Back in colonial days, many people found guilty of breaking a law, legal or religious, faced public display and humiliation. Some were placed in the stocks which confined their head and hands. People would walk by and chastise them verbally and sometimes by pelting them with rotten vegetables, dirt clods or stones. Women caught in adulterous relationships had to wear a scarlet ‘A’ on the clothes for a given period of time.
These types of punishment let everyone in the community know about the person’s crimes and trespasses. In a number of instances, the shame last for years and turned out to be more life changing than had they been put in jail for a period of time.
Today’s social do-gooders scream and holler that you can’t humiliate a person like that as it hurts their self-esteem and gives them complexes they may never recover from. The result is that many people go completely unpunished for the wrongs they commit.
However, a number of parents are starting to go back to the public humiliation with their kids in an attempt to make them realize that wrong actions result in harsh consequences. Such is the case with one California mom.
Seventeen year old Justin attends La Cañada High School, just six miles north of Pasadena California. Justin was caught stealing a skateboard at school. The school didn’t press charges, but chose to notify Justin’s mom instead. Justin’s mom decided that the appropriate punishment for Justin was to stand on the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Angeles Crest Highway in La Cañada Flintridge for 15 minutes holding a sign that all of his friends would see. The sign read,
“My name is Justin. I am a thief.”
When asked about his ordeal, Justin just replied that it was his 15 minutes of shame, but that shame took place during a busy time of day: 4:45 to 5:00pm.
Justin’s mom told the local newspaper,
“It’s a lesson to all the other kids out there. If you want to take something that’s not yours…
“ … You’ve got to pay the consequences.”
Public humiliation may not work for everyone, but it has been enough of an experience to cause numerous people to change their ways. I can only hope that Justin will think twice before stealing anything else.
As for the nay-sayers, I’ve seen public humiliation work first hand. Years ago I worked as part of the management team at a large retail store. One day, I was approached by an upset customer complaining that there was a lady outside who was embarrassing her daughter. When I went out to investigate, I saw a junior high school aged girl who was apologizing to everyone entering and leaving the store.
When I walked up to them, the girl turned, looked me in the eye and told me that she had stolen clothes from the store and that she was sorry that I had to pay a higher price for everything because of her theft.
At first I was taken aback, but the mom explained that she had tried other means to break her daughter from shoplifting and nothing else worked. She thought if her daughter had to admit to everyone around that she was a thief and it was her fault they paid higher prices because of her theft that it might make a difference. I gave her my blessing and returned to work.
About a year later, the mom and girl approached me in the store. Before the mom could say anything the girl thanked me for allowing her mom to punish her in front of the store. She told me that she was so embarrassed that she wanted to hide and die at the time. It was the most horrific experience she had ever had. In the past year, she not only stopped stealing but had gotten involved with a youth group sponsored by the local city police. They were learning about police work and she said that she now wanted to become policewoman and that she hoped to make a difference in the lives of other girls.
Had this desperate mom not resorted to publicly humiliating her daughter, there is a very good chance that she would have ended up in jail for stealing and would have lived a life scarred with a felony record.
So before any of you condemn her mom or Justin’s mom, I hope you think twice and ask yourself what you would do if your child was a habitual thief and nothing else was working to stop it.