When someone breaks the law, they often go to jail. But putting people behind bars isn’t always the best idea. Suppose you stole money—you’re not going to have a way to pay it back while you’re sitting in jail, right?
If it’s possible, earning money to pay back the person you robbed might make more sense than doing hard time. Call it “making the punishment fit the crime.”
Judge Michael Cicconetti (CHICK-oh-NET-ee)—a small-town judge near Cleveland, Ohio—takes that principle to a whole new level. When people come into his courtroom for the first time, he sometimes gives them a choice. They can either go to jail . . . or complete a weird punishment.
One time, he sentenced a woman to spend all night in the woods alone for abandoning a bunch of kittens in the forest. In a sense, she was abandoned like the kittens were—though actually, there were people looking out to make sure she stayed safe.
Read this article (two paragraphs) to your students. As time allows, share some of the examples and pictures of Judge Cicconetti’s creative sentencing:
Old School Judge Makes Offenders Think Twice With Creative Sentences
One example of the judge’s creativity was sentencing Victoria Bascom, who refused to pay a cab driver for a 30-mile ride, to walk 30 miles in 48 hours. That’s longer than a marathon! Her alternative was to spend 30 days in jail.
- Do you think a 30-mile walk—later shortened by the judge to 20 miles—was a reasonable punishment for Victoria’s crime? Or was it too harsh for such a minor offense? (Let your students share their opinions freely, but don’t let things get out of hand.)
- Imagine you’ve been arrested and brought to Judge Cicconetti’s courtroom. He offers you a choice between spending 30 days in jail and walking 30 miles. Which would you choose? Why? (Accept all reasonable answers.)
Some people think Judge Cicconetti was too harsh. Some of think he was right on the money. But all of us would probably agree on one point: Victoria deserved punishment for what she did. It’s not okay to hire someone to do a job for you—like drive you thirty miles—and then refuse to pay them! That cab driver was probably upset, and he had every reason to be.
Most of the time, we only look at how things will affect us. Victoria was thinking, “Hey, I can get a free 30-mile ride!” She wasn’t thinking that the driver might be counting on her money to feed his kids. That cab fare seemed minor to her, but it probably had a big impact on the cabbie! (A cab ride for that many miles could run $100.)
- Have you ever received a punishment crafted to fit an offense? Tell us about it. (Let your students share their stories—most will have tales to tell about not taking out the trash on their appointed day and being sentenced to take out the trash for the whole week as a result—or some similar household infractions. Be prepared to share your own experience.)
Today, we’re talking about sin—the Bible’s word for when we do wrong things. Sometimes, we think our “little” sins, like lying to a friend or yelling at our parents, aren’t a big deal. However, “little” things can make a big impact on our relationship with God and other people. Just ask the taxi driver how he felt about being the victim of Victoria Bascom’s “little” crime!
That’s why even “small” sins are a big deal to God. Let’s explore some of the Bible’s teachings about what happens when we do wrong.