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In 1998, Rebecca Rubin – a 39-year-old Canadian citizen – was sentenced to five years in jail for her role in multiple instances of arson across the western United States, targeting alleged environmental offenders such as a horse ranch in California and a logging company in Oregon.

Her judge, Ann Aiken, also stipulated one unusual addendum to her sentence: she was mandated to read the books David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell and Nature’s Trust by Mary Wood. The former is about, to quote the book’s description on amazon.com: “how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity.” The latter, again to quote the amazon.com description, “exposes what is wrong with environmental law and offers transformational change based on the public trust doctrine.”

Why the added stipulation? The judge stated her hope for having her read these books was “steering Rubin toward legal, non-violent methods of advocating for the environment.” According to the sentencing memorandum, Rubin played a very minor role in the crimes. She was brought on by the primary perpetrators – a small group of environmental activists called The Family – after the planning phase and was only tasked with carrying supplies and maintaining lookout. Her attorney argued that her minor involvement and the fact that she willingly turned herself in after seven years living ‘underground’ should earn her some leniency. Apparently, Judge Ann Aiken agreed.

Rubin stated that she “lost everything” when she went underground, in a letter she wrote to the court. She had been a veterinarian assistant, helping animals like she’d always wanted to do. When she heard that The Family were being investigated, and the potential for life imprisonment was a very real likelihood, she gave up her family, friends, job and everything she’d ever known to go on the run.

After seven years, however, the loss of everything she held dear weighed too heavily on her. She stated, “I left behind my belongings, my family, my friends, a job and co-workers that I love, and all sense of safety and security,” she wrote. “My entire world fell away: I lost all external bearings and some internal ones.” So she went to the authorities and turned herself in.

According to a story on Denver Westword’s blog, “In sentencing Rubin to five years, the lowest penalty possible under federal law, Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said that she had shown remorse for her actions and had already suffered during her years on the lam.”

Fair? Or too lenient? What is your take on the outside the box thinking the judge employed in her sentencing of Rubin?

To read the original story and the sentencing memorandum on Denver Westword, click here.

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