A seventy-seven-year-old widow named Alice Johnson opened her door to William Brest, whom she mistook for a neighbor’s son. She let him in, leaving him alone in her living room for a minute. He took her wallet and left. After he removed the $16 that it contained, he threw it into the weed patch behind the United Presbyterian church on Countyline street, where it was recovered by police once William had been arrested and signed a confession. William returned the money, including the $2 that he had already spent, and Mrs Johnson withdrew the charges against him.
William had just turned eighteen. Within three years, he was married with two sons. He found a job at Rockwell’s auto and truck spring plant on Furnace street and got a place on its bowling team, which met with reasonable success in the town’s industrial league. In 1977, William was treated for smoke inhalation when the Rockwell plant was struck by lightning, which started a fire in the duct work. There is no further record of his life.Sources: New Castle News (11 June 1960, “Faces Larceny Charge”; 28 July 1962, “Births Reported”; 7 Aug 1963, “Births”; 8 Sep 1969, “Deaths Of The Day”; 16 Oct 1972, “Bowling Results”; 21 Dec 1976, “Bullish Rockwell Charges Into $6.5 Million Project”; 18 June 1977, “Wind, Rain, Lightning Hits Area Hard”).
Keeping kids out of the criminal justice system works, most of the time. Alice Johnson knew that – perhaps because she had grown up in more unforgiving times?
The lives of the people I’ve researched suggest that, if you send a young boy to jail, he’ll reoffend and reoffend, and that, if you give him a break, he’s likely to go on to live a crime-free life. I think that’s probably true, for obvious reasons. However, it could be that the young men who were not sent to jail were let off precisely because the cops and the judges rightly perceived that they were the kind of person who was generally law-abiding and had made a mistake, and that the kids who were jailed were bad ‘uns from the start and were going to reoffend no matter if you gave them a break or not. I find that harder to agree with, but it’s certainly a possibility…
Well, in these days of minimum sentencing and ‘zero tolerance’ even the second theory is out of bounds today. No cop would be allowed to say ‘he’s a good kid at heart’ these days – not that police ‘discretion’ is a solid base for infallible justice.
Children’s Panels are wonderful, of course, but William was eighteen….
Reblogged this on The Eye of Faith and commented:
“Small Town Noir” is an amazing site containing mug shots taken in New Castle, Pennsylvania, between 1930 and 1960. Rescued from the trash by it’s author, Diarmid Mogg – the complex and unique stories are retold using information from the town’s newspaper, and sources in the community. Looking into the eyes of each criminal, it is impossible not to pass your own judgements. Reading the tales you are often surprised by the stories told. This is a fantastic post about William Brest, just turned 18. His story is just one in the myriad of crime and punishment that is “Small Town Myriad”.