The masses, whose will the judge executes, have contrived to remain astonishingly in the dark along with most of their psychiatrists, about a host of facts emanating from this rather indecent wish.
The individual man thinks of a cell simply as a place where the criminal will be held incommunicado until he is finally reborn. It rarely occurs to this individual man that he is actually fostering the practice of placing this one criminal in the society of criminals. That the single criminal contacts very few of his fellow felons outside the prison walls, never seems to have any bearing on the situation.
It is not a new thought that the criminal meets many of his kind in prison and learns from them many things which he before but dimly suspected.
Many men in many offices under many chiefs have been busy for many years compiling crime statistics. It is doubtful if the tabulated results are meant to bring any more order into the world. The numbers and percentages are mainly intended to show the public that men are actually tabulating such things and that, therefore, much thought, energy and result is being obtained and hoarded in return for certain salaries to be paid out of the public treasury.
That something can be done with those figures seems obvious enough. Then, it would seem to follow, why isn’t something done?
We learn, roughly, that the criminal of today, by a large majority, ranges between the ages of twenty-four and eighteen.
By applied humanity, perhaps it is possible to understand why a boy at eighteen will turn to crime. Is it possible that it is directly related to the wish of society that he has never been born?
Oh, certainly not that! It is much too obvious. These things must be couched in polysyllabic sentences by men so overburdened with degrees that they wear out ten pens a day signing their names.
Certainly there can be no foundation for the idle statement that all true things are the easiest.
But, just suppose that there is some truth in this. The individual man looks hazily at the rest of society. To himself he is clear and important and very much a unit. But in a haphazard way he believes that all the people around him are different than he. They are all tied together and he is the only person in the world who is wholly alone.
And because he must live in his own flesh house for more or less three score and ten, he knows he will have to associate with a tyrannical mind perilously close to the end of his nose. Therefore, he never blames himself for anything. If he sinks a hatchet into the head of his firstborn, strangles his wife, rapes the lady of his best friend and then embezzles the funds of his firm for the getaway, he utterly believes himself when he tells the world that he is being oppressed.
If she takes out her husband’s new car and dents a fender putting it back in the garage, she soars into a tantrum, throws things and feels very abused if her husband mildly cautions her to be more careful next time.
What, then, is the thought process of an eighteen-year-old boy when his elders show such astonishing lack of good sense?
He was placed, at the age of five, in a school. And there he was taught, along with his alphabet, that he would grow up to be an important citizen in this world.
At home he is usually expected to amount to something when he “grows up.”
He carries this innocent-appearing virus with him into his teens and, finding himself close to manhood and an important seat in the sun, he allows the germs to breed beyond all hope of inoculation against them.
And then at sixteen or seventeen or eighteen, uncouth truth rises like a concrete wall before him and he runs into it and bruises himself.
Experience, in a gagging dose, has informed him that there are only two people in the world who care whether he lives or dies. But he cannot always lean back upon his father and mother for the necessary feeling of importance.
Then comes a variety of things, never identical from case to case. A third person makes eyes at him and he wants to have money, which is denied him through the regular channels because the world does not care to give him a job. He wishes to appear important or daring among his fellows. He has a real, crying need for money and is hungry or cold.
That is the extent of his criminality at the moment. He is young and has therefore not had a long and battering experience to tell him that the easiest money is to be gained by the hardest sweat. He is not thinking of himself as a collective piece of society. He is an individual and needs something.
It is easy for him to credit himself with greater cunning than he actually possesses. After all, he knows nothing of LAW. He has heard of fingerprints only in a detective story.
Very well, the world has defaulted. He has been gypped. The job he was always led to believe he would get was only a mirage. Therefore everything else is a lie and society is bad in that it gives never a damn what happens to him as long as he stays out of the way.
Combined with that, he is bored. Life, he does not know, is a very drab and dreary affair as long as man stays on the wide but crowded sidewalk. Thus he steps out and commits his first crime. His hand is shaking so he can’t see the front sight of his rusty .22 pistol. He can only hear the roar of blood in his ears and sounds which were never sounded. He forgets where he should look for the money. He makes too much noise. He can’t control his voice.
Gasping with nervous exhaustion he runs away and behind closed doors stares at the few tattered bills. Still, they are his by right of possession. In getting them he has obeyed a natural need for excitement or food or clothing or that necessary front before his girl or his friends.
And now comes the deciding factor in his life.
The police either catch him or they do not. If he eludes them he may try another “job” or two, emboldened by his first success. But in an astonishingly short space of time he will run up against a “tough one.” In a stickup of park spooners, the man tells him to go to hell and grabs for the gun; the youngster gets away and vows to stray no more. In a filling station, the attendant reaches for a wrench and again the youth flees in terror. In a majority of these cases, the youngster thereupon lays away the .22 forevermore and a few years later looks back with a private grin and perhaps even an uneasy twinge about his “crime career.”
If he is caught, he is doomed. Standing soaked with nervous sweat, he looks up at the judge in a black robe remarkably like a vulture’s rusty wings. The youth is actually hearing, “You are hereby sentenced…”
As soon as he can bring himself to believe that this is really life and not a nightmare, he begins to believe the words really were, “Society wishes you had never been born.” Not in those actual words, of course. But the feeling is there.
From the time he began to think about crime until now, the thought that the world did not want him was but partly felt. The whole impact of that truth strikes him now.