Sitting around a bonfire one night when we were teenagers, my friend had this to say:
"Sorry for breakin' into your cottage. You know, the one next to yours. We didn't know your dad had bought it. There wasn't much to take. But we wouldn't have done it if we knew it was yours."
Thing is, breaking into the cottages of city folk was just what the country kids did over winter. Wasn't much else to do. When I told my dad of my friend's confession, he shrugged it off. "I noticed things had been moved around when we opened it this spring, getting it ready to rent out," he said. "Didn't think squirrels could move the furniture."
And that was that.
A petty crime, a confession, forgiveness, pass me another beer.
Over the next twenty years, most news I got of my old friend came by way of my parents. They'd run into him on the beach and learn he'd been in the army, got married, landed a decent job, moved to the city, and had kids. He was an old friend of mine and they shared his news. They didn't shun or avoid him because of what he'd once done.
I'm not condoning crime here, petty or otherwise. And neither would my father nor my friend, I'm sure. But everyone's got a line between right and wrong, and it's a personal line. It's based on who you are and where you're from. What you've seen and what you know.
There are times and places where a given society punishes one crime more harshly than another. Ask Conrad Black. Or ask the latest thug to get early release for good behaviour on his fourth visit to the can.
None of us is as innocent as we like to believe. If everyone who ever broke the law—any law—got caught and had to serve maximum time, we'd run out of prison guards soon enough.
And there'd be no one left to share a good story around the bonfire.