Julio Diaz was recently mugged getting off the subway one night.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

"He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, 'Here you go,'" Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, "like what's going on here?" Diaz says. "He asked me, 'Why are you doing this?'"

Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.

This is what my parents taught me through their actions. Growing up in Sri Lanka and Pakistan our family was robbed a number of times. My parents always said that whoever was desperate enough to break into our house probably needed what they took more than we did. They were never angry, just grateful that no one was harmed.

Instead of letting themselves become victims to the situation my parents used the situation to develop greater compassion and understanding. There is still so much I have to learn from my parents.

Julio Diaz's actions remind of what Ghandi said:

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Our criminal justice system is schizophrenic. It confuses the concepts of rehabilitation and punishment. They are not the same thing. Punishment is justice in the form of "an eye for an eye"; you did something to me, I'll do something to you. It is the easy thing to do. It is what our protective instincts want. We send individuals to prison to punish them and sugar coat it by saying they are being rehabilitated.

Prison is the second best educational institute1 a criminal can attend to hone their craft. Our current penal system does little to truly rehabilitate and help people. Its primary function is to punish.

If we want to truly help people we need to develop a more compassionate approach. Prisons will always be necessary. What we need is to take rehabilitation seriously. Leave the punishment aspect behind and instead focus on helping people change.

I wager this approach would be far cheaper in the long run to society.

  1. The best place to learn the lucrative art of white collar crime is Wall Street.