Monday Nov 16, 2009

7 days in SF Jail - the iPhone thief

image of stone inscribed with code of hammurabi

A young black boy - 18 to 20 perhaps - very tall, entered our cell, joining our growing community. [ I am not a professional writer and don't remember the exact SF expressions. I'd welcome some help to get the language right. ]. I don't think we really asked him what he was in for. He was pissed: "Those motherfuckers got me. Damn! I could have just gone away. One iPhone too much man. One iPhone too much. Do you think I'll get bail? They have not caught me in years man. Should let me out. I need to go out, there's my pussy waiting for me out there. I just was about to call her."

Someone asked him how he got those iPhones.

"I just go up and spot someone with one, ask them the time, and when they look at their phone I just grab it and run. Really easy. That's a good money. $350 for 8 MB phone, $400 for 16MB."

Someone asked him how they can resell such a phone. Won't the GPS feature in the phone locate them? How can they resell a stolen phone anyway? "Just go to the shop, they remove the SIM card. That's it. They resell it on the market."

It was remarkable how candid he was about his operation. He really seemed to have no conscience about what this activity being wrong in any way. Nor did he seem to think about the possibility that in the crowd of detainees there might lurk a few cops in disguise, which one of the older more experienced detainees later tried to get him to consider by targeting the white boy who was arrested with someone else in a drug deal, and suggesting that he might be with the other side. "What! he's way too young." was the astonished reaction. "They come in all forms and all ages" was the response. The boy defended himself weakly. "We'll see", said the older one. "If those dollar notes and their serial numbers appear in court, then you'll know it was a trap." He repeated this a few times. Ominous.

Sadly I can't quite remember where the iPhone thief was working, because that would be a good place to hang out for people with a good insurance and a broken one... (psst, here's a tip: Apparently you have more chance of being robbed if you look somewhat drunk, lost and helpless.)

I asked the young boy if he was not worried to get shot. That thought surprised him. No he said, he runs back to the car, that's where they have the guns. They caught him just before he reached the car. "Otherwise, hehe..." I wondered if he was for real, or just trying to impress. It was just too weird. Someone else pointed out that using guns in a crowded street would be very dangerous. (A bit like using nuclear armaments to win wars, I thought. Not precise enough, too indiscriminate, too full of bad consequences for the one using it. That is of course if the one using it spends a little time to think about the consequences of their actions.)

I wondered where the boy had gone to school. Of all the crimes, theft is probably the one that is the oldest, and best well known to be wrong. One should not even need school to know about this. Already in 1750 B.C. (nearly 4 thousand years ago) in ancient Babylon the Code of Hammurabi (full text) had some very strong punishments for theft: death for stealing of sacred objects, and repayment of 30 times the original value for others - or death if the thief could not repay. Punishments were quite simple in those days, perhaps due to the effort of writing those laws out in stone...

I was too tired by my own troubles to dig much deeper. I would loved to know how he came to work in this field. Who had guided him in his youth? I think he mentioned feeding his brothers and sisters as a reason for doing this, but I am not sure...

If he got bail, he was calculating, he could steal a few more iPhones to cover the costs . I think he was deluded. He was not going to get out of jail soon. And perhaps here there was something useful for him to learn. One could hope that this would be a place for him to gain a little conscience. As Philip Larkin wrote in "Wires":

The widest prairies have electric fences,
For though old cattle know they must not stray
Young steers are always scenting purer water
Not here but anywhere. Beyond the wires

Leads them to blunder up against the wires
Whose muscle-shredding violence gives no quarter.
Young steers become old cattle from that day,
Electric limits to their widest senses.
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