Human conservation

This is Why I hate People

“You don’t need to be the tide to rise and fall, you don’t have to be a wave to touch the shore; just be a little sand-grain and feel them all”—Munia Khan

If you can’t be the sand-grain and feel the sea, the sky and the life within—you’re missing the portal to being.

The hunter spotted her target, sighted with care, and squeezed off the shot. Pow! A Wilson’s Warbler— captured on camera.

It was a good day for pixel packing, Lisa—until she got back to her car. Someone had gotten into it and took two of her cameras and other equipment.

While Lisa took this shot, a thief took her cameras

Disgusted, Lisa Wollerstein-Whitmore posted both the gorgeous photo and the details of the theft on the Facebook group, Long Island Wildlife Photography, along with,

“…this is why I hate people.”

Her words reverberated like a shotgun blast in a quiet wood. She was pissed, as were the fifty Facebook responders to her plight: “people suck,” “love the photo, hate those people,” “What a shitty way to end a great day,” “THAT SUCKS!” And my favorite: “…I hate people & won’t go anywhere they go….”

If you ever were the victim of a crime, and I think most of you were at some point, you feel her anger.

Here was a confluence of two opposing mindsets, one trekking the wild for exposed wildlife, hoping for an opportunity to capture winged beauty—the other stalking vulnerable nature lovers hoping for a chance to swoop and raid their nest.

But if we caught that thief, what are we to do? What are we to say?: “Throw him in jail!, let him rot.” “Teach him a lesson,” “That’s the only way he’ll learn!” That’s what I’d say if I were the victim, and I have been—and I’ve said a lot worse than these comments. So would most of you. When it’s personal, it’s tough to reject vengeance. We want retribution. But what our criminal justice system provides, as retribution, is basically incapacitation. It doesn’t work out well.

To incarcerate this thief, we’d be sending him to a convention of like minds, those bent on similar crimes. This thief might have already been incarcerated for another crime, say shoplifting, and expanded his education and his “craft”:

While in the slammer, he could have had a class from his cellmate: “Why take the petty stuff from a store, if you fight a security guard, the charge goes from larceny to robbery (use of force to take property makes it robbery) a heavier crime. He might be tutored, “Better to go where the birders, the photographers, the nature strollers go. Go to the parking lots of the beach, the woods, or the parks. These folks usually park in isolated areas, where you can snatch their cameras, maybe even a wallet or pocketbook.”

They learn a lot in  C U (Crossbar University). They learn new ways to work the system.

After my police career, I worked on a project bailing nonviolent pre-trial detainees that were in jail. We’d put up as much as $10,000 to bail them. We had counselors who would work with them to provide schooling, training, jobs. For those with addictions, we’d place them in rehabs.

They could demonstrate to the judge that they are motivated to change during their case’s progression. Most of the time, they did well, sometimes not. Sometimes they ran away, and I’d have to find and return them to jail. But those were just a very few.

Most completed their obligations, received a second chance and the tools to live a better life. But even those who felt they were scamming the system, conning the judge, still had to attend groups, go to school, learn trades, hear better words of support than they would have heard in jail.

But these were not violent offenders. Even if they didn’t have a violent criminal history, they stayed in jail if I learned they were violent in their personal lives.

Not so today.

I’m not involved in bailing anyone these days, but from what I’ve learned from the media, too many violent offenders are getting out with little or no bail and continuing their violent lifestyles amidst our families and us. They are arrested for assault or worse and released to do it again. Violent offenders are the bane of civilized living. And violence is on the rise as these violent criminals are released so readily.

Could this not have been predicted?

This is why I hate ill-conceived programs.

This chaotic jail-population reduction, even if well-intended, is ruining the reputation of ATI programs.

ATI (Alternatives To Incarceration) are valid paths for many non-violent offenders to change, especially first- time offenders. It’s an opportunity to intervene in a person’s life so he doesn’t label himself a criminal. He doesn’t see himself in an us vs. them scenario, where “us” is his acceptance of being a criminal, identifying with criminals as his people.

In Lisa’s case, wouldn’t it be better if a court “sentenced” our camera thief to walk beaches picking up ribbons, monofilament, plastic bags, BALLOONS,  and other threats to birds and other wildlife? Perhaps require attendance at nature and conservation courses. Maybe a couple of men could take the offender under their wing, so to speak, in a birding walk. Reports to the court of attendance and cooperation could work as an incentive to participate. Most of us are into recycling detritus we find on our shores: plastic, glass, paper. Maybe we need to consider human recycling too, call it human conservation. Take a misplaced young man and recycle him to civilized living.

Now, maybe I’m near to swoon on a trek at the shore. For many of you and me, there’s a portal we enter when we’re in nature, a door to a more profound realization of being alive. Whether the woods or the sea, sand, and sky—it’s about presence. Many of you who are reading this know exactly what I mean.

I especially love the seashore. I believe it touches a place we didn’t know existed in us—until we were there. Maybe it’s because there are few structures or geometric angles (no iron bars).

Nassau County jail

There’s just curving waves, scudding clouds, shifting dunes—and the swoop of birds on the wing.

Often I need to put the camera down and just—be. Such exposure might touch someone who never experienced being in the moment, who never even heard the term, much less understands its importance in life.

Someone who was never offered a chance to plumb beyond the superficial and explore the depths of being. To search, to realize the only precious time—is the present moment—a place of peace.

Sure, you might think that’s expecting too much from a work-a-day thief. But at least we might offer it, surround him with minds experiencing beauty, birdsong, and, presence. At a minimum, we would share with him—just a breath of salt air.

Be well,


2 replies »

  1. Lee this is such a wonderful and different perspective on how to handle this particular thief ! I can see how this positive approach could work with other thieves based on what they stole! I believe it could make a huge and positive impact on these thieves! Love your stories Lee! Thank you!


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