Mindful Mimi's blog has moved!

You will be automatically redirected to the new address. If that does not occur, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Poverty is the mother of crime - Marcus Aurelius

>> 8 October 2007

US man faces potential 30-year prison sentence for stealing a doughnut.

Picture this: a guy tries to steal a doughnut - probably because he is poor and hungry and just wants to eat. On his way out the shopkeeper tries to hold him back and maybe he pushes her a bit trying to get past her.
Turns out that the push is now being treated as minor assault, which transforms a misdemeanor shoplifting charge into a strong-armed robbery with a potential prison term of five to 15 years. Given the hungry guy's past criminal record, prosecutors could boost that sentence to 30 years to life.
30 years of imprisonment for stealing a doughnut? Because of the principle that 'a crime is a crime', 'everyt crime should be treated equally' and 'it's not the doughnut, it's the assault'?
So the guy has a past: he has been arrested more than a dozen times for crimes ranging from shoplifting to drug possession to torching a car for insurance fraud. He has done time in prison for these crimes. Not 30 years but the allocated time for crimes such as these.
Has anyone ever asked him why he keeps committing 'minor' crimes? I assume he is not rich, probably has a drug habit. He is trying to get by with the little he has and seems to be caught up in a vicious circle.
Don't get me wrong, I do not tolerate nor agree with his crimes. I am just saying that a stolen doughnut is not enough crime to deserve 30 years of imprisonment. And even if he did go to jail for 30 years. What happens when he comes out? He still has no money, his addiction has probably worsened (don't tell me they don't do drugs in jail) and where will he go from there? Probably to another store to steal something to eat.
It is clear that in order to eradicate crime, we need to address the root causes. These include, but are not limited to, greed, inadequate corporate oversight, poverty, lack of education, homelessness, drug addiction, racial hatred, and lax gun laws.
I agree with you that some of these causes are harder to eliminate than others. But without helping (or trying to help) criminals to get back on the right track before they get out again, they are doomed to just get straight back into the same downwards spiral.
In Pollsmoor, a harsh prison in Capetown (South Africa) of which Nelson Mandela was the most famous inmate, is filled with the most dangerous criminals and known for it's gangsterism. It is in this prison that an astonishing experiment took place, led by Joanna Thomas (from Cape Town's Centre for Conflict Resolution), to find out whether these criminals can change. The goal of these workshops is to transform the prison from a militaristic culture to a culture of learning, growth and development, where human rights are respected and people are treated with dignity and respect in order to achieve a reduction in the rate of crime and recidivism.
The goal is to come to a certain 'awakening' where one becomes conscious of things that seemed invisible before.
A prison is like a pressure cooker where everyone keeps everything (thoughts and emotions) to himself. And even if couples, gangs or fraternities are formed, everyone lives for himself, the indiviual must be very strong, contain everything and provide for everything. When you sit down in a circle with these inmates, talk to them and show them sincere interest you will very quickly get a catharsis effect.
Let them listen to some Verdi as sung by Pavarotti and something happens - an inmate maybe suddenly understands what the word empathy means. It might sound kitsch, but these men have very kitsch emotional reactions. They pass from toughness to tears without transition or intermediate state. Things are white or black, they are there or not. In most of the cases, this emotional infantilism comes from a blocked affectiveness development during childhood provoked by a mistreatment, often sexual, often at a very young age.
A big part of Joanna's work consisted in creating bridges between the white and the black, the good and the evil, the wound and the causes. She does not control the catharsis that this 'awakening' brings but she knows that she provokes it and knows the techniques that lead there.
The impact, if spectacular, is not always comprehensible. For us, letting ourselves fall down into the arms of colleagues is already difficult, even if it animates team motivation seminars. How to measure the emotional shock by the same exercise of this visibly troubled inmate who, for the first time in his life, has had a physical contact other than violent or forced? And throwing balls in a group obliges to have eye contact for something completely different than defiance, aggression or submission exchanged usually.
The instantaneous and impressive physical aspect of the process can be explained by the fact that if they were abused and beaten as children (something which the mind cannot comprehend without therapy), it is with the body that they attempt to make sense of things; the body becoming their thinking organ.
When I saw this documentary, I was impressed with the results. You saw these die hards talking about the people and inmates they have abused and killed and once they went to the workshop they were crying because their father had never loved them.
And that is what I mean by attacking the root causes...
So instead of incarcerating the doughnut thief for 30 years and sending him to a prison where his behaviour will only get worse, one should set him down and talk to him as one would to a child who stole a doughnut and ask him why he did it and take it from there. Life would be a better place if we treated everyone like that.
Press article on doughnut thief
Killers don't cry article in French


La delirante 12 October 2007 at 13:14  

Great post. Very interesting. As usual, it is impossible to draw lines and go to the extremes...the world is really an unfair place to live in...

Have a lovely weekend,

Post a Comment

Blog template by simplyfabulousbloggertemplates.com

Back to TOP