Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/25

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

this so well as that of the criminal habit. Mentally and physically we are the victims of custom. Existence, like running streams, has a tendency to find for itself fixed channels. Life as it expands seems to seek points of least resistance for its outlets, and in following which it encounters less friction to retard its flow. In relation to crime, this exists as strongly as the opium or alcohol habit. The habit may find its factor in perverted moral feeling, whether hereditary or acquired, but its physical expression becomes the rule of life. Take such an instance as that of Ruloff, to whom Nature had given the crude material of a magnificent mind. In spite of the terrible potency of his criminal ideas, a longing for a nobler and higher life existed within him in sufficient force to give direction to considerable self-culture. He stole, and would kill without remorse any one who stood between him and his object, simply to gain money to enable him to follow his studies. His life took the direction of the least resistance. That which existed in the normal man as a sense of right or wrong, and offered itself as an obstacle to wrong-doing, had no place in this man's mental life. The outgoings of his life in the direction of least resistance, simply and naturally led him to crime. Cerebral and bodily activities, among the good and bad alike, follow the channels in which they encounter the least friction, either objectively or subjectively. It is thus we have the parson and the thief. By inherited traits, early training, occupation or social condition, weak points may be created in the barriers which surround the activities of life, and when maturity is reached the individual's existence is defined by ineffaceable lines. At this stage of life, efforts, made either from within or without, to give a new direction to these channels, come too late. Habit has been established which confirms the direction life has taken. These two forces united seem irresistible. I was, several years ago, brought in contact with an instance which proves this. Lena S—— was of German descent, and about fifty years old. She was of more than average intelligence, and of spare, nervous temperament. Lena was an instance of sporadic crime, in the sense that she did not belong to a criminal family. She followed the specialty of shoplifting, one that requires great coolness and cunning. Caught in the act and arrested, her history was brought out. She was married, and her husband was serving out a term of imprisonment, but with whom she had not lived for many years. She wandered from city to city, following her business; she had been repeatedly arrested, and more than once punished, and every time her whereabouts was brought to the knowledge of her family by her arrest, attempts were made to reclaim her, but in vain. Sentenced to several years of imprisonment, she quickly began to droop. She passed sleepless nights, with quick, irritable pulse, and loss of appetite. She constantly brooded, and laid more than one plot to escape, one of which was nearly successful. Out of about a year and a half of confinement, not more than a month of light labor was