I had the chance some years back to visit the Atascadero State Hospital for the criminally insane. The inmates there are too mentally ill to stand trial, or in many cases, too programmed for acts of horrific violence to be committed to a normal prison, as hard as that is to imagine.
The prison was general population, meaning inmates were mostly free to amble about in the halls and common areas, as were I and my handler. There weren’t any guards nearby; just the occasional nurse. So, just us and the “residents.”
Staff got attacked all the time; sometimes killed. And so it was terrifying—imposing threats in all directions constantly. My adrenaline was pumping like mad and I could barely breathe, being surrounded by killers walking freely just feet away. (And in there, “killer” was, in many cases, a gracious understatement).
My terror wasn’t because of how they were looking at me. I mean, yes, some were drugged to the point of shuffling and drooling, but too many others were locked on me with terrible, clenched-teeth gazes because I was alien, an interloper, prey—and they made absolutely sure I felt it.
No, as much as I tried to fathom the human wreckage these men had left behind, it was next to impossible in comparison to the sickening, overwhelming vibration of so much evil so concentrated in one place, as hokey as that sounds. (Maybe I’d been preconditioned by the staff who’d told me beforehand that most of the men in there would never—or at least, *should* never—be released; that without supervision and druggery, it was highly likely they would rape, maim, and kill as easily as a yawn).
And that’s what stuck with me: that despite whatever legal or other protections may come to pass to hopefully lessen future potential bloodshed around us, ultimately there is still conniving evil in the world; there are men like these, and no amount of discussion, interdiction, politics, monitoring, or intervention will change that.
In other words, we are gut-wrenchingly fragile, yet this fact too often doesn’t manifest in behavior, between people, or in the media, except during a horrific crisis when all denial is ripped away.
As I sped away from Atascadero, I was overcome by sadness—maybe even mourning — over the human beings in there who, at birth with so much potential, and now by nature or nurture, will spend every breath locked up for our safety. They’re in there being shot up with drugs, shackled to beds, hunting and being hunted in fear and in the halls, now, even as you read this, forever. That, along with all the lives they’ve destroyed including their own, is almost the saddest thing in the world—but so is the perfectly sane hypocrite who has everything going for him, yet treats people like shit day in, day out, until a horror breaks and he’s reminded for five minutes that any of us could be crushed at any moment…then promptly forgets.
If humans needed less reminding, there might be a lot less evil bred in the world.