From Georgia Vela
To The Editor,
In the weeks that we have followed the Chronicle’s coverage of the hearings of Jahna Jo Watson, we have been troubled by the image of Littleton that emerged in the hearings and reporting. Folks in Littleton point out that most citizens of Littleton are law abiding and hard working.
Leaving aside the harsh penalties exacted against this young disabled woman, we wonder why her poor choices have prompted Judge Hummel to issue a “message to all of Littleton.”
Driving south on Route 250, one will pass many modest, neatly kept homes of working class people who jobs involve serving others. They are cooks, merchants, caregivers, utility, and construction workers. The retired population consists of others who represent many professions-railroad workers, military men, steelworkers, farmers, truck drivers, and social workers.
Those in Littleton who collect disability benefits had to qualify for them. They bring Federal dollars into the local economy and struggle to survive on the minimal income.
Does Littleton have outlaws and malcontents? Assuredly it does, but the percentage is probably consistent with other post-industrial towns in Wetzel County and West Virginia.
Littletonians cope with the social and financial pressures of the shrinking town in a variety of ways, both formal and informal. Local churches and people of faith offer counseling, a food bank and clothing giveaways to help meet people’s material and emotional needs. Littletonians help out directly when the opportunity presents itself. This compassionate approach to problem solving seems more fruitful than the unduly punitive sentencing of a young mother to spend years in an already overcrowded prison, taking her way from her children and costing the state a bundle. Her income will no longer circulate in the local economy.
Making an example of a person with cognitive impairments may seem like a good idea, just as stereotyping Littleton as a hotbed of welfare cheats and petty criminals might. The question is, How does this help?
We ask that Prosecutor Haught and Judge Hummel educate themselves about disability, poverty, and behavior modification principles before taking the whole of Littleton to task.
Could the reporters for the Chronicle think before making a mountain out of a molehill? Do the bad judgments of this disabled young woman really warrant the sensationalized coverage on the front page seen in the past few weeks?