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.




13 thoughts on “The Mystery of S. Walton

  1. I enjoyed your post. There are different ways to discipline. I also watch Criminal Minds and Lockup often and wonder what led people to do the things they did. Many came from rough childhoods, but for the ones who came from mediocore or well to do backgrounds, I wonder what drove them to comitt acts of violenece. That quote from your friends is very true also. Violence begets violence.

    1. Thank you Catherine!

      I do believe there are different ways to discipline, and I’m sure spanking might even be the way for some kids.

      I’m also really happy to see so many Criminal Minds fans commenting on this and other posts. I’ve never heard of Lockup before though.

  2. Fantastic blog, as always! I do, however, have to disagree with your Alaskan friend. I do not think that spankings result in violent adults. If that was the case, I think that nearly my whole generation would be violent people – and they’re just not. I’m not a violent person, and I was spanked a good number of times by my father. Admittedly, my father was a discriminatory spanker. Depending on what I did, resulted in the punishment whether it be loss of privileges, grounding, spanking, extra chores, etc.

    In my mind, and maybe (?) not in the minds of others, there is a difference between a spanking and a beating. Spanking is something done with deliberation and on the rear end only and smarts enough to maybe bring tears, but is back to normal in 5-10 minutes. Beating is done out of anger and on a whim with objects or hands and leaves lasting marks, bruises, and fear of he perpetrator.

    My dad was a 6’7″ tall, no bullshit, stoic, intimidating truck driver – and he never scared me, because he never actually hurt me. I knew he loved me, and he showed it every minute of every day. Spanking wasn’t something he did on a whim, and I knew if I was being spanked I deserved it.

    1. My friend spoke more about Jamaica’s version of a spanking. It’s not necessarily done in anger, but it’s no light tap. You can expect waled skin and bruising as thanks, and the rear end is rarely the only target. Parents usually use a leather belt, and teachers back in the day (before it was banned in our schools) used canes and rulers. What America calls a spanking is child’s play in comparison.

      It usually does make children obedient for a time. And perhaps, it instills fear too. But in Jamaica, that is discipline. That is our culture.

      My father was not a spanker though. He was abusive, and I was a rebellious activist even then. Since beatings were inevitable on a whim, I figured I might as well earn them. I did so by speaking my mind. Ironically, whenever I stood up to him and did speak my mind, I never got in trouble. He would just walk away, angry. Whatever I said would cut him to the core, and it hurt too much to even bother with me anymore.

      In consequence, I cannot stand to be slapped as an adult. I almost always overreact, and I warn people repeatedly, don’t try it. It won’t end well.

      1. Ah, that makes sense. Jamaican “spanking” definitely does sound like my definition of “beating”. My step-mom was a beater. I remember one time, simply because I could not find the plug to the bath-tub and made her get up to help me find it, she hit me all up and down my back with one of those old-style heavy plastic back scrubbers. I had bruises all over my back and legs for weeks after that. This sort of thing from her was not uncommon, and it too has left me with issues in adulthood like you have expressed having yourself.

        My step mom used to backhand me in the face a lot – and so to this day I don’t like it when people touch my face. If a friend raises their hand up to my face to even brush an eyelash off my cheek or something of the sort, I flinch. A friend once thought it was funny to continue to bop me on the head with a newspaper even though I kept asking her to stop, after about the third time my psyche just couldn’t handle it anymore and I blew up. Definitely as you said, didn’t end well.

        My step-dad was abusive as well. Once I escaped my step-mom after my dad’s passing, I had to move in with him and my mom – so it continued.

        With that in mind, I’ll have to definitely agree that the definition of physical discipline as you described back home, or what I dealt with from step-parents – certainly leads to negative repercussions for us as adults.

      2. Yes, it does. Even when we are not violent people in our everyday lives, you learned the same lesson. When she would not listen to you, you commanded respect by blowing up, which instilled fear. That’s the lasting effect of that.

        For the most part though, no one ever guesses that bit about my past unless I say it. My husband says I’m one of a kind to walk away from that unscathed. Aside from my dislike for being slapped (or bopped on the head, like you), I can’t say it affected my life any other way.

        I had great make role models growing up and my step-dad is a peach. Maybe that’s what saved me, or maybe I am just a special case.

      3. I’d like to think it’s a combination of both. The positive people in our lives can rescue us from those who would otherwise damage us beyond repair.

        But I do believe that up to a certain point, how we react to our damages is within our control. Sometimes things happen and we can’t – but What we can do is be aware of what our “issues” are and try to find better ways to react to them – or if suitable, avoid them all together.

        That being said, I know that not everyone is as self reflective as you or I may be.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. Especially the part about how you were disciplined as a child. I’m not too sure about how I stayed out of trouble as a child or teenager either. I had no adult supervision from the age of 12 years old. My mother was stung out on drugs. By the time I was 14 years old I was paying rent, had a full time job at a fast food restaurant, & still went to school. I remember saying to myself that I needed to be better and that I had a choice. I could use my situation as an excuse, cry about it and end up dead or in the jail or I can use my situation to push myself forward, do better, and live to tell others about how I made it.

    1. Thanks Wanda. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and could relate to it, but I’m also sorry you had to experience that.

      I love those stories of triumph though. Many people use their bad experiences as excuse for bad behaviour, not realising or just accepting that they do have a choice.

      We love to blame outside forces, which though strong, should never trump our internal strength.

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