It’s about fear …
My mother was into object lessons. About 60 years ago she taught me a good one. So good that I still remember it after all these years.I grew up in Rockwell City, Iowa. It was a very small town in northwest Iowa. In the 1940s, right after the war, it was probably one of the safest towns on the planet. There was always a sheriff but no police department until the 1950s, just about the time they needed protection against young teenagers like me.You have all heard the story before. The town was so safe that parents could let their kids go out to play unsupervised in the early morning. They would return when the town whistle blew at 12:00 noon. After lunch the kids would disappear again until the whistle blew again around 5:00 in the afternoon.No Amber Alerts. No kidnappings. No sexual predators. Just growing up in Iowa after the war.We had a town park about two blocks from my house, and there was a pond, a grandstand, playground equipment, and the Scout cabin.
The Scout cabin just about proved to be my downfall. It was a true log cabin built at the edge of the park. It smelled like mold and rotting vegetation. Not somewhere you would want to be for very long. The Scouts had used it for meetings, I guess, although when I was a Boy Scout we never met there.One summer I went to the cabin and found a Boy Scout neckerchief hanging from a peg on the wall. Of course it fascinated me, and I decided to take it home.Being a future police officer and state representative, I immediately showed what I had found to my mother. Of course she asked me where I found it, and when I told her she immediately took me by the hand and escorted me back to the cabin so I could put it back on the peg in the cabin.She explained to me that it belonged to someone, and I should not have taken it. It was wrong, and it was stealing.My heart went into my throat, and I started crying. First of all, it was upsetting to me that I had done something wrong, and secondly it was upsetting that my mother had to find out about my criminal behavior.
At that stage of my life I had an immediate understanding of right and wrong. That understanding has never left me.This became obvious again this past session at the state legislature when some criminal law legislation was being discussed.Some legislators believe that laws by themselves change behavior. That if you pass a law the entire society will immediately change its behavior. Some people would call it social engineering. I call it stupidity.People will do the right thing or the wrong thing based on their consciences and not because of a law. The law simply defines the crime and the punishment. It was never meant to prevent crime. Crime is prevented by the parent who will take the time and energy to take her young son back to the cabin to hang up the stolen neckerchief. It is a learned behavior and is not brought about by the passage of new laws.
The role of law enforcement, prosecutors, and the courts is to assist in this learning process. It is their role to make sure that violators are sought out, arrested, prosecuted, and punished. That too is a learning process that most of us never experience because we had caring parents, and we learned the difference between right and wrong at an early age.I have spent a good portion of my life with criminals. Criminals on the streets, in the jails, and in prisons all over the United States. To a person, none of them even considered the punishment when they committed the crime. To a person, they all thought that they would get away with it, up to and including murder.It is about fear. It is the fear that somehow, even though they have passed on, my parents will somehow find out that I had done something wrong.State Rep. Gary Lindstrom of Lakeview Meadows represents Summit, Eagle and Lake counties. He writes a Monday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at http://www.garylindstrom.com.
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