With each passing day, admitted gangster and multi-millionaire commercial real estate developer Rob Mericle gets closer and closer to prison.
Not the one he built, mind you, but one where, starting next month, he will serve his 12-month sentence for his part in the “Kids for Cash” slave trade that sold children into lives of terror and indentured servitude.
Without prison builder Mericle, no “Kids for Cash” horror would have emerged from the Luzerne County halls of injustice.
No Mericle, no money.
Now, he will join his one-time friends, former president judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, in a dangerous environment that will likely house the former jurists for the rest of their lives and Mericle for one long and very difficult year.
Mericle will not like prison. Fear should be his guide. But a year is not terribly long to spend in a minimum-security facility. Still, he’s going to jail despite the many letters of support that supposedly model citizens sent to the judge on his behalf. And he has to pay a cash fine that most of us would have great difficulty putting together.
One last requirement of his sentence must also be addressed – his court-ordered community service.
That’s why we should come together as a tribe of truth-seekers and try to influence U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik in a way that Mericle and his gang never imagined. We good, law-abiding citizens must try to persuade the judge to let us determine the community service that the judge ordered as part of Mericle’s punishment.
And I’ve got just the place.
We must make sure that Mericle is not allowed to slide into a nice volunteer job at one of the many businesses and human service agencies owned and operated by the same people who tried to influence the judge to go easy, people Mericle had long ago purchased with his “kindness,” money and power. Like deluded cult members everywhere, they are indebted to their benefactor to such a degree that any community service in the comfort of their arms is unacceptable.
Mericle’s supporters will howl and tell us how unfair that decision would be, that his caring compassion would be well-received by the poor people he would encounter at the soup kitchen, food bank or YMCA.
But regular people who paid for the federal investigation and will pay for the cost of Mericle’s room and board for the next year deserve some say in this matter.
You wrote your letters to Kosik.
Now we’ll write ours.
Besides, the good judge might not have thought of the perfect place for this man who turned his back on at-risk children while lining his pockets at their expense.
Pa Child Care, the very prison Mericle built in Pittston Township is still being used to house local juveniles sentenced by the court. Brothers, sisters and cousins of kids Mericle helped sell for cash might even be serving time while waiting to be helped and even saved by people who really care about their problems and their futures.
If Mericle is to be rehabilitated – and I doubt that he even believes he needs rehabilitation - this cold institutional structure is the place where true redemption might await. Daily interaction with children unlike those he meets at summer pool parties with his snob friends might unleash a feeling of true guilt that he must confront if he ever hopes to grow character.
Mericle mumbled to the judge on sentencing day that he took full responsibility for his behavior.
But I’ve never heard him call it a crime. Those closest to him, his sister, particularly, still refuse to characterize his behavior as a crime. Sis called brother Rob’s evil ways a “moment.”
Mericle needs a real moment, a time to come face to face with sad, hurt and vulnerable children like those he helped sell on the open market, children without power and political connections, without parents who benefit from who they know the way Mericle’s friends benefit.
Send our special convict to Pa Child Care clean toilets with a brush, a bucket and a mop. Make some of the senior resident children in the facility his bosses. Make it clear to Mericle that he is obligated to follow their orders. Explain to Mericle that he is not there to teach these children anything but that they can teach him much, invaluable lessons about reformation. Make him attend group meetings. Sit him at the center of a juvenile resident circle and answer questions.
You want community service? That’s as good as it gets. Actually it’s better.
Mericle might come home a better man.
If not, we are doomed to suffer the continuing crisis of character that created people who conspired to put a price tag on decency and sold it to the lowest of the lowest bidder.
No community deserves such degradation.
After all we’ve been through, especially not Northeastern Pennsylvania.