Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 August 2009

Bang ‘em Up For Longer or Let ‘em Out?

Should crims stay banged-up longer for their transgressions? We, the voters, have repeatedly said that we want them shut away for longer but when I lean towards tougher punishments two things bother me. First: I have always shuddered at the very idea of imprisoning offenders who have not physically harmed anybody and are unlikely to. Why do we lock up embezzlers, fraudsters, bigamists, ‘white collar’ criminals, or robbers of intellectual property? If they aren’t the kind of people who serially kill, chop up neighbours’ faces or rape why on earth do we put them in prison? They’d serve much better sentences working off their crimes and paying back society by earning money, under supervision, most of which could go into the public coffers.

I wouldn’t mind betting that the non-threatening criminal fraternity could, by the sweat of their brows or the machinations of their brains, actually generate sufficient income to pay for the costly incarceration of their violent colleagues: there’s a thought for the Corrections Department.

Secondly, and much more importantly, I can’t escape the feeling that every time a lusty youth rapes an eighty-year old woman, or a bunch of teenagers invades a home and beats up its occupants to produce a net short term gain of a walkman and the contents of a piggy bank, Society - that’s you and me - have failed.

I can remember a time when violent crime was so amazingly unusual that if one occurred it took up the front page of the national newspapers for days on end. So what has changed in a lifetime? We’ve copped out, that’s what. The majority has failed to control the minority and we’re in such a sea of politically correct tiptoeing through individuals’ ‘rights’ that we now opt for the criminal rather than the victim.

Criminality starts in the family and grows in the schoolroom. From life’s outset, parents have got to be tough on their children when it comes to right and wrong, honesty and respect for neighbours. Before the little ones ever reach kindy or school they have to know that teachers are to be respected. Thereafter those teachers must be given the teeth, by parents’ consent and legal permission, to exert their authority. Tolerance of transgression at the nascence of discrimination (four or five years of age?) should be zero, and reinforcement of that regime should never be negative. Punishment should fit the crime so that the offender is left in no doubt of his/her place in a strict but compassionate society.

Above all work should be found for everybody of work age even if that means making able bodied people work on government schemes which they might not like. (You’re listening to a man who spent two reluctant years in the armed forces and only afterwards learned how valuable it was).

Work is important not only because it produces wages and, one hopes, job satisfaction but also because it is an absorption; people who do a hard day’s work find themselves so tired at the end of the day that they have neither the energy nor the inclination to do a warehouse or mug a fellow citizen.

Sure, there will always be the criminals who like to kill and maim for the fun of it. We’ll never get rid of them; they’re sick of mind. But, my way, they’ll be easier to find and one suspects that there are really so few of them that we could afford to lock ‘em up and, as they say, throw away the key.

© In text DON DONOVAN. ‘Prisoners Exercising (after Doré)’ Vincent van Gogh


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By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.