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Why is it most of us don't live a life of crime? Is it because we had the Ten Commandments drilled into our heads as children, so we fear having Charlton Heston show up at our door wearing a nightgown and a long fake beard and threatening to burn down all our bushes if we don't straighten up?
Or is it that our parents, teachers, nuns -- OK, anyone who came in contact with us during the formative years did such a good job of instilling guilt that we're afraid if we do something wrong it will eat away at us like it did to Christian Bale in "The Machinist," and even Jennifer Jason Leigh won't be able to stand being around us?
Both are good possibilities, but chances are the main reason is that we're weenies and we're afraid of the punishment. Which is, after all, the point of it.
I'm not a criminologist, nor do I play one in the bedroom as a rule, but I know that crime and punishment go well together, much like, well, like a good book title. As the saying goes, if you do the crime, you should serve the time. Unless you're Scooter Libby, of course. Even Paris Hilton made good on her probation violation by spending 22 days in jail. Granted, it was 23 fewer days than it could have been, but that's because they took time off for good behavior, overwrought and highly entertaining crying in court, and a promise to send four platinum mascara brushes to the warden's wife next Christmas.
Jail was, of course, the only way Paris could learn. After all, this is someone who, when told she had to pay her debt to society, whipped out Daddy's credit card. Her partner in TV crime, Nicole Richie, is also making restitution by spending four days and four glorious nights in an L.A. county jail incidentally, the same one her pal stayed in. Apparently Paris gave the Century Regional Detention Facility a four-bar rating at MyCellSpace.com.
But jail time and fines aren't the only ways to be punished. Shame works well too. More and more judges are slapping postmodern scarlet letters on people because, well, if it worked for Hester Prynne, why not for John Doe?
A judge in Attalla, Ala., has been making anyone caught shoplifting at the local Wal-Mart walk around town wearing a sandwich-board sign that says, "I am a thief; I stole from Wal-Mart." It's questionable which part of that sentence is the more embarrassing. Meanwhile in Massachusetts a man who threw a toga party was arrested for underage drinking, making too much noise and having a keg without a license. He was punished by having to wear his toga while standing in front of the police station for an hour, with extra time being tacked on if he even thought about doing a John Belushi imitation. Some teenagers in Ohio who defaced a nativity scene had to parade through town with a donkey. A man in Houston who stole guns from Clayton Moore, the man who played the Lone Ranger, had to shovel manure in the police stables. And now Thai police officers who are convicted of misdemeanors will have to wear Hello Kitty armbands. It's true!
The acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, Thailand, announced the other day that police officers who are convicted of crimes like littering, parking in a prohibited area and showing up late for work will not only be taken off the street and have to work in the station house, they'll have to wear hot-pink armbands emblazoned with an image of Hello Kitty sitting atop two hearts. Hey, it beats having to tell the world you shop at Wal-Mart. A second infraction will result in their having to wear a Strawberry Shortcake party dress, and if they don't learn their lesson and they're caught a third time, they'll have My Little Pony tattooed on their forehead. Just kidding. Actually, it will be Cassie from "Dragon Tales."
It seems there's nothing legally wrong with meting out shameful punishments. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution (motto: "If only we'd thought to call it the Vogue Dos and Don'ts, it would be more popular") forbids cruel and unusual punishment, apparently "and" being the operative word. A punishment can be unusual as long as it's not cruel. It helps if it in some way fits the crime. This doesn't mean we should take the idea of "an eye for an eye" literally, like in countries where they'll chop your hand off if you're caught stealing. I mean, God help you if they catch you masturbating. The key is appropriateness.
Appropriate punishments are a good thing. If someone steals your identity, you should get to use theirs for a year. Sure, you're probably not real keen on the idea of adopting a criminal's identity, but stop and think about it. Imagine the things you could do that you never would otherwise, safe in the knowledge that at the end of the year the rap sheet won't follow you around. If someone runs into your car, you should be able to play demolition derby with theirs. And if a thief breaks into your house and steals something, you should be able to go to their house and take whatever you want. Then there's that couple in Arkansas who just had their 17th child. They should be forced to walk around in public wearing photos of starving children in Darfur. OK, maybe that's a little harsh. After all, having to raise 17 kids is its own punishment.
The answer, of course, is not to commit a crime in the first place. Be good. Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. And if you have to shoplift, don't take a Hello Kitty armband from Wal-Mart, especially if you're a cop in Bangkok. S©2007 Barry H. Gottlieb. All rights reserved.
More Mad Dog can be found at www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corp.
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