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May 2, 2012

Commit a crime

My friend reported that someone slashed one of her tires, and she was pissed. Was it a random act of violence or was somebody making a focused expression of ill will? Had she done somebody wrong? She thought she had an idea about who might have done it, but dismissed the possibility after some consideration.

I felt terrible for her. Worse, I felt guilty, like friendship is supposed to protect us from bad things happening, you know?

A few years ago, somebody broke into my car when I was at a show. They stole my book bag out of the back seat. What an awful feeling that is! Knowing someone has violated your space and taken something that (supposedly) belongs to you.

In response to that experience, I stopped locking my car. I also stopped leaving anything of value in it. If I left anything in my car, I figured anybody could go ahead and take it. It’s none of my concern. Those things I want to keep track of, I’ll leave at home or take with me.

Living in the Highlands, of course, this means somebody’s gonna go through my car every once in a while looking for anything that might be worth stealing. There have been at least a dozen occasions when it’s been apparent that someone has tossed the glove box, but so far, nothing of any importance has been taken. And nobody has broken any of my windows.

Weirdest thing, on one of these occasions, the mystery trespasser stayed long enough to take a flashlight apart and leave the pieces in different areas of the car, and when I was straightening up the mess, I found five $20 bills mixed up with a bunch of rumpled paper on the floor. I thought I should leave a note, in case they came back.

“To the person who broke into my car: Feel free to break in again, anytime. The extra cash came in handy. Please leave more.” Or “Dear petty thief, you’re doing it wrong, but thanks!”

I love telling that story. Finding money is always exciting, but a hundred bucks … in my own car? That’s awesome.

Still, I feel kind of bad about it. I figure it probably belonged to somebody who needed it. A hundred dollars isn’t “nothing” to anybody. On the other hand, maybe they meant to leave it for me. Maybe it was somebody repaying a debt of some sort. I have a lot of weird friends, for sure … Maybe it was the dirt-bag who stole my books all those years ago, trying to make good, paying restitution. (If it was, they only have about $300 to go, and we’ll be closer to even.)

It’s a drag knowing somebody violates your space, even if they don’t take anything … or if they leave something … or whatever. It’s even worse when somebody you care about gets victimized. In my other job, as an attorney, I have defended people who have been charged with acts of theft and vandalism, so I guess I feel a bit complicit in situations where a culprit isn’t found.

As you may know, most criminal prosecutions end in plea agreements. If a client confesses to me, or if it looks like the evidence weighs heavily against them, it’s a matter of getting the best deal possible, but more than that, I feel it’s my job to encourage my clients to discontinue illegal behaviors. Our legal system works like a toilet; once it gets a hold of a body, it just sucks it down. I don’t know if my colleagues ever school their clients in the ways that they might walk the straight and narrow, but it seems to hurt my repeat business. Pretty effing ironic.

So if you’re the one who cut my friend’s tire, don’t do it again. Send her some money to cover the cost of replacing it. And if you’re inclined to go through cars looking for spare change and cigarettes or something to sell, please stop. You might get away with it for a while, but you’re making life worse for the lot of us. To borrow some words from Randy Newman, “That ain’t no way to have fun.”

For further consideration: Concepts of restorative justice are evident in television programs like “Harry’s Law” (NBC, 8 p.m., Sundays) and “The Finder” (Fox, 8 p.m., Fridays). The latter of these has an interesting touch of zen.