Does committing a crime make someone inherently bad?

When I was arrested, I went from a “good” person to “bad” person in the blink of an eye for many people.  I still wonder if in revising their opinion, they came to the conclusion that while they thought I was a good person, I was always secretly bad or if my illegal act eliminated everything I’d accumulated in the good column. Did the good disappear? Was it ever really there?

Are people inherently good or inherently bad?

Neither. People just are. Social norms, acceptable behavior, laws and regulations all change over time. The behavior of someone in Year 317 or 1317 may seem to stand in stark contrast to modern day behavior labeled as acceptable. Were those people bad and didn’t know better? If we’re so advanced, will the people in 500 or 1000 years after we’re gone be all that more enlightened?

One of the more interesting evolutionary traits of humans (and I’m talking over millions of years, not hundreds) is the increasing need for order, averages and the status quo. We crave to know where to set the bar when it comes to every product, behavior or thought we produce or consume.

People are inherently fearful. They are scared that they will fall outside of their desired norm – and that’s even true of the most alternative anarchist. We go with the crowd, even if that crowd is a minority.

When people are looking through their black and white lenses because shades of gray are scary, I’m reminded of the oft-used phrase, “Hitler loved his dogs.” Can somebody be pure evil if they still love dogs? If the person who is the gold standard of evil has a soft spot for puppies is anybody 100% bad?

Well, no and nobody is 100% good, because again, those are labels that I’m using with my own unique definition. Hitler existed. His behavior has never been accepted as OK. But what if the Nazis won? There’s a good chance we’d be living in a world that looked back on Hitler through very different eyes and reached a very different conclusion about his place in history.

When I was arrested and convicted for my crime, I know that many people took an eraser to all of the things I had ever done that were seen as good. I raised tens of thousands of dollars for and brought awareness to plenty of local causes. I regularly volunteered my time or donated advertising space in my magazine. I made dozens of filmmakers’ dreams come true with the film festival I ran for three years. That all disappeared when I went from being a “good” person in many people’s eyes to a “bad” person because the one act of convincing a teenage girl to masturbate online trumps everything else I’ve ever done.

Should it? It’s not up for me to decide. I accept and live with the punishment I was given. I’ve come to understand what happened and for me, it takes place beyond good and bad. It was more an issue of sick vs. healthy. But I can’t stop people from viewing me as bad.

People are not one-dimensional enough at their core to be inherently anything. Labeling and stereotyping makes things easy. I think it was George Carlin who said something like, “There’s no reason for sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. If you just take a few minutes to get to know somebody, you’ll have legitimate reasons not to like them!”

I want people to like me and I want to feel like I’m contributing something to society. I think I achieved it in my life prior to my arrest, even if I was secretly a porn addict. I want to be seen as good. With what I did, that may never happen for a vast majority, even if I find the cure for cancer.

What’s most important for my recovery is that I know that I once had the capacity to do bad things that most people would never do. I was very sick when I made the decision to talk to women in online chat rooms. Even most sick people don’t do that. Then I made the decision to urge several to take off their clothes. Even more sick people don’t do that. Then I ignored the fact that there were females who might not have yet reached the age of 18, but continued the behavior. We’re now getting into a small number of sick people…but it’s what I was capable of, sick or not.

Does the fact I have the capacity to sink this low make me inherently bad? I think statistics suggest it makes me inherently rare and someone society correctly punished with a jail term and has determined tabs should be kept on for a while through probation. I understand the need for it, I really do.

There is no one-word, conditional-for-the-world-we-live-in-at-this-moment-in-time label that can apply to anyone. If we are inherently anything, it’s complex.

5 thoughts on “Does committing a crime make someone inherently bad?

  1. I believe we all have equal light and equal shadow, like a yin yang.

    When we are thinking/acting out in negative ways (and they’re negative because they hurt us and/or others), we are living from the shadow because it is being fed. Recognizing when the shadow is starting to move into our light is key. Acknowledge it, say hi to it, wave at it but most importantly, wave it off.

    We have both good and bad in us, but the one you feed is the one that will win.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
    ― Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

    I love that quote. I use it as an affirmation to help me keep my husband’s actions in perspective. Like him, you are more (much more) than the worst thing you’ve ever done.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Joshua, you paid the steep price for your crime. Therefore you have a clean slate in my eyes and I have no right to judge you for past actions. Society doesn’t, either. I’m certainly not who I used to be when I was wallowing in the cesspool of porn and folks should respect that fact.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I think it’s to do with the nature of the offence specifically. People who commit other offences – and I’m not going to be specific here – seem generally to be seen as having taken their punishment and allowed to move on and might be commended for rebuilding their lives. However, sex offences generally are seen differently. In the UK, no matter what ‘level’ they are they bring with them institutional longevity; my conviction will be ‘spent’ eventually and I won’t have to declare it to insurance companies etc., but it will never go away completely, it will stay on record to come up in certain specific kinds of searches until the day I die. This reflects what rollie says above about society as a whole; that, despite having demonstrably lower levels of reoffending (mine specific offence has a re-offending rate of something like 3% as far as I understand it), sex offenders are seen as somehow irredeemable.

    At my sentencing, the judge was quite clear that he didn’t believe I truly didn’t want to re-offend, he said I was just going through the motions and giving the right answers to avoid prison – he rejected quite brutally the character references I had. I think this shows how both society as a whole and the establishment in particular sees sex offenders as bad to the core.

    Liked by 1 person

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