Note: This post was originally published in my other personal blog, which I have deleted and transferred some posts to Brazil Phenomenon. Although the subject is generic, the stories in this blog all occurred in Brazil.
The other day I read a very interesting article in The Economist, called, “Why we are, as we are” (The Economist December 20th 2008, page 127). The article was about the 150th anniversary of the book, “On the origin of species” and how Darwin´s insights can be profitable to policy-makers.
In essence, the article states that Darwinians believe that criminality is rooted in man´s quest for status and women. The need to be successful is so deeply rooted in the behaviour of men (as opposed to women) that poorer men resort to crime to reach the same status as richer men, or men with a cozier financial background. There is one important aspect Darwinians have left out.
In my experience, as the experience of many people who have studied criminal minds (yes, I have known more than I feel comfortable talking about), a criminal is a criminal not because he is poor and comes from a broken home. He is a criminal because he was miseducated. And by miseducated I do not mean ignored, abused or abandoned, but educated incorrectly.
Let me explain. Poor, rich, white and black men are all essentially the same: men. They are either good or they are bad. They are either criminals or they are decent members of society. The difference is that good men were raised with rules, whereas bad men were raised without them. Black and white poor men commit crimes for which they are incarcerated, or not. Black and white rich men commit more sophisticated crimes for which incarceration is less likely because they have the means to prevent or stall it. That is the only difference.
My point is that men of all classes and races commit crimes, not just the poor ones.
To illustrate, I will tell you some stories. My nephew has a small wooden car his father made for him. One day he comes to me crying. He says another boy simply took the car from him and ran into his house. I ask my nephew to show me the house. We go to the back yard door of the house, which is open, and peer inside. The thief is sitting beside his mother, who is washing clothes, while he noisily plays with the car. My nephew very bravely enters the yard and tells the boy to give him his car back. The boy refuses and continues to play. The mother says nothing. I intervene and tell the boy to give back the car, which he eventually does. The mother does not say or word or look at us during the entire conversation.
My question is: Why didn´t the mother ask him where he got the car from? Why didn´t she teach him the stealing is shameful (at least!) That mother is raising a criminal. She may be kind, warm and loving, but she is raising a man without rules.
Another story. Another nephew was thrown in the garbage by his mother when he was a baby. His grandmother took him in and decided to raise him. He also lives with his uncles and aunts which, between them, have around 10 kids. As this boy (my nephew) is their “only son”, he is treated differently from the other kids. He has good clothes, gets better food and is never denied anything. I took the entire clan to the fun fair. All the other kids remained silent as I offered popcorn and candy floss, but I bought goodies for them anyway and gave them one each. They all mumbled thank yous and took the packet timidly. Except Dindo (the nephew in question), who ripped it out of my hand and marched off without saying a word. When his candy had finished, he marched back and barked, “I want more.”
When one of the other kids gets something new, a cup, a pair of shoes, a lollipop, he wants one, too. He does not take NO for an answer and stalks his grandparents and the unfortunate kid until he gets what he wants.
This is the developing mind of criminal.
One more story. My father was a genius when it came to people. He once had lunch with a friend at her house. As she was serving him, her two children came into the kitchen. They sniffed the food and gnarled, “Yuk, I don´t want that.” “So what do you want?” asked the kind, loving mother. “I want fried eggs,” said the boy. “And I want french fries,” whined the girl. With that, they both left the kitchen and threw themselves on the couch to watch TV. My dad said, “If you carry on like that, your daughter will become a prostitute and your son a thug, at best.” (He was known to be painfully frank and his friends were used to it) Sadly, the mother answered, “I know it looks bad, but they don´t like this food. They don´t respect rules.” “They have to eat what´s on the table. That´s the rule,” he said. The next time he saw her, around 2 years later, she admitted her daughter had fled to SP and had become a prostitute (she lived in a cortiço and received men there), while her son was currently committing petty theft and in constant trouble with the law.
The criminal does not understand the meaning of NO. He wants something and he believes he has the right to get it. He wants a new car, so he takes it. He puts a gun to your head and forces you to give it to him. Money, of lack of it, has nothing to do with it. He would act the same way if he had it. He just doesn´t want you to have something he wants. A
s a child or teen, when he comes home with stolen goods, his parents say nothing. When the police come banging on the door, his parents protectively scream, “My son does not steal”. When he is in jail or dead, they weep and say, “why did this happen to my babyyyyy?”. They cry over their son´s graves, when they should have fixed the problem long before that,” said the Chief of Police of Rio de Janeiro on the Jô Soares show. Sadly, this has no cure. The only path, as a very sharp psychologist said on one of those problem shows on the TV, is death or prison. Policy makers can smash their heads against the wall trying to find answers, but there are none. Miseducation cannot be undone.
This is one of the reasons why those reinsertion, rehabilitation programs do not work. The creators always end up saying, “well if I can save 1 out of 100, it´s worth it”. They know, after years of frustrated attempts, that most criminals like being criminals. Much like the female version of this phenomena: prostitutes. To say that a man is a criminal because of his unfortunate social and economic situation is an insult to the other hard-working men who were raised by tough, hard-working women and men (and by “hard-working” I mean people who are willing to educate, teach and monitor their children´s behaviour). To say that prostitution is “the only option” and “the only way to make a living” is an insult to women who work their butts off in diners and bars throughout the country trying to make a living.