A simple car theft. A profound tragedy.

My car was broken into for the third time in six months, and every time I fall apart, because it cost one of my friends his life.

Haje Jan Kamps
3 min readOct 25, 2023

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A car break-in, as imagined by MidJourney’s generative AI tool.

A society ought to be judged by how it treats its weakest. And every time my car is broken into, I am reminded of that. It’s a you have two dollars, they need one type situation. Let us be clear: if you are hungry and you can steal food, or something you can steal and sell so you can buy food, please do. That includes breaking into my car. But also: It’s fucked up that we live in a country where that sentence even makes the slightest slice of sense.

And then the tragedy deepens. Replace “food” with “drugs” above, and it still makes sense; the tragedy is equally as deep. People don’t break into cars to steal things to take drugs because they love drugs.They do it because they can’t be without them. And it turns out, a lot of the time, addiction is powered by unresolved trauma — whether that’s trauma from being sent to war, relationship trauma, family trauma, or something else. There’s a lot of ways of dealing with trauma, some are healthier than others. And some are cheaper and more available than others. When street drugs are the cheapest and most readily available — easier than, say, rehabilitation, rest, prescribed and managed pharmaceuticals, and therapy — then no wonder that’s what people choose.

The privilege of time horizons

People operate on different timelines — some people can think in decades, others in minutes. That’s a form of privilege. If you’re able to make decisions to ensure your welfare for 10 years from now, that’s great. But one thing becomes glaringly obvious: You’re not worried about the ten minutes or seconds from now.

Too many people are only able to think in short increments; their next pay-check; their next meal; their next fix. If you’re thinking in ten-year horizons, you won’t be going around smashing windows and stealing things.

I live in a world where I believe that people try to do the least amount of harm. But here’s the thing. Whenever someone breaks into my car — and every time I see a car with a busted window — I think about the last tweet that my friend J Dennis Thomas sent.

Tweet from Danny Mac

November 20, 2015: “Totaled up my loss from the San Francisco theft,” he wrote. He was referring to his photography gear being stolen from his car. I worked with him as the technical editor on a few of his books. A good writer Danny Mac was.

And one day after he sent that tweet, he died by his own hand.

Car theft is more than broken windows and insurance claims. It cost the life of one of my friends.

And it’s a fucking tragedy that the US has poor enough social safety nets — that people have to steal to survive, and that there’s not enough mental health support available in general — that stories like these are scarily common.

There’s no easy solution, but one of the core problems, in my opinion, is that those who are in charge are poorly enough resourced that they’re mopping up after the fact, rather than being able to work on the root causes of what’s causing these incidents in the first place — and more police isn't (and never was) the answer. I just wish I knew what was.

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Haje Jan Kamps

Writer, startup pitch coach, enthusiastic dabbler in photography.