I was a juvenile delinquent (Damn! There goes my chance of working for the FBI). 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.”
- 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 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
- I believed I could gain respect by disrespecting others outside my male peer group, especially rival males (and all females to a lesser extent)
- I believed that I would lose the respect of my peer group if someone disrespected me and I failed to retaliate violently
- 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)
- 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. 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.