Several arrests have been made recently across the United States related to high school kids who were allegedly plotting to launch violent attacks against their fellow students…
The kids kept detailed journals where they idolized the perpetrators in mass-shootings that came before them. They had amassed stock piles of weapons and ammunition. They had, in some instances, procured the items needed to assemble pipe bombs. And, a few had even picked dates with which they hoped to carry out their assault.
Innocent lives were saved. The suspects were caught in time to perhaps turn their own lives around through intervention and rehabilitation. This is a win-win.
So, why is it, then, that these cases don’t sit well with me? They make me nervous. They make me uncomfortable.
Part of it is that I currently know someone in jail who has written to me about the conditions there. The inmates are treated like criminals. They are disrespected. They are abused. They are thrown into a cycle where the system actually makes it harder for them to turn their lives around. So, rather than these kids getting the help they need, they are actually being taught they can’t be helped, they will always be criminals, and there is no hope for them. What do we expect to happen when they are released? What kind of lives will they lead?
I have no qualms with saying our prison culture is part of the reason we have such a high rate of repeat offenders.
Is sending these kids to jail really the right thing to do? They haven’t actually hurt anyone yet. Are we perhaps actually turning them into criminals by putting them in that environment…
But, that is only part of what makes me uncomfortable. A small part. An afterthought. These stories hit close to home, because I could have easily been one of those kids.
Per California Law:
“CALCRIM 600 — Attempted Murder. (“The defendant is charged [in Count ] with [violating California’s] attempted murder law. To prove that the defendant is guilty of attempted murder, the People must prove that:  The defendant took at least one direct but ineffective step toward killing (another person/ [or] a fetus); AND  The defendant intended to kill that (person/ [or] fetus).”)”
That’s it. Two steps to be charged with attempted murder. Take one action towards killing a person (have access to a firearm) and have the intention of carrying through with the act (the mental preparedness to actually take a life).
That seems overly simple.
But, that’s the law. So, okay, take 14 year old me, lock him in prison and throw away the key.
I had access to two guns in my home. I knew where they were stored. I knew where the ammunition was kept for them. And, I had been trained to a high degree of accuracy on both from a very young age, from my family and through the Boy Scouts.
I had a list. It wasn’t brief. It was long. On that list were the names of all the people who had wronged me and wronged the people I loved. When the day came that I couldn’t take it anymore I planned on killing everyone on that list.
I took a step towards killing and I had the intention to do so should the right circumstances arrive.
How am I different from the kids that have been arrested, tried, and jailed?
Is the only difference that I never told anyone about my plan? That there was no Facebook or Twitter or blog journal where someone could see my rantings and alert authorities about my frame of mind?
Obviously, the day never came. I survived the terrible years of being bullied in junior high and high school. I went to college. I got a job. I got married. We started a family. I’m a well-adjusted contributing member of society. I pay my taxes!
So, what’s the right solution here?
Obviously we don’t want any innocent lives to be lost, but are we dooming other innocents to a life of crime by incarcerating them simply because they had a plan that they may or may not have carried through with one day in the future?
Do you think I should have gone to jail as a 14 year old?