B. (Bobby) Gordon Wheeler, C-27181
California Institution for Men
Chino, CA 91708-0368
A convicted criminal asks...
DOES THE PUBLIC NEED CRIME? by
B. Gordon Wheeler
Sad facts, but true nonetheless:
Your system for controlling crime is ineffective, unjust, and expensive. Crime rates increase. Streets and parks are unsafe at night (and often during the day, too). Who cares?
Your personal safety is threatened; your property is in jeopardy; your children and friends are exposed daily to danger. Yet no wave of public sentiment arises to end this. Don't you care?
Your county jails and inhuman juvenile reformatories and wretched prisons are jammed. They are known to be unhealthy, filthy, dangerous, immoral, indecent, and crime-breeding dens of iniquity. Not everyone has smelled them, as many of us have. Not many of you have heard the groans and the curses. Not everyone has seen the hate and despair in a thousand blank, hollow faces. But, in a way, each and every one of you know how miserable prisons are. You want them to be that way. And they are. Who cares?
Professional criminals (Manafort comes to mind) prosper as never before. Gambling syndicates flourish. White-collar crime exceeds all others, but goes undetected (or unreported) in the majority of cases. You are all being robbed and you know who the robbers and thieves are. They live nearby. Who cares??
You non—criminals filch millions of dollars worth of food and clothing from stores, towels and sheets from hotels, jewelry and knick-knacks from shops. You non—criminals steal, and the same non—criminals pay it back in higher prices. Who cares??
If I, a convicted criminal, may be permitted to ask:
What has happened to civic pride, the righteous indignation of otherwise respectable citizens who turn their backs on helpless victims of beatings, robberies, and sexual assaults? The incredibly indifferent attitude of you non-criminals has helped to turn the streets and parks of your cities into jungles of fear --- where, according to a recent survey, nearly half of the U.S. population is afraid to walk alone at night. Your crime rate is growing four times as fast as your population.
By some estimates, there are five serious offenses recorded in America every sixty seconds, a vicious crime of violence every ninety seconds, a robbery every two minutes, 87 automobiles stolen every 30 minutes.
Do any of you non-criminals care?
How do you explain this apparent indifference? All of you know it to be there --- even in yourselves. Once the immediate reactions of anger, fear, and vengeance regarding a particular, recently reported crime --- the Parkland school shooting, for instance --- have been verbally expressed, you non-criminals wash your hands of all responsibility and leave it (silently) to your official avengers. Few of you feel any responsibility for correcting the system or for preventing the recurrence of crime; maybe you think it's hopeless to attempt anything. Perhaps this reflects uncertainty as to what to do. Can it be called, well, ignorance?
One motive for writing these essays is my belief that if you non-criminals knew how bad things are, if you knew how you cheat yourselves, how you deceive yourselves, how you persuade yourselves that you are getting protection when you are steadily making matters worse by your ineffective methods, surely then you would do something about it.
You would do more than merely gasp at the new horror story on the front page of the morning paper, or broadcast on ABC's "Good Morning America." You would act, and you would demand action. And, indeed, perhaps you will.
In 1948, when the wretched conditions of the state hospitals for the mentally ill were exposed to you non—criminals by the press and by such books as Mary Jane Ward's "The Snake Pit," it's striking to note how shocked the public was regarding many things that a few psychiatrists thought everyone knew about. It was generally believed that everyone knew that state psychiatric hospitals were crowded, dark, dirty, and unsanitary places where there was no hopefulness. It was customary at that time, indeed it was considered praiseworthy, for superintendents of state hospitals to return to the state treasury an unused portion of their budget.
This token of efficiency and frugality was managed, of course, by just that much more starving and neglecting of the patients for whose care it has been budgeted. No one protested. The alumni associations of state hospitals have never had a strong lobby. If an occasional superintendent asked for more, rather than returning some of the budgeted money, he was apt to get the treatment accorded Nicholas Nickleby at Dotheboys Hall.
When Kansas non-criminals learned the facts about conditions in their state hospitals from the press and broadcast media, they responded immediately. Contrary to the predictions of all the politicians and law enforcement agencies, the non-criminals of Kansas approved a quadrupling of expenditures for state hospitals, putting at the head of the list nationally the state that had previously been next to last. It has remained in first position ever since, but many other states have followed suit with respect to updating and upgrading their programs. State hospitals which were formally crowded with chronic patients, most of whom were expected to remain there for life, today have empty beds despite the fact that there are many more admissions per year than half a century ago. The average stay in the better public psychiatric hospitals today is less than 90 days, whereas it used to be a matter of years. And, in the long run, this was a great economic saving to the state, because it made additional construction unnecessary and it greatly reduced the cost of curing (not merely detaining) each patient.
Why is it not equally obvious that you could save millions of dollars by effecting a change in your penal system? If my criminal brethren and I, who do not benefit from our confinement and are not given an opportunity to do constructive work, could be allowed to earn our way and contribute to the society that we have wronged, everyone would profit. Our enforced uselessness is no gain to anyone.
Is your failure to do something like this truly only a matter of ignorance? Time and time again somebody shouts about this state of affairs, just as I am shouting now. The magazines shout. The newspapers shout. Television and radio commentators shout (or at least they "deplore”). Psychologists, sociologists, leading jurists, wardens, and intelligent police chiefs (yes, intelligent police chiefs does sound like an oxymoron) join the chorus. Governors and mayors and congressional lawmakers are sometimes heard. They shout that the situation is bad, bad, bad, and getting worse. Some suggest that obsolete procedures should be replaced with scientific methods --— immediately. A few shout contrary sentiments. But the voices of progressive penologists have been loud and clear.
"We may be at the threshold of a major reexamination of the premises which underlie our system for the administration of criminal justice."
--- Associate Justice Brennan
United States Supreme Court
Many people, criminal and non—criminal alike, had hoped Brennan was right. Sadly, no reexaminations occurred. Do the clear indications derived from scientific discovery for appropriate changes continue to fall on deaf ears? Yes. Why is the law-abiding public so long—suffering, so apathetic, and thereby so continuingly self-destructive? How many school shootings, murders, rapes, robberies, kidnaps need to occur before you non-criminals do something?
How many more children must die before you non-criminals set aside your apathy and do something?
-—- The Sin of Apathy -—-
Public apathy regarding serious common danger is an old whipping boy. Many of the world's great leaders beginning with Zoroaster and followed later by Isaiah and Jeremiah and Pericles and Socrates and Plato and Jesus and St. John and Mohammed and St. Paul and hundreds of others have deplored public apathy. In fact, long ago -—- about the 5th Century -—- apathy was listed as one of the eight (not seven) deadly sins. It had a special name: acedia. Later it was dropped from the list of deadly sins and gradually evolved into a psychiatric syndrome, along with depression and pessimism.
The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) listed "the varieties and derivatives of disgust with life" (all sins, of course) as sorrow, laziness, weariness, spiritual negligence, lack of joy in general and particularly in prayer, despair in general and particularly in prayer, despair in general and particularly of one's own salvation, doubt, grief, tedium, and hatred of life. These were actually elaborations of Cassian's concept of acedia, a state of mind representing the need to avoid anxiety and not care.
Perhaps the medieval theologians began to wonder if the state of indifference to the world's troubles and to the soul's spirit, like sorrow and despair, might not be so irrational, so self—destructive, that it passed beyond mere sinfulness and indicated a kind of sickness. What the early Christian fathers recognized as evil and sinful in the various kinds of indifference was the aggressive element, which is also present in the symptoms of illness. Not caring is hurtful. Jesus put it well by saying that he who is not with Him was against Him. The practical consequence of apathy and withdrawal is inactive aid to the "enemy," and permission for the continuance of evil.
George Bernard Shaw once said that it was necessary for the progress of society that people be shocked pretty often. But is the public becoming shock—proof?
In Chicago, cab driver Lawrence Boyd tried to stop three thieves from robbing two youths. Boyd was shot twice, paralyzed in one arm, lost his job, and was soon deep in debt. In Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, George Senn fired a shotgun into the air to prevent 2O gang-bangers from attacking two girls and a boy outside his window. Senn was convicted of aggravated assault and battery and had to pay $491 in court costs, a $400 bail bond fee, and $500 for legal and investigative expenses. He also faced a damage suit from his "victims."
"The Deputy," a play that aroused worldwide attention, asked why even the Pope kept silent during the torture and slaughter of millions of innocent Jews and others. The Pope? Did the leader of ANY great religious body speak out at the continuance of that horror? Did the leader of any nation? Did England? America?
Some said it was "none of our business." Others said there was nothing we could do. Many sighed and said, "Oh, it's probably just a newspaper story; greatly exaggerated. It can't be true." Later, too late later, they beat their breasts and declared, "Who could believe... We had no idea... We didn't know."
Yeah, right. And The Donald isn't a racist.
--- The Public Is Not Really Apathetic ---
It is a daily, hourly struggle for most of you non—criminals to rise above primitive patterns of maintaining the internal balance of aggression and guilt, self—defense and masochism, vengeance and mercy, intolerance and compassion. But your intelligence does have its victories; it persists, and ultimately prevails --— sometimes. And in spite of apparent public indifference about crime, and in spite of your secret satisfactions with crime (and hence with its present mismanagement), there are some of you non—criminals who are very concerned and who continue to cry loudly and discordantly about the present situation.
There are, of course, lawmakers who accuse the public and its servants of misplaced concern. Consider, for instance, the words of a Southern California congressman:
All legislative efforts are, in essence, designed solely for the benefit of the criminal --— to the end that many, many criminals are released from our prisons that should remain incarcerated, at least long enough for them to learn that crime doesn't pay.
Brutal murders by ex-convicts continue on and on, and no one seems to consider the rights of the widows and orphans whose husbands and fathers they had a right to look to for companionship, love and affection, and financial support. What about the poor grocer or businessman who is daily victimized by robbers and check forgers?
No thought whatever is being given to the right of the public to be protected from these criminals.
No thought being given? No money spent? No efforts made?
Years ago Bishop Fulton Sheen voiced the same fatuous emotional lies on national television. My guess is that you can easily add samples of your own from the daily news broadcasts. In fact, you can find them even in the comics:
Little Orphan Annie attended church with a reformed gunman who says, "Ah re-lize, Annie, you knows me as a killah! A 'fast gun'! Well, little David was no slouch with his slingshot; scriptures are full o' them as defended what they felt was right and just! So, I don't figger me believin' true, and goin to church reg'lar was evah meant to slow my draw ag'in any murderin' varmint turned loose on decent people."
Just then they pass an old crony of this pious killer. The old crony whispers that another convict, Slasher Weevil, has been released.
"Slasher Weevil? Why he kilt a whole little family jest for meanness! Soft haided circuit Judge and twelve mixed-up he-biddies let him off with only life! Who let 'im out?"
"Parole Board. Jest thought y'should know!"
"Parole Board! Figgers! Ah heered they got a new expert on crime and cure headin' the Board. Real book-trained penologless, fergit his name."
"Seems Slasher's seen th' error o' his ways! Figger he's now tamed down, fit t' return to society, as a shinin' example o' true reformation."
"Yeah! Most lawmen has heered that gobbledygook 'til it jest makes 'em sick t' their stummicks!"
The samples just cited clearly contradict the thesis that the public is apathetic about crime and about its present mismanagement. Some of you non-criminals are secretly or overtly pleased with the present system; some of you non-criminals are angry! Some of you are disgusted; some of you are alarmed. Part of the contradiction arises from the fact that most of you are either too close to crime and criminals to be objective or else too far from us (criminals) to be aroused. One close to an offense is either angry on behalf of himself/herself or the injured victim, or else he/she is aware of the special reasons actuating the offense and hence sympathetic or at least tolerant toward the offender. If one is far from the crime, as are the non-criminals in the other part of town or in the next state, he/she is unlikely to care much what happens about the particular case.
Hence there seems to be both a great stagnation of movement in regard to an obsolete, inefficient, unjust, unsafe system but, at the same time, a ferment of dissatisfaction and criticism. The public as a whole may seem to be apathetic about this lack of improvement or change by denying the evil ("We didn't know how bad it was") or avoiding from genuine fear ("It is dangerous to meddle with criminals") or withdrawing from involvement ("It really is none of my business"). You, the general public, listen to many voices-—- some stridently attacking the police, some the courts, some the lawyers, some the psychiatrists and criminologists.
Criminology, penology, sociology, psychology, and psychiatry have never had the public respect which the physical sciences command. Millions of you get into jets and fly everywhere on earth with only the vaguest knowledge of what physical discoveries and mechanisms you are putting reliance upon, whereas the very suggestion of comparable innovations in social action would cause a panic. The proposals of psychiatrists and other social scientists might work, but, on the other hand, they might upset the time-honored techniques for dealing with me and my criminal brethren so that the situation might become worse than it is now. So you think.
A well—known, if not well-respected, law enforcement official named Donald Tulloch, once declared:
In recent years there has been a tendency to permit the psychiatrist, the psychologist and the social worker, not to mention many organized minorities of lay people with a fancied mission to cure the ills of the world, to assume a position of direction of the course of criminology, and particularly penology. Both fields have a certain appeal to the imagination, and the writer, the script writer and the scenarist have taken full advantage of this. The resulting rash of novels, television shows and movies concerning the activities of the criminal element has given the average person a feeling of confidence in his/her status as an expert in solving the crime problem. Furthermore, since Sigmund Freud introduced his stimulating theories on human behavior, psychiatry and psychoanalysis have become the catch words.
The American public loves gimmicks, and when a new drug or a new scientific discovery comes along it immediately becomes a panacea. When psychiatry entered the picture, the public launched onto it as the cure for all the problems involving abnormal behavior. Because of its popularity, it became a lucrative field for the practitioners. Consequently, there has been a tendency to oversell and overpublicize psychiatry in many areas, penology among them."
Tulloch is not altogether wrong. I, a convicted criminal, am also of the opinion that the piecemeal, unsystematized introduction of psychiatry into the present system is of little value. My reason for citing Tulloch's words is to show how the public has legitimate doubts as to whether the behavioral sciences, psychiatry in particular, will effect any real change or improvement. What proof is there? What assurance is there that psychiatrists will not just "mess things up" worse?
-—- RESISTANCE TO CHANGE -—-
A large community of prison officials, prison guards, and others has a vested interest in the present power structure and would be (and are!) opposed to reform of any kind from any source. No one wants to disembark a gravy train! But the public, you non-criminals, are not so involved. Why should you be indifferent to the possibility of improving the system with some scientific assistance? Generally speaking, you behave as a sick patient does when a dreaded treatment is proposed for his/her ailment. We all know how the aching tooth may suddenly hurt much less in the dentist's office or the abdominal pain disappears in the surgeon's examining room. Why should a sufferer seek relief and shun it? Is it merely the fear of pain of the treatment? Is it the fear of unknown complications? Is it distrust of the doctor's ability? All of these, no doubt.
But as Freud made so incontestably clear, the sufferer is always somewhat deterred by a kind of subversive, internal opposition to the work of cure. He/She suffers on the one hand from the pains of his/her affliction and yearns to get well. But he/she suffers at the same time from traitorous impulses that fight against the accomplishment of any change in him/her, even recovery! Like Hamlet, the patient wonders whether it may be better after all to suffer the familiar pains and aches associated with the old method than to face the complications of a new and strange, even though possibly better way of handling things.
Once Freud had called his peers’ attention to this, all of them could see it. They now see it daily in their patients. It is said that psychoanalytic treatment consists in considerable part in calling his/her resistance to the attention of the patient and bringing him/her to face the reasons for this self—betrayal.
Could behavioral scientists do something like that in the case of the ailing social organization, the body politic? Might one, in some figurative way at least, listen like a psychoanalyst to what people say about the problem of crime and crime control and deduce the roots of the resistance to change in this field? What is the secret satisfaction of the present system? What is the secret fear? And back of those secrets, what is the guilty wish? Why doesn't the public care, or act as if it does?
--— DOES THE PUBLIC NEED CRIME? --—
The inescapable conclusion is that society wants crime, needs crime, and gains definite satisfactions from the present mishandling of it! You condemn crime; you punish us for it; but you need it. The crime and punishment ritual is a part of your lives. You need crimes to wonder at, to enjoy vicariously, to discuss and speculate about, and to publicly deplore. You need us (criminals) to identify yourselves with, to secretly envy, and to stoutly punish. We represent your alter egos --— your "bad" selves ——- rejected and projected. We do for you the forbidden, illegal things you wish to do and, like scapegoats of old, we bear the burdens of your displaced guilt and punishment--— "the iniquities of you all."
Us you can punish! At us you can cry "stone her" or "crucify him." You can throw sticks and stones at us; we have been caught; we have been identified; we have been labeled, and we have been proven guilty of the dreadful thing. Now we are eligible for punishment and will be getting only what we deserve.
The vicarious use of the criminal for relieving the guilt feelings of law-abiding, innocent individuals by displacement is no recent theory, but it constantly eludes public acceptance.‘ The internal economics of your own morality, your submerged hates and suppressed aggressions, your fantasized crimes, your feeling of need for punishment--— all these can be managed in part by the scapegoat device. To do so requires this little maneuver of displacement, but displacement and projection are easier to manage than confession or sublimation.
Hence, crowds of people will always join in the cry for punishment. Often their only interest in the particular victim is the fact that he/she is a labeled villain, and the extermination of villains is a "righteous act.” The definition of villainy does not have to be a matter of common agreement or scientific investigation. It is enough that someone has been "fingered,' accused, arraigned, and sentenced. "He/She, not I, is the purveyor of evil, the agent of violence. Crucify him! Burn her! Hang him! Punish her!"
Crime in the news is often a kind of sermon; it is a warning, a reminder of the existence of evil and the necessity for good to conquer. And are not the forces of good gradually overwhelming the forces of evil? All of you want to think so.
It is the perennial hope of and for your civilization. Hence the wretched handling of me and my brethren, from beginning to end, is part of a daily morality play--— a publicly supported, moralistic ritual enactment, without benefit of clergy.
Because he summarized this public need of the crime-punishment ritual so eloquently and comprehensively, I would like to quote Dr. Hans W. Mattick, former director of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice at the University of Chicago:
While the general public has some interest in the subject of imprisonment, their knowledge of it is selective and very limited. By and large, they view the representation of crime, criminals and treatment methods as a contest between good and evil. The mass media report the crime and its immediate consequences and the public participates, vicariously, as the forces of law and order go about their business of bringing the offender to justice. There is a high interest in the details of the crime, there is suspense while the criminal is being sought, and interest extends to police procedure, trial and conviction. At that point, as far as the public is concerned, the drama is over and, presumably, justice is done...
Generally speaking, there is very little appreciation on the part of the public that this "contest between good and evil" and the whole "drama of crime" is taking place within the larger arena of our political system and this, in part, helps to determine public opinion about the nature of crime, criminals and how they are dealt with. The mayors of our towns and cities, and the town assemblies or city councils, through the police chiefs they appoint and the policemen they employ, are tied directly to the lowliest criminal who offends against society, for the public interest is involved in how these public actors will respond. Similarly, the public prosecutors and the judges who are elected or appointed have their roles to play. Again, the governors of our states, through the correctional division heads and parole boards they appoint, and the prison wardens and guards they employ, may find their fortunes tied directly to the conduct of the lowliest of inmates in the prison furthest removed from the state capital. All of these functionaries, and many others, also have a great stake in how the crime problem is perceived by the general public.
If a sensational crime is committed, if there is a prison riot or an escape, if an ex-convict on parole commits a new offense, that is news and the mass media brings it to the public. Public interest is aroused and, naturally, there are question and demands for action. No one in such a situation, least of all public officials and functionaries, is a disinterested observer who views the scene with scientific detachment and leisurely selects the most rational method for dealing with the problem at hand. Great pressures are built up and the demand to "do something" is overriding...
As long as the public continues to view crime as a simple moral problem, that is, "a contest between good and evil," their interest extends only to the point of public resolution, if there is one. And the point of public resolution is the conviction which brings the public drama of a trial to an end. The judge pronounces sentence and the public feels that "justice" has been done. They seem to forget, altogether, that life goes on in prison and beyond.
Such a morally simplistic view of the crime problem results in seeming paradox. The most securely imprisoned population that exists is the general public that is uninformed about the nature and consequences of imprisonment as practiced in America today. They are imprisoned in a mass delusion which, in the long run, punishes society far more severely than society can ever punish a convicted criminal.
This is precisely what I mean by declaring that the prevalent punitive attitude of you non-criminals toward me and my brethren is self-destructive and hence itself a crime.
--- End ---
Footnote: The statement "crime doesn't pay" is an incomplete observation. It is more accurate (and truthful) to say "Crime pays everybody but the criminal."
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