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Our View...All of us face our own life sentences

There are few things in the judicial system more heart-wrenching than seeing lives changed — and lives ended — virtually overnight.

This week, one such drama played itself out in Carlton County Court. A young Cloquet woman, Vanessa Brigan, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for driving while under the influence of a particularly insidious drug known as methadone and causing an accident that took the lives of two promising young men.

Many would say justice was done, and it was — to the very letter of the law. But judging from the victims’ impact statements, the statement made by Brigan herself, and the comments made by the presiding judge, justice is not nearly as finite as a sentence behind bars.

There were so many lives changed by this incident — not the least of them, the life of Vanessa Brigan herself, as well as her children, her family and those who cared about her. For the poor decisions she’s made, she is paying a steep price. She will lose her personal freedoms, and she will be plunged into a culture that few of us will ever have to endure. Whether she comes out of it a changed woman remains to be seen. Time in prison can make a person jaded, resentful and hardened, or it can inspire that person to change their ways and aim in a new direction when he or she gets out. Vanessa Brigan has a lot of years left ahead of her. Let’s hope she has it in her to make the most of them.

For the families and loved ones of the two young men who were killed in that deadly accident, there will be no justice. Their sons, brothers, father, and sweethearts will not be coming back. Their lives will never be the same as they once knew them, and their futures will ever be filled with thoughts of “What if?” That’s about as cruel a life sentence as anyone will ever be forced to face. And yet at least one of them voiced public forgiveness for Brigan as a means to begin a healing process that is sure to last a lifetime.

But just as Brigan herself, those folks can either come out of this unimaginably difficult experience feeling jaded, resentful and hardened, or they can embrace the life they’ve been given and determine to make the most of it. It’s the message that comes with the season, one filled with both pain and promise. Let us support them on their journey — and recommit ourselves to our own.

Wendy Johnson