Breaking the Cycle of Criminal Minds

I have a confession to make. I’ve gotten hooked on the TV series, Criminal Minds.

I’m normally not much for crime dramas, and I wince at the thought – let alone sight – of horrific torture. And I’m under no illusions about the crime shows being realistic. FBI profilers aren’t all genius heroic-yet-subtly-flawed models, and they can’t reflexively sum up a criminal’s entire life history based on a ransom note and the shape of their r’s when they write in blood on the wall. Still, there’s a certain morbid fascination in people who delve into psychotic minds for a living. Or maybe we’re all just sickos.

But one thing that I find particularly positive about the show is that they always touch on what made the sociopathic serial murderers what they are. The sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their fathers and brothers as children. The anguish they endured as five-year-olds seeing their mothers prostituting themselves for money to buy food and drugs. The emotional damage they experienced moving from foster home to foster home as teenagers abandoned by their parents.

That part, unfortunately, is all too realistic. And those things leave scars that have very real long-term effects.

Human beings aren’t born evil. Thousands of pages have been written about the “true nature” of humans, but I remain convinced that every person has the inherent potential to do good or to do evil. One’s genetic endowment of abilities, talents, and preferences may predispose one in various directions, but environment and upbringing have huge impacts. They either reinforce the evil or nurture the good. Which wolf wins? The one you feed. And extreme abuse and neglect cause extreme mental illness.

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Children who live in and endure pain and evil every day learn evil, and grow up to continue the cycle. We as a society reap what we sow. If we allow the least and most vulnerable among us to be abused and neglected, they in turn will abuse and neglect others.

That’s why it’s so important for us to do whatever we reasonably can to help those most in need. If we don’t, we simply setting the stage for a never-ending and increasing cycle of evil.

Study after study after study supports the idea that preventative measures are much more cost-effective than remedial. Saving a couple hundred million by cutting Head Start funding today might seem like free money, but you’re going to pay 20 times that a few years down the road.

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With multitudes of serial rapists and murders among us, with children being abused and neglected at increasing rates, what has been the response from Republicans? What is their solution to the problem of the vicious circle of abuse and re-abuse? How do they propose to break the cycle?

Cut spending on the very programs that try to address the problem. It’s as if they see the problems as something that cannot be solved, cannot even be improved upon. They seem to say, “Some people are just evil. Why bother? It’s their own damn fault.”

Instead, they blame the victims and the victims of the victims. Rather than try and make things better for those in need, they just throw up their hands and build fortresses for the rich to hide behind. Gated communities that keep out the unfortunate. Sort a reverse Escape from New York. Set up islands of wealth and safety, and let anyone on the outside fend for themselves. “I got mine; to hell with everyone else.”

It’s a short-sighted, selfish, destructive response. But it saves them money in the short run.

Republicans preach “self-sufficiency” and despair of creating a culture of dependency. In the meantime, the poor simply despair.

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As if to underscore the U.S.’ abysmal attitude to the needy, the latest UNICEF report on child well-being just came out. The U.S. ranks 26th out of the 29 developed countries included.

Actually, the U.S. does pretty well, except for child material well-being, health & safety, education, behavior & risks, and housing & environment.

That leaves … well … nothing. But we beat Latvia. Whoo whoo!

It’s this very sort of neglect that leads to children growing up to have mental issues that result in criminal behavior.

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It’s time we faced up to the fact that ignoring problems or hiding from them doesn’t make them go away. The more evil we force our children – and they’re all our children, whether they grow up in our own homes or in the homes of other Americans on the other side of town – to endure, the more evil we ourselves will experience. We reap what we sow, even if that harvest doesn’t come in for a decade or more.

We need to increase our spending to help those in need, particularly children. Establish and expand programs that care for the most vulnerable. Build bridges, not walls. Let’s break the cycle of criminal minds.

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