Reading, "All God's Children" where the author investigates some fairly well-known local murders done by "street families". It's weird, because I know almost every one of the main players in the book. The kid (leader) responsible for the first series of murders was my dorm worker when I was a rookie. Two of the others were largely responsible for me figuring out the dynamics behind the type of violence I call the "Group Monkey Dance". One of the others was discussed constantly at the weekly mental health team meetings. One asked if it would be appropriate to stay in contact from prison (the answer is 'no' FWIW).
The author didn't see the killers the way that I did. Experience, probably, or sampling error. Or the fact that what I learned about their lives and personalities came when they weren't trying to explain themselves to a reporter. Maybe on the street and in a pack they were as she describes them, menacing, tall, strong. Not the scrawny, scared, little kids I remember.
It triggered something, and I went back through some old writings and found this:
"Yesterday- we all have a vision of a vicious killer who can callously beat someone to death. Ever since yesterday, my image will be of a skinny, pale, whiny young man, begging to be put in Protective Custody so "the real criminals in here don't take my food."
Today- a friend and fellow officer who is working at a different facility was stabbed in the face with a pencil. He'll be okay. Still...
Tomorrow- about twenty years ago, Deputy Irv Burkett was shot in the back of the head while attempting to stop an escape. I never met Irv. He trained some of the people that trained me. His funeral is tomorrow. As Van will ask, what are the lessons? That things are never really over, even twenty years later. That things don't look like your fantasies. That it is always a surprise. That everything effects many people over many years, maybe."
Don't mistake understanding for sympathy. That I see them as humans and related well with them does not mean that they were good people or that their punishment should be less harsh. It is what it is. In a society where there is a mutual agreement to believe each other's lies and the strong write rules to exploit the weak, a group can slip into fantasy where they are dark wizards and can torture and kill others who are just as caught up in the fantasy- and can kill outsiders, too, all the while staying in the fantasy.
The same person, removed from that environment where fantasy is supported and excused can become a crying baby.
The Manson-wannabe with dark, cultish authority on the street can be a laughable pretender, afraid of everything behind bars.
Don't mistake understanding for sympathy! Once released, they will gravitate back to this environment where they felt this power and they will become the same things again, only smarter and less likely to be caught.
How strange, though, that the first time I read a book where I know everyone it's about two strings of torture-murders.