Like Abigail Van Buren, Joyce Brothers and Xaviera Hollander, Dr. Crime Lab wants to help. He wants to utilize his expertise, his know-how in the world of wrongdoing and advise you, the law-abiding citizen, the potential victim.

The only difference between Abby or Dr. Joyce and Dr. Crime Lab is one of residence. The doctor currently lives deep within the bowels of Phoenix's Madison Street Jail.

That's where his letter arrived from, a neat, three-page missive that began with the humble sentence "I've been involved in a life of crime for the past 20 years, but please bear with me; I do not want to bore you with the criminal aspects of my life."

The Doc continued to explain his idea of answering readers' questions in hopes of deterring evil and preparing them for encounters with swindlers, felons and the darker element of society. In short, people like him.

"I have experience in the following areas: con games, prostitution, gangs, drugs, forgery, robbery, burglary, theft and several other methods of crime," he wrote. There's no arguing with a wealth of knowledge like that. Think about it--not only robbery, but burglary and theft. He even included a sample question.

Dear Dr. Crime Lab: My husband just paid for what he believed to be a brand-new VCR still in the box, but to our surprise it was just a box of old bricks.

Dr. Crime Lab replies: The con game that your husband was a victim of is called "sugar," because it's too sweet to be true. Your husband probably paid anywhere from $50 to $100 for what he believed to be a VCR that would cost anywhere from $300 to $500 if purchased in a store. Your husband thought he was getting something for nothing, and nothing from nothing leaves nothing. In your case, bricks. Remember these rules--you can't beat an honest man, and greed is your worst enemy. Right on, Dr. Crime Lab!, I thought to myself, how sweet it isn't! I don't want any of my readers coming home and trying to watch Free Willy on a pile of bricks. Of course, the greedy should be punished, but we all know that nobody's perfect, that everybody is tempted by a sweet deal every now and then. If I can deliver you from evil, if I can join forces with this man to prevent poor souls out there from going astray, then all this damn typing will have been worth it. When you want to talk to God, you go to church and find a man of the cloth. And when you want to get the poop on criminal activity, you go to jail and find a crook.

Walking into the Big House on Madison Street, I felt like I was about to be on Scared Straight or something. I saw large cons with bad tattoos, small cons with bad teeth, all chained, handcuffed and shuffling together. Solid steel doors covered with scratches opened for me as guards nodded solemnly through windows of thick glass and chicken wire. I tried to look tough, yawned a lot, wiped my nose, scratched my ass. Prison stuff, right?

Finally, I came to a small cinder-block room, a meeting chamber, chat alcove--whatever they call it--and was introduced to Dr. Crime Lab. A real live bad guy, a person who just couldn't fit in with the laws of society and normal human decency. I can tell you this, he had a firm handshake, was polite and well-groomed. With a nice suit, he could easily have been a politician.

The self-proclaimed Doctor had no problems with handing over personal information. He is 37 years old, from Southern California and is presently a guest of the county for "two counts of burglary, two counts of theft and escape. When the police were attempting to arrest me, I fled," he explained. "They call that escape." His first arrest came at age 15, for "possession of dangerous weapons. I hit a dog with some nun-chucks." After that first taste of evil, he was hooked. "Then we broke into the school and stole ice cream from the cafeteria," recalled DCL flatly. After the ice cream caper, the misguided youth continued on a downhill spiral that would make most folks shudder. "Then I went into robbery, selling drugs, pimping and pandering, three-card monte, forgery, check scams, all kinds of stuff."

The man claims to have done time in some of the most wickedly glamorous prisons around, Folsom, San Quentin, Soledad, and has totaled some ten years' worth of serious time. Checking out those claims would have taken almost as long, so I focused on the Doc's most recent incarceration.

Dr. Crime Lab has been at Madison Street for "about two months," time enough to set his mind wandering. And while the minds of many men in jail travel to thoughts of women, the Doctor's fixed on one in particular. She is quite short, not too attractive, and speaks with a heavy accent.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap