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Beware Young People
February 21, 2007 4:13 PM   Subscribe

A CNN scare piece on the rise of teen "sport killings" lead off with the story of a group of teenagers who brutally murdered a homeless man and then blamed it on violent video games. Penny Arcade's Gabe responded with an equally inflammatory, though tongue-in-cheek, post blaming the parents.

It seemed like just another case of the media rushing to blame video games while the truth lay somewhere else. It turns out that the stepmother of one of the murderers is an avid reader of Penny Arcade and she emailed them with the real, unreported story. (you'll need to scroll down for both Penny Arcade posts)
posted by unsupervised (92 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, actually the murderers themselves "blamed video games", or rather said it was just as fun as playing a video game. No one is actually saying video games are at fault.

Also, attacks on homeless people has risen dramatically in the past few years, thus the "rise" part of the story.
posted by delmoi at 4:26 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


From the email:

We tried absolutely everything we could think of to get him to behave like a normal human being… we tried groundings, negative reinforcement / punishment, positive reinforcement, counseling, and anything and everything the counselors suggested.

Damn this is sad. She expected him to be a normal human being. The problem? The kid is a psychopath. He will never be normal. He will only at best be able to fake normal.

The kid got 15 years in prison. For murder.

I guarantee you that, unless he murders somebody in the pen or sombody kills him, he will be out in 7 years. If he's white. If he's black he will be out in 10.

And even if he serves his full term? You want scary? At 14 years old he was 6'-3" and 200 Lbs and he went into prison at 15. So at the outside he will only be 30 when he gets out. 30. By then he will be 250lbs and will have spent 15 years lifting weights and learning how to be professionally psychopathic.

We can only hope he gets killed in prison.
posted by tkchrist at 4:30 PM on February 21, 2007 [5 favorites]


Assuming the missive PA reprinted is a) true and b) wholly honest, the kid sounds like an undiagnosed head case, who probably needed meds, not better parenting.

I'm also sure that they felt like victims and were treated like suspects the first time he accused them of abuse, but time after time? The probation authorities aren't that dumb. (My mother is a social worker and sees similar cases.) They have hoops that all the people involved have to jump through for legal reasons, and it makes it very difficult to have a mutually empathetic relationship, but I doubt they just believed him again and again.
posted by dhartung at 4:35 PM on February 21, 2007


Nah, he'll probably end up with so many offenses in jail he'll be a lifer. Either way, though, keep that motherfucker out of society.
posted by bob sarabia at 4:36 PM on February 21, 2007


I definitely sympathize with the step-mom... it sounds like they did everything they could (at that point) to deal with his problems.

But it's also disturbing, because her (unspoken) conclusion seems to be that this kid was just born evil. Maybe I'm misreading it.

But is that really possible? Outside of horror movies, I mean? Can some kid who's never been abused, mistreated, or neglected by his parents (or other authority figures) just naturally be a maniacal, psychopathic murderer? Is that possible?

If so, remind me not to have kids. Yikes.
posted by crackingdes at 4:37 PM on February 21, 2007


Yeah aren't they calling this sort of thing Antisocial Personality Disorder? How could this kid be misdiagnosed with years of behavior like this?

There was a dude like this at my high school, but with him we knew that his dad was beating the living hell out of him 4 times a week. This one just sounds like a badly wired brain.

Tragic. He'll probably be in prison for the rest of his life, if he behaves that poorly inside. Probably safer for everyone else, though.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:40 PM on February 21, 2007


I feel like I just posted something about this elsewhere, but whenever I see the dateline of MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin, you know the crazy is sure to be forthcoming.

However, unlike the earlier post, this one shows the fucked up side of Wisconsin crazy.

The stepmom's side of the story certainly adds an interesting facet to this terrible act though.

And we’re not talking the usual teenager stuff, like coming home late, or refusing to do the dishes. We’re talking stealing cars, setting fires, drinking, getting picked up for drugs, beating up handicapped kids at school (yes, really) stealing things out of our house… all with this “I’ll do whatever the fuck I want” attitude.

This kid was damaged goods.
posted by quin at 4:42 PM on February 21, 2007


Oh, I see why he wasn't diagnosed. This diagnosis can't be formalized until the person is 18.

Well, I'm sure they won't have any trouble formalizing it for this guy...

That's kind of odd, though; shouldn't behavior like this be caught and dealt with earlier than that, preferably before they become murderers?
posted by zoogleplex at 4:43 PM on February 21, 2007


Funny, someone from MSNBC called us about this same exact subject about a week and a half ago. Maybe it was the same reporter and I'm getting the call letters wrong, we get calls from major media outlets with surprising frequency and it's hard to keep track.

We told her (if it was her) we don't see it; there are isolated incidents of violence against the homeless by teens in Philly but certainly nothing that we would call a trend. I'm talking about very isolated, one or two a year tops, and nothing as severe as murder, maybe a random beat down or even less than that. We have outreach teams interracting with the chronic street population 3 nights a week, every week. If it was a trend in Philadelphia we'd know about it.

So, yeah, we were not willing to go on record as an agency testifying to a trend at work regarding teen sport violence involving the homeless. Take it for what you will.
posted by The Straightener at 4:45 PM on February 21, 2007


This brings to mind this article from Slate on the Columbine killers and how psychopathology is to blame rather than upbringing, video games, society, etc. It's a point that's worth remembering, although to be fair to the original CNN article, they are hardly hysterical about the video-game link, mentioning it only in passing and attributing the excuse to the murderers rather than speculating on it themselves.

Man, that poor woman.
posted by SBMike at 4:48 PM on February 21, 2007


I read the piece on Penny Arcade earlier today, it sounds like the kid is a complete and utter shitheel.
posted by fenriq at 4:49 PM on February 21, 2007


This page (video clip at left, I can't link it directly) is a long and interesting interview with (I believe) the stepson of the woman in the Penny Arcade link. He doesn't mention video games.
Compare this with the stepmother's account of his personality.
posted by Flashman at 4:52 PM on February 21, 2007


zoogleplex: Oh, I see why he wasn't diagnosed. This diagnosis can't be formalized until the person is 18. ... That's kind of odd, though; shouldn't behavior like this be caught and dealt with earlier than that, preferably before they become murderers?

Yup, technically personality disorders don't apply to teens and kids, because the personality isn't "set in stone" yet. There is a somewhat equivalent thing for younglings though: Conduct Disorder
posted by CKmtl at 4:52 PM on February 21, 2007


I work with kids like this all the time. I will never fully understand why a kid might turn out this way. I mean take two kids from similarly fucked up families, similar support or lack thereof at home, similar schools -- some kids turn out fine, in fact better than fine because they've grown into intelligent compassionate adults despite not having anyone to teach them how to do this, while other kids seem born to be criminals. Generally, I believe nurture determines 95% of a kid's personality while nature determines 5% but so often it is impossible to identify the root cause of a bad kid.

I am guessing that the writer was probably blind to at least some of the family dynamics that contributed to this, but that's no excuse for her to bear responsibility for this horror. She describes taking appropriate steps before it came to this end but I think it must have started long before the teenage years and by the time the kid was drinking and skipping school, it was much too late.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:02 PM on February 21, 2007


crackingdes: But is that really possible? Outside of horror movies, I mean? Can some kid who's never been abused, mistreated, or neglected by his parents (or other authority figures) just naturally be a maniacal, psychopathic murderer? Is that possible?

Apparently, yeah.

Here's a long report by the Vanier Institute of the Family (a Canadian think-tank) on the rise in problematic behavior among children and adolescents since the 1950s. It surveys a wide range of factors.

One interesting excerpt:
It has long been observed that difficult children, even as young as age 4, are often biased in how they process information. Their perceptions and cognitions are faulty, including the ones they maintain concerning their parents and other authority figures. Adolescents classified as aggressive are far more likely to attribute hostile intentions to their teachers and blame them for the outcome of a hypothetical scenario than nonaggressive peers. Other studies have found that difficult children tend to impute threatening intentions to others, are easily slighted, and evaluate disobedience, defiance, and revenge as positive characteristics or as the only solutions to problems.

The old notion that difficult and especially delinquent children are what they are because of a low self-esteem has been debunked in recent years. In fact, many antisocial children think highly of themselves and this inflated sense of self simply reinforces their bad behaviours. It allows them to filter out negative feedback from parents and teachers. As well, their behaviour often results in punitive reactions from adults and even peers. But, instead of being motivated to change, they interpret these reactions as a sign that they are being unfairly treated and this goads them into seeking revenge. Other children interpret negative reactions as a mark of status or a rationale for further maliciousness—especially when they receive the support of peers who are similarly oriented.

... In contrast, prosocial adolescents are more likely to endorse values and motives consistent with conformity to interactional roles and are far less likely to attribute hostile intent, even when reprimanded (Nelson and Crick, 1999). It is then easier for their parents and teachers to guide them to internalize and act upon generally accepted norms of behaviour.
That said, it could be that recent parenting practices are problematic, too: for example, see these parents' complaints about how the Sears method of "attachment parenting" has backfired on them. Combine a difficult child with permissive parenting and you might end up with some big problems in adolescence.
posted by russilwvong at 5:06 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


We can only hope he gets killed in prison.

Or we could hope he gets reformed. Wtf.
posted by delmoi at 5:13 PM on February 21, 2007


Sounds like something out of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Poor woman. Yow.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 5:27 PM on February 21, 2007


We can only hope he gets killed in prison.

Sorry to pile on, but this is as disturbing to read as the actual story.
posted by wfc123 at 5:29 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sadly, that's probably highly unlikely, delmoi. His brain would essentially need to be completely reprogrammed (gah, Clockwork Orange, anyone?), and that might not even work.

He's far more likely to be a total terror for as long as he's physically capable, and the odds of him dying in prison are high. We should try to take care of him, for sure, but he's going to be extremely difficult to handle.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:30 PM on February 21, 2007


delmoi: Or we could hope he gets reformed. Wtf.

It sounds to me that his brain is broken at a very fundamental level, and reform may not be possible. As close as you could get would be threatening him into following the rules of society, and he'd still try to pull something the very second he thought he could get away with it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:36 PM on February 21, 2007


Well the 'real unreported story' is a blog post purporting to present an anonymous email by a woman purporting to be the step-mom etc.

Yes it could be real, but it could also be fake, on either or both levels, there just is no way of knowing. Out of curiosity, would any of you be as inclined to take it seriously if it appeared in a newspaper in the same anonymous form? Would it even get published?
posted by pleeker at 5:44 PM on February 21, 2007


I don't recall the names of the prisons, or which states they were in, but there are some that provide an environment that's pretty conducive to 'getting reformed'. Lots of personal and group therapy, victim impact awareness seminars, stuff like that.

If these kids get in one of those places, there could be hope that they'd come out somewhat decent. Maybe. If they're in a prison that doesn't have such a great rehabilitation scheme... I wouldn't hold my breath hoping for a rosey outcome. At best, they'd come out as an older version of the same borderline sociopath kids. At worst, they come out having learnt to be even worse.

Hoping that they'd get killed in prison is pretty morbid, but it's a very real possibility, if they act like asshats in a bad prison.
posted by CKmtl at 5:44 PM on February 21, 2007


"We can only hope he gets killed in prison."
Well, lets see, I met one serial killer and knew one murder victim (possibly two, one lady is missing) The killer Thor Christenson got shanked to death in prison and has caused no trouble ever since. The guy that killed Deborah Shelhouse had once before done exactly the same thing, beat a housemate to death, got tried, convicted, served time, got out and did it again. I think tkchrist got it right on the money.
posted by Iron Rat at 5:46 PM on February 21, 2007



I found the mention of "Bumfights" and "Bum Hunter" (video, NSFW) within the CNN article to be an interesting issue brought to the table.

Video documentation of violence against the homeless has been cited before as either the reason or the enabler behind similar crimes. You can watch the full "60 Minutes" episode here. It seems the media will perpetually finger point at whatever scapegoat is in vogue at the time. However, I do agree with the Nation Coalition for the Homeless' stance that, "[d]ehumanizing videos such as these solely add to the trends of violence and mistreatment of people who suffer from homelessness."

Hopefully this isn't inappropriately tangential to the thread, but I also found this absurd video (NSFW) on Youtube. It's an excerpt from the Dr. Phil Show where Dr. Phil "interviews" the creator of "Bumfights."
posted by somersault at 5:53 PM on February 21, 2007


Out of curiosity, would any of you be as inclined to take it seriously if it appeared in a newspaper in the same anonymous form?

yes ... it has the ring of truth to it

i think another point that people aren't considering is the role of peer pressure ... and the tendency of people to do things as a group that they wouldn't dare do individually
posted by pyramid termite at 5:59 PM on February 21, 2007


I don't mean this to be snarky, but prison is far from a reforming experience.
posted by ninjew at 6:16 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


We tried absolutely everything we could think of to get him to behave like a normal human being… we tried groundings, negative reinforcement / punishment, positive reinforcement, counseling, and anything and everything the counselors suggested.

They should have sent him to one of those wilderness/boot camps. Don't know if it would have helped, but it would have isolated him from normal society.
posted by chlorus at 6:24 PM on February 21, 2007


To murder a person just because he/she is homeless, defenseless and there is beyond reform. We should throw him to the lion pit at the zoo and broadcast it. Won't someone please think of the species?
posted by CautionToTheWind at 6:31 PM on February 21, 2007


:(

Regardless of if he is likely to be reformed, prision is the best place this lad could ever hope to spend any length of time without being a danger to others.

I feel like phoning my grandfather, who did a lot of Christian Outreach stuff in prisions, and get his opinion on the matter.
posted by Jerub at 6:36 PM on February 21, 2007


(My mother is a social worker and sees similar cases.) They have hoops that all the people involved have to jump through for legal reasons, and it makes it very difficult to have a mutually empathetic relationship, but I doubt they just believed him again and again.

It is entirely possible that the social workers, teachers, and cops involved with this kid were all idiots or bureaucrats who did things by the book or were looking for someone to accuse.
posted by chlorus at 6:39 PM on February 21, 2007


Don't know if it would have helped, but it would have isolated him from normal society.

That sounds like it's part of the problem to begin with. Whether the isolation is physical or caused by psychopathology, this kid sounds like he's feral.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 6:40 PM on February 21, 2007


somersault, thanks for linking that. Dr. Phil is a cocksucking asspipe. He thinks it's despicable and he doesn't want to promote it? As if he didn't know in advance what was on that tape? Complete bullshit artist. This way he gets to show the exploitation footage AND take the moral high ground by acting outraged and kicking the guy (admittedly a worthless fuckwad of a human being) off the show without talking to him.

Dr. Phil has been getting worse and worse. It used to be about more or less functional people solving their problems, but I guess that wasn't generating high enough ratings, so now it's pedophiles, skeletal anorexics, 1000 pound fat men, crackheads and voyeurism 5 days a week.

[/derail]
posted by fleetmouse at 6:51 PM on February 21, 2007


But it's also disturbing, because her (unspoken) conclusion seems to be that this kid was just born evil. Maybe I'm misreading it. But is that really possible?

Hell, yes. I've met a broken kid. It was unnerving. And there was, of course, nothing to be done about it until someone died.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:02 PM on February 21, 2007


A group of teens killed a homeless man in the Daytona Beach area a year ago. It's extremely heartbreaking any way you look at it.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:05 PM on February 21, 2007


posted by chlorus They should have sent him to one of those wilderness/boot camps. Don't know if it would have helped, but it would have isolated him from normal society.

Those wilderness boot camps are like primers for prison. I've known a fair amount of bad kids--many as frightening as the one described by the stepmother--whose parents shipped them off to those wilderness boot camps, and upon their return to society they immediately began new careers as drug dealers, carjackers, armed robbers, and the like. Care to guess where they met their fences and criminal business partners? Those wilderness boot camps.

I'm not familiar with the success rates of those camps; perhaps the statistics prove the majority of kids who are sent there do in fact emerge as less likely to become criminals but my suspicion is the only thing the overwhelming majority of kids in those camps learn are the social skills and attitudes they need to survive as hardened, institutionalized criminals.
posted by fandango_matt at 7:06 PM on February 21, 2007


Not to mention that the only reason he's got a TV show is because Oprah hired his as a consultant during her Beef Trial.

He should've had a huge backlash for his prime-time special a while back, involving a family whose young (6yo? 7yo?) son "displayed 10 out of the 13 markers of a future serial killer" or something to that effect. No attempt was made to hide the kid's identity and, as I recall, no real attempt was made to *help* the kid. Must be great to be announced on hugely popular (inter)national TV as the next Dahlmer, not going to be any social effects there at all, no sirree bob. Ugh, how I dislike that man.

[/derail] x2
posted by CKmtl at 7:12 PM on February 21, 2007


Awhile back, I went through a major evolutionary psychology reading kick. I read all the main authors - Dawkins, Wright, Pinker. Dawkins talks, in "The Selfish Gene," about the spread of personality traits throughout groups, mainly focusing on the "hawks" (agressive personailty types) versus the doves (non-aggressive personality types). Depending on the strength of the personailites (how agressive the hawks are, how much abuse the doves will take before they react), there tends to be a balance of hawks and doves that is "evolutionarily stable." Add more hawks too the mix, and the amount of in-fighting between them causes the number to eventually move back down to the stable state. Add more doves, on the other hand, and the hawks have more fodder to take advantage of, thus causing their numbers to increase back to the stable percentage.

What really jumped out at me was at the end of the discussion, Dawkins makes a little side comment saying that one implication of this theory is that, within human populations, the stable number of psychopaths may be non-zero. Any system/society with absolutely no psychopaths isn't going to have any checks on psychopathic behavior - so once one shows up, he/she is bound to cause serious problems. I don't know how much real evidence is out there to support Dawkins throw-away theory, but it struck me as deeply disturbing at the time. Incidents like this always bring it back to me.
posted by TheRoach at 7:13 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:19 PM on February 21, 2007


Hey fleetmouse, I couldn't have said it better my self. Can't stand hearing about that self aggrandizing jackass from mom every time she watches the show. Helping people by dragging their problems out for the world to see and gawk at. Let's call it mock(ery) therapy.

As for prison reforming this psycho, there's this thing called recidivism. The rate of it is very high for these types of offenders and it isn't helped by their treatment once they've 'paid their debt to society'. Our prison system isn't about reform. It's about punishment.
posted by IronLizard at 7:21 PM on February 21, 2007


That said, it could be that recent parenting practices are problematic, too: for example, see these parents' complaints about how the Sears method of "attachment parenting" has backfired on them. Combine a difficult child with permissive parenting and you might end up with some big problems in adolescence.

hi, AP practicer here, with a 2 month old daughter -- quite possibly the most beautiful baby in the world, to be sure.

i can testify that Sears' AP method is most certainly not about permissive parenting and letting your child get away with anything she or he wants while you stand in the background and kind of hem and haw and say "gee, you know, you really shouldn't do that, can we just kinda talk about why you're doing that? no? oh, okay. well, can you try not to kill people and set stuff on fire? no? okay, well mommy and daddy still love you!"

in fact, many AP parents in the forum you linked to point this same thing out and assert that their judicious application of AP techniques has served them well. My wife and I agree, and neither she, as a former teacher, nor I, raised by a strict single mother, have any intention of letting our daughter walk all over us as she grows older. other than, you know, during play time, before she gets too heavy.

/derail
posted by lord_wolf at 7:21 PM on February 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


Err, its.
posted by IronLizard at 7:23 PM on February 21, 2007


We can only hope he gets killed in prison.

Why not scrap the judicial process altogether and set up execution vans next to the police stations?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:28 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]




Why not scrap the judicial process altogether and set up execution vans next to the police stations?

Is that any more cruel and unusual than shutting people in cages to be raped and abused? Were I a fifteen-year-old convict, I know which one I'd choose.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:46 PM on February 21, 2007


Is that any more cruel and unusual than shutting people in cages to be raped and abused?

Are you saying that we deliberately set up the process to implement this? You don't believe that prison rape and violence are due to imperfections in how the penal system is managed, and that there is a clear difference here?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:57 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Or we could hope he gets reformed. Wtf.

Sure. And when I wake up tomorrow the ghost of Colonel Sanders will have left a shiny gold brick and a clutch of fertilized Dodo eggs under my pillow. I suppose anything is possible...
posted by sourwookie at 8:02 PM on February 21, 2007


Flashman, that was an interesting video. I didn't find anything in it to contradict the alleged email from the alleged stepmom, though. Moore was constantly saying the same things to excuse his actions, and I felt there was no recognition at all for what he'd done.

As for the email on PA, I don't know who wrote it of course. But if it was the stepmom, it wouldn't surprise me. I worked with special needs kids for a few years and we shared the room with a teacher who had one student, a pathologically disturbed young man, who exhibited a lot of similar traits as to what was listed in the email. The only reason he got treatment was because his parents were enormously wealthy and they took the school district to court to get his needs met. As for the police, when the student was picked up, they just took him back home without question. The mother showed up in hysterics one day because the police would NOT take her son into custody despite the felony he'd just confessed to.

Contrast that with the mentally disabled girl in our class, who was convicted of a sex crime at the age of 12. Because her small-town neighbors disliked her, she got taken to an adult prison at age 14. She hadn't actually done anything wrong when she was 14, there were just some "scared" citizens who didn't like a registered sex offender living next door to them, so they called the cops with a fake complaint, and that's all it took to revoke her parole.

In short, everything's broken, life sucks, and there's never as much help out there as you think there is.
posted by smashingstars at 8:06 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]



I apologize for the self-links but...

1) Those boot camp/ wilderness places *do not* reform psychopaths. There's no evidence that they reform anyone--research finds them no more effective than juvenile prison, which we know is more harmful than no treatment.

2)Any kind of confrontational group setting like boot camp or most prison therapy groups in which people are encouraged to humiliate others and told that doing so "helps" the victim simply trains psychpaths to better hone in on and use people's weaknesses against them. You cannot teach empathy by force.

3) Psychopaths are likely to rise through staff hierarchies and ultimately run such places because the mentality is that being cruel helps people and being kind is "enabling them" to avoid needed feelings. Since there are no staff credential requirements, since regulation is lax and since you can make lots of money by being sadistic and there's little chance of getting caught and virtually no checks on your power, the industry is unfortunately filled with abusive people.

[Last year, I published a book on this: Help at Any Cost: How The Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids]

3) The vast majority of psychopathic kids are made, not born. Early childhood abuse and neglect (such as simply not holding a baby at all or abandoning one for hours a day for months on end during the first three years) can interfere with the development of empathy. I'd really like to know what this kid's first few years were like-- we've only heard from the stepmom, we don't know if the child was adopted out of some horrid very early situation or have any details at all about early life.

Last month, a book I co-wrote with a child psychiatrist and neuroscientist about how trauma can affect the developing brain: The Boy Who Was Raised as A Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook. We have a chapter in there about a kid who killed and then raped two young girls and appeared to have come from a normal, intact family (and in fact, had a good, hard-working, law-abiding, kind brother) but turned out to have suffered severe early neglect.

Though there are a few, rare cases of true "bad seed" kids, mostly kids become violent and/or sociopathic because they did not experience the conditions necessary for the development of empathy during their early childhood. Empathy is like language: it needs certain exposures and stimuli to be present in the environment if it is to be expressed. Violent sociopathy also requires training in violence in order to be expressed-- some people with genes that might predispose them that way never express them because they simply aren't treated in ways that train them this way.

Evolutionarily there are certainly "free rider" strategies that suggest the likelihood of genes that would produce cheating and manipulation-- but we also have evolved lots of strategies to counter those.

A terrible story, I should add, too.
posted by Maias at 8:08 PM on February 21, 2007 [9 favorites]


You don't believe that prison rape and violence are due to imperfections in how the penal system is managed?

Imperfections. Nice euphemism.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:32 PM on February 21, 2007


Are you saying that we deliberately set up the process to implement this? You don't believe that prison rape and violence are due to imperfections in how the penal system is managed, and that there is a clear difference here?

Yes, I'm actually suggesting that. I believe we encourage and allow sexual violence as a punishment and a disincentive against transgressing the law. Don't believe me? Ask any male why they might be afraid to go to prison. It works. It's one of the few teeth in the jaw of the justice system, and you know it.

Or is this too radical, because I'm not using the word "rape" in a way that's been pre-approved by some Feminist playbook?
posted by kid ichorous at 8:51 PM on February 21, 2007


chlorus: It is entirely possible that the social workers, teachers, and cops involved with this kid were all idiots or bureaucrats who did things by the book or were looking for someone to accuse.

Sociopaths are unnaturally good at lying and manipulating people, since they don't see anything wrong with it. I have no problem with believing that this kid was able to trick all of these people into thinking actual abuse was going on.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:57 PM on February 21, 2007


It is entirely possible that the social workers, teachers, and cops involved with this kid were all idiots or bureaucrats who did things by the book or were looking for someone to accuse.

Yeah, it's easy to accuse, isn't it?

The system is broken. We do not put money into the facilities or processes we need to catch people before they fall through the cracks. By default, we treat mental illness with imprisonment. There was a vicious triple murder in my town a month ago, with an alleged perp in custody, and the guy's history has been aired in the paper. He spent 20 years as an adult who clearly needed help but never got it. Constantly on probation -- in fact he was in prison, released, and was sent back -- and the parole officer's records show he was constantly getting into trouble because he self-medicated with alcohol. (One of his hobbies when drunk was breaking into houses, just for the hell of it. He'd move stuff around, rarely stole.)

Now, to be sure, "help" doesn't always help. We don't have magic pills or wizards of therapy who can just turn somebody off the path of being a potential killer. We're not doing pre-crime, after all. And even for the relatively healthy mental health treatment is a notoriously spotty affair.

But I can say that Wisconsin law would require that if the kid ever laid a hand on his parents, it be treated as a domestic violence case. If he never did, though, the system doesn't have a whole lot of options even if every caseworker, counselor, probation officer, and school liaison is committed. There are some intensive programs available, but they only kick in after something really bad has already happened. That's the real problem.
posted by dhartung at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2007


The kid sounds like he's probably a psychopath, in the psychiatric sense. It's the manipulation factor layered on top of the misbehavior that points to something deeper than the usual stuff that can be "reformed". Robert Hare's writings pretty much summarize this level of hyper-abusive behavior, and odds are good he will re-offend where ever he goes.
posted by yeloson at 9:56 PM on February 21, 2007


I believe we encourage and allow sexual violence as a punishment and a disincentive against transgressing the law.

No disrespect, but I'm not asking about beliefs. Please point to a lawmaker who has gone on the record as mandating and voting for a policy of prison rape as legitimate criminal punishment, or otherwise is on the record about making prison rape a state-sponsored form of deterrence.

In any case, you seem to understand the difference between apathy about abuse of prisoners, which is a more accurate description of the problem, and actually fulfilling the rape of prisoners by official decree of the state, which is not at all accurate.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:52 PM on February 21, 2007


People suck. I don't think anyone is willing to do what it takes to really provide the help that many people need out there, and I think in the US it's even more the case 'cos of the culture that promotes self-reliance.

There's no reason why prison has to be a nightmare, but it is. Anyone who thinks that the law resembles 'justice' and that prison is for 'reform' is deluding themselves.

I would say that in my experience most people are selfish, and generally don't care that much about other people - even friends - and especially people they don't know.

As for this manipulative murderous child, I think he'd be better off in a psych ward somewhere.
posted by Jelreyn at 10:58 PM on February 21, 2007


Well the 'real unreported story' is a blog post purporting to present an anonymous email by a woman purporting to be the step-mom etc.

Yes it could be real, but it could also be fake, on either or both levels, there just is no way of knowing. Out of curiosity, would any of you be as inclined to take it seriously if it appeared in a newspaper in the same anonymous form? Would it even get published?


Sorry, Bleeker, but you must not know the Penny Arcade folks really well. I'd trust them over major news outlets any day of the week. Is the email really from this kid's stepmom? Maybe, maybe not, but Gabe isn't going to lie about receiving it.
posted by Revvy at 11:04 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Imperfections. Nice euphemism.

I guess until Bush II, we were supposed to have a justice system to incarcerate and a penal system to rehabilitate. Several here have already advocated vigilante justice, and claim that the system is designed specifically not to rehabilitate (irregardless of intent) but to administer rape as punishment.

Except for hopefuls in the Constitution Party, no working legislator or official I know of is on record that prisons must use rape as state-mandated punishment. So what word would you prefer in its place?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:07 PM on February 21, 2007


i can testify that Sears' AP method is most certainly not about permissive parenting and letting your child get away with anything she or he wants while you stand in the background and kind of hem and haw and say "gee, you know, you really shouldn't do that, can we just kinda talk about why you're doing that? no? oh, okay. well, can you try not to kill people and set stuff on fire? no? okay, well mommy and daddy still love you!"

A parent I know, back when I didn't have kids yet but had a little dog (now I have two of each) was visiting, and her firstborn was quite young and enamored with hitting the dog on the nose. My dog being my dog, he was cool with it, no nipping or growling or biting -- if anything he came back for more -- but I wasn't happy about it.

Still, I let the mom do the disciplining, since it was her child. Unfortunately, that discipline was very much in the "gee, you really shouldn't do that" vein, and so he kept right on doing it. She wouldn't stop him, or heighten the negative reinforcement; just "now, that's not a nice thing to do" over and over.

Finally, the kid went and picked up a Tonka truck, and slammed it into my dog's face. I stood up, and in an intense, booming voice said his name. He turned to look at me, shocked, and I said (in the same voice) "NO."

His face crumbled, and he burst into tears. His mother was furious at me. Nevertheless, he stopped hitting my dog, and nobody spanked him or abused him in any way. Boundaries are important, and repeating the same (ineffective) "punishment" over and over without success is the same as offering no boundaries at all. Bah.
posted by davejay at 11:26 PM on February 21, 2007


"Please point to a lawmaker who has gone on the record as mandating and voting for a policy of prison rape as legitimate criminal punishment, or otherwise is on the record about making prison rape a state-sponsored form of deterrence."

Oh brother, you can't really be that naive. No U.S. lawmaker is going to go on record as mandating and voting for such a thing, as no German official during the Third Reich ever went on the radio to say anything like "In our big death camps we're currently gassing thousands of European Jews day in and day out." Since like I said you can't really be that naive, what is your point? That you can't tell the difference between de facto and de jure?

Some reading. And more from the same site. Some from Human Rights Watch. The Stop Prisoner Rape site. The obligatory Wikipedia article. And Gore Vidal addressed the subject. With all this going on, why would any politician NEED to publicly advocate such a "punishment", when all you'd need to do is have a guard drop a rumor that your intended victim is a "fag" or a "pedophile", or even simply offer a carton of cigarettes to a known rapist? (Oh I forgot, of course you're a law-abiding "decent" person so it'll never happen to you and so you don't need to to practice enough empathy for "the dregs of society" to learn the truth about what happens to "those people.")

And as for "the manipulative murderous child", I think he should receive retribution in kind from a handful of homeless people picked at random from a lottery of voluntary applicants. To hell with him.
posted by davy at 11:44 PM on February 21, 2007


Since when is lack of official statement any proof that something is not the case? You speak as though the lack of evidence proves something. It does not.

There are documented cases of prison guards using prisoner-on-prisoner rape as means of punishment. What more do you need?

There are any number of cases where citizens wish perps away to prison to be gang raped.

It is well documented that many prisons are doing little, if anything, to end prison rape. Is the system "designed" for it? Maybe not, but it sure as hell has evolved for it.

Funny thing about step mothers. A guy I knew was always in trouble. For some reason, people seemed very ready to believe the problem was over his step-mom. As it happened, his step-mom was a friend and neighbor of my aunt (13 years older than myself, as well as my friend). My father knew his dad. I had heard of the guy, but never met him until we happened to be in a court-placed 'private school' together.

Now, as has been mentioned here before, I was a real entusiastic cocksucker since age 12 (and fleetmouse, please keep your use of 'cocksucker' as an insult to yourself). As is often the case, I took a lot of crap from my so-called 'peers'. This guy never gave me any shit, and we talked. According to him, his step-mom was the best thing that ever happened to him (she was great, I knew because she had babysat my sister and I occasionally). His dad, OTOH, was a total asshole. For reasons that escape me, no one seemed to consider that possibility. This was back about 1970. (I only met his dad once, and yea, the guy was totally negative).
posted by Goofyy at 11:55 PM on February 21, 2007


Blazecock Pileon: Please point to a lawmaker who has gone on the record as mandating and voting for a policy of prison rape as legitimate criminal punishment

Blazecock, much like the abuse of prisoners at Abu Gharib, rape and torture are not enshrined in our body of Legislature or jurisprudence - quite the opposite. Consequently, you will not find many legislators arguing for more of either.

These things are, however, manifest in our Executive, in our administration and oversight of prisons. Prison wardens do arrange for inmates to be raped as punishment, and the system has a legendary apathy towards safeguarding its population against rape. This is not a management issue - this is a withdrawal of basic legal protections and rights, with a punitive effect on the inmates. Denying protection from violence is no different than denying basic physical needs, such as food and water. The latter we would readily recognize as torture, but why not the former?

In another age, when the Church wanted to destroy an enemy, they didn't have to pronounce anything so un-Christian as a death warrant. What they did was officially withdraw all legal protections, via the act of Excommunication, and wait... for others to "speak hands" on the Church's behalf. There's a clear, causal relationship between flouting the will of the Church and the consequence of a violent end.

Likewise, when people today are fearful of prison, what are they really afraid of? Confinement? Or are they afraid that they'll be thrown into a cage with rapists and murderers, and left utterly without the protection of the law? Aren't they more afraid that they'll be brutalized, raped, perhaps given AIDS? And doesn't a policy of institutional abuse and neglect in our prisons keep people more afraid, and in line?
posted by kid ichorous at 12:14 AM on February 22, 2007


The best response to this kind of unfocused psychotic violence is focused professional violence....now where's my scope?
nah, I don't really mean that.
....or rather....I don't want to really mean that.
I dunno, there but for the grace of God...or rather, my family...

You know though, is it me or does all this seem to mirror the general pattern in health care? Nothing for prevention or maintainance, but all sorts of free attention past the point something catastrophically wrong has occured? Not much surprise I suppose that mental health is given short shrift.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:34 AM on February 22, 2007


ALEX (V.O.)
One thing I could never stand is to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blerp, blerp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, whatever his age might be, but more especially when he was real old like this one was.

The boys stop and applaud him.

TRAMP
Can you... can you spare some cutter, me brothers?

Alex rams his stick into the Tramp's stomach. The boys laugh.

TRAMP
Oh-hhh!!! Go on, do me in you bastard cowards. I don't want to live anyway, not in a stinking world like this.

ALEX
Oh? And what's so stinking about it?

TRAMP
It's a stinking world because there's no law and order any more. It's a stinking world because it lets the young get onto the old like you done. It's no world for an old man any more. What sort of a world is it at all? Men on the moon and men spinning around the earth and there's not no attention paid to earthly law and order no more.


------------------------------------------------------

I blame Ludwig Van. And moloko.
posted by dgbellak at 1:39 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


"I blame Ludwig Van. And moloko."

I blame Milwaukee. There's some baaaad juju in this town....
posted by MikeMc at 7:38 AM on February 22, 2007


Long derail about parenting.

lord_wolf: i can testify that Sears' AP method is most certainly not about permissive parenting and letting your child get away with anything she or he wants while you stand in the background and kind of hem and haw and say "gee, you know, you really shouldn't do that, can we just kinda talk about why you're doing that? no? oh, okay...."

First, congratulations!

As a more traditional, authoritarian parent myself ("This isn't a democracy, it's a benign dictatorship"), I'm curious: what approach does Sears recommend in this kind of situation?

We're using 1-2-3 Magic--two warnings and then a timeout. It works well with our children, who are 3 and 5.

I'm currently reading Barbara Coloroso's kids are worth it!, and I have to say that I'm not impressed. She doesn't appear to understand the distinction between authority and force. Authority doesn't require the use of force; it's psychological, not physical. The frequent use of force or emotional abuse (as in Coloroso's caricature of authoritarian parenting) indicates the breakdown of authority, not excessive authority.

Nor should it be arbitrary: we're raising our kids to have good manners, and even at their age it's not difficult for them to understand the difference between good manners and bad manners (Richard Scarry has a good illustration of this). If they behave badly (fighting, throwing tantrums), and we discipline them for it, it doesn't make them into mindless automatons who can't think for themselves and are easily led, as Coloroso argues: it reinforces the distinction between good manners and bad manners. ("Good manners" may seem a bit superficial, but it seems better to me than talking about their "being good" or "being bad"--it's the distinction between behavior, which they can control, and identity, which they can't.)

Of course love is vitally important as well (probably even more so), but it's a false dichotomy to say that you have to choose between loving your child and exercising authority over your child.

davejay: Still, I let the mom do the disciplining, since it was her child. Unfortunately, that discipline was very much in the "gee, you really shouldn't do that" vein, and so he kept right on doing it. She wouldn't stop him, or heighten the negative reinforcement; just "now, that's not a nice thing to do" over and over.

I don't think this is unusual. Where is this style of parenting coming from? Is it just that parents like this don't know what to do next?
posted by russilwvong at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2007


Sometimes it just takes a little longer for the really bad stuff to emerge, I guess.

There's this MeFi'er I know whose little brother (youngest of the sibs) had had some tenuous connections with reality coupled with the "I'll do whatever I want" attitude, but nobody thought he'd pull the following:

Little brother, who'd had numerous violent disagreements with father and (mutual) oldest brother flipped out and, on their dad's birthday(!), shot and wounded dad, then shot and very nearly killed oldest brother, who, despite a sucking chest wound, managed to get a wep of his own and return fire, driving off little brother, before collapsing. Oldest brother then nearly bled out before the EMTs arrived and stablilized him. MeFi'er in question arrived maybe 45 min after all this to see shattered glass, bullet holes, blood everywhere, stand dumbfounded being briefed by cops from two different jurisdictions, and realize he had a little brother running around armed and wanted plus 2 family members in emergency surgery, status unclear.

MeFi'er-in-question's immediate older brother & family were cowering in adjacent home (later, MeFier's SIL found a bullet hole that had missed MeFi'er's neice's crib by about a foot) and making plans to sequester selves out of town; undoubtedly little brother was going to come over to see immediate older brother right after finishing Phase One.


Little brother turned himself in w/o incident 3 days and 4 states later. He is not expected to be free for another 25 years due to consecutive sentences (attempted murder x2).
posted by pax digita at 11:02 AM on February 22, 2007


First, congratulations!

thank you! congrats to you on what i'm sure are 2 wonderful kids. :-)

As a more traditional, authoritarian parent myself ("This isn't a democracy, it's a benign dictatorship"), I'm curious: what approach does Sears recommend in this kind of situation?

what dr. sears recommends can be found here, especially in step #3, where he writes: "Parents, take charge of your children."

basically, though, AP seems to call for getting to know your child well enough that you can launch surgical, pre-emptive strikes against problem behaviors. i'm optimistic about it; hopefully, you and i will still be around mefi when my daughter reaches an age where we have to start using disciplining actions, and i'll let you know how it goes; or you can pass on some wisdom you've gained with your kids. :-D

btw, i have no problem with davejay's "NO!" -- i think that it was perfectly appropriate for that situation. i do think that the mother of that child has failed him by letting him develop that kind of behavior with her virtually non-existent authority and, hopefully, davejay put some sense into her with that move.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:34 AM on February 22, 2007


pax digita: that's a really scary story.

lord_wolf: what dr. sears recommends can be found here, especially in step #3, where he writes: "Parents, take charge of your children."

Thanks, I think step #5 ("Expect obedience") is even more relevant. He gives the same example: a child doing something and ineffectively being told "don't." (I'm assuming Sears provides the actual material for the website.)

What he recommends:
Another two-and-a-half-year-old got a different message and showed different behavior. The parent sat the child next to him, frequently acknowledged the child, and kept him involved in the family conversation. As soon as the toddler began to climb, the father immediately redirected him and politely planted the climber back in his seat. With a combination of creative distraction and respectful restraint, the parent conveyed to the child that he was expected to refrain from climbing because climbing would disturb the people in the next booth. The child got the message that any effort to climb the seat would not be okay.
In other words, you can't sit there and tell your child to behave, without doing anything about it. As another parent puts it: "You can't parent while sitting on your ass."

hopefully, you and i will still be around mefi when my daughter reaches an age where we have to start using disciplining actions, and i'll let you know how it goes--

Looking forward to it. :-)
posted by russilwvong at 12:45 PM on February 22, 2007


Why not scrap the judicial process altogether and set up execution vans next to the police stations?

Yeah. Because THAT's what I'm advocating. Let's just kill all male babies at birth. That's even better.

You don't believe that prison rape and violence are due to imperfections in how the penal system is managed?

Blazecock your right. Our prisons ARE mismanaged.

And there for it's too fucking late to assume any institutional changes we make today, no matter how ideal we hope they will be, will manifest well on the current drop of incarcerated persons. I advocate making deep systemic changes. I know intimately what is required.

My brother works for Florida State Correction. He trains Parole officers. His officers deal with the worst of the worst. Many of these parolee's are violent sexual predators. And the younger they go in. The worse they are when they get out. And they re-offend at like a 80% rate. That's what the system KNOWS about. My brothers wife is Therapist in for adolescent offenders Florida prisons. She deals with kids who have done things you cannot imagine. Who have lived lives you can't imagine. She get's to "help" these guys for an hour maybe once a month. What the fuck good is that gonna do? The in house Therapists can't handle the load. She ( she is a PhD) is considered the trouble shooter. And she will tell you that 14 year old with the track record of this kid will never be cured. I have heard this 1000 times.

So this kid at 14 years old. He tortured another living human being to death and stood and watched that person die and laughed about it with his buds. He is a psychopath. They do not get better.

I guarantee you he will be made WORSE. That is reality. And due to his age and size and psychopathology he will be out at the ideal age to commit more and more murders and crime.

Do I WISH we had some magic potion that he could take and be a productive member of society. Sure. THAT would be best. I also wish I had a flying car.

It would be awesome if he could be cured. Is that what you hand wringing Polly-Anna's want to hear? Ok. If it make me a human again in your eyes - I agree. Let's cure this kid.

but. Guess what? He won't. This is reality we are talking about.

If this kid ISN'T a psychopath now he will be after 15 years of prison. They DON'T get the mental health counseling they need. This guy will be a psychopathic rape and killing machine when he gets out. He is 200 lbs at 15 years old? Jesus.

In reality. Here on earth with what we have got in place NOW in American prisons the best thing is for that kid to never get out. To die in prison. And seeing how fucked up prison is, better sooner that later.

Welcome to reality.
posted by tkchrist at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the MeFi'er in question could tell ya all about fun PTSD issues and stuff.

And you're way right: My boy's now at the age where I can now tell him, "I can't control you; I can only correct you or distract you. You have to control you."
posted by pax digita at 1:07 PM on February 22, 2007


We can only hope he gets killed in prison.

Or we could hope he gets reformed. Wtf.
posted by delmoi


Yes. We can HOPE that too. But delmoi put your money where your mouth is. Let's give this 20 years. If at the end of 20 years this kid has NOT re-offended I will pay you $5000 (barring him being killed in prison, etc). If he HAS you pay me $500.

Ok? How much faith do REALLY have?

Who do you really think will win this bet my friend? I know I will. I am like 95% certain.

I am a compassionate person. To a fault. But given the realty of matters such as this the only honest position is that of a realist.
posted by tkchrist at 1:20 PM on February 22, 2007



This is why it is completely insane to put nonviolent young people in juvenile lockups of any sort, including boot camps, with violent kids. Custodial sentences *produce more recidivism* than probation and parole because our lockups make kids worse. Mixing violent and nonviolent kids produces more violent kids. And is extremely expensive. And dehumanizes those who run the places, too.

The only kids who should be locked up are those who are a real threat-- and we should pour resources into providing them care that has some chance of helping them rather than harming them.

keep the potsmokers, the curfew violators, the depressed and other mentally ill, the minor vandals, the shoplifters, the drinkers, the other drug users, the runaways and all other kids doing dumb, kid-like things at home -- and support their families with stuff like Multisystemic Family Therapy and other family therapies and therapeutic foster care if needed.

Recognize that violence generally produces more violence and toughness produces toughness -- and likewise empathy can produce empathy but if a child has suffered severe abuse and neglect to the point where empathy is lacking, the patience and number of repetitions it is going to need in order to help put the kid back on track is going to be extraordinary and beyond the capacity of most people, even the most highly trained. Emotional safety and structure and repetition of positive things can work in most cases but it takes years and we're obsessed with doing it via punishment in months or just locking up for years and ignoring it getting worse.
posted by Maias at 2:36 PM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's a new breed of supercriminals.
posted by jayder at 8:34 PM on February 22, 2007


"keep the potsmokers, the curfew violators, the depressed and other mentally ill, the minor vandals, the shoplifters, the drinkers, the other drug users, the runaways and all other kids doing dumb, kid-like things at home -- and support their families with stuff like Multisystemic Family Therapy and other family therapies and therapeutic foster care if needed."

If they'd've done that with me instead my life would probably been much easier for me and more productive to others.

As it is, well, y'all can thank your lucky stars that I kept managing to escape, to go live on the street 3000 miles from home (till I was busted for shoplifting or somesuch) instead of staying in the institutions and "acculturating" there. Note that between ages 9 and 17 I spent my time either "in custody", as a vagabond escapee, or on juvie probation (receiving mandatory counterproductive expensive and often unduly confining psychiatric "care"). Note too that to this day I still have not raped, stuck up or murdered anybody, nor have I committed any crimes that made me rich and/or famous, not because I'm a Good Person but because growing up in institutions taught me only two things: that I was right all along about Society being vicious and corrupt — and that I won't go to prison.
posted by davy at 12:12 AM on February 23, 2007


Sorry, Bleeker, but you must not know the Penny Arcade folks really well. I'd trust them over major news outlets any day of the week. Is the email really from this kid's stepmom? Maybe, maybe not, but Gabe isn't going to lie about receiving it.

Revvy, you're kind of making my point while missing the point. This is not about Bloggers vs. the Mainstream Media and who's cooler and more reliable and fighting the good fight for Truth.

The principle is the very same, no matter what the source is: an anonymous claim is an anonymous claim, it cannot be verified, you have to either trust that claim blindly or be skeptical, and go figure, I think it's wiser to be skeptical. I don't see why the same level of skepticism cannot be applied equally to mainstream media and blogs.

Please note I'm not flat out accusing the blogger of lying. I just noted, we have no way of knowing which is which. There is the possibility he could have made it all up, isn't there? Then there's the possibility the letter is a fake. I could have sent the blogger that email claiming to be the stepmom. How would he know I'm not lying?

I would also add, it's not like it's a totally disinterested contribution to the topic. A (purported) stepparent claiming they did nothing wrong and there was nothing to be done because the kid is just an evil bastard. A gaming enthusiast blogger latching on to an incidental mention in the article of possible correlation between video games and violence.

And - to expand on the post and links - yes it was an incidental mention, from the tone of this post I was expecting some hysterical tabloid-like tirade against video games as responsible for brainwashing honest kids into murdering homeless people, instead it's nothing of the sort.

Both the CNN story and the "rushing to blame video games" link don't actually rush to blame video games at all. The CNN piece talks about a series of episodes as a trend recognised by 'criminologists', with common factors being 'largely middle-class teens, with no criminal records, assaulting the homeless with bats, golf clubs, paintball guns'.

Maybe the episodes are not enough to talk about a trend, but why is this not happening elsewhere? Could it be that both that game about beating up homeless people for fun, and these real life attacks, rather than being in a causal relation between themselves in an isolated context, are both expressions of something a little bigger?

Those who claim to be inspired by fictional violence must be already inclined to act out violent impulses in some ways (more than the rest of us, that is, cos I think we're all, at different levels, capable of doing horrible things, given all the wrong circumstances). But we can't be happy with "the killers are just evil" answer, it's as simplistic as blaming the parents only, as if individual and families lived in some imaginary state of total isolation from any social and cultural influences, and as simplistic as blaming only the movies and games and so on. It's never down to a single answer.

So... It should be worth examining the part where specific fictional representations of violence do tap into something bigger, and what that something is, without someone screaming "omg horror movies and video games are corrupting our youth!" on one side, and others going "omg they're blaming games again" at any mention of such a correlation, even those who are not easy finger-pointing.

The Salt Lake Tribune article even goes to great lenghts to avoid putting the blame on any single factor, and to insist there can be no clear cut answer. It talks a lot more about the kid's background as a war refugee than videogames. Why would anyone want to take that article as an instance of media hysteria against videogames? There are much more obvious examples.

And just to make this longer - I watched that CNN video interview with one of the teenage killers. I'm no psychiatrist but if that kid is a psychopath then seems to me the definition is being used a little too loosely.

Obviously yes there must be a psychological factor in doing something so horrible "for fun". But. He's not nuts. He's not a personification of Evil. He's a kid who didn't think about what he and his friends were doing, they acted like a mob and saw it as a game gone wrong, and had no consideration of a homeless man as a human being, until he was dead and they realised they had to pay for it.

One extreme way of looking at this is to wish them dead, because they're evil monsters inexplicably at odds with a society that has the utmost respect for any human being no matter how low in the social ladder. The other extreme is blaming any single factor, vague or specific - Society, parents, games, drugs, booze. Maybe the interesting questions navigate the space in between. And I think those articles, especially the second, don't do such a terrible job of touching, however briefly, on that area where we can both wonder what kind of personality ends up doing something so awful, and wonder if there is something in their background that, combined with that psychological inclination, facilitated (not caused, just influenced to some degree) that attitude and behaviour.

It's not a futile question. Might as well give up on any sort of concept of prison, and of education, and of parenting, and of society!, if it's as simple as people kill because their brain is broken and they're evil and there was nothing that could be done.
posted by pleeker at 6:58 AM on February 23, 2007


It would be awesome if he could be cured. Is that what you hand wringing Polly-Anna's want to hear? Ok.

See, maybe there could be some hope for reforming this US prison system you're all complaining about, if more people could appreciate that the mere mention of the possibility of reform, rehabilitation, for a 15 year old is so not enough to qualify as "hand wringing Polly-Anna's" - that would be "aw poor kid, he's just been abused/brainwashed by videogames/mistreated by bullies and teachers/victim of a cruel society" - and that there's some middle ground between keeping that idea of rehabilitation in mind, more so because of the contrast with the actual prison system as it is, and going straight for the "nothing to be done" conclusion.
posted by pleeker at 7:11 AM on February 23, 2007



Also, many European countries have much more humane prison systems and saner sentencing schemes and better rehabilitation programs for even the most disturbed young people. They also have less violent crime!
posted by Maias at 7:38 AM on February 23, 2007


That damn Europe, always making America look bad. Why, it's got healthcare, social welfare, they try to work together instead of fighting, they have nicer prisons, they have real elections, and their women typically are not lard-asses.

Unfair! Quit making America look bad, Europe!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 AM on February 23, 2007


...and their women typically are not lard-asses.

Yeah, the true worth of a country is how their women look to men you.

Asshole.
posted by Snyder at 11:16 AM on February 23, 2007



Also, many European countries have much more humane prison systems and saner sentencing schemes and better rehabilitation programs for even the most disturbed young people. They also have less violent crime!

You just answered the obvious question. WHY are their prisons more humane? It isn't JUST the systemic differences. It's becuase they have less violent criminals in them.

And that fact is a function of all sorts of things. Smaller populations. Less of a history of racial segregation and strife. Less institutional poverty.

The fact that after WWII Europe got a unique chance to redraw their entire societies infrastructure from scratch with more modern and progressive ideas.

America has been saddled with this unfortunate historical momentum to our institutions. THAT is very, very, hard to correct midstream given the entrenched reality of our problems.
posted by tkchrist at 11:24 AM on February 23, 2007


and that there's some middle ground between keeping that idea of rehabilitation in mind, more so because of the contrast with the actual prison system as it is, and going straight for the "nothing to be done" conclusion.

Keep it in mind all you want. The reality is that kid may be out of Prison one day. And know the likelihood is that no matter how hard you tried to reform him the reality is bleak.

Psychopaths do not get reformed. They get re-directed.

And when he is let out I want YOU to step forward and give him a job or let him live in your neighborhood.
posted by tkchrist at 11:29 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well of course in order to declare someone a hopeless psychopath case now all you need is a blog and an anonymous email, who needs psychiatrists and legal experts anymore?

The reality is that kid may be out of Prison one day. And know the likelihood is that no matter how hard you tried to reform him the reality is bleak.

But all you've done is defend your claim that you wish him and his mates dead. That's no political or legal idea about reforming the prison system or dealing with young criminals. It's just an obvious understandable emotional response dressed up as tough unsentimental view of reality.

What you don't get is that this has got nothing to do with pollyannas vs tough realists. No matter how flawed and poorly implemented a legal system is, you have to think in legal terms if you're talking sentences. Going on about how shit the prison system is and how the murderer is better off dead and he'll never reform anyway - that's no way to decide what kind of legal treatment these kids should get. Not in a modern legal system that took centuries to develop from the old eye for an eye system (having a deja vu here...).

Crime and prison conditions can be bad in many parts of Europe too, you know. Rehabilitation programs for minors are not a consequence of there magically being less violent crime or nicer criminals (and less of a history of segregation and strife? in Europe? need some memory pills?). They're a consequence of the legal principle of rehabilitation being held on to and applied, no matter what. You don't give up on the foundations of a legal system because prisons are shit anyway and people suck, you enforce them to make prisons less shit. Maybe that's one history lesson Europe has learnt the hard way.

There's a big difference between the failures of a prison system and the actual legal principles it's built upon. It's the same point Blazecock Pileon was making and went over more than one head here.
posted by pleeker at 3:30 PM on February 23, 2007


Oh and the reality is that all the prison population that didn't get life or the death penalty and didn't die in prison is going to come out of prison at some point. It's not a unique problem of this teenage killing homeless man case.
posted by pleeker at 3:41 PM on February 23, 2007


that's no way to decide what kind of legal treatment these kids should get.

Where did I decide what legal treatment ANYBODY gets. You're pulling that out of thin air.

His legal rights should be as respected and implemented as fully as anybody else's.

As for my "diagnosis" of psychopathology? Oh come on. He isn't a criminal. He TORTURED a person to death. And then stayed to make sure he was dead. He bragged about it. Laughed about it and admitted to it. Admitted that he ENJOYED it. The step mothers description is text book psychopathology.

But we are ALL speculating on the data given.

And I'm afraid your comments concerning European Prisons is WAY off. The percentage population - even per capita - of extremely violent prisoners to non-violent offenders in European prisons is no where NEAR what it is here. Not even close. And where the populations are higher it is a fairly recent thing.

My brother went to an LEO symposium in Germany on the subject and this was the EU observation of US penal populations. It was something his EU counterparts simply could not suss out.

About racial strife and segregation? Sorry uh-uh. Your wrong. Again very recent occurrences in Europe. Most EU nations were racially very homogeneous until very recently. While you had poverty - you also had rigidly enforced class structure which LOWERED crime. Here we had codified segregation far more recently, extreme poverty far more recently, extreme racial violence on a wider scale far more recently. You are way off.

And you left out all I said about WWII reconstruction - which made a HELLUVA a difference in the difference between US and Euro social system infrastructure. HUGE difference. It gave them a helluva opportunity and head start in progressive social order. One that each much smaller Euro state could apply to smaller regions and populations. It would be a massive effort here - one where we would be fighting for decades the momentum of present systems.

You cannot compare us and them and draw that much relevant meaning from it.
posted by tkchrist at 7:40 PM on February 23, 2007


Oh and the reality is that all the prison population that didn't get life or the death penalty and didn't die in prison is going to come out of prison at some point.

And I don't CARE about them. The vast majority are drug offenders. Or in cases of violent offenses it is related to drug activity or crimes of passion. These are not all sociopaths or psychopaths. These are criminals.

Crime I can handle. Crime CAN be cured. By jobs. By supportive communities. We Americans are the descendants of convicts and criminals for heavens sake.

The problem is the psychopaths. While they are few (though there are more now than ever) there is NO system to handle them. Nor is there a way we know of to reform them. Supportive communities are just more victims.

When they get out they offend nearly 80-90% of the time. And the offenses escalate.
posted by tkchrist at 7:48 PM on February 23, 2007


Oh I forgot. Europe also did not have the 30 year crack epidemic the US had and Europe had much more sensible drug laws in place to start with thus avoiding much to other problems we had with drugs. Though our proximity to the source (cocaine cartels) and our open borders also had a great deal to do with it.
posted by tkchrist at 7:58 PM on February 23, 2007


The problem is the psychopaths. While they are few (though there are more now than ever) there is NO system to handle them.

Of course there is. Who do you think the FBI and CIA and military actively recruit for? It takes a certain type of personality to actually derive job satisfaction from tapping your phone, and I guarantee you the government would rather have a certain species of power-hungry freak working for it than against it.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:49 AM on February 24, 2007


Who do you think the FBI and CIA and military actively recruit for?

Jesus wept. You have no idea what you are talking about.
posted by Snyder at 1:52 AM on February 24, 2007


Snyder: So it's psychologically healthy, well-adjusted people who interrogate for KBR, eavesdrop on phones, or who test psychotropic drugs on the homeless? If we consider these behaviors in and of themselves, wouldn't any society label them as pathological and deviant?
posted by kid ichorous at 2:58 AM on February 24, 2007


Snyder: So it's psychologically healthy, well-adjusted people who interrogate for KBR, eavesdrop on phones, or who test psychotropic drugs on the homeless?

yes ... see the milgram and stanford prison experiments for details

If we consider these behaviors in and of themselves, wouldn't any society label them as pathological and deviant?

no ... see nazi germany and various totalitarian states for details
posted by pyramid termite at 4:41 AM on February 24, 2007


tkchrist, of course no one in this discussion is 'deciding' which legal treatment the murderers are getting, but I meant, you've been objecting to the sentence he got, complaining he was getting too light a sentence and he'll probably get out before anyway, and though the 15 year old in question doesn't seem to have been diagnosed with any mental illness, you're happy with your own diagnosis from a distance.

So what's your actual practical suggestion there? do you think judges and jurors should do the same? Do you actually want to live in a legal system where minors are actually judged as unreformable psychopaths on the spot?

Think beyond the particulars of this case. It is horrible what they did, I'm not here disagreeing with you on that. I'm also not disagreeing on the very high likelihood that given the current US prison system reform is a hard thing to achieve. But that's not enough to label someone a psychopath with no hope of reforming. What makes your judgement based on a few articles better than a full face to face psychiatric evaluation from a legal expert?

What about organised crime, adult gang members who have killed more than one person, over a longer period, within the context of a specific mindset reinforced by moblike behaviour and rules and mentalities etc. etc.? in my view, for instance, that's even more psychotic and dangerous, and even less likely to reform, but that doesn't make my evaluation any more legally valid than yours. I might wish those people never get out of prison or die before they do. But I cannot seriously advocate that idea, or we might as well do without prisons altogether and yeah, execute people on the spot.

And on the comparison between US and Europe, I didn't bring it up and yeah I do agree it's very hard to compare, not to mention we're talking "Europe" as a whole and in vague terms and there's a lot of differences from country to country and in prison systems and conditions. Yes of course there is a very different history, yes there are generally lower levels of crime, and less guns, and a whole lot of differences, historical social and cultural. (Though you're seriously underestimating problems with drugs in Europe too, and over the same period that the US had racial segregation Europe had wars and Hitler and Stalin and the aftermath of all that, so it's no idyllic history either).

But what I'm saying is, you're getting it the wrong way round - the different political and cultural approach to prison and rehabilitation, especially for minors, is not a result of the different levels/nature of crime.

It's a principle applied to crime, not a consequence of crime. It's been held on to and applied even in the face of similar prominent cases of young kids horribly torturing and murdering other kids or adults 'for fun'. Or in the face of domestic terrorists in the 70's and 80's, even with the unrepentant ones. Why do you think that is? Because of some idealistic delusion? Or maybe because the concept of rehabilitation is what distinguishes democracies from those dictatorships in Europe's recent past where people could be easily declared dangerous psychopaths and locked away for good for all sorts of reasons?

There is and must be a specific process to establish someone is so severely psychopathic to warrant being locked away in a criminal psychiatric institution. It's not something anyone can pull out of their own hat.
posted by pleeker at 7:19 AM on February 24, 2007


kid ichorous:Pretty much what pyramid termite said, adding that there are many things that the state reserves for itself or a select group, that it criminalizes or pathologizes otherwise.
posted by Snyder at 1:17 PM on February 27, 2007


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