Friday Mailbag — Book Theft

The vast majority of my mail this week was sparked by my Tuesday column wondering why it was necessary to arrest and jail an Independence woman after she failed to return a long-overdue library book.

Essentially, I argued that arrest and jail was an overreaction. I asserted that our society too often cuts the rich/famous/powerful slack while being quick to kick the little guy/gal, and that we should think about that before we applaud the jailing of the woman, Shelly Koontz, a single factory worker raising two kids and a grandchild.

I did not excuse her behavior. I think she shoud be punished, but the punishment should better fit the crime.

Most readers who wrote disagreed.

Bev Amoroso of North Liberty questioned why I mentioned that Koontz is a single mother:

Once again the media are “Guilty” of glorifying the status of single motherhood, a situation which she, herself, created. Would a “working, married couple” not returning a library book be granted the same sympathy? What does single motherhood have to do with not returning a library book or for anything else? People make choices, and we all must live with choices we make. Is there more to the story than has been reported? Perhaps one of the reasons that society is becoming less tolerant is that more and more people are seeking status as victims, shirking responsibility, and blaming others for their actions or inactions.

 “Guilty,” she wrote me later, is the title of a best-selling book.

Mel Sunshine emailed this:

So, stealing from a public library is something that should be tolerated??
She had many opportunities to either return the book or pay for it but she CHOSE not to. And then coming up with all those excuses –single mom, etc.– that she didn’t have time. Many other single parents with kids do find time to take care of their responsibilities. We in Iowa know B.S. when we hear it from her. And then to indicate that she should go on one of those talk radio shows and make”ha ha”. She wasn’t sorry for what she did. What kind of lesson is it to her children and grandchildren that it is ok to ignore the law when it suits her. And, remember, she stole something that belonged to ALL the citizens of the town.

“But should she go to jail?” I asked Mel. He replied.

Perhaps she did not deserve to go to jail. But what about all the extra expense for the library to call and send out letters and for the police and what about the fact that she prevented others from getting the use of the book. And she apologized after she was arrested. She was literally “saying” ‘I don’t have to obey the law’ until she was caught.
What if she had just stolen $16 from someone else, eg., a coworker, should she still be just tolerated by saying I’m sorry?

Again, I never said she shouldn’t be punished.

Frank Brigham of Oelwein argued that she was adequately warned.

If one looks at the lengthy time-line Ms Koontz was given and several notifications, she was “cut a lot of slack.”

But again, was jail necessary? Frank also replied.

Yes, she was obviously a person who needed that “jolt” to get her to fulfill her normal responsibilities.

 There were also some comments posted at the end of the column on gazetteonline. This one comes from prolific commentator “LoboSolo.” It was titled “nutty as usual.” He loves my work.

and i quote “short-fuse, knee-jerk, zero-tolerance society”…. really ? where is this fantasy land that you live in. nobody is held accountable for themselves in my world..
go to jail over a book.. i was too busy.
your kids don’t do well in school, its the teacher fault.
i lie under oath, its a vast right wing conspiracy.
i could go on all day with the excuses people come up with, but at the end of the day it just boils down to this…. DO THE RIGHT THING, WITHOUT THE REST OF US HAVING TO TELL YOU TO DO IT.
I’m so tired of dealing with people who must be constantly tended to. grow up and take responsibility for your actions.

But I never get tired of being lectured on personal responsibility by people who don’t take personal responsibility for their opinions by using their REAL NAME.

Not everyone disagreed, however.

Allan Oline of Independence saw it my way:

I read your “cutting slack” article this morning.
Thank you. Many need to be reminded.
“Cutting people some slack” is a profound concept.
Please write the book.

I can see it now: “A Slacker on Slack.” I like it.


1 Comment

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One response to “Friday Mailbag — Book Theft

  1. DebV

    Allow me to point out in response to this: “What if she had just stolen $16 from someone else, eg., a coworker, should she still be just tolerated by saying I’m sorry?”…That had that been the case, the liklihood that she would be arrested and go to jail for it is very very slim.
    I’d pose this question…how much did it ultimately cost the taxpayers (since they fund the library) to “retrieve” the stolen book, compared to the value of said book?
    While I don’t think the woman should be excused for keeping the book after multiple requests for it’s return, I also don’t think any useful purpose was served by arresting her. Clearly it’s NOT going to really become a common occurence, so it was pointless, and not worth the cost to the library/taxpayers.

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