In America, we are raised to believe that there is something intrinsically sick about criminal behavior. It is always wrong to steal, because what we own makes us who we are, because—the logic goes—we have earned it. To steal what belongs to someone else is to steal their virtue, to defraud them of their very identity. But the logic of this belief system begins to fall apart in a world where money makes more money, where how much wealth you amass has very little to do with how hard you work, and where there are few things more expensive than being poor.
And when so much money is all around you—just outside Idlewild, where Henry Hill came of age; just beyond the frayed strip malls and cracked highways that make up the entrance wound surrounding Disney World—you can also see it as passive to the point of insanity to not reach out and take some of the wealth that passes you by. And if just a little of the money that is flowing and surging and leaping its banks all around you is money that could save you and your child from hunger, from homelessness, from danger you cannot imagine and danger you know all too well—it is difficult to see the immorality in reaching out and taking what you need. Respecting ownership and property the way you were taught to, as a good American, may mean allowing your child to suffer. There are millions of Americans who seem to see no contradiction in this. There are millions more who are wondering, now, how we got to be this way, and beginning also to wonder if we were ever anything else.
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