Concept of the Month -- September 2012

The Criminal's Apparent Envy of the Responsible Person

Criminals look with contempt at the lives of responsible people, calling them "suckers," "slaves," "squares," and other, less flattering terms. They perceive a responsible life as dull, devoid of excitement which is the oxygen of their lives. This attitude is evident quite early. One thirteen year old boy told me, "To go to school, to play sports, to be where I'm supposed to be -- that's like being a dog on a leash." He despised his more conforming brother and called him a "puny-eyed book worm."

Although this contempt is evident in both juvenile and adult offenders, I have encountered in the latter an envy of responsible people. They do not volunteer this readily, but it is an attitude that is present at times. Interviewing men and women in jail, I have heard them vow, "When I get out of this place, I'm going to settle down, get a good job, find a partner, and have a nice car and home." They envy what people who have worked hard have. However, when I probe what they mean, I discover that they desire to have the trappings of responsibility but without having to be responsible to acquire them. It is really the fine home, the Lexus, the jewelry, the big shot position at work, and the adoring partner that they want. But they are short distance sprinters, not long distance runners.

These offenders vow to follow a "straight and narrow" path to acquire what they want. And they do so for a while. They work hard, attend school, and stay out of crime. But eventually, like St. Augustine's "I want to be pure, God, but not yet," their determination fades. And there emerges the long-standing competing desire for excitement by doing what is forbidden. Back to crime they go!

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