This week a dear friend of mine posted something rather unsettling on his Facebook account. While he was away on a business trip, and his wife was at work, four neighborhood children, all less than 9-years-old, broke into his house, stole four grocery bags worth of his children's toys (including Wii games, books, arts and crafts supplies... they were choosy) AND the family cat.
These are children my friend, Chris, knew. They have lived on the block for years. They have been in his house previously. He has fed them, watched them grow up, taken photos of them. These were not strangers to his family.
Chris's wife, in searching for the "lost" cat (not knowing he had been stolen) heard that these little girls were seen carrying him around the neighborhood. She went to their house thinking that they had found Mal the cat and were trying to return him. Upon speaking to one of the children's mother, the whole story unraveled and the truth came out. Most of (but not all) of the stolen items were returned but, sadly, Mal the cat is still missing. This mother, upon seeing her children with a "stray" cat, ordered her little darlings into the house and unleashed her dogs on the cat. No one has seen him since.
These children had planned, plotted and executed a break-in of Chris's house. They knew when the house would be vacant. They knew what they wanted to steal. They had their cover stories planned (they received the toys from a church giveaway and from a yard sale, the cat was a stray they found). For an opening foray into criminal activity -- they planned big and they went bold.
Upon meeting with these children and their parents, Chris' wife was assured that they would be punished. There were tears. They said they were sorry. They gave Alexa, Chris's daughter, their ice cream money. And, apparently, that was the end of things.
Ummmmm. No. No no no no NO! I adore you Chris, but this just simply isn't enough. Not by a looooong shot.
As I said on Chris's Facebook page, "I know this is none of my business -- but I would see these children charged. If it were my children -- I would want someone to charge them. This is more than just a prank. This required planning, plotting. They lied, they stole, and they may have had a part in the death of a beloved pet. Tears and an "I'm sorry" and giving up their ice cream money (when you know their parents will just give them more) is NOT enough."
"I have kids and I would want these children charged. Having two of my own and helping to raise Peter's two I can tell you -- tears and "I'm sorry" come too easy and it really doesn't mean anything. Emm can cry on command. I'm sorry -- but I would have them charged. This is more serious than stealing someone's pencil..."
The more I think about this, the more upset I get. And these aren't my children. Or my cat. But... these are the children out there in the world. And they're getting away with this shit.
No. Just... no.
Peter and I actually sat all four of our kids down and told them this story. And told them that if they ever even thought about doing something like this -- we would make sure they would be arrested.
See... I have a little experience to share.
When I was three-years-old my mother caught me stealing penny candy from The Market Basket. In my defense I don't think I knew it constituted "stealing". It was delicious candy and it was right at three-year-old eye level. In the grown-up world they would call this entrapment but in my mother's world this was most definitely thievery and she marched my ass home, parked it in my bedroom and warned me with those most terrifying of words, "Just you wait until your father gets home!"
When my father got home, he came up to my room, allowed me to select one toy, and bundled me off to the car. Having expected to be, at best, yelled at and at worst, spanked, this was a surprising turn of events. But I took Pinky the teddy bear and my rosary and loaded into the car for destinations unknown.
The destination ended up being the local police department.
I cannot accurately express to you how absolutely terrifying it was to be escorted into the police department at the ripe old age of three. My father had a friend on the police force. He spoke to me quite sternly. I confessed that I took the candy. He explained to me that was stealing, and it was criminal. And then he escorted me and my teddy bear and my rosary into a jail cell. And he shut the door. And he walked away.
I really have no idea how long I was left to contemplate my short-lived life of crime in that jail cell. I know it was probably only long enough for my father and his friend to enjoy a cup of coffee and discuss their golf games. But in my three year old mind it felt like an eternity. And it was absolutely, unequivocally terrifying. And, it worked. I never knowingly stole something again. I say knowingly because I admit that at times I have walked out of the grocery store and have forgotten to pay for the toothbrush my kids had been chewing on when they were teething infants. But I have also run back into the store when I've discovered I forgot to pay for the bottled water under my cart.
Police departments these days can't (or won't) do what my dad's friend did. And, frankly, I think that's a shame. There's nothing wrong with a little "scared straight" when you're young and impressionable.
I don't have a funny, clever, or witty end to this story. There's nothing about this that I find funny, or clever. It pisses me off. And I hope, dear Reader, it pisses you off. And I hope that, should your little darling ever do something similar to what these children did, you would do more than take away their ice cream money. As my daughter said, "my butt would be purple!"
Yes it would, honey. Yes. It. Would.