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Eliminate criminal sense of wonder

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.