As a society, I think we’ve tried, at one time or another, virtually every deterrent to crime imaginable – from a stout hempen rope draped tastefully around the neck of convicted evildoers to supervised probation and gentle psychological counseling.
Judging by the growing numbers of befuddled felons who continue to blithely skip through our criminal justice system, we still haven’t quite found the solution.
There’s one potential tool, however, that the criminal justice system has woefully neglected – the time-honored newspaper obituary.
Read any obituary page in any newspaper in the nation and you’ll learn about wonderful folks who were great fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. They were business leaders, chess champions, gourmet chefs, lawmakers, inventors and philanthropists.
And this is as it should be. An obituary is, traditionally, the very last thing ever to be written about any of us. Our achievements, no matter how modest, should be recognized one last time before we spring free into the next stage of our existence,
(Uh-uh, I’m no fool. You’re not going to catch me writing anything that would even vaguely suggest any recognizable religious interpretation of the afterlife. Whatever works for you works for me, amigos…).’
As you peruse the obituary pages, you might read about someone’s favorite hobby, beloved pets or the time they hooked the biggest bass in Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
What you’re quite unlikely to see is a detailed account of how the deceased shot up the Quickee Mart one hot August night because he needed gas money to fuel his stolen car.
Let’s face it, nobody wants to be remembered for the time he or she was arrested naked at the top of a downtown palm tree after a spectacular evening of drunken driving.
And perhaps we can use that very fact to make folks think twice before they stray from the straight and narrow path.
Break the law more than once and the record of all your dastardly deeds will be court-ordered into your obituary – no exceptions. A once laudatory obituary might now read something like:
“A successful cattle rancher and former auto dealer, John Doe was a lifelong resident of Elmodorsa Hills. Known in his later years as a trophy-winning sport fisherman, Mr. Doe also is remembered for the fateful afternoon his methamphetamine lab exploded and set fire to two nearby police cars. His marksmanship also was well-known to local law enforcement, particularly after he shot out no fewer than 18 city street lights on Broadway while dressed in a Vera Wang wedding gown. A man of strong convictions, Mr. Doe was always quick to point out that he also had several acquittals…”
Of course, if you manage to clean up your act, obey all laws and resist the temptation to smack your no-good brother-in-law, Roscoe, one upside the head with an ax handle, you could petition the court to expunge your record – and your obituary – so nobody would have to remember the time you got caught rustling sheep in Minadoka.
Will rap sheet obituaries help deter crime? Only time will tell…
Originally published February 4, 2007