There was a recent crime in Rehoboth Beach where Chris Johnson, a reporter from Washington DC, was attacked — on his birthday, no less. Three or four men ganged up on him, struck him repeatedly and stole his outdated iPhone. He ended up with a broken nose and multiple bruises.
We all know crime exists, but it’s still a shock to hear about it in a nearby town known for its generally benign image. There’s been more than enough written about the incident, but it prompted me to think about the way we respond to crime, and false assumptions about how people change.
In particular, I’m referring to what the victim stated publicly after the incident. ‘I hope they find the person who attacked me and bring him to justice. I feel very sorry for the person who did this to me’. I want him to go to jail, but I hope someone can put him on a better track for when he gets out.’
I mean absolutely no offense to the unfortunate victim, but I have to say that it’s this sort of messed-up thinking that helps keep crime alive and well. Specifically, the false idea that people can be rehabilitated by others. Regular readers of this column know that I often write that a person’s character, values or thinking cannot be ‘saved’ by others. This is something they have to do of their own free will. You can’t be ‘helped’ into something that you don’t want to do.
To assume that someone will ‘somehow’ be rehabilitated simply doesn’t square with reality. Think about the mindset it takes to initiate violence against someone else. Most of us wouldn’t even consider it, much less relate to it.
Imagine the kind of person who would get together with three of his friends and sneak up on an innocent stranger. Obviously, other motives are at work here. It might be hatred and hostility of a kind most of us will never experience. Understandably, most of us want to change the subject and focus on things more pleasant. Fine. But we still have to face the fact that a certain segment of the population thinks differently than the rest of us.
This is hard for many to accept. They assume that to beat someone to a pulp for a tiny piece of property defies explanation. ‘There must be some reason for it. It’s got to be poverty, hurt feelings, a lousy childhood — something. And somebody’s got to rehabilitate that!’ They talk about evil behavior like it’s a medical illness. They assume that the cure is external, and that the criminal is just as receptive to change as a cancer patient is to getting well.
Someone who’s so far gone that they could viciously beat another human being for no reason, WANTS to be cured of his appetite for violence? That might sound nice, but it’s ridiculous.
If criminals were just regular folk with the same patterns of thinking as you and me, then maybe you’d have a point. But violent people don’t think like the rest of us. And they don’t necessarily seek to be rehabilitated. Because, again, they don’t think like the rest of us.
Clinical psychologist and author Dr. Stanton Samenow has worked for decades with violent offenders and has written several respected volumes on the subject. His classic book, ‘Inside the Criminal Mind’ should be required reading for any victim — or potential victim — of a crime. In other words, everybody. In hour after hour with offender after offender, Dr. Samenow discovered that they excuse their actions and do not take responsibility. They’re convinced that they are entitled to act on their emotions.
To the criminal personality, committing an act of force is actually a challenge; almost a matter of pride. Just like we might take pride in doing our job right, a criminal takes a twisted kind of pride in harming others. These are documented facts, based on years of conversations with criminals in therapy and other settings.
Criminal or not, people have to commit THEMSELVES to a better life if anything is going to change. You can’t help people who don’t consider their behaviors to be a problem. Rehabilitation is only possible for someone who wants to rehabilitated. Any other approach is just daytime TV feel-good nonsense.