Criminals come in different flavors. Violent offenders, rapists, extortionists and drug addicts, each commit their crimes for reasons that germinate in their minds. In the dark ages of criminology, the ridges and bumps on a man’s head predicted his criminal future. I’m not a big believer in conspiring clouds of fate, or forces of biology that magically collide and predetermine a person’s behavior. People make decisions, and criminals make decisions for the wrong reasons. Motivated out of greed, hate, addiction, or economic injustice, thugs prey on the most vulnerable segments of society for personal gain, or just for the thrill. Of all the offenders I’ve encountered, the single group of criminals who are the most diverse, and complicated in their motivation, are those willing to take another human life.
Murder. Few crimes pack the emotional punch and mystery. Not every criminal has what it takes. Accidental deaths and vehicular manslaughter both leave pain and broken families behind, but the purposeful killing of another human is something much darker. Sentenced to life behind prison walls, murderers proudly recount different versions of their crimes, one for the authorities and one for their cell mate. The truth is most often found somewhere in the middle. Drug rip-offs, gang drive by shootings and home invasions gone wrong are so common that inmates tattoo grisly images of their crimes on their skin. Stabbing, shooting, or strangling someone to gain a few dollars has become a nightly occurrence on the network news.
Night after night, the evening news spews out story after story of record numbers of murders in Stockton or Chicago. Arrests are made, but others assume their place and the factories of violence continue uninterrupted. Even behind prison bars, the violence continues. I saw the sadistic examples everyday while I worked in a maximum security prison. Blood slick concrete cell floors, bodies with gaping stab wounds, and suicides of tormented men locked away for for life. No one ever said how long life was, after all.
Within some prison gang circles, taking the life of a rival gang member offers a level of respect or increased status. Some observers argue that we should let the criminals kill each other and “thin the herd,” so to speak. A death in the course of a drug transaction is often seen as to price of doing business. Even among these callous criminals, the murderers who prey on random victims, people selected by the killer because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, hold an especially dark secret. It’s not that they don’t care about life, they most certainly do. The lives they take have value as a trophy, part of a collection, or the violent act brings an illusion of power, or a a sadistic thrill. These killers certainly value their own lives, as evidenced by their endless appeals fighting the death sentences before the executioner calls. The thing is, they have no feeling about their killings. To these individuals, it is neither right nor wrong, it is simply a means to an end.
The apex predators, the murders, are generally compliant while they patiently observe their surroundings for a weakness to exploit. A weak staff member, a family connection who hasn’t been burned, or visiting clergy all present a target for violence and manipulation. Prison is a place of routine and mind-numbing repetition. With nothing but time on their hands, they wait.
Having witnessed the violent and unpredictable nature of maximum security inmates, serial killers and notorious convicts, I incorporated elements of their nature and infused them into many of the characters I create. It makes for an exciting, and a bit of a dark ride.