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There’s an interesting debate over at Jezebel about the subject of this week’s cover story, Ameenah Franks, a young mother from DC who got really good at stealing from highly-secured federal office buildings. She charmed her way into places like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and stole cash from people’s purses and desk drawers. Franks told me she chose to steal because she wanted to keep her family together. She had a husband and, by age 20, four children.

Some of the commenters think she was recklessly irresponsible for having so many children, and make caustic comments like: “another case in favor of forced sterilization.” That really took me by surprise. Obviously, Franks might have had an easier life if she didn’t have children so young. But teen pregnancy isn’t just about personal responsibility. It’s about culture and education and a whole complicated stew of factors that don’t necessarily make sense if you were brought up knowing you’d have a real shot at a stable life. Think how hard it would have been for her, living very much on the periphery, to have gotten birth control pills. And she was married. Doesn’t Bush think marriage + babies = the cure to poverty?

One thing we cut from the article was the story of how Franks first got pregnant. I think it says a lot about the state of sex ed in this country.

When Franks first started dating her future husband, she told him she didn’t want to have sex until after they got married. But she was in love with him and, like anyone, wanted physical intimacy. So she let him rub his penis against her vagina until he came, never letting him go in all the way. She thought it was safe. She didn’t realize she was pregnant until after he’d left for boot camp.

Franks was obviously smart, but she made decisions that seem pretty stupid from the outside. I think the interesting thing here is the fact that someone can have the intellectual capacity to succeed and still fail. If you focus only on her personal responsibility for screwing up, you miss all the other confusing, argument-starting stuff, like education and health care and poverty and race.

I think it also comes through in the story that Franks didn’t steal just to support her family. She got a thrill out of being good at something. Doesn’t make it right in any way — but it is interesting.