How Ending the Drug War and Fewer Prisons Will Reduce Crime

I was a juvenile delinquent (Damn! There goes my chance of working for the FBI).Steve 1987 During that time I acquired first hand knowledge of the criminal mindset that most people don’t understand. Today I’m going to share some of it with you.

Most Americans believe factors like poverty, drugs, alcohol, music, movies, video games, and lack of religious beliefs cause youth crime. Most Americans also believe that tough prison sentences for first time offenders and the drug war are necessary tools to fight crime. This week, after discovering something locked away inside of myself, I no longer agree with most Americans.

For me it didn’t take the US Federal Government, a team of sociologists, 50 million dollars, a major University, and the American Academy of Pediatrics to tell me the root cause of most youth crime, the answer was inside me. I had to trust my intuition.

A co-worker planted the seed for this post at a meeting last week when he told a story about some young people in his neighborhood who threw a loud party that ended with someone firing half-a-dozen gunshots into the air. Out of genuine curiosity, without a preconceived answer, I asked the men at the table, “Why do young men do stuff like that? Why do they feel the need to shoot guns at parties? What’s wrong with these kids?”

I got these answers:

  • They watched too many R-rated movies
  • Lack of a Christian upbringing
  • They play too many video games
  • They watched too much TV as a child

I don’t buy it. People don’t shoot up a party because…

  • they watched too many episodes of the A-team when they were five
  • they watched Pulp Fiction
  • they are addicted to HALO (a popular video game)
  • they missed Sunday School

I couldn’t get this conversation out of my head. Why was I so certain they were wrong? So after the kids went to bed, I found a quiet place, sat down with a notebook, and thought about it. This is a condensed log of what went through my mind.

Why am I so sure they are wrong about youth crime? Without any facts to back myself up, why am I certain it isn’t TV, religion, movies, or video games that cause youth crime?

I know why kids commit crimes. I was a kid who committed crimes. My friends committed crimes too. Some of them are still in prison today. A few of them are dead. Two have been in a nursing home for twenty years with brain damage. I’ve buried the reason we did these things deep inside of myself. Why were we criminal? Why were we violent? What was the core reason? What was fundamental?

I waited for my sub-conscious to tell me the answer.

My sub-conscious said, “these were your core beliefs during your delinquent years.”

  1. I believed gaining and maintaining the respect of my male peers was the most important thing in my life; more important than my life, my liberty, or my family
  2. I believed I could gain the respect of my peer group by taking risks (criminal acts were worth the most respect); this proved my loyalty and bravery
  3. I believed I could gain respect by disrespecting others outside my male peer group, especially rival males (and all females to a lesser extent)
  4. I believed that I would lose the respect of my peer group if someone disrespected me and I failed to retaliate violently
  5. I believed showing respect to someone who had not earned my respect is a sign of weakness. (see the above ways you could earn respect)
  6. I would rather kill or die than face humiliation

When I looked at the six beliefs it was apparent prison would never solve the youth crime problem because prison doesn’t attack these core beliefs, it reinforces them.Steve 1986 Inmates govern prison life with these beliefs. These beliefs permeate every aspect of prison culture. I’m not saying prison has no role in our society. I’m saying it should be an absolute last resort reserved for the most dangerous and hardened offenders and should rarely be used for a first time offender.

I am arguing that flawed beliefs do not exist because of Heavy Metal, Gangster Rap, poverty, and drug addiction. I believe it is exactly the opposite. Heavy Metal, Gangster Rap, poverty, and drug addiction exist because of flawed beliefs. Our leaders have the cause and effect upside down. That’s why efforts at censorship, drug prohibition, and welfare fail so miserably, they don’t attack the root cause of the problem – dysfunctional beliefs about reality.

The annual cost of prisons in the US is around $60 billion annually. The current cost of the Drug War is over $150 billion annually. If we ended the drug war and reduced the number of first time offenders sentenced to prison, our nation would save over $170 billion dollars. We could use that money to directly attack and discredit the belief system that leads to these problems. I realize that in our current political environment this is unlikely, but that doesn’t change my belief that current policy is exacerbating the problem. Through a concerted cross-cultural effort we could attack and discredit these beliefs early on, as soon as we identify them, much the way we have thoroughly attacked and discredited racist beliefs over the last fifty years.

You may be thinking this is an oversimplification. I know it is. This is a blog post not a thesis. The obvious question is… Why do kids adopt these beliefs? I’m not sure, but I believe male role models like fathers, older brothers, and older male peers pass the beliefs down from one generation to the next. Sometimes TV or movies reflect these beliefs, but TV and movies are not the source of the beliefs. My father never held these beliefs. I acquired these beliefs from my older peers during Junior High. Why? I haven’t explored that question…yet.

In 1987 two boys got in a knife fight in the Met Center parking lot before an AC/DC concert. One guy was making fun of the others hair. Words escalated to blows and blows escalated to knives. One kid stabbed the other kid. One is dead and one is doing life in prison. The fight received massive media attention. The pundits blamed Heavy Metal, alcohol, drugs, and tailgating. But I know in my heart that if you removed Heavy Metal, alcohol, drugs, and tailgating and put them in a church parking lot, the results would have been the same. I knew these boys.

But I am certain – if they didn’t hold these three beliefs that day…

I believe I can gain respect by disrespecting others outside my male peer group, especially rival males

I believe that I will lose the respect of my peer group when someone disrespects me and I fail to retaliate violently

I’d rather kill or die than face humiliation

They would both be free and productive people today.
Steve 2006

28 thoughts on “How Ending the Drug War and Fewer Prisons Will Reduce Crime”

  1. Steve – As always, very interesting insights. I have always been the choir boy, so I don’t claim to understand the criminal mindset. However being the choir boy, I can say that I’ve seen my fair share of hurting people. I’ve also seen hundreds of people who thought that they were helping the hurting by offering dogma or procedure.

    If I can be so bold let me offer another reason why people make self-defeating decisions. Without exception, everyone that I have ever known, counseled or conversed with was lacking something so natural, so fundamental that each of them was willing to try anything to fill the void.

    You thought I was going to say God! Nope, even though I was the choir boy.

    They lacked validation.

    Validation is the most basic need that we have once we have met the minima of basic survival needs. Some people confuse acceptance with validation, but acceptance can be little more than begrudging patronization. This basic need is why people search for peers that will validate them -or- their actions. This is also a key factor to why our youth, generation after generation, is perpetually at risk to make the same mistakes that we made. We know the pain in front of their questionable decisions, but don’t validate the feelings that led to those decisions. You can’t keep yourself from being angry. You can only choose how you act in accordance with the feeling.

    A lack of validation, no matter how mentally tough or introverted the person, leads directly to despair. Desperation always leads to avoiding logic and over-relying on emotion. Feeling without thought, especially in the case of being invalidated, leads to self-destructive behavior. If you think that other people don’t value you, you’re much less likely to value yourself. So you take risks…with your own life…with other people’s lives…

    As a society, our rugged individualism lends itself to marginalizing the desire for validation as something which signifies weakness. I know that when I fail in my own relationships, which are so white-collar that I’m out of my league when discussing the criminal mind, it is because I fail to validate someone in a manner that they so desperately desire.

    Movies, music and videos don’t cause the behaviors. However, I believe that they those media do reinforce those behaviors. Every message we reinforce repeatedly, like music, does have a subconscious effect on us no matter how much we choose to believe otherwise.

    Listening to “heavy metal” and watching Die Hard doesn’t make someone a derelict, regardless of what the Moral Majority may say. Even so I can say that, personally, when I pull out my Soundgarden CD or catch one of those shows late at night on Showtime that has _all_ of the content warnings I know that afterward that I am going to feel more intense, more violent and more judgmental. Why do I watch those movies when I know that they will effect me so?

    Perhaps that’s a topic for my own blog. 🙂

    Thanks again Steve. Even if, in the end, we don’t agree I appreciate the opportunity to think and discuss.

  2. Chris,
    I appreciate your comments. Thanks for reading. I agree with you about validation, that’s probably why we choose the beliefs we choose. Thoughtful comments… the best kind.

  3. You might find some answers or insight here. I think the paper “Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence” is very eye opening, but there is a lot of other information too, all based around the roots of violence in society.

  4. i came up with the same ideas as you responding to friends complaining about a news item concerning youth violence on the beach that day, with bright, low-rider cadillacs, and bandana/tattooed people blaring music on their steroes as a backdrop. it’s tribalism – loyalty to the group.

  5. I am very interested in youth violence causes and effects, and found most of the comments very insightfull. Deffinetely gave me a different way of looking at the problem. I lost a son to youth violence he was murdered, living the thuglife. I don’t think that music, or movies trigger the violence, but I do think that some of the music that is out there can validate bad behaviour, and glamorizes violence.

  6. I agree with a few things from your post- it isn’t games or TV etc. that cause violence- violence didn’t just come into existance when video games and TV did, look at human history- a colorful yet extremely cruel and disguisting existence. it seems violence/oppression just change forms over the years. we live in a time where we see things a lot differently- only now are we so aware of these things that have pretty much always been around [criminality]
    may I also note that there really are not concrete reasons why people commit crimes- it is irrational by nature [though exceptions exist] it cannot be assumed that there is any logic greater than “what it will do for me.” we live in a time of “me ME ME!” that just might make it even worse. a little self control might be in order- no more of this “blaming others for things done yourself” nonsense

  7. Reading the above mentioned article, I find it very good and pinpoints a hard truth.
    Nevertheless, the current USA society is moving towards more punishment, massive empowerment to law enforcement, militarization, and false patriotic values and misconceptions of what a man should be.
    Congrats.

  8. Steve – THANK YOU for sharing your story. Inspiring to those of us who still believe in helping kids try to understand there are other choices in their today. Do you ever speak to youth groups?

  9. I just found you site and I too have wondered why young men go astray. Wow! you hit the nail on the head-Thank you!!! I see we are in our 3rd generation of a non-progressive society because of where our young men are-LOCKED UP!!!; I say our young men because we as women used to depend on men to lead us (it is not a bad thing either). And I don’t really care what the feminist say (the feminist socitey was manufactured by men, that should tell you something.) we have really lost sight of our true motive in this society and it is my hope that we get back on track. WE NEED HEALTHY MINDED MEN!!!

  10. I believe that so much of what we do, the choices we make and the relationships we create stems from the basic human desire to be loved, accepted and to feel good about ourselves. When we don’t feel good about ourselves on the inside, we seek outside validation, as the first responder (Chris) indicated. When we feel “whole” and “complete” as an individual, we don’t require that degree of external validation because we validate *ourselves*. Thus, we are able to make life choices based on what’s best for our lives and our futures, rather than being driven by this fundamental need that’s running us to feel good in the present. Ohhhh so much psychobabble eh?

  11. You make some valid points, and I think that some of the literature would support your conclusions. You may want to do some research on Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory. That being said, your conclusions are far from complete. First of all, it is dangerous to make absolute conclusions based upon personal experience. While it may be your experience others may not have the same experience and research in this field may prove otherwsie. I have had to learn that the hard way myself. In addition, you did not try to explain the most important part which is why traditional norms and values are substituted for this violent ideology. This conclusion is the only really important part. Saying that subcultural values of violence are reinforced in certain juvenile peer groups is already a fairly common conclusion in criminological theory. What is difficult to conclude is why these criminal values come about in the first place. Statistically, having violent or criminal parents is the strongest indicator of violent criminal activity. In other words, your family has the strongest influence. Other factors play roles in this process such and schools, community organizations,and other public, private, and parochial institutions.

    Untimately there are several major schools of thought on this process. One suggests that whan traditional goals such as wealth accumulation and social status are denied to people they turn to other means such as property and violent crime to gain respect and status that notion is reinforced and a subculture is created centered around a value system that suggests that these means are the only method to successfully get what you want.. Another theory states that people are socialized to violence, just like most of us are socialized to conform. It suggests that the more exposure to deliquent peers one has, the more he or she adopts criminal values. The last major micro level theory states that violent behavior is the product of a lack of social controls and assunes that we all would participate in violence and devience without the proper controls, including psychological controls.. It suggests that those less involved in mainstream society have fewer social bonds and committ crimes as a result.

    All of these theories may provide partial explanations for causes of deliquent behavior and all enjoy some statistical support. If you are really interested in these topics invest time in studying these and other theoretical explanations. I think your personal experience is very valuable and is certainly worth consideration. After all, it has already resulted in you having more logical conclusions than most people. However, it can also prevent you from having a more complete understanding of this issue if you use it as the only basis for yor conclusions. I have spent may years working with prison populations, juvenile offenders, and parolees. I have spent years doing cognitive restructuring classes with convicted criminals in an attempts to help them understand how their own mindset differs from others. I have also spent a lot of time on the street inolved in undercover work and fugitive apprehension. I am very familiar with the criminal mindset. I would suggest that you begin with your core understanding based upon your personal experience and expand that by researching others contributions from both the field and the academic world.

    Thank you for this blog… I strongly recommend you continue to make contributions in the future. The next step should be the most important question which is ‘Where do these criminal values originate?’

  12. Just like to say thankyou to everyone who has contriuted on this page! im doing a sociology coursework, my question is “Why do young men turn to crime” and this has helped and proved my opinion to be correct!

    xx beth xx

  13. This is the best page I have ever been too! You are my new idol!!!

    I liked the pictures. You shiould have a picture blog!!!!

  14. hi its me again :] i found your story inspiring.
    i enjoy your point of view also
    you have really opened my eyes towards americans & their system
    thankyou!
    you really are the most inspiring perosn ive come across in a long long time

  15. heyyyy boi!
    i just read your page for the 23rd time this week
    i just cant get enough of this site
    i could probably resite it
    off by heard :]

    i have two friends -neika & zenna
    and they where in science and of couse as youngsters do they dont do their computer work they like to check out other sites

    and since i suggested they go to your brillant site
    so they did
    and loved ever last word of it

    you really are fantastic
    your site is fantastic
    it is the most intresting thing ive read on the world wide web
    no joke

    well my point is more or less
    you are doing a fantastic job
    and i admire you for everything you have come through

    keep up da g00d stuff
    :]

  16. My thoughts on your reasons. You said………..I say

    1.I believed gaining and maintaining the respect of my male peers was the most important thing in my life; more important than my life, my liberty, or my family……I totally disagree. The reason you are looking for respect is because you lack love. When you have no love in the family you go outside to find it. Your anger comes because you confuse love with respect. When you don’t get it you commit crimes.

    2.I believed I could gain the respect of my peer group by taking risks (criminal acts were worth the most respect); this proved my loyalty and bravery………..Here you are explaining your need to gain respect, but in fact you are really wanting love. Not the romantic love but a love that is missing from your family relationship. You have to remember that your parents are your first interactive people in your life. If it breaks down, when you are unable to meet expectations, or commitments, or satisfying wants; you rebel. You go on lying to yourself in trying to prove a false loyality to someone else instead of your original problem with your parent or parents. You end up proving nothing.

    3.I believed I could gain respect by disrespecting others outside my male peer group, especially rival males (and all females to a lesser extent) ……… Here you go explaining your disillusion which is really how you would react to your parents. So maybe you did act that way to your parents, and continue that same smart -alek attitude getting people to laugh and making believe to yourself that your so called friends support you more. Your friends if they were your friends would essentially tell you that is not how to behave to older people, or people who serve you.

    4.I believed that I would lose the respect of my peer group if someone disrespected me and I failed to retaliate violently………This is the point; but it is not respect you fear losing, it is the feeling of losing your new family members, the fear of losing that new family love relationship. And you don’t want to go through that again.

    5.I believed showing respect to someone who had not earned my respect is a sign of weakness. (see the above ways you could earn respect) ………..because your mother or your father never earned your respect you have felt weak. Since they never thought of it as respect but love they gave it unconditionally. BUt there is anohter side to the coin as well. Perhaps the parents were bad parents and unable to nurture their child because of economic conditions, and they themselves lived in the same cycle of loss of family love as you experience. This becomes the problem, this is what snowballs into a gigantic national epidemic. All because we don’t know how to be parents.

    6.I would rather kill or die than face humiliation ………..To kill or die is a feeling of fight or flight. Humiliation is not a bad word. Most people think it is bad and degrading, but actually it is a new beginning. It is human to error. We learn by making errors, and then not do them again.

    I contend that the Drug War and Prison Expansion is the result of no understanding to love and parenting in America. Granted economic forces come into play, but I think if America became more in tune to how other cultures keep families together we as Americans may learn something. Other countries do not have the same Drug, or Crime problems as the US does. This is a first clue. And since America is lacking in family values, and the right way to living in modesty, honesty, committment, contentment, and away from the need to try and find your false family circle, this is why we have the problems of today. I think the movies and hard rock are the expressions of anger. Sex is used as a sedative to take away pain, and so we have the rampant sexual dysfunction in America. You find it everywhere on the internet.

    Before we decide that crime and sentences are wrong, think about why we need them, if we have no skills in original family upbringing. The good days were when we could watch shows on TV like Leave it to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, Captain Kangaroo, The Waltons, The Cosbys. Those family structure shows gave Americans a model of togetherness. Today we have nothing like it, and I think it will continue to get worse, until we change and realize that it is not respect we are after, it is not money or cars, and sex we are after, it is really love and family we want.

  17. Absolutely brilliant insight Steve. It seems to be that flawed belief systems can not only be the root cause of the criminal mindset but also of those dispensing the so called “rehab”. Take drug addiction for example:
    The problem I see with most
    drug addiction rehab and treatment is that almost all treatment centers are using the flawed psychiatric aspect that was developed in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. Today’s treatment has failed to evolve along with society’s current drug issues and has thus become quite useless. The developers in 1935 did not see the problem as a morality issue or flawed belief system. Instead they developed a philosophy that took the responsibility off the end user. Until a philosophy is adopted that places the responsibility soley on the user, drug addiction and drug abuse will continue to flourish worldwide.

  18. Right on man! My mates and I used to do the same, stealing stuff, getting in fights, in trouble with the police a lot of the time. I think most of us had either distant or non-existent fathers so we developed our sense of ‘ego’, or how we define ourselves, during our early teens when we mostly hung out with each other most of the time. Your list of core beliefs fits the bill right enough, and you can see this in most pack animals such as dogs or hyenas – and especially adolescent chimpanzees.
    After several years of casual research and psychedelics I’ve come to the conclusion that while these traits would obviously have been beneficial from an animal’s evolutionary point of view, we’re now at the stage where such responses and behavioural processes are not so important. We’re living in a world which has evolved faster than ourselves.

  19. Very good article. You’ve done far better than most things I end up reading do. All most people do is complain about a problem. You’ve taken it a good bit further by explaining the underlying problem and getting an idea of what needs to be done. only one thing left, get a technical solution, rather than just a conceptual one.
    Only thing left to answer is: how do we change these faulty core beliefs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *