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The Mystery of S. Walton

On our way back from Illinois, we made a stop at the Franklin County Jail Museum. A small attraction at the southern end of the state, we had seen the sign and decided to visit the next time we passed by.

The Mystery of S. Walton

When we finally did, it was a stop to remember. We learned of the jail’s history, and its entanglement with the infamous Charlie Birger – an American bootlegger and gang leader.

While we explored, I also came across this writing on the wall:

S. Walton illinois travel

I have no reason why it stuck with me, but it did. It had survived since 1990, just a year after I was born. I wanted to know who this S. Walton was, why he was there, and what his life had been like. I found myself searching for him online when I returned home, but it turned up nothing.

Criminal Minds

While I walked through the dark hallways with rusted gates, dusty floors, and peeling paint, I tried to imagine what it had been like to live like caged animals in the darkness.

I also thought a great deal about the kind of people who end up behind bars; and what it was in their lives that prompted them to become serial killers, burglars, or rapists, instead of law-abiding garbage men, doctors, and volunteers.

My question almost instantly reminded me of an episode of Criminal Minds, which had left a lasting impression on me from so many years ago. When asked by an agent why he had committed his ruthless acts of violence, a serial rapist responded:

…the one thing that you always ask is the one that I don’t understand: Why? I’ve no idea why.

I see a guy walking down the street with a stupid look on his face, and I want to bash him over the head with a bottle.

To me that’s normal. It’s weird to me that no one else feels that way. It’s all I think about. I can’t stop.

Disciplining my Mother’s Child

After returning home, I began to watch more episodes of Criminal Minds, and the question continued to fester. Of course, not every criminal becomes a serial offender, or commits such heinous crimes as this fictional character.

But I’ve often wondered, when I gained freedom from adult supervision at sixteen, what was it that kept me out of trouble? When I had all the space and time in the world to experiment with boys and drugs, why didn’t I? As a young teen in college, I was certainly surrounded by a good deal of both.

I don’t regret my decisions, but now that I’m an adult the world almost wants to convince me that these are the things I should have been doing. And that somehow something is wrong with me for choosing to be responsible.

My mother started travelling when I was nine years old, and was living in another country by the time I hit fourteen. Thus, I had plenty of time to myself to do good, or bad, or nothing at all.

But before my mother moved away, she instilled quite a few lessons, which have served me well to this day. At the time though, I wasn’t at all grateful for it.

I rolled my eyes and sighed and grumbled while she showed me her paycheck, showed me the bills, showed me how much groceries cost, and how she budgeted out every cent.

She taught me how to wash entire loads of laundry by hand, without a washing machine; how to clean hardwood floors with a coconut brush; and how to find my way around the city my high school was in, which was a whole hour away from home.

The Response

Sharing these experiences always raise a few eyebrows. People have their own opinions about how a child should be raised, and believe there was perhaps more madness than method to my mother’s approach.

But ultimately, I think my mother gets the last laugh. She raised a self-reliant honour student, who made responsible decisions and never gave her cause for worry. Thanks to her, I knew all about the real world long before I was plunged into it, and so I was prepared for adulthood when it was thrust upon me in my mid-teens.

Suddenly, all the times I had rolled my eyes, and groaned and complained about wanting to do something else – anything else – became entwined with memories of how much to set aside for bills, what to buy for groceries, how to do laundry for the four years of my bachelor’s degree that I had to leave my washing machine at home…

The Devil’s Playground

One day, Michael walked into my office space to look at the big whiteboard where I write my weekly to-do-list. He stared at it in awe for a moment, and then he said:

I guess this is what a productive person’s list looks like.

For a moment, I wondered if maybe that was the answer. But though they say idle hands are the devil’s workshop, even productive people commit crimes. Productive people are goal-oriented, and for some, how many kilos of cocaine they transported illegally to another country counts as goals too. Why not? It takes hard work, illegal or no.

Thus, my theory rests in discipline, instead. Not the spare the rod, spoil the child discipline, but discipline which considers a child’s temperament and treats them accordingly to get results.

For instance, my father followed the old spare the rod, spoil the child method, which had an effect to the contrary. Though he considered himself the disciplinary figure and the head of the household, I didn’t listen to a word he said, especially since he had a habit of issuing orders rather than requests.

My mother, on the other hand, pretty much had me wrapped around her little finger. Rather than reach for the belt when I broke the rules, my mother reached for my CD player. It would be gone for a week, and I would be miserable and penitent in no time. And rather than go off on a shouting spree, she would sit me down and talk me through what I did wrong.

Ultimately, I learned I would much prefer to have my father whack me with a belt, than have my mother say:

 I am so disappointed in you. 

While still in Jamaica, one of my expatriate friends from Alaska, summed up the ineffectiveness of beatings articulately:

Hitting a child teaches them to be violent. When they become adults, many of them become violent themselves, because the only way they learned to gain respect is through fear.

The Importance of Discipline

Whatever way parents choose to discipline their kids though, better to try than to leave it up to chance. Chance is no man’s friend, even when you’re wealthy and educated, and your son is a star athlete trying to swim his way to the Olympics.

Without discipline, we end up with delinquent teenagers, who grow up to be adults who have a difficult time fathoming the concept that there are consequences for their actions, especially when those actions involve the lives of other people. 

At the worst, lack of discipline creates more privileged perpetrators like Stanford rapist, Brock Turner; or another S. Walton, whose only legacy is his name inscribed on the wall of a rotting jail cell.

Check out the pictures from the Franklin County Jail Museum below.




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