As I promised, here are Greg’s own words about his short adventure with incarceration. Written in 2006 for my parenting book, Handbook to Joy-Filled Parenting, Greg’s courage to make his story public has already helped parents rearing teens. I hope it will continue to help many–as we all grow in our journey of learning unconditional love. If you are struggling (or dreading the day) to rear teenagers, Chapter Nine of the parenting book is full of insight and tips for those difficult times–and perhaps Greg’s words will give you hope. If you have not read Part One, click here
In my early teens, I began my “criminal” career. While it was confined to occasional shoplifting during those first years, by the time I turned 16, I was on my way to becoming a full-blown crook (or so I thought). This proclivity towards unlawful behavior could not be attributed to my parents, siblings, or upbringing. It was not because I was a “poor” kid, a “dumb” kid, or a “bad” kid either. Rather it was something that developed within me independent of all external sources.
My parents taught me right from wrong, ensured my attendance at church whenever the doors opened, and provided a moral compass for me to follow with their behavior. I was a nearly straight-A student with plenty to eat, fairly decent clothes, and a roof over my head. Yet none of this was enough to deter me. I simply had a talent and a desire for stealing, and enjoyed the rush of getting away with it.
Looking back, I really have no good reason for taking things that didn’t belong to me. My best excuse was that, because of growing up without a lot of extras (needs were provided), I felt I was owed a better life, so to speak. When I saw something I wanted, but couldn’t have due to my parents’ very practical budget limitations, I did not accept that as my lot in life. Several years of practice led me to my biggest caper in the summer of 1987 prior to my sophomore year of college.
While working at a national grocery chain, I easily discovered a “foolproof” method for stealing money directly from the till. By logging on as an employee that had already left for the day (whose till had thus already been counted down), I was able to perform an undetected transaction and pocket the cash. After nearly three months of milking my employer, I got lazy and was caught, arrested and taken to jail.
Parents, I must tell you that your suspicions that jail is not a safe place are well founded. However, imprisonment (for a very short time comparative to others) was the only possible outcome that could hope to teach me the skills I had somehow grown up ignoring. If your teen is heading down this path, it may be the only way for him to understand that the consequences of his actions will catch up with him. As I sat in stir, I recall with absolute clarity when I finally understood that my behavior would lead to my eventual downfall if I did not mend my ways. The holding tank was also the place that the “real” felons would come to make phone calls, and one particular prisoner marked me for life.
The enormous man sat down directly beside me and began a series of phone calls. As he talked to first his mother, then his girlfriend, and finally his lawyer, I supposed that this gentleman was moving toward redemption. However, when his lawyer began to contradict his assertions of innocence, the convict simply replied (in a loud, booming voice), that he was certain he had not killed the man in question and that his lawyer better get that through his head lest he (the prisoner) feel obligated to “kill him too.”
Now, people – you just can’t give your child this kind of self-evaluating perspective in a loving Christian home! I decided then and there not to continue my illicit behaviors lest I end up bunkies with a gorilla like the one screaming at his lawyer in the chair next to mine. No matter of nagging, cajoling, threatening, or persuasion by my parents, teachers, or clergy could have ever made such a profound impact as this prisoner did. You simply lack, as a “good” parent, a believable framework for your criminally minded teen to relate to. Sometimes only another criminal can provide the lesson your child needs. It was the case with me, and I can happily say with honesty that I have never been tempted to steal since that day.
While your story may differ, remember that your teen decided very early on whether you would have input into his character. Be consistent, and prepare for the eventuality of county-sponsored discipline (if need be). You can beg, shout, and wave your hands all you want, but it may be something that has to happen in order for your child to become an adult.