by Kathryn Casey
Monday, May 26, 2008
by Kathryn Casey
I wonder sometimes about evil, true evil.
Over the years, I've had the fortune or misfortune, depending on one's viewpoint, of interviewing some really bad folks. Many times, I've shown up at a jail or prison, signed myself in, checked my purse in a small locker, then, with two pens and a notebook, if they don't allow a tape recorder and tapes, I've followed a guard through a maze of doorways to a small room, where I sit and wait. I'm often nervous, considering what questions I want to ask, which are most important to get answered. Before long, the person I've come to see walks in. I stand up and reach out my hand, which is taken by someone who has committed a truly heinous crime, most often the murder of another human being. I smile and say, "Hello."
Not everyone in jail, of course, is guilty. And not all the guilty are monsters. I'm talking here about those, however, who have committed horrible crimes without remorse. Talking to them, I must admit, can be unsettling. We share no frame of reference when it comes to basic principles, morals, ethics, even empathy. It is, however, part of my job as a crime writer to attempt to understand such human beings, and I try.
With these types of offenders, there's a question I don't bother asking: "How could you have done such a terrible thing to that woman . . . man . . . child?"
I don't ask, because I already know. Truly evil human beings don't have the ethical struggles the rest of us endure. They simply don't care about the wife or husband who stands in their way, the kid next door, the woman down the street, or the teenage boy walking home late at night. They don't see others as equals. Let's face it, in the view of a true narcissist, the rest of us are all expendable.
A lot of people ask if researching the books I write has changed me as a person. I believe it has, but, perhaps, not in the way one would expect. Yes, I lock my doors and windows. I park under lights in parking lots. I try not to go to dangerous places after dark, unless I have to, and then, I'm as careful as I can be. I understand that sometimes, perhaps when I'm least expecting it, I may encounter a monster in the shadows. While others might doubt the existence of evil, I don't. I have shaken hands with it, heard its voice, and looked into its eyes.
Serial killers, murderers, rapists, thugs, hate-mongers, pedophiles, they're out there. It's true. But, and this may surprise you: in my opinion, not as many of them as we sometimes fear.
For every horrible criminal I've met, I've had the good fortune of encountering hundreds of truly good people, the kind who work hard to raise their families, are charitable toward others, who would never think of victimizing another individual. They understand, in their core, that every other person has as much right to live life to the fullest, to be happy, to be able to work to support their families, as they do.
I've met victims and their families who suffered tragedies so horrific, so life-shattering that I believe the same fate would have sent me to my grave. Yet, they continue not just to exist, but to grab life with both hands and to reach out to others. Some founded organizations to help other victims or push for new laws in hopes of sparing other families the same horrors. Even with all that's happened to them, to their loved ones, they worry about all of us.
At a recent book club gathering I was invited to attend, someone asked a woman, a retired schoolteacher with a kind face who'd spent decades guiding the lives of her young students, why she reads true crime. "I want to understand why people do the things they do," she said. "I don't understand how some people are capable of such terrible acts."
So, next time I'm sitting in a prison talking to an inmate who has committed a brutal murder, I'll think about all the good folks out there who need to understand the true nature of evil to figure out how to stop it. And I'll consider that Houston school teacher, when I ask the monster the questions I need answered to explain the essence of pure evil.Tweet