Showing posts with label children. Show all posts
Showing posts with label children. Show all posts

15 March 2020

Child Conspiracy


Recent SleuthSayers posts have taken a autobiographical turn. I don’t have any new great anecdotes, but I was talking with Haboob about early childhood recollection.

Early memories vary considerably. Ray Bradbury said he could recall his moment of birth and pretty much everything since. Another friend says she remembers almost nothing before the age of ten or twelve.

My memory falls in between, mostly significant events that rocked my infant world. I recall my first step, probably because of my parents’ fuss. Contrary to vicious rumors, that occurred well before my teen years when repairs necessitated exiting my beloved car.

The Rumor Mill

Long ago on Criminal Brief, I wrote about getting into trouble, mainly by being a good student. Weird, huh. I mean me.

Perhaps the most telling of those anecdotes occurred in the first grade. Miss Ruth, a fixture when my mother attended school, trotted us down to the gym. She sat us on the floor arranged in an alphabetical line. She explained how rumors couldn’t be trusted. We’d discover this, she said, playing a game of Telephone.

As a reader, you know Telephone: Into Amber Abelard’s ear, she’d whisper a story, who’d whisper it to Becky Bart, seated next to her. At the end of the line, Walter Younger would relate the story as he heard it. The teacher would then compare it to the original, lesson learnt.

Except… Even in the first grade, there was something of an investigator or junior scientist in me. (Adults usually called it other names.) Alphabetically, I sat dead center in the row of little whisperers. When it was my turn and the story about a cuddly bunny’s bicycle reached my ear, I realized I could run a double experiment. I whispered to the girl next to me my own fabrication about an ice skating duck.

After the words left my lips, I panicked. Miss Ruth was bound to investigate who’d sabotaged her tale. Our teachers believed in corporal punishment. They believed in capital punishment. I was done for, my life over barely into the first grade.

Walter duly stood and story-forthed the legend of a duck on roller skates.

The expression on Miss Ruth’s face… I can’t describe the despondency, somewhere between gaping and gasping.

Her hundred forty nine years of teaching (Did I mention she’d taught my mother?) fled before her eyes. Surely she wondered where she’d gone wrong. What had the Good Lord inflicted upon her?

She never finished the lesson, but packed it in for the day.

I had sold my first story.

Childhood Theory of Evolution
Childhood Theory of Evolution

The Grand Conspiracy

In retrospect, my weirdest early memory was the irrefutable evidence grownups lied to children. Nope, not like most kids. My parents didn’t believe in misleading toddlers about St Nicholas aka Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. Instead, they adopted sort of a conspiratorial approach, said many parents deceived their kids about Santa Claus, winked, and told us the truth. We fully enjoyed Christmas without the obfuscation. It puzzles me today when outraged parents scream when someone pulls aside the curtain of truth.

Nope, my parents played holiday games and the Tooth Fairy, but always let us know it was a game of make-believe.

But still, I knew adults lied. Specifically about growing up. I didn’t believe kids grew bigger or adults had ever been small. I need look no further than myself. On a remote farm, there were no other children to compare.

Childhood time moved so slowly, I never appeared to grow bigger. My next birthday seemed impossibly far off and anyway, birthdays were just numbers the people who controlled the world made up.

Obviously, getting bigger was an illusion promulgated by dishonest adults. Clothes shrank so how could a child judge whether he was growing bigger or clothes were getting smaller?

Old photos of grownups supposedly as children weren’t proof, all grainy and unrecognizable. They were just snapshots of other kids lost in the distant past.

Moreever, I knew things. I was raised amid farms and forests. Baby animals grew up in a matter of weeks or at most, months– mice, rabbits, chicks, and puppies. In less than a year, a calf would grow into a heifer or young bull. I didn’t grow at all during those weeks and months.

Who were they kidding? I’d exposed a dastardly plot to subjugate children and prevent them asking too many questions.

Without realizing the creeping evidence, I gradually became subverted. Or perhaps the adult nightly brain-washers laundered my thoughts.

But I was right about one thing. I never grew up.

27 October 2015

Kids and Crime


by Barb Goffman
When I was in sixth grade, word spread through my elementary school that some fifth graders were going to put Spanish fly in their teacher's coffee. I didn't know what Spanish fly was, but it sounded bad. Dangerous. I waited to see what would happen and ... nothing happened. Did the students chicken out? Did someone threaten to rat them out so they called off the plan? Did someone actually rat them out but this information was kept quiet? Did they call off the plan themselves because they realized it was a bad idea? Or had it been a big rumor with no truth to it at all? I don't know. But it's certainly true that kids who may not have the capacity to fully understand the consequences of their actions can enjoy playing pranks, and they can get angry and want revenge. Teachers often are a prime target.

A review of news reports on Google bears this out. A small sample:
  • A thirteen-year-old student was charged with allegedly sneaking a sleeping pill into his teacher's coffee after she chastised him for disrupting class.
  • A middle-school student was accused of putting several of his asthma pills into his teacher's coffee.
  • An eighth-grade teacher was sickened after two students slipped a prescription sedative into her lemonade, police said.
The articles go on, including ones involving elementary school students even younger than the kids involved with the Spanish fly rumor from my elementary school. It was these types of stories that prompted my newest short story, "The Wrong Girl," about a group of elementary school girls who seek revenge on a mean teacher. Addressing this topic was cathartic for me because what happened to the girl in the story happened to me, except I never tried to get revenge.

What causes some kids to try to hurt others? Do they not truly understand the consequences of their actions? Or do they understand but lack sufficient empathy? I don't know, but it's a topic I like to explore in my fiction. I've had several short stories published involving children and teenagers. You can find a few of them in my collection, Don't Get Mad, Get Even (Wildside Press, 2013). My newest story, "The Wrong Girl," is my first attempt at flash fiction. It's in a new anthology called Flash and Bang, which was published on October 8th by Untreed Reads Publishing.

This new anthology is the first one featuring members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Every story involves a flash or a bang. The publisher chose nineteen stories, including one from fellow SleuthSayer John Floyd called "Rosie's Choice."

I hope you'll check the book out and let me know what you think of my take on kids and crime. (The anthology is available as a trade paperback and as an e-book, so with a couple of clicks, you could read it right away.) In the meanwhile, as we head toward Halloween this weekend, when children are encouraged to beg for candy or else they'll supposedly play a trick on you, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on children and crime. At what age do children come to truly understand the consequences of their actions? And at what age should they be held accountable?

09 May 2013

Why Didn't They Just Leave?


by Eve Fisher

I had a nice little blog post all set up and ready to go for today, but you're going to get it next week because I am pissed off and need to get this off my chest:

Some days you get up, watch the news, and just get pissed.  I did after hearing about the 3 women, held captive for 10 years in Cleveland, who were finally set free, thanks to one of them screaming loudly and a neighbor who (God bless him and keep him) came to her rescue.  That was wonderful.  What wasn't, what pissed me off so badly I am on a rant, was all the pundits, raising as always the ugly, stupid, evil question of why didn't they escape before?  Why didn't they run?  Why didn't they disarm their captors?  Why didn't they -

And which point, gentle readers, I went into a profanity enhanced symphony in F Major, screaming at the TV set, and at everyone who has ever thought, "Why didn't they get out sooner?"

Disclaimer:  I have never been kidnapped and held captive against my will.  But I did grow up in your classic alcoholic prison home, the kind full of secrets and violence, where no one from outside was allowed in (they might find out!) and no one was allowed out without specific permission and very specific threats if any mention was made of the crap that was going on.  As a child, I wasn't allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, from band to sports - I wasn't to be trusted.  At the time, I thought it was that they didn't trust what I would do, that they thought I was going to go hog-wild with sex, drugs and rock and roll (which I did, later, after I left, and had a hell of a time, which I rarely regret).  Now I know it was that they didn't trust what I would say.  No one could know what was going on in our three bedroom ranch with the nice lawn and the two car garage...   And it wasn't nearly as bad as some of the other situations in our lovely little suburb, like the family across the street, where the father raped his three daughters regularly. 

Second disclaimer - this was the late 50's, early 60's, where everyone knew that things like rape and incest didn't happen, any woman or child who showed up in public with a black eye or other obvious bruises deserved it, and any child who reported such behavior was obviously a pervert themselves.  The result was that all of us kids knew what was going on in that house - but we never dared tell anyone.  Whenever someone talks about the good old days, I bring up the house across the street, and how no one did - or seemingly could do - a damn thing about it.  At least now you can call Social Services.

Why don't people leave horrible situations?  Because.  It is frighteningly easy to convince almost anyone that they are worthless, that they deserve what they are getting, how they are being treated, abused, beaten, etc., that no one cares about them, that no one will ever care about them, that they have no future, no hope, no nothing outside of the current situation, the current power-holder.  It is frighteningly easy to isolate someone from everyone else on the planet - and that's in "normal" relationships, without locks and handcuffs and cells in the backyard or basement.  It is frighteningly easy to threaten someone not with death - death would be easy to face - but with the forever of it, with it always, always, always getting worse.  And worse can be, and usually is, manufactured at any time. 

And that's with adults who chose each other.

Now, think about kidnap victims, who are usually kept tied up, imprisoned (closets, basements, etc.), threatened, beaten, raped, drugged...  When exactly are they supposed to get free?  How?  And when the kidnap victim is a child...

Jaycee Dugard was eleven years old; Elizabeth Smart was fourteen; Steven Gregory Stayner was seven; these three women were teenagers.  What were they supposed to do?  Act like Rambo?  How?  Steven Stayner actually did escape, but that was after his captor, 8 years later, had kidnapped a five year old (!) and young Stayner was so upset by the poor boy's distress that, while their captor was at work, Stayner took the five year old and went into town (I'm sure he was scared out of his wits the whole time), where they were found by the cops.

It's amazing that any of these eight came out alive.  Ever.  What's frightening, what is unbearable to think about, is to think of the ones who don't.  Right now there are people who are being held in someone's basement, back yard, closet, house.  Who have been held for days, weeks, months, years.  Who will never be found, never come out, never be set free, unless someone spots something wrong. 

So, let's all agree that the next time someone says "Why didn't they get out sooner?" we will bust their chops.  And pray for everyone held captive.  And if you know of someone who's doing terrible things - in the house across the way perhaps - what the hell.  Call the cops.  Call Social Services.  Make someone listen.  Maybe someone else will finally be released.

End of rant. 

20 January 2013

Charged as an Adult


by Leigh Lundin

I write today's column as a matter of conscience. Friends who like labels find me hard to politically peg, but most issues boil down to common sense– What's right and what's wrong. A wrong that horrifies me is the practice of criminally charging children as adults.

Common wisdom says America's too soft on criminals. Common wisdom is wrong– the yoke of our punitive Puritans weighs heavily upon us. Although you may have read the US imprisons more of its population than the vast majority of nations, in the same category as Iran and North Korea, that's old news. The Guardian reports the US is now N° 1 when it comes to jailing its citizens. In more detail, according to The Economist, the USA has 5% of the world's population but incarcerates one fourth of all prisoners on the planet.

Contributing to this is a phenomenon called 'over-sentencing', like a three-strikes life term for stealing a bicycle. Parole boards, fearful of being dubbed weak or soft on crime, are loath to release offenders. Likewise Congress enacts ever harsher, more punitive legislation, capped with laws making it difficult to prove post-conviction actual innocence. And prisons are profitable– not for taxpayers, but for the newly emerging prison corporations.

Eating Their Young

kids in prison
© Reuters; 20Minutes.fr
America is nearly unique charging children as adults. Until the Supreme Court finally ruled against capital punishment of children, states used to execute kids, both boys and girls.

Prosecutors offer rationalizations: "[She] deserves to be tried as an adult for making an adult decision." "The more adult the crime, the more deserving the killer is of adult justice." Certainly heinous acts arouse the fury of the public, especially killing of another child. It's not easy to like or feel sympathy for a creature that kills a parent or the very young, merging into a society that's willing to discard what it considers mistakes… even when the mistakes are our own fault.

The problem is that youngsters are not adults. Children are not even close to mature given the arbitrary age of majority of 18, 21, or– as insurance companies insist 25. If anything, child criminals may be less mature than others their age, but that doesn't stop persecutors from trying children as adults, often opting for life without parole.

Treating Their Young


The recent case of Jordyn Howe has turned a tragedy into a triple heartbreak. The 15-year-old Florida boy showed off one of his family's .40 calibre automatics on his school bus. The weapon discharged, killing 13-year-old Lourdes Guzman-DeJesus. Weeks later, her distraught father Armando committed suicide.

Miami-Dade Detective Roy Rutland concluded the shooting was an accident. Those who know the slender, clean-cut youth contend he is a decent boy. but that isn't stopping prosecutors from charging the child as an adult, despite early assurances that wouldn't happen.

Can prosecutors ever justify trying children as adults? If so, for what offenses, what circumstances? Can 'bad seed' be saved or is society right to throw away the key with the child? What do you think?