Concept of the Month -- March 2009

The Criminal Who Wants To Change -- Where's the Excitement?

I was asked at a workshop which I gave just the other day what excitement in responsible living can possibly replace the excitement that is the oxygen of the criminal's life. First, there is nothing wrong with ":excitement." Most people want to do more than go work, pay the bills, and get their car repaired. However, from the criminal's point of view, excitement comes from doing whatever is forbidden or from building himself up as more clever, more capable, stronger than anyone else. He seeks excitement at the expense of others. As one man remarked, "If rape were legalized today, I wouldn't rape. But I would do something else." By that, he meant something equally forbidden.

It has been suggested that if you give teenage delinquents opportunities to have "legitimate" excitement, this would be a helpful way to assist them in reforming. Unfortunately, this is not true. Give a delinquent kid a chance to sky dive or rock climb, and you'll have a delinquent who now knows how to sky dive and rock climb. His overall mentality, his view of himself and the world has not changed one iota. He will sky dive but still seek excitement in his customary manner, whatever that may be -- illegal drugs, stealing, intimidation, etc.

The criminal has three options: crime and its well-known consequences to him and to others, including those who care about him and about whom he claims to care. A second option is to change to a way of life he has at times wanted but, essentially, rejected -- to live responsibly. The third option is not to live at all. If he chooses to change, there are no guarantees of success (as he might define it), of fame, or of huge monetary compensation. So where is the excitement?

One felon asked me, "What do you have that compares with cocaine?" And by that he was referring not just to the drug but to the entire way of life that goes with seeking drugs, using drugs, and associating with other users. Asked that question in that manner, I replied, "Nothing." I could not truthfully say that by living responsibly, he will experience the high voltage that is inherent (from his point of view) in the criminal lifestyle.

So, where is the excitement? There is an assumption that a person must have excitement. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" do not necessarily involve excitement. Responsible people involve themselves in activities and experiences that they find gratifying, enriching, stimulating, and enjoyable. But this is not the same as what the criminal seeks and insists upon in his view of himself as the hub of the wheel around which everything revolves, the person to whom any means to an end is acceptable, and being the person he wants to be comes at a vast cost to others, to innocent people. My answer then is that, if the criminal works toward building a responsible life, he will progress as far as his energy, talent, and hard work will take him. He will not have to look over his shoulder for others who will hold him accountable. And there will be self-respect built on achievement but not the empty self-esteem built on pretensions and arrogance. Others will begin to trust him, and he may experience a sense of "cleanliness" that is brand new. Excitement, as he has known it, will be a thing of the past!

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