Eric Bramwell was, as burglars go, lousy at it. He was no jewel thief on the French Riviera. He didn’t didn’t steal priceless art or antiquities. He had his eye on something smaller, more utilitarian, more . . . universal. A TV remote. Seriously, Bramwell was such a loser that he stole clickers.
Authorities alleged that Bramwell entered the common area of the apartment building in the 100 block of Cross Street on Aug. 1, 2015, and stole the universal remote to the television set.
Not only did he aim low, no, even lower, when he picked his chosen target, but he couldn’t even manage to pull it off without screwing it up.
But, prosecutors say, Bramwell dropped a glove while at the complex, and a DNA sample taken from it was matched to Bramwell’s DNA in a database of convicted felons, which led to his arrest.
Ain’t the magic of DNA wonderful? That is, until you consider that the police in Wheaton, Illinois, had so little to do that they could DNA match a glove over a stolen TV remote. Elsewhere, tens of thousands of rape kits sit untested, but in Wheaton, they can test the DNA of a glove to find a clicker thief. Nice place, Wheaton.
For Bramwell, the diligence and extent of commitment of police to closing the case didn’t work out well.
The 35-year-old was found guilty of the theft in November and earlier this week was sentenced to 22 years in jail. He must serve at least half of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Because of his criminal history, the man was eligible for 30 years in prison. Bramwell allegedly committed a series of similar remote and television thefts in other apartment complexes nearby, including several buildings in Lisle, Aurora, Bloomingdale, Downers Grove and Oakbrook Terrace, prosecutors said.
A serial remote thief? And televisions too, which likely explains why he was on the lookout for universal remotes. What are you gonna do with a stolen television lacking a remote? Their market value is significantly reduced. It may be that Bramwell made a living fencing stolen TVs, or that this was a means to pay for drugs. If the former, it wasn’t the best business plan, as it takes an awful lot of stolen TVs to buy a used Tesla. If the latter, then, well, it’s just a sad reflection of life in some quarters of American society.
Either way, stealing a universal remote isn’t the crime of the century. But it was punished as if it was.
“Mr. Bramwell’s illegal activity and his history have finally caught up with him,” state attorney Robert Berlin told the Tribune. “Regardless of what was stolen, Mr. Bramwell repeatedly thumbed his nose at the law. He took what he wanted, time and time again, and expected to avoid the consequences.
Berlin is not without a point. If a guy can’t stop burglarizing apartment buildings, after having been convicted repeatedly, then something has to be done to isolate him from the public because deterrence has failed.
“That’s not how it works, as Mr. Bramwell has now found out.”
But Berlin only has a piece of the puzzle. Did Bramwell turn to stealing remotes to pay for a drug habit? Was it because he lacked the education necessary to get a job? Were there no jobs available? Bramwell may have blown off the opportunity to make something of himself as a youngster, but he was a predicate felon. He was in the bosom of the penal system. What did they do there beyond warehousing him, perhaps providing the opportunity for him to learn how to be a better burglar? Was he taught a trade? Did he get his GED? Was he treated for addiction?
There is inadequate information to know what the hell Bramwell was thinking as he embarked on his post-conviction life as a universal remote thief. It may be that Bramwell was given the opportunity to come out of jail with the ability to lead a law-abiding, productive life, and nonetheless chose to go for the universal gusto instead.
Now, he will spend at least half of his 22 year sentence in prison. If the parole board is unkind, it will be more. Ironically, society will pay far more to keep him there than the price of a remote, even a dozen remotes. Sure, it will end his universal remote spree, but at what price?
As Berlin simplistically snarks, “that’s not how it works.” Then again, that’s not how it’s supposed to work, as we sing the praises of incarceration as the solution to crime. When a small-time criminal like Bramwell gets arrested and convicted, placed in the custody of the state, there is an expectation that he will come out better than he went in.
The expectation is that he won’t return to a life of universal remote thievery. When ex-cons come out no better, and perhaps worse, than they went in, the failure isn’t just his, but the system’s as well. We don’t have a lot of jobs for guys like Bramwell. The opportunities for ex-cons to find that mythical productive life we hope for them are limited, maybe even non-existent. So their options become return to a life of crime or starve.
That’s not how it works.
State Attorney Robert Berlin may not bear any personal responsibility for Eric Bramwell’s return to a life of petty theivery, but he surely shouldn’t be so cavalier about this sentence. There’s no pride to be taken in the exceptional investigatory skills that found a universal remote thief, convicted him, again, and put him in prison for at least another decade.
So universal remotes will be safe for at least the next 11 years at a cost that would allow the state to buy ten thousand remotes? What a marvelous outcome. And when Eric Bramwell finally walks outside again, will he be any more prepared to lead a law-abiding productive life? That’s how it should work.