The Crippled Criminal

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Last night I went to a Birthday party and one of Mauricio's many relatives told us a story. It was about a friend of his (the relative's) here in Santa Cruz and really made me think.

A young man, let's call him Juan, drove his car to a store, parked, and got out. Another man, severely crippled, approached Juan asking for help. He handed him a slip of paper with a phone number written on it and asked if Juan could just dial the pay phone for him. Sympathizing with the man's situation and wanting to help, Juan began to dial the number. But a strange feeling that something wasn't right suddenly came over him and he dropped everything and ran back to his car.

As he got back into the car he felt more and more strange and uneasy. He began driving but only made it a few blocks before losing consciousness. The next thing that Juan can remember is waking up from a coma in the hospital.

He had been drugged. The crippled man, working with a few other guys, had sprayed the slip of paper that had the phone number on it with a strong drug that entered his skin through osmosis. They waited for Juan to pass out and then stole his car and other belongings.

Your first reaction to the story is probably the same as mine was. Pity for Juan for having to endure such a horrific crime. Amazement that people could be so cruel. Moral of the story: you can't really trust anyone on the streets of Bolivia.

But this morning I was thinking about it again and something dawned on me. What about the crippled man? I have to wonder how he felt about all of it. I mean, I doubt that he woke up one morning and decided that he would enjoy participating in dangerous, horrible crimes. I can't imagine that he got pleasure out of harming other humans and throwing their families into turmoil. Something tells me that it wasn't even his idea.

More likely, the man was desperate for money and was out of options. He was probably hungry and wanted to buy a meal. Maybe he sleeps on the street. Perhaps medicine or surgery could heal him but is far too expensive. None of this excuses what he did. I wouldn't dream of defending him. But I also can't place all of the blame upon him. After all, no office would hire him. He can't do physical labor or drive a taxi. Jobs are tight enough in Bolivia without having a physical disability.

I imagine that a few guys approached him one day and asked if he wanted to make some money. He probably eagerly agreed. They explained what he would have to do and that they'd give him part of the stolen money. Maybe he wavered. Maybe his conscious tried to stop him. Maybe he even declined at first. But in the end, his desperation was too strong.

As I said, I simply cannot defend such a horrible crime. But I also can't dump all of the blame on him. What about the city that doesn't provide him with any sort of assistance? What about employers that don't want anything to do with him? What about his family? What about the Churches that are too focused inward and don't ever reach out?

And what about me? Have I passed him on the street, ignoring his outstretched hand? Have I heard him ask for spare change and kept on walking?

What do YOU think? I'd love to hear your opinion!
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