I listened to an interview yesterday with a criminologist/psychologist who expressed mixed feelings about the death penalty. During the interview, he mentioned that he once was stabbed in the neck during a burglary while he lived in Turkey. A burglar climbed in the window of an apartment in which the then-student criminologist was staying and responded violently when confronted.
That experience as a victim colored his views of crimes and the people who commit them. On one hand, he said, he understands that biology and experience can lead people to do things over which they have little control. On the other hand, he suggested the explanation of why someone commits a crime (even when the criminal cannot control his actions) matters little; the victim deserves justice or retribution. It was an interesting interview. The tension between logic and emotion was clearly evident in his comments.
Hearing of a burglar climbing in a window triggered my own memories of such an experience. My wife (who at the time was my girlfriend) and I were asleep in bed in my apartment in Houston when I was awakened by the sound of the window being opened. Just as I opened my eyes, I saw the curtains part and someone started climbing in the window and onto the desk that was in front of it. I bolted upright and slapped my hands together in a loud clap, yelling “hey!” as loud as I could. The would-be burglar retreated and ran.
The afternoon of the day before, we had returned to my apartment after an out-of-town trip and found an unfamiliar sweater on the floor of the clothes closet in the bedroom. I complained about it to the management office, thinking a member of the maintenance crew had come to my apartment to do a minor repair and had been a bit sloppy. Someone from the management office came to my apartment and looked around. She pointed out my broken window; there was a small triangle of glass missing adjacent to the lock and a piece of glass was on the floor. A screwdriver, probably, had been used to puncture the glass and turn the locking mechanism. Nothing else appeared disturbed. Nothing was missing. But the management representative suggested it was probably a burglar, frightened off in the midst of the crime.
She said she would have maintenance replace the window pane the following day. And they did. But not before someone, who I assume was the one who had broken in earlier and left a sweater in my closet, attempted to enter the apartment while we were sleeping.
After the incident in which I sent the burglar away with my clap and shout, it occurred to me that he or she (if memory serves, it was a woman’s sweater) probably was in the apartment when we returned the previous afternoon, heard us open the door, and left through the window after we entered the front door into the living room. And, perhaps, he or she was coming back to get the sweater.
Now, all these years later, I wonder just why someone would have left a sweater in my apartment. Was the person there to steal my clothes? Why would he or she have taken the sweater off in the first place? What possible reason could there have been to break in to my apartment? I was poor and living month-to-month; I had nothing of any significance to steal.
And I wonder why I didn’t call the police. Instead, after the burglar retreated, I got dressed and went out looking for the perpetrator. I remember going across the street to a convenience store and asking if the clerk had seen anyone running out of my apartment complex. God, I was an idiot! What would I have done if I’d caught him/her? Probably nothing.
I think my response to the experience was to put a heavy bar in the window in an effort to prevent someone from sliding the window open. I was nervous for a while, but my nervousness waned fairly quickly. I don’t want to find out how I’d react to another burglary attempt.