The Criminal's Envy of the Responsible Person

They crave responsible living but don't want to be responsible for acquiring it.

Posted Jul 31, 2018

People who make crime a way of life vacillate from peaks of excitement to swamps of despair. This instability does not constitute a mental disorder. Rather, it is a consequence of their world view which entails maneuvering to control others to build themselves up followed by the eventual collapse of their pretensions and a failure of plans based on unrealistic expectations.

Occasionally, these men and women say that they want to “settle down” and have a nice house, a family, and a good job. Such assertions usually ring hollow to others who know them well. They have heard it all before and have witnessed the criminal’s return to old patterns. Nonetheless, people close to these offenders do not abandon hope, no matter how often they are disappointed. Remarked one mother, “Every time Ted vows he will change, I am encouraged. But my hopes are constantly crushed. His good intentions never last.” She paused, then added, “But without hope, what kind of mother would I be?”

Sometimes, it is just a con job. The offender says he will change to appease others or to get out a jam that he has created. There are occasions when he means it. He genuinely desires to change, to become a better husband, a better father, to hold a steady job, and to save money. What he wants is to acquire the trappings of responsible living without having to actually be responsible to get them. He focuses on the mansion, the Mercedes, and an image of a family, but is unwilling to do what is needed to have them. To work hard, perhaps start from the bottom in a particular line of work, is to embark on a joyless treadmill that he regards as a living death.

Many jail inmates have told me of their intentions to own their own businesses. They fantasize money pouring in while they order others to do their bidding. They haven’t the slightest idea of what it takes to establish, operate, and maintain a business. They have never managed their own money. They envy the business owner or CEO with the large income, but have no concept of how such a person gains his position. It is a typical “big score” idea of becoming rich overnight– maximum gain with minimum effort.

Even if a criminal holds a high paying job, he remains insecure. Because of his criminal activity, he risks losing everything he has. One need only consider corporate executives who have lost their homes, had their wives leave them, and eventually lost their freedom. They remain envious of their contemporaries who did things legitimately and are able to enjoy their lives.

Probation and parole officers watch some of their clients do well for quite some time. These men and women hold jobs, save money, attend required meetings, and have clean drug screens. Their progress is short-lived. They grow restless, bored, and dissatisfied. Missing the excitement of the criminal lifestyle, they return to what they crave and know so well. While disparaging the “slaves” and “suckers” on the treadmill, they continue to envy them for what they have achieved.