“Let me ask you three questions,” he said. “And then you’ll see it my way. Question One: what’s the worst thing that you have ever done to someone? It’s okay. You don’t have to confess it out loud. Question Two: what’s the worst criminal act that has ever been committed against you? Question Three: which of the two was the most damaging for the victim?”
The worst criminal act that has ever been committed against me was burglary. How damaging was it? Hardly damaging at all. I felt theoretically violated at the idea of a stranger wandering through my house. But I got the insurance money. I was mugged one time. I was eighteen. The man who mugged me was an alcoholic. He saw me coming out of a supermarket. “Give me your alcohol,” he yelled. He punched me in the face, grabbed my groceries, and ran away. There wasn’t any alcohol in my bag. I was upset for a few weeks, but it passed.
And what was the worst thing I had ever done to someone? It was a terrible thing. It was devastating for them. It wasn’t against the law.
Clive’s point was that the criminal justice system is supposed to repair harm, but most prisoners — young, black — have been incarcerated for acts far less emotionally damaging than the injuries we noncriminals perpetrate upon one another all the time — bad husbands, bad wives, ruthless bosses, bullies, bankers.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed