All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

What I Learned in Prison

Since I started as a chaplain in the juvenile prison system in Puerto Rico, about 5-6 years ago, there have only been a couple of kids that sent chills through me. There was a deadness in their eyes, something that made me immediately think, "God, I hope I don’t ever find myself face to face with this kid and on the wrong end of a gun." My mind flashed to the cold feeling of a pistol barrel thrust to the back of my head as I am carjacked. I took too long, I looked at him wrong, or he just wanted me out of the way. In any case, he pulled the trigger looking through me with those dead eyes. He didn’t care if I lived or died, didn’t really matter at all. I was not a person, just a thing, a plaything and in his way.  I was between him and what was now HIS car. Look at that, bullet holes. This thing got blood all over me. The holes look cool though. Let me dump it by the side of the road, wipe myself off.

Those were the thoughts that went through my mind on two occasions. Sometimes I meet with kids who are sullen, withdrawn, unresponsive, but there’s still something there, fear, trepidation, low self image. When I asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would say, "I dunno." When asked what their talents were, they would say none. Friends? Dunno. People you admire? None.

There was still something though.  It’s hard to try to pry something positive out of the experience, but I never felt like I wasn’t talking to a person, a real living breathing, but hurting and damaged person.

These other two that I met, though, I don’t know what they were, but I only remember never wanting to see them again.  They seemed to be soulless zombies, walking dead, animated bodies with nothing inside, no flickering light.

I am reminded of this after the Virginia Tech shooting and all the information about the shooter, Cho Seung Hui by all accounts, a sullen loner.

We all know people who keep to themselves, who aren’t sociable, friendly, or engaging. It’s not often, however, that we say to ourselves, I’m afraid of this person. I’m afraid he will do something horrible as was the case of the VT shooter. He had creeped out his teachers, his classmates. There was something not just sad about him but deadly.

I read the "plays" he had written, supposedly violent and disturbing. I didn’t find the violence disturbing. They were not actually very violent, in fact.

The plays were disturbing to me for their lack of natural dialog and oddness of language. The interaction between the characters was just wrong, weird, not natural. The anger wasn’t natural. It seemed stilted, like written by a small child with no understanding of conflict, someone stunted developmentally. His plays sounded to me like they had been written by someone from another culture, an alien with no comprehension of how a domestic dispute might go down and what might be said. So, while the plays had violent themes, what was disturbing was how far they missed their marks connecting that rage and emotion.

Cho Seung Hui couldn’t emote or understand emotion or have any empathy.  Maybe he sensed it.  Maybe he knew he couldn’t connect and it drove him mad.

Like those scary kids that I met, my only conclusion is that some people do not have the ability to see other’s pain, emotion, or feel a connection of any kind with the world around them. Are they born that way as psychopaths or shaped as sociopaths by abuse or violence and then become cold, disconnected, and inhuman?

1 Comment

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    Can a chimp or a gazelle be born a psychopath? I think not.
    Psychopathism is often a result of pathogenic parents/caretakers.

    By the way, have you ever considered writing for the Truckin’ Zine? I think you could contribute considerably:D

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