilty on all counts.

I understand that Huffman’s case is not perfectly comparable to all of the other parents caught up in the scandal. Indeed, Huffman arguably committed one of the lesser crimes among all the defendants, and could plead guilty quickly knowing that the punishment would be tolerable. Even so, her statement at sentencing is illuminating. She gave no excuses, and she can now justifiably put this episode behind her. Ms. Loughlin, on the other hand, has a very uncertain future.

At the end of the day, I don’t think any of us really feel bad for these privileged rich folk who feel they are above the law. But I think we can nonetheless learn valuable lessons from this episode. When we make mistakes, no matter how grave, our lives will turn around and improve a lot faster if we but admit our faults, seek forgiveness and make reparations where possible. This doesn’t mean our actions won’t still have consequences. But maybe we can more quickly find the road to healing.

This shouldn’t be an option only for the rich and powerful. So let us continue to fight for the scores of individuals who, simply as a result of being poor or of a disadvantaged minority group, have received far worse sentences for crimes that are comparable or lesser to those we’ve seen in the college admissions scandal.

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