Image: Tim Carroll


A purse snatcher in California is required to wear tap shoes so people can hear him coming. A wife batterer in Ohio must allow his wife to spit in his face. Dubbed “formal shaming,” these creative sentences—usually performed in front of probation or parole officers—are a throwback to the 17th century, when criminals faced their community from stocks in the town square. Their growing popularity stems from prison overcrowding and public demands for a more effective judicial system—and, some say, from a desire for old-fashioned revenge.

DATE 1990 OFFENDER Steven Dodd WHERE Onalaska, Texas CRIME Abducted his children during a custody battle SENTENCE INCLUDED Driving 91 miles each way to the mounted police stables in Houston, where he shoveled manure for 20 hours a month for six years.

DATE 1996 OFFENDER William Frazier WHERE Memphis, Tenn. CRIME Sprayed his wife with lighter fluid during an argument while he was lighting the barbecue SENTENCE INCLUDED Delivering a sermon to his congregation about his crime and the importance of learning to control one’s temper.

DATE 1996 OFFENDER Joel Witwer WHERE Houston CRIME Spousal abuse SENTENCE INCLUDED Apologizing to his wife over a loudspeaker from the steps of City Hall at noon, in front of women’s groups and the media.

DATE 1997 OFFENDER Takeisha Brunson WHERE Fort Pierce, Fla. CRIME Bought marijuana with her children (ages 6 and 2) in the car SENTENCE INCLUDED Running an ad in a local paper that featured her picture with the caption: “I was convicted of buying drugs in the presence of my children.”

DATE 1997 OFFENDER Daniel Alvin WHERE Hinesville, Ga. CRIME Organized and accepted money for a bogus bus trip to a basketball game SENTENCE INCLUDED Circling the county courthouse wearing a sign reading: “I am a convicted thief.”

DATE 1997 OFFENDER Michael Hubacek WHERE Houston CRIME Killed two people while driving drunk SENTENCE INCLUDED Carrying a sign at the scene of the accident once a month reading: “I killed two people here while driving drunk”; keeping pictures of the victims in his wallet; volunteering in a hospital’s emergency room on weekend nights; watching an autopsy of a person killed in a similar accident; speaking to youth groups; and placing birthday flowers on the victims’ graves.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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