Dear Betty Ann,
I’m spending the weekend at my friend’s house, but I’m not having a good time. It turns out that she has an evil doppelgänger, and that the doppelgänger is part of a vast chameleon conspiracy to take over the world. It led to a situation in which I was literally compelled to murder one of them, even though I couldn’t really tell them apart:
I decided to save the one on the left. She seemed really thankful to be alive—just like my friend would be—and now we’re back to talking about boys and fashion. I guess it’s her! That said, it seems kind of messed up that chameleons are trying to take over the world. Should I call the police? I just want to have fun.
* * *
Unfortunately, you’ve killed the wrong one. A real friend would be unlikely to downplay a chameleon conspiracy to take over the world, particularly if she’d nearly fallen victim to it. The guilt must be overwhelming, which is likely what’s keeping you in denial about what you’ve done. You can continue to talk with the chameleon doppelgänger about the inconsequential details of being an American teenager, but one of these days you’ll have to face up to what you’ve done.
I know that nobody wants to go to prison—particularly when they have their whole life ahead of them. But prison is an essential part of what makes organized society function. Some of the theories as to why this is, of course, may not be particularly satisfactory to you. The theory of prison as a necessary means to protect society from its most dangerous members obviously does not apply here. You do not sound dangerous. And as far as retribution goes, nothing can replace the young woman you’ve killed—and, in any event, the chameleon doppelgänger would do a better job of that than a prison sentence.
However, there’s more than enough reason to believe that a prison sentence will, overall, be what’s best both for society and for you. Consider the theory of deterrence: that the threat of prison is necessary to guide people to make law-abiding decisions, and that following through on the threat when people nonetheless choose to break the law is necessary to keep that threat credible. Given that you’ve partially enabled a chameleon takeover, many more people are likely to be faced with the kind of decision you were faced with. Society needs to send a message to these people that they must choose wisely or face the consequences.
Similarly, the theory of reformation applies well here: you need to learn not to act so rashly when murder is involved, and prison will force you to accept responsibility for your actions. Rather than simply working the rest of your life to cover up your crime, formal punishment provides you the opportunity to confess openly to the crime—both to the world and to yourself—and to deal positively with the consequences. The path of avoidance would likely only lead to self-destruction, but the path of formal justice allows you to move forward with your guilt and seek opportunities to become a stronger, wiser person.
Anyway, I’m sure if you just confess to your crime, the criminal justice system won’t be too hard on you. You might even get a book deal. I know this weekend isn’t as much fun as you’d expected, but the most meaningful experiences in life aren’t always fun.