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"This sister of mine, a dark shadow robbing me of sunlight, is my one and only torment."
December 29, 2006 2:40 PM   Subscribe

The strange story of June and Jennifer Gibbons.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (9 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
An intense and haunting story, thanks goodnewsfortheinsane.

Your post reminds me of the Nigerian (Yoruba) tradition of Ibeji statues.
posted by nickyskye at 3:17 PM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


wow. what an incredible story. I have twin brothers (23 years old) and they are inseparable. Most of the time no one understands what they're talking about except for the other twin. It's almost like they have their own language.

It also reminded me of a weird story: A few months ago one of them broke up with his girlfriend, because the other twin didn't like her. when I asked him why he broke up with her he said: "you ever had a twin? no? then you wouldn't understand."
posted by Afreemind2007 at 4:24 PM on December 29, 2006


What a fascinating insight to such an unknown world for many of us.
posted by liquorice at 4:28 PM on December 29, 2006


Absolutely fascinating. And so very sad. I can't believe they kept them locked up for over a decade. Especially when those boys who beat the toddler to death didn't seem to do much time at all, then got brand new identities and lives upon release.
posted by jrossi4r at 4:32 PM on December 29, 2006


I remember the TV documentary and the book when they first aired. I've often wondered what happened to them since then.

There were a bunch of significant differences between the Gibbons twins and Thompson and Venables, the two boys who killed James Bolger.

Firstly, the Gibbons girls were much older. They were eighteen, while Venables and Thompson were only ten -- barely at the age of criminal responsibility. I think there are significant differences between the ability to grasp the significance and consequences of your actions in a ten year old and in an eighteen year old.

Secondly, the Gibbons girls were being treated at a mental hospital for a psychiatric condition. Presumably, had there been any remission of their condition, they would have been released much earlier. Failure to release earlier suggests that their condition was fairly intractible and that they still posed a danger to themselves or others.

Thompson and Venables, in contrast, were actually serving a proper custodial sentence at her majesty's pleasure -- ie, of indefinite term. However, their sentence also had a heavy therapeutic component, and the papers reported a pretty strong consensus about the progress that the boys had made.

While there crime was undeniably terrible, ten year old boys from profoundly disadvantaged backgrounds are prone to make mistakes and do stupid things. Like Mary Bell before them, it's extremely unlikely that they'll ever repeat their actions, and in a sense, they are as much victims of their own stupidity as poor little James Bulger was. I've no doubt that they'll pay that price for the rest of their lives, but the better able they are to function in society, the better off we all are.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:18 PM on December 29, 2006


I can't wait for Amazon, I'm going out NOW to buy that book. Thank you, goodnewsfortheinsane, for introducing me to a sad and fascinating story.
posted by bunglin jones at 7:23 PM on December 29, 2006


You make some good points, PeterMcDermott. I suppose I was just struck by this sentence:

"Juvenile delinquents get two years in prison," June said. "We got 12 years of hell, because we didn't speak."

But that reflects June's perception of the situation, not necessarily the reality.
posted by jrossi4r at 8:06 PM on December 29, 2006


The Wikipedia article on them is pretty good.

I suspect that there was some degree of injustice in their case. It seems unlikely to me that they were suffering from schizophrenia, and I've yet to see this diagnosis offered by anybody besides Broadmoor. Our special hospitals do tend to offer it up as a catch-all diagnosis for everybody that falls under their care -- or they did in the past. I think that that's changing to some degree now.

And so I can't help wondering whether they were engaged in some kind of psychic struggle with those responsible for their care, in which the carers are determined that they'll conform, and the twins are equally determined that they won't -- the outcome being a terrible impasse in which they don't make any apparent progress.

The Wikipedia article on Selective Mutism -- the diagnosis that is generally applied to the twins -- is also illuminating. I'm guessing that by trying to treat schizophrenia, rather than the condition they were actually suffering from, these girls were being excessively punished for their illness -- but presumably that was due to ignorance rather than malice on the part of the authorities.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:34 AM on December 30, 2006


This line, from your second link, made me reel:
Chillingly, teachers and therapists thought one twin to be the very personification of evil.
I can't help but wonder what sort of effect this had on the twins' conception of self. What a hideous dichotomy to inflict on these troubled girls.

And thanks for those articles on Ibeji statues, nickyskye. Fascinating reading!
posted by maryh at 6:52 AM on December 30, 2006


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