Why is it that most crimes of poverty are punishable by fines?
Ah, what does he mean by crimes of poverty, you ask?
The New Century Thom Dictionary of Quasi-Superficial Definitions defines crimes of poverty as, “Acts stemming from a lack of funds necessary to pay obligations such as car insurance, license plates, income taxes, and that sort of silliness.”
The way I see it, people break these laws for three reasons: 1) because said person is thick in the head 2) because he/she doesn’t have the cash to get it done, or 3) the person’s some fanatic nut-job that thinks all government is conspiratorial and ordained by invading forces from the planet Gurglesnoop. (Number three, of course, is mostly just a slightly-nonsensical variation of number one.)
But the grassy-knoll crowd aside, most people desire to stay current with these minor – and often unnecessarily pricy – regulations. To do otherwise is just not worth the hassle. But, what happens if someone gets caught breaking the code?
They get fined.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but if limited wealth is the problem to begin with, isn’t it rather absurd to think that adding additional financial burden to the dilemma will correct the situation?
Allow me to illustrate with a story from my life:
When I was a young adult, I, like many people of that age, was not quite wealthy. I drove a beater of a car that featured a hole in the floorboard. This meant that every time I passed through a puddle, water would splash up into my face.
Yeah, it was great.
So, surprise of all surprises, when it came time for my annual emissions test, the car failed in a haze of rust and duct taped splendor. Well, this was a problem. You see, my one-of-a-kind vehicle needed to pass this test in order to acquire new license plates. Ah, but the mechanic quoted me seven hundred dollars to get my car up to snuff. But, I was living check-to-check; I had hungry little mouths to feed. I didn’t have seven hundred dollars lying around like great Aunt Betsy in her grand old straw mattress. My savings program consisted mostly of the loose change I dug out of the couch on a bi-weekly basis.
But, what to do? There was no public transportation system in my little Midwestern town. I needed to get to work. I really planned on keeping my job. So – shame on me – I kept on driving.
Well, no surprise, I got pulled over for driving on expired plates. Now I had to pay for a ticket, plus plates, plus a repair bill.
Then I got pulled over again.
Add another seventy-five dollars to my tab.
Another week, another ticket. Same cop! He actually told me he’d been waiting for me to pull out of my apartment complex.
Then the fun began.
The next time I was pulled over – was there ever any question that there’d be a next time? – I was informed that my driver’s license had been suspended due to my multiple infractions. Why had I not been notified of this? Glitch in the mail. Anyway, driving on a suspended license is apparently a rather big deal. They put me in handcuffs – breaking my classy ten-dollar Wally World watch in the process – and threw me in the back of the squad car to haul me off to jail.
“One hundred dollars bail,” said the young officer when asked what it would take to spring me from this heinous offence. Well, it just so happened that I’d been on my way to the bank to cash a paycheck. I asked the officer politely if we could stop at said bank so I could cash the check and thus pay the bail.
I begged a little.
I pleaded like a little girl who’d just lost her first and only lollypop. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But, I did become quite annoying.)
And, yes. We rolled into the bank.
So, here I am, standing in line at the bank – in handcuffs – flanked on either side by a stern-faced lawman.
Yeah. People stared.
All-in-all everything totaled up to nearly two-thousand dollars before I and my car were legal to drive together again.
All of this because I didn’t have money to get the car fixed.
A couple of things:
No, I shouldn’t have driven – and kept driving – on expired plates. Bad, Thom. Bad.
But, isn’t a system that puts a normally-law-abiding citizen in such a position flawed? Wouldn’t justice be better served by giving such a person a rather-generous extension on the plates, or maybe offering community service as an alternative to paying multiple fines? Shouldn’t the system be geared toward correcting the problem instead of erecting Alcatraz-style barriers to solutions and creating a creeping mess that grows like some hideous monster from a “B” horror flick?
Just a thought.
Thom Reese is a Las Vegas based writer whose weekly radio show, 21st Century Audio Theatre, previously aired on the 50,000 watt KDWN. Fourteen of Thom’s audio dramas will be released by Speaking Volumes Quality Audio Books throughout 2010. Thom studied comedy writing at The Second City and works in market research for CBS Broadcasting.
Copyright 2010 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.
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