Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

A Non-Violent Crime

An empty box.

By the time she reached my daughter´s bedroom, she was already out of breath. The motion detector on the second floor was unexpected and the shrill alarm had made her jump. This start, combined with the steep steps, had her heart pounding in her chest.  

It only took a quick glance into Javier's room to know there was nothing there. Just a shelf full of books and a collection of children's toys. If she was picking up something for her son, maybe the room would have been worth a browse. But Christmas was two days past, this wasn't a holiday shopping spree.  In the afternoon light, did she notice that the room was covered in a thin layer of dust?  Did she wonder about the little boy who slept there?

Edie's room was more complicated, larger and filled with corners. The monitor on the desk was clearly old, not worth the hassle.  Scan the shelves. Books and old Eli Whitney craft projects. The dolls in the glass cabinet stared back at her. Silent. Would we be able to tell that she slipped the Paris snowglobe into her pocket? The memory of what we had, slowly fading.

Hard to believe that this room had nothing either. No PlayStation3. No jewelry. Heart pounding, the sound of the loud siren now removed, creating a forgettable backdrop.  Then she saw it.  Up on top of the bookcase.  The Apple box was unmistakable, she'd seen it on TV, in Best Buy, on the floor in her cousin's house. The one who lives in New York and goes to college.  She squeezed into the small space between the bed and the bookcase and reached.  High.  Just to get it.  But as soon as she touched it, she realized with it's lightness that it was empty.

"Hurry up!  We're getting out of here now."  

She let the box drop onto the bed where it fell, not making even the slightest wrinkle on the green bedspread.  

Back down the stairs, heart pounding, she tried to open the side door.  Pulled, kicked, her hand wrapped around the old metal doorknob, the lace curtain grazing her face.  But the old door held on and wouldn't budge.  So she picked up the tool box, shuffled down the final set of stairs and was relieved to find the back door opened easily.  Out she went, up the garden stairs, over the porch, down the front stoop, into the car waiting on the curb.  The big screen TV fit in the back seat.  The tools in the trunk.  Snowglobe in her pocket.


When we spoke with the couple who is renting our house on Thursday night, we tried to figure out what had been taken.  They reported that the third floor of the house was largely undisturbed.  The only thing out of place was an empty box on Edie's bed.

This was what we'd call a "non-violent" crime. But does the fact that nobody was hurt make the act non-violent? Where is the peace in breaking into someone's home?  Walking through a stranger's rooms. Looking at, touching and taking their stuff.  Robbing someone's peace of mind, their sense of safety. What is that if not violent?

It's hard to feel compassion for the folks who broke into our house. Really not feeling the love right now.  Let the stew be cold.  Let the baloney be green.  How dare you go into my daughter's bedroom uninvited.  Damn you.

But if you step back and look at the sky, what is that green baloney really going to get you? It's not about the love, it's about being smart. Prevention of future crimes begins with treating people who are incarcerated with compassion so that when they come out they might maybe decide to do something besides kick in my front window on a Thursday afternoon.