This story deals with a prisoner, Mikel Lesperance, who, by chance alone, came into contact with us here at The Sputnik. As well, it looks at crime and what breaking the rule of law does not only to our society, but to the people who break those rules in the first place.
“It was indescribable to live in the hell I had,” writes Mikel Lesperance, a prisoner at Monteith Correctional Centre in Monteith, Ontario. His childhood is a sad picture of parental abuse and neglect.
“By age five, I was already an emotionally-stripped child full of fear and hatred.” Not surprising, as even imagining such an upbringing is hard for most of us, but terribly and deeply sad.
“When you have this kind of painful existence, a defence mechanism would be your emotional response range constricting a little bit,” explains Dr. Andrew Welsh, an associate professor of criminology at Laurier Brantford. Welsh also holds a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology and Law.
“It’s hard to feel all the time when life is that hard,” he continues, “so as a result, the person becomes hard or hardened.”
This becomes the case for many children who face homes full of abuse and humiliation.
“You should feel safe when you go home,” says Welsh. “If you don’t like school and maybe kids aren’t nice to you, you should be able to go home and that’s where you feel safe. So what do you do when you don’t feel safe [at home]?”
The answer to this question, in part at least, is an escape through drugs and alcohol. These two influences are not uncommon to many of the people currently serving a prison sentence inside Canada’s federal correctional institutions.
“Substance abuse is a big driving force behind crimes,” says Welsh. “Alcohol and drugs, lack of education, poverty and unemployment are huge issues.”
In the case of Lesperance, this is exactly what happened when he left home at 15, already addicted to drugs and alcohol – habits that contributed to him eventually landed him in jail where he has served 25 years to date.
It is clear that substance abuse is one of the largest contributing factors to crime. A report prepared for the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs found that 89.7% of prisoners sampled said they were arrested for illegal activities either relating to their drug use or for activities in which they were trying to get drugs or the money to buy drugs.
However, there are other theories that help to explain the causes of criminal behaviour.
“No one theory can really fit and explain all types of crime,” says Welsh. “In psychology, we talk about social information processing. How people cognitively appraise and think about situations, their decision-making ability, et cetera. In sociology, you would focus on things like gaps between socially prescribed goals. So what are the things you are supposed to achieve in life?”
These goals, in our Western society, are based around material wealth, and when people cannot attain these goals through conventional means such as education and employment, crime is more often than not, a resort.
Our media is full of stories of crime and punishment; so, too, are our movies and music. Welsh thinks that this is a problem, as it doesn’t portray crime for what it really is.
“It’s a complex social problem.”
So how can that message be presented to society? Welsh suggests exactly this type of story.
“A letter like that [from Lesperance] would be really good for students to read because it really does show that crime is a social problem.”
In studying the story of Mikel Lesperance, it raises the question of whether we really have the right institutions put in place to deal with crime in Canada, and what changes need to be made to our criminal justice system.