I was walking the dog yesterday, listening to my beloved iPod, and this week's (last week's, really) This American Life is about crime, and the allure of it. There are several segments in each episode of TAL. The first was Julia Sweeney (Pat, from Saturday Night Live), talking about how she fleeced an old employer for 10K - 15K way back in her youth. Interesting. Perhaps even cute, because, you know, she's Pat. Maybe we should all write about the crimes WE'VE committed, and that might be pretty interesting...make sure the statute of limitations is past, however.
Anyway, the second segment was about a bank robber, Joe Loya, who enjoyed robbing banks, because he enjoyed the violence of it. This segment chilled me. I don't know how many movies I have seen, where you SEE someone who is abused and had a truly crappy life, and they come out violent themselves (not always, but I'm talking about the ones that do, here), and I always thought, that's all they know...they don't know any different. Maybe I don't catch the nuances that the filmmaker is trying to put in there, or maybe they don't understand the nuances of violence themselves, or maybe it's just a really complicated issue and different for everyone...but Loya had a very hard childhood. (Please, don't tell me that a hard childhood doesn't excuse his actions...I would never claim that it does...just that it has a role) His mother, whom he loved VERY much, and who loved him and saw for him a role in the church, died when he was 9. His father was unable to deal with his grief, unable to deal with his anger that his wife had died, and became violent with his children. VERY violent. He beat them to the point where finally Loya, who was maybe 16 at the time, pulled a knife and stabbed his father in the neck, trying to kill him, but in self defense, because the father was beating him yet again.
These tales of woe and patterns and circles of violence are, sadly, nothing new. What was new to me was Loya's explanation of why he ENJOYED robbing banks. Because he wanted to terrorize people. He wanted them to never get over the fear, the experience of being held up at gun point. Because he wanted them to understand the fear that he had felt at his father's hands. He wanted them to feel the world drop out from under them, like it had for him when his mother died. He wanted them to know that THIS is the real world, not whatever fantasy world they were living under. He said that he lived off of their terror...that it validated him and made him feel whole again. This was the first time I got a glimpse into the psyche of this kind of criminal, of a rapist or murderer or robber, of WHY they might enjoy such a thing. It chilled me to my bones.