Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The 'Princess' and the Pauper go to Court

This morning, as I sat reading yesterday's local paper over breakfast of sausage and egg, I saw an article about a girl who was arrested for theft of a poppy appeal collection tin. She asked to be sent to jail so that she'd receive help for her heroin addiction. Others were condemning her, but I immediately thought, 'Poor girl.'

As soon as that thought passed through my mind, it reminded me of when I was younger and my mother, on seeing prison vans arriving at or leaving court, would mention how sad it was. We were all stunned and said there was nothing sad about it, they were crooks and deserved to be locked up. How the years can change us and how we think. I now realise why my mother said what she did.

Many people today, who turn to crime, do so because of their circumstances, upbringing or a mixture of both. I am not talking crime like murder or involving cruelty in any form, I am talking about theft and similar. Who knows why these people resort to what they do and what happened in their life to bring them to that stage. Sometimes, the only way they can get help is by doing something to get attention. By getting themselves into trouble and caught, it can, in some cases, be a last desperate cry for help.

It is very easy for those who have gone through life with food on the table, clothes on their backs, a family, friends, job, decent schooling etc. to judge and condemn, but put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Try to hear what their background is, their present situation and all the other aspects that have brought them to where they are today and then make up your minds about them. It is too easy to judge others without the facts and sometimes, even with the facts it can be too simple to condemn.

Those with a drug or alcohol addiction who are poor come in for so much abuse from those who don’t have a problem or even from those who do, but are rich and of a certain social standing. Alcohol and drug addiction is an illness like any other. No one wants to be an addict, it happens without them realising. Yes, they have the choice in the first place, but so do you. Are you saying you’ve never drunk or maybe never tried a puff of a ‘naughty ciggie’ in your time? Today’s drugs are highly addictive at first go.

There are people who are trying to have cannabis legalised who say there is nothing wrong with it. There is. These same people often sneer at and condemn those who are addicted to harder drugs. People who drink every day and are not yet alcoholics, or don’t believe themselves to be, condemn drinkers who are alcoholics. I know a few people who are alcoholics who don’t think they are just because they have loads of money and can feed their habit without resorting to crime to sustain it.

Because they are dressed in designer clothes and mix with the ‘right crowd’ their behaviour is laughed at. How many spilled red wine bottles and glasses have ruined plush white carpets in houses I’ve been to I can’t begin to count and all because of alcohol misuse. How many have got into cars and driven believing themselves to be above the law because of who they know?

Look at it this way. John is a pauper and a drunk who had a dreadful home life with a father who beat him, he had little or no schooling and his mother was a prostitute. He used to drink when his parents offered it to him thinking it was funny to see him drunk. He grew up with a rough crowd and never saw the nicer sides of life in anything ever. He mixed with other children who stole to get their food because maybe the parents were too drunk or too busy to buy any and he has now grown into a man whose only comfort and friend is the bottle. His friends the same ones he grew up with. He has just been caught for drunk driving and hurt no one but someone’s garden wall and himself who ended up in hospital with several broken bones.

The second case is of Mary. A well brought up young woman from a background of riding lessons, private education, substantial monthly allowance and the little princess of daddy who probably works in something very high up and mummy who spends most days at the beauty parlour, drinks parties or various luncheons. She was brought up by a nanny and was neglected by both parents and starved of love or parental control. She got in with a wild crowd who encouraged her to try cocaine, the acceptable recreational drug of the upper middle classes. She is now an addict and thought it wildly funny to get in a car whilst drunk and high on cocaine to travel from one wild party to the next. On the way, she crashed the car damaging a neighbours wall and injuring her passengers albeit not too badly.

You are in the courtroom John walks in wearing tatty and probably dirty jeans because they are all he has (not that you know that), can’t talk very well, sounds a bit dumb and is possibly slightly drunk already. After all, he is an alcoholic. Knowing he’s in court that day though and out of respect, he only has two drinks to steady his nerves rather than the usual half bottle he would have had by now.

He doesn’t have that much in the way of social graces and sounds rude and curt when answering questions even though he apologises and seems very remorseful. Fact is, he’ll probably not drive his mate’s car again when drunk and could well have learned his lesson. You can see people sniggering and raising eyebrows as if they don’t believe a word he says. His clothes, manner and slightly drunk appearance are what condemn him.  He is sentenced rather heavily and the judge says it is to show an example to others that this behaviour will not be tolerated and all present feel justice has been done.

The next case on that day is Mary. Well dressed and clean; make-up on, hair shining and looking a picture of health. She comes in head hung the way her friends advised to show remorse and almost flirts with the judge when apologising and saying how terribly sorry she is. Mummy and daddy have already stopped her allowance for the next two months and she now sees the error of her ways. She says how she really had no idea she was over the limit as she only had a couple of glasses of champagne and didn’t realise it was cocaine she had taken and that someone must have spiked her drink! 

She is very pretty and all about her screams money and good social standing. She is given fatherly advice from the judge and walks out of court with a fine (that is probably less than the cost of a haircut where she goes) having promised never to do it again and to be more careful next time.

Now, which of these two got the right punishment for their crime do you think or were they both right?

All I ask, is that sometimes, you stop, think and ponder on why some people behave the way they do. I don't excuse all criminals by any means, but there are undoubtedly more and more cases where it isn't always as cut and dried as we like to make it.  Imagine if it was your brother, father, sister, mother. How would you feel then? It happens you know, even in the best of families it can happen and often when least expected.

So next time you see a prison van or read something in your paper as I did today, hesitate before jumping in and saying 'good job too' when you hear they have been locked up. Take a moment to feel for the sorry and sad life they may have led up till now and maybe it'll make you think about your own life and make you realise just how lucky you really are. 

1 comment:

  1. Lorraine, I've felt this way for a long long time. Our latest example here in the USA is Lindsay Lohan, drug-addicted movie star.

    She continues to spiral out of control...was not given sentences as 'regular' people would have received for the things she did. (Just of late she may be headed for jail.)

    I'm not ragging on Lindsay, just using the example here.

    It is about BIG money here...jails/courts/criminals...and many people who are locked up did not commit a cruel/violent crime whatsoever. It's an 'institution' and you don't mess with the $$$ institution.

    Prisons are given Big $$$ depending on the body count of prisoners which they house.

    I've often likened it to when they burned witches...it was such a huge industry involving so many that they didn't want to change.

    "a change is gonna come" (singer Sam Cooke)...what's happening now in the world at large is to me this same basic issue. And this time there's a whole new something in the air that will not be denied.

    Each person is invaluable!

    Compassion is for each and every one of us...not just those who can 'pay' or have 'status'.