I got up “late” this morning. (It was nearly 5:00 a.m.!) My early morning routine involves brewing a cup of coffee and attending a few trivial matters while my cup perketh over. Because I arose later than usual I flipped the television on to local news and watched the weather report and then the latest “Bad Things That Happened In Our Area” update. (This is my name for the segment, not its official title.) The news item that caught my ear was about the status of a young man convicted of raping and killing his three year old niece back in 2009. He had been given a sentence of life imprisonment for his atrocities but as The United States Supreme Court has ruled that life sentences for juveniles is unconstitutional he had to be resentenced. He now faces a prison sentence of 25 years for one conviction and five for another, which for this young man equals nearly twice the time span that had passed when he destroyed so many lives.
I am not soft on crime, nor do I believe in locking people up and throwing away the key. The USA’s penal system warehouses offenders and tends to mold people into worse versions of themselves than they were before they were incarcerated but this was not my focus for listening to the segment. My focus was on the crimes I have committed.
I will not enumerate the bad things that I have done but I will tell you that I have engaged in criminal activity that would rightly have landed me in prison, though all such offenses have long passed our statute of limitations on criminal charges as none were capital offenses. I didn’t get caught, I’ve moved on and I’ve learned to be a better person.
Or have I? Maybe all I’ve really done is get old and settled. Maybe the biological and societal imperatives that drove me to consider my needs, wants and desires to be more important, crucial and urgent than the rights of those whom I sinned against are simply less urgent or already met.
Our cognitive abilities do not fully mature until we are 25 years of age. Other than some petty pilfering (That’s polite speak for STEALING) all of my misdeeds occurred when I was a teenager. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand that what I was doing was wrong, it was simply that my desires overrode the cultural mores I had been taught and I saw myself as human and those that I offended against as objects. I did have limited empathy for others but my mind rationalized that my needs were all important and I acted to satisfy those desires. Self control is not a strong suit for many young men.
One of the questions I ask myself is what do I want and what am I willing to do to get it? My libido is no longer the overwhelmingly powerful driving engine that it once was, I have a comfortable life and I have a heartfelt conviction that everyone should be treated with compassion. But what about people who don’t? Those whose wants are screaming to be satisfied and who’s brains haven’t developed enough to give them enough control to find socially acceptable outlets for their desires?
We are animals. We have needs and wants that demand to be satisfied. Taking from others, abusing another in any way cannot be tolerated but what drives so many to commit crimes? I think we need to examine right and wrong not from a God given imperative but from a perspective where we acknowledge our wants and strive for acceptable alternatives to the criminal behavior that satisfies these needs. Learning to understand that wanting something isn’t bad but that harming someone is is a good place to start, because if we can’t even acknowledge our desires because they are socially unacceptable then all that desire, energy and self loathing is going to go somewhere and it’s unlikely to go somewhere positive.
We need to stop telling people what they should be and start addressing what we are. Because we can’t allow criminals to rape, kill or steal, but if we lock up everybody that’s committed a crime the streets will be pretty empty. I don’t believe that, “To know all is to forgive all,” but I do know that we have to find a way to help kids get what they need so atrocities like the one on my local news this morning become extinct.