Officer Alex has first-hand experience of a cycle of cruel failure
So the company I work for has taken a new slant on its approach to crime by literally approaching crime. OK, criminals.
Whatever the cause of the encounter, they are read a message and given options on a front porch or a roadside rather than dealing with them and offering them such after the fact (and usually when blood has already been spilled). I’m not giving a class on the method, so please forgive its oversimplification, but the message we’re delivering isn’t the topic here.
Still, though—seems like a novel approach, right? Well, that’s because it is. Rather than work on damage control and/or hunting after the fact, we’re trying to get ahead of it. Its success is questioned by outsiders, primarily because it’s only been on the books about eight months, and we can’t compare numbers to previous years just yet, but when we do, we’ll see.
Back to the porch.
I had a long talk with a man named…let’s call him Devon. The message I read was ultimately about accountability and responsibility, and as it happens, he was all for it. In fact, he had a job lined up at a local McDonald’s and things were going to be different. Or at least as different as $7.25 an hour can make things.
“I appreciate what you’re telling me here, I really do, but let me ask you this,” he said with an air of defeat. “I’m a 34-year-old man. Yeah, I done some foolish things when I was young…hell, I’m lucky to be alive, but I paid my debt and here I am. But what am I supposed to do now? I’m a felon,” he said with finality. “What do I got to look forward to? Bein’ a fry cook? That’s it? Man, I got kids. How am I supposed to go legit for minimum wage the rest of my life and take care of my family?”
He had a point.
Whatever we could offer, whatever path out of the darkness and into the mind-numbing banality of corporate Middle America we could provide, he was limited right from the start. He would begin and end whatever career could be offered at minimum wage. Some “way out.”
I am aware of the existence of expungements, but like seeing how a hot dog is made, I’ve also seen the process (and expense) people have to go to in order to achieve this. (I mentioned “expense,” too, right?) If they had the couple thousand it realistically takes to have it struck from the records, they possibly wouldn’t be having a hard time in the first place.
I am also not advocating an increase in the federally mandated minimum wage. It exists for a reason and was not intended to be a “what you want” wage, but rather a “what you need” wage. Incentivizing mediocrity and discouraging bettering oneself skill-wise would actually make things worse in my opinion, so that’s out, too.
No, I truly believe that convicted felons need to have some kind of option, some kind of path they can take, to in some small way redeem themselves, because now I believe we’re just keeping them in a debtor’s prison without walls or bars.
Yes, there have to be consequences to their actions. Yes, punishment like this is part of why crimes are on the books at all; being a convicted felon is a “this is what will happen” for incentive to avoid committing felony crimes in the first place. But the more I see this vicious circle felons are placed in close-up, I believe they’re being set up to fail, and then being punished for that failure all over again. I think we can do better.
No amnesty, no “get out of consequences free” cards being offered here, but I think we as a society need to have a sit down and finally have a discussion about this.
Make prison horrible again; make it “punishment” instead of a Motel 6 to truly de-incentivize crimes (and advocate for victims). But if you’re going to release them back into the wild, for Pete’s sake, folks, let’s not be cruel about it. One, two, three years maybe, then let them aspire to be something more as we demand them to be while being punished. Am I alone here? If so, then let’s just keep them inside the jails (and build more of them)—we’re better at that than any other country in the world. Or? Let’s talk about it.
What we have isn’t working too well. We have too much talent to not try a different route.
When officer Alexander D. Teach is not patrolling our fair city on the heels of the criminal element, he spends his spare time volunteering for the Boehm Birth Defects Center.