I feel like I can ask nearly any adult woman if they ever had a shoplifting phase when they were younger, and they would answer "yes" in a heartbeat. It's an odd rite of passage for female youth. You steal some lip gloss, then earrings, then a shirt. Your thievery gets more and more advanced — if you can go without getting caught.
Unfortunately, for me, I got caught... twice. This meant that I received a pretty harsh punishment the second time around.
Despite this delinquency, I would never say I fully got along with other delinquents. However, my probation got transferred from La Grande, Oregon to Clackamas, Oregon so I was looped in with Portland Metro hooligans. This was incredibly frustrating.
The people around me were typically there for reckless driving, possession, DUI, vandalism, etc. I didn't fit in with the crowd but I was stuck with them for 96 hours.
12 community service days.
For me, it was an interesting experience to see how the system attempts to keep you in the system. The people I raked leaves with chatted about their illegal endeavors. As we hacked down blackberry bushes, men and women made plans to link up after the eight-hour day. The county, and the way it punishes its people, was cursed by criminals. Relapses were romanticized. The whole energy of the van to and from the community service sites was that of mischief.
I felt like I had no business being roped in with that environment. Whether or not that is personally true for me is questionable. I did an illegal thing, why shouldn't I be connected with criminals?
The bigger question is if this is the best way to recuperate "criminals." Getting them out into the community, getting their hands dirty, and returning service to those they took from is a great thing, but we have to ask if we are perpetuating behaviors. I loved cleaning up city parks, creating pathways at Clackamas Community College, and munching on blackberries as I trimmed bushes, but I felt like we were so unsupervised that it was easy to miss the point. It was so easy to keep carrying on as usual. For most of those that I worked with, their "usual" is criminal behavior.
How can we fix this?