Eliminate criminal sense of wonder

Published 12:01am Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lots of people go through a “mid-life crisis.” You know the routine.

The recipe is fairly simple. It usually includes the apparent loss of one’s normal sensibilities.

A red sports car is purchased.

Wardrobe changes — including lots of unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts for men, lots of age-inappropriate wear for women — are commonplace. (Garish gold chains are optional for the men, however).

But a fellow in Natchez is considering a mid-life crisis of a different sort. His requires no car, no wardrobe change, just some nerve, a sense of adventure and a little money in case things don’t work out well.

You see “James” has a different plan. His name is changed to avoid harassment by local law enforcement for “thinking” about doing something.

James has worked hard his whole life. He’s always done what’s considered right. He pays his taxes on time, drives the speed limit — mostly. You know, he’s just like 95 percent of the population.

He’s also been a long-time reader of The Natchez Democrat, and that’s where the problem started.

Each Monday morning, James opens up the newspaper, reads the headlines and a few stories, turns inside to see who died that he might know, then his eyes turn toward the police reports and court case conclusions.

For years, James has watched as a relatively small number of residents are arrested, taken to court and sentenced.

More and more frequently, James is frustrated by what he reads.

That frustration has turned into a mid-life game of “what if” inside his head.

It’s important to note that James isn’t rich, but he’s got a little bit of money saved up.

Subconsciously perhaps he was saving for the red Corvette he thought he might need suddenly. But James doesn’t really want a Corvette. He likes his truck just fine.

What he wants is a taste of excitement.

James wants to know what it’s like to be a criminal, like the ones he’s read about for years. He wants to feel the thrill of doing something bad and getting away with it — nothing violent, mind you, since he’s not a psychopath.

Who can blame him, really?

The risks appear low, based on what he’s read.

First, you have to get caught. If you do, often it seems losing one’s reputation is the biggest threat — being dubbed a criminal, losing one’s job, etc.

Other than reputation damage in many cases criminals just get off with a fine and a slap on the wrist.

Ever wonder how it must feel to have adrenaline coursing through your veins and your heart pumping nearly out of your throat as you steal something?

James does and he knows from watching the experiences of others that being caught isn’t a huge risk.

Recent shoplifting case results seem to show an average sentence of approximately 24 to 48 hours in jail — some get off with no jail time — and a fine of around $500. Both penalties are far less than the cost of a Corvette.

Crank up the truck’s stereo to insanely loud levels, violating Natchez’s noise ordinance? No worries, just a warning.

How about a police chase? A recent charge of fleeing or eluding a police officer yielded no jail time and a fine of less than $500.

Of course, James will never actually do any of this, but it’s enough to make a guy wonder.

He wonders what must it be like to live on the wild side, but also how our system of justice can change to make criminal penalties severe enough to eliminate any sense of wonder.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

  • Anonymous

    Justice needs to provide penalty to fit the crime, as you suggest.  LEL Lillie still in backseat of fleeing car.

  • Anonymous

     It seems sentencing is skewed on some offenses as more harsh than necessary and not nearly harsh enough for other offenses.  Mostly not harsh enough.

  • Anonymous

    A good piece Kevin but there is also another variable in play here.  It is probably suitable as its own separate editorial.

    We are a nation of laws.  While that is a good thing, it does carry with it a propensity to perpetually create new laws.  When all one has is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  We, as a nation and a society, have not done a very good job of curtailing that behavior.  We elect “lawmakers” and when something preturbes us we declare, “There oughta be a law!”.  Law after law is made, with a full spectrum of intended purpose, until most moves we free people make regulated by some law or other.  Historically and culturally that is not who Americans really are.  While our intentions may have been righteous, we have legislated ourselves to the point that we’ve begun to stop caring about law.   There comes a tipping point at which it all just becomes white noise and we tune out.  As a culture now, many of us are just going on personal morality with the repercussions of law an afterthought.

    There are so many laws now that pretty much everyone is a breaking the law, violating a statute or running afoul of an ordinance at some point.  We can hardly live a realistic life without doing so.  Over time that reduces the ethical and moral adherence to the doctrine of law.  We mock many laws now and even more lawmakers but we do nothing really to stop them.  We lobby for more.  When society loses all respect for lawmakers and the laws they create, or just tunes out, don’t expect the law to carry a great deal of weight in the minds of the people.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is more than just the wonderment of it all, the problem is that the criminal record is just a record of those who got caught; those who were at the right place at the right time.

    How many times have you seen someone running a red light, operating a vehicle with no tag, loud music, wreckless endangerment, suspicious behavior, etc…….all in plain view of law enforcement?  

    I actually witnessed a MS State Highway trooper watch a guy run a redlight last week traveling south near tracetown around 4-5pm.  I was in the opposite lane (the guy who ran the light was directly ahead of me) and could not believe what I was seeing.  I let this officer get ahead of me so I could get his vehicle info and guess where he pulled into??……..He pulled into the drive thru cleaners on the frontage road, dropped off what I guess was his uniforms and headed back north.  


  • Anonymous