Youthful Offenders

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word riot is defined as “a wild, violent public disturbance, or disturbance of the peace, by a number of persons (in law, three or more) assembled together.”

In case you hadn’t heard, they had one – a riot – in Vancouver a few months ago.  And the definition provided by Webster’s Dictionary pretty much hit it right on the head.  Lots of wild, violent, pissed off people got together in downtown Vancouver, which is billed as “Canada’s most livable city,” and proceeded to disturb the peace, which included smashing in storefront windows, looting, throwing rocks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails, turning over police cars, and setting fire to anything that would burn. 

They were pissed off because their beloved Canucks lost game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins.  Of course, alcohol and City-sanctioned street party zones ignited the anger of their sports fervor.   In other words, a bunch of drunk, stupid, young males lost control and became violent.

According to reports, the police did a good job.  Police officers focused on those committing the vandalism rather than arresting people willy-nilly.  Over 100 people were arrested.  And in the end, law and order were restored.

But wait a minute!  What happened to those who were arrested, those who, because of a combination of alcohol, disappointment, and contagious energy, ended up in jail?  Many of them are young university students with their whole lives ahead of them.  One or two were stellar athletes, attending university on scholarships.  What happened to them?

What effect does a momentary lapse in judgment have on a young person’s life?  The athlete’s will have their scholarships pulled.  In addition, they will go to jail, where they will be arraigned.  They will lawyer up, which will cost their families many thousands of dollars.  They or their families will have to come up with bail money.  In the end, they may spend time in prison – six months, a year.  Whatever.  It won’t be too long and they did break the law, right?

Yet there are other effects that most people never consider.  The fact that they have a criminal record and they’ve been in prison will follow them the rest of their lives.  They will find it difficult to get a job.  And certain professions will be closed to them permanently:  teaching, medicine, law enforcement, etc.  Their personal relationships will suffer.  Former friends will fade away, girlfriends will depart, families and relatives will be embarrassed.  Decent housing will be a problem.  A nice apartment carries a nice price tag, which means a nice job.  But employers are reluctant to hire anyone with a record.  So kiss any desire for the finer things of life goodbye.

All these effects conspire against these once promising young students.  Just like the police cars in downtown Vancouver, their lives are turned upside down.  Their talents are negated.  Their dreams are stomped into little pieces.  Their future mutates from promising to dismal and dubious in a brief few minutes of alcohol-fueled stupidity. 

These young students are not criminals.  They are not “prison material.”  Yet to their ultimate consternation an error in judgment has resulted in tumult.  And what’s scary is this:  74% of these young offenders will re-offend within two years.  Because of circumstances, they will become criminals.

The moral of the story?  Wise men never go where angels fear to tread.  Translation:  they weren’t kidding when they said actions have consequences.