Facing the Muzak

  There's a modern-day "punishment room" that many lawbreakers fear and hate—and some even say it violates the law forbidding cruel and unusual punishment. But the judge who sends people to this ersatz torture chamber says he's only making the punishment fit the crime—and I say he's right. A few months ago Municipal Court Judge Paul Sacco of Fort Lupton, Colorado, got tired of complaints from senior citizens about teenagers driving through their neighborhoods, boom boxes blasting loud enough to wake the dead. (This happens to be one of my own pet peeves.) So the judge came up with a delightfully appropriate penalty. Kids who violate the noise ordinance are locked in a room at the courthouse and forced to listen to the worst music imaginable—at least, to the ears of a rap-loving teenager. One recent batch of scofflaws was shut up with the sound of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans warbling "Happy Trails to You.” They suffered through Disney tunes, bagpipe music, and songs by Wayne Newton and Barry Manilow. But the teens were nearly driven mad hearing Tony Orlando and Dawn sing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" and Dean Martin crooning "It's Cryin' Time." By the time they were let out, most of the kids probably felt like crying themselves. Twenty-one-year-old Ryan Bowles said the worst part was listening to the "Barney" theme song, because the judge made sure they sat still and faced the music: "If you laugh, he'll cite you for contempt," Bowles explained. The treatment is unorthodox—but extremely effective. Seventeen-year-old David Mascarenas says he's already taken his stereo out of his car. And not one survivor of this punishing ordeal has ever reappeared before Judge Sacco. Well, I for one think the judge is onto a good thing, and other judges ought to follow his lead. It's clear that, for these kids, the more informal channels of teaching civility—the home, the school, and the church—have failed. When that happens, the heavy hand of the law must take over. But instead of taking a punishing approach, Judge Sacco has opted for a teaching approach. He's helping these kids understand why laws of civility and courtesy exist in the first place. The result is that they're getting a chance to experience what they've been inflicting on others. They're learning firsthand the most universal moral code: Do unto others what you would have others do unto you. In other words, if you don't want someone forcing you to listen to Lawrence Welk, don't force others to listen to rappers like Krayzie Bone. This is a lesson in civility we all ought to take note of at a time when Americans are encouraged to think too much of their own rights and not enough about the rights of others, especially their neighbors. It's a lesson that won't be soon forgotten by dozens of Colorado kids who still shudder at the memory of the day they were forced to listen to Roger Whitaker and Dean Martin. As one teenager put it, "If I ever get caught again, I'd rather pay the $65.” But I'm sure he—and his neighbors—benefited much more from a music lesson in courtesy.


Chuck Colson


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