A few weeks ago my business was robbed. As a seasoned business owner for over 35 years, believe me, I’ve had to face a lot worse. The robbery didn’t amount to much: a forced door, a few geriatric cash registers taken, an electronic scale (hmm, I wonder what plans they had for that?), a small amount of cash and a metal candy tin of coins. It was hardly the Brink’s Robbery.

Several of my customers read about what turned out to be a string of robberies that same evening and they came by to commiserate and offer their sympathies. I think they might have been a bit surprised since I shrugged it off as inconsequential. The eight-year-old cash registers would have needed to be replaced the following season anyway and the small amount of money taken was minor. Just for the record, I didn’t feel violated. I reserve that feeling for much larger transgressions. Instead, I joked that the thieves had obviously never worked in retail otherwise they would have known how to open a cash register without having to cart it off somewhere to be smashed to bits with a sledge hammer.

Everyone hoped the thieves would be apprehended. Everyone except me. This certainly raised a few eyebrows. I had to explain that it would only anger me if they were caught. The court system would just turn them loose, back onto the street to commit more robberies. If apprehended, I would learn their names and it would irk me when those same names continued to appear and reappear in future court reports. They would learn (if they don’t already know it) that contrary to that old adage, petty crime and even some serious crime really does pay on Martha’s Vineyard. As time goes on they’d probably set their sights higher. Chump change robberies would be abandoned as mere kid stuff. At the worst, if they were caught they’d have to return their haul and take the wrist slap. Shame seems to be in pretty short supply these days.

I don’t expect the criminal masterminds who steal from farm stands, pet stores and honor system cash boxes at roadside stands (the bank of Maxwell House) to be sent to prison. This isn’t one of those rants and I don’t need to puff myself up with self-righteousness. But the justice system on the Island that is routinely derided in these pages for its leniency needs to explore more appropriate options that might in the future yield different results. Harsh punishment seems like an unlikely outcome in cases where young people are involved, but doing nothing at all seems like tacit encouragement to re-commit. The predictable scolding from a judge and an order for restitution isn’t working.

Youthful and first-time offenders might be better served by being exposed to the harsher realities; perhaps an overnight field trip to a real prison coupled with some counseling and community service would be a start. Putting on the orange jumpsuit and picking up roadside trash under the watchful eye of a sheriff’s deputy and paying for the pleasure out of their own pockets wouldn’t hurt either.

If the chronic offenders of the Island were encouraged to cultivate a sense of personal shame over their actions, it might serve to steer them away from the path they are already comfortably on and give them a real chance to reevaluate their lives and their place within a small and forgiving community.

Robert Skydell is the owner of Fiddlehead Farm in West Tisbury.