Do you believe that everyone has a criminal mind? Some religions postulate that we are born sinners, or at least that we are born with the capacity to sin, err and rebel. People tend to have very strong feelings about criminal behavior. Some are convinced (and try to convince others) that we need to be tougher on crime. Others are equally passionate and convinced that the system is so racist and stacked, that we cannot even presume that people in jail have even done anything wrong. Most of us have a basic slant toward identifying more as a potential perpetrator or more as a potential crime victim. This tends to vary based on the crime as well. Some of us can imagine committing a certain crime, but some others.
I personally know a few people who have a knee-jerk “hang ’em high, ask questions later” attitude. They believe that the world will be safer if “we” are harder on crime. They wonder how I can stand to hang out with “those losers” and help them. I used to have longer discussions on these matters, but their opinions turn out to be so visceral that they are not amenable to reason. So now I stick to the point that the only way someone can be kept incarcerated, if indeed they have committed a crime, is when they get due process. If they don’t, they have to be released, so we as a society need to follow all our own rules, to keep “bad people” locked up. This comforts some. Yet it is almost physically and certainly emotionally painful to them to think about anyone “getting away with it”.
For those who have indisputable facts to bolster their arguments that the US is infamous for incarcerating its populace, more than any other country on earth, and disproportionately incarcerates the poor and minorities, I agree. That appears to be statistical fact. But when their solution is to open the prison doors for everyone inside, and start all over from scratch, I see once again how the strength of the emotion leads to blanket solutions, based on who we identify with within this complex system of crime, punishment, rehabilitation and vindication.
What about you? Are there crimes you can see yourself committing? Crimes you know you could never commit, but may become the victim of? Criminal acts that break your heart and make you long for a better world, where such things would be unthinkable? Crimes that make you feel so protective of the victims, that you would be willing to err on the side of having some innocent people in jail, if it meant less victims overall? Do you worry about being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit? Or are there some crimes, on the other hand, that you think should be legalized, because you believe they are victimless (i.e. you might want to do them with impunity)? These are not easy questions to consider, and not a very comfortable topic for conversation.
Certainly this topic of what crimes you could see yourself committing and whether you identify more with the victim or the perpetrator is not something interpreters sit around chatting about. But I know someone who knows someone, who once heard a lover say something in court, and thought, “Hey, I can identify with that guy. I might actually do that, under certain circumstances. Yes, it is atavistic. Of course it is wrong, but somehow I can see how that could happen. I can imagine how deliciously satisfying it would be to do.”
I have a theory that as soon as you talk about how “that could happen” you are entering into the dark labyrinth of your criminal mind, where “things happen” but no one does them. The criminal is just as surprised as everyone else that “it happened”. You take a step back from your own agency, and you are no longer in control of your actions. Then again, maybe this immaculate control that some of us take pride in is just a facade. A facade that is destined to shatter if and when we hit those circumstances that break our resolve to live according to our preconceived notions about morality.
This friend of a friend, who shall remain safely blanketed and insulated within several layers of anonymity, was interpreting on a protection order calendar. And the judge was scolding the responding party quite heavily. She was telling him that he was very lucky that he hadn’t been charged with a crime. What he had done amounts to assault, she told him. That is a crime that can carry up to a year in jail and a $5000 fine! He is lucky that the woman he bit has chosen not to pursue that aspect of it, and instead simply asks the court to order that he not be allowed to have any contact with her.
Part of the protected party’s statement was read into the record during the hearing. It turns out these two were secret lovers, and the man believed the woman was about to leave her husband and move in with her. But at the last moment, she panicked, and told him she just cannot leave. She realized she loves her husband. She chooses her husband over him. But she is willing to go to their hourly no-tell motel for a last quickie, if he so desires, and say goodbye that way.
Oh, god. That is not what he wants at all. He wants to throw himself at her feet and beg her, beg her, shake her and convince her, through the strength of his overwhelming feelings, that no one else could possibly love her the way he does. She is making a huge mistake. She is throwing both their lives away. But she is pretty cold about it. She wants what she wants. And that seems to be to have her cake, and eat it, too. She is never going to tell her husband. She is just going to break up with him and get away with it. It was just “something that happened” and she doesn’t want any consequences. So does he want to enjoy one last dance at the hotel or not?
He is devastated, but he cannot seem to say no. They go, and at the height of their lovemaking, he spontaneously – if it is possible to do something spontaneously with a smidgeon of malice aforethought – nips at her back. It doesn’t draw blood and it will not leave a scar. But he hopes it will leave a teeth mark bruise on her shoulder – a place where she could not have bitten herself. And he feels an unholy glee at the idea of this message from him to the cuckolded husband. Yes, it is ridiculous. Yes, it is like peeing on a fire hydrant, and twenty kinds of wrong. Yet a subtle wave of approval seemed to tremble on the air of the courtroom. As if many of us could imagine wanting to “out” someone who has betrayed us.
This is probably why the judge took an extra bit of time to warn the person who was going to be subject to the protection order – and the rest of the audience, that this behavior is not acceptable. Of course you cannot go around biting people to prove a point. We are no longer toddlers, after all. Even those of us who are self-aware enough to admit, yes, I could see myself doing that, do not really expect to carry out this luscious revenge in the real world. The vast majority of us let these fleeting, satisfying thoughts play in the recesses of our daydreaming mind, and then set them aside and rejoin the law-abiding flock of our co-citizens, who on the whole have agreed to uphold the same social contracts as we do.
So once again, how is your criminal mind doing? Do you identify more as perpetrator or victim? Which crimes can you imagine committing, under what circumstances? Would it matter if you knew you would not be caught? Do you worry more about someone getting away with a crime with impunity, or someone being punished for a crime they didn’t commit? Food for thought, although you can take it or leave it. For some of us, such issues make up our daily bread. And we are forced to chew on it.