“But I Shot a Man in Reno…”

Go ahead and try to not watch this clip all the way to the end. I dare you.

If you were one of the millions of American kids who grew up playing some variation of “cops and robbers,” ten to one no one expected you to always want to be a cop. For a nation as likely to mythologize its anti-heroes as much as its heroes, no wonder both sides have their appeal.

In a similar vein, we’re a country that also embraces the culture of confinement – of “custody themed entertainment,” as I like to call it – and the machismo of incarceration. Check out this awesome kid, Wesley Hartman, for example, singin’ his little heart out on what’s been ingrained in our collective consciousness as one of Johnny Cash’s best songs.

Yet we don’t want to talk about prison, not really. We don’t want to fix it so that if our children ever do wind up in trouble, we can count on ’em coming home in one piece, perhaps even wiser – as opposed to only meaner.

There’s no real lesson here, just food for thought around the spectacle of this child, who will likely know more about the cache of prison humor, heroes, and horrors than he ever will about restitution or rehabilitation, let alone what it means for us all when those matter less than the fairytale of prison-chic.

Tip ‘o the hat to Wesley’s dad, Rob Hampton of Seattle’s Heartwood Guitar Instruction.