After binge watching a show on murderers with the boyfriend (and the dog), I find myself a little more paranoid walking around at night alone. I can’t help but think that by investing my time taking in morbid material and thinking morbid thoughts, I will somehow attract that energy to me. Almost every case the Netflix series investigates on death row inmates involves drugs, and drug-related crimes somehow spinning out of control. It really does seem that you are who you surround yourself with; that being said, of course we go through chapters in life, change, and grow out of old relationships and habits. It’s hard not to feel for some of these inmates, crazy as that might sound. Getting involved in drugs when you’re twelve, growing into a life of petty crime, and getting sentenced with the death penalty when you’re 17 for killing someone out of cowardice and desperation is just a sad story all around.
That being said, murder is considered the worst of human crimes. (Do I hear a case for torture—psychological or physical—or rape? I could be convinced those are just as bad, in some scenarios. Though it is pretty hard to trump death.) This heinous deed obviously needs to incur repercussions. Those who are guilty need to be charged and held accountable. But is anyone truly evil? Is rehabilitation a possibility?
These are questions put to the jury in any such court case. The jury’s main duty is to determine if the suspect/defendant is a continued threat to society.
If, at 17, your track record for crime is not so great, I can understand why someone might think you’re up to no good. That being said, did anyone really have it together at age 17? I mean, some of us chose to rebel in slightly more tempered ways than breaking into homes and snorting coke, but still. There’s so much life left to be lived after those horrible teenage years…but maybe I’m just a sunshiney optimist that has a hard time believe anyone is truly “evil”.
And I understand the concept that, once you rob someone else of their life, it’s ridiculous to expect you might still get a chance at one. But some of the most powerful role models I know are folks who have turned their lives around, pulled themselves out of the proverbial gutter and focused in on love. As one of the inmates from the show pointed out, and I’m paraphrasing, not even taking his own life can undo the life he took, can give that family their loved one back. But can you imagine the humility and potential for social good someone might have if, even if only on parole, they were allowed to mentor at risk youth? What if we gave inmates some fraction of meaning, and an opportunity to contribute?
I’m just dreaming. I know I’m only dreaming. But I truly believe in the goodness of humanity, and I also believe that we are all products of our relationships. Some people are born into dire situations—like the inmate who was born with a drug addict father and a prostitute mother. We do what we know, because it is familiar. Imagining life outside the confines of our perceived reality takes a lot of imagination, and courage, and tenacity. Sometimes it is hard not to look at life as fixed or fated, that we might be able to rise above or move out of the circumstances we were born into. And what it really comes down to is our ability to make friends with the right people. That and recognizing the potential divine in everyone we meet. That goes for people up and down the socioeconomic, racial, gender, or ability spectrum, and all the other measures of human “difference” I have left out.
So this inmate, who has an I.Q. of approximately 69 (legally considered mentally retarded at the time of his trial)—is he really a villain? Is he really incompetent? Or was he born into a world in circumstances which did not recognize or build on his strengths? Is he capable of remorse? Of rehabilitation? Can he be repurposed, salvaged, dusted off and welcomed into love?
What I like most about this show, called “I am a Killer,” is that it forces you to look at the inmate as a person with a backstory. We might not get the full truth, or receive only fractions of the truth from different perspectives which might throw off any neat conclusions we might possibly gather—and let’s face it, as humans, we like having boxes and categories to put people in. I’m just suggesting, that maybe, just maybe, Truth is as multifaceted as there are brains on the planet.
Murder is wrong. That is true. But what’s also true is we’re all just profoundly, embarrassingly, beautifully human and trying to do the best we can. Everyone has a language unique to their circumstance. It’s a miracle we ever come to an understanding about anything, if you ask me. Even if you don’t ask me, I’m going to think human dialogue is a fucking miracle until the day I die. Probably. Or maybe that’s just this chapter.