Sitting Down With A Killer: Impressions On Interviewing A Psychopath

Today I sat face to with a man who had killed three people and tried to have a fourth person killed, a real psychopath. This wasn’t some disturbed person who lost his mind and killed three people in one violent, rage filled act. This was a man who killed his friends’ girlfriend, then still remained friends with the guy while he grieved over his dead girlfriend. Fast forward three years later, while still friends with the guy, he decides to not only kill him, but also to kill his new girlfriend.

Finally arrested for the murders, from behind bars he tries to elicit the help of another inmate to kill a key witness to the last two murders. This man has no remorse. No real feelings. He’s currently facing two life sentences with yet more charges coming. He is barely 30 and will spend the rest of his life in prison.

psychopathySitting across from me in a big empty room, un-handcuffed, unshackled and unguarded (the nearest officer is two flights of stairs below), this man who is covered in multiple tattoos, some gang related, one reading, American Nightmare, has a very cold disposition. It’s in his frozen eyes and the way he talks as if he couldn’t care less about anything or anyone in the world that reminds me that I am in the room with a man who pretty much has nothing to lose.

I can’t explain the feeling. It’s not fear I feel when he tells me I am asking too many dumb questions, or when he leans in with an attitude of authority as if he were the one in charge of this interview. It’s not even nervousness that I feel, but an awareness that I am in the room with a three time killer, who wouldn’t hesitate to make it four, or five. It’s like being in a room where a poisonous snake is being kept. You’re not necessarily always checking to make sure it’s still there, but you’re always aware of it and its potential to get loose. As he stated, “My life is over, although I am still alive. I’ve had many family and friends die in prison. There is nothing you can say to me.”

And he was right. There wasn’t anything I could say to him to make him “feel better”.  Often times I get called to speak to inmates who get sentenced to long sentences including life. Most of them are already mentally prepared for it, or at least think they are. Very few show any real emotions. Even fewer show any real remorse. A handful become suicidal. A very few even attempt suicide.

This guy’s advice to me when talking to inmates facing lengthy sentences was pretty spot on; “Don’t talk too much, just listen. Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t ask, ‘is there anything I can do for you?’”

In the real world, only 1% of the population meets criteria to qualify as true psychopaths, but in jails and prisons, that number jumps to 15%. I’ve talked to multiple killers before, some who have killed on accident, who killed on purpose, who killed out of anger, who killed out of greed, who killed out of jealous, who killed out of impulse and some who killed for apparently no reason at all, but none were as electrifying or showed such lack of empathy as this guy.

Here was a guy who killed his friend’s girlfriend, then stayed friends with the guy only to kill him and his new girlfriend three years later. The lack of empathy, manipulation and callousness it took to look his friend in the face day in and day out, knowing that he was the one that killed his last girlfriend is frightening.

During the hour I spent talking with this guy today I learned more about dealing with psychopaths than I could have by reading a 300 page book or taking a 9 week college course . It’s terribly fascinating.

One Kid at a Time

I’ve probably mentioned about a dozen times that the high school I work at is in an inner-city area. It’s not the worst area in the world or perhaps even in the city, but it is a place where poverty, drugs and violence are considered normal.

Just four days into the school year after our school became the first high school in the county to require school colored uniforms to cut down on the large amount of gang activity at school, we’ve already had our first student shot.

A young man got into a fight right across the street from the school and was shot, luckily for him it was only in the leg. According to the news he is being uncooperative with the police as far as giving details about his shooter, which leads me to believe that this is likely gang related.

This happened on the same day that Tyrone Mosby (19) was arrested for killing

Danielle Sampson (15) when a bullet from a drive by shooting found it’s way to the back of her head as she road home from church with her family.

There are a lot of good kids that grow up in that community and that go to the high school, but many of them from the time they were born were dealt a cruel hand that had them almost destined to stay in poverty, be involved in the criminal justice system or headed towards an early grave.

The culture that keeps them at a disadvantage is so intrinsic that it’s often hard for them to see a better life for themselves. Many of them can’t imagine living life any different than from what they know. They grow up in poverty, their parents grew up in poverty and their grandparents likely also grew up in poverty. Everyone around them is either involved in criminal behavior, uneducated, unemployed and or/abuses drugs. They are exposed to all these things and more at a very early age and so psychologically they start to believe that they will be no better (and often don’t want to be much different) than anyone else in their community and thus act in ways that nearly guarantee that they won’t.

Young boys join gangs, start stealing, robbing and even killing. Young girls do much of the same with the addition of getting pregnant and giving birth to more young people who may be cursed from birth to repeat the cycle.

My program focuses on reaching the kids many thought were unreachable. The angry kids, the kids who are using drugs or have given up on school and sometimes life. Often times I lose kids to dropping out or the juvenile justice system and when crimes like the ones I’ve mentioned aren’t rare or even shocking, but “normal”, it’s easy to start wondering how effective not only am I, but also the school and other services in the community are being.

Then I have to realize that I can’t save every kid I come in contact with as much as I would like to. They all have their own lives, their own minds and will ultimately do what ever it is they want to do. I only have them for a very small amount of time during the week and often that doesn’t compare to the impact their family and community, where they spent most of their time, has on them.

I have to remind myself that it’s not about saving everyone, but about trying to save one kid at a time.