A month ago, The Criminal Brain was my subject. Since then I have been thinking about something I learned years ago, an insight into the making of a criminal. The Keynote speaker at a Mystery Writers of America Edgar-Week Symposium was a gentleman from The Fortune Society, an organization that defines itself like this:
The Fortune Society is a nonprofit social service and advocacy organization, founded in 1967, whose mission is to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.
The Fortune Society’s counselors turned him around in his middle years. Eventually, he became one of those counselors himself. By the time he got to the stage of the MWA Symposium, he was an executive of the organization and very proud to tell us that he had a daughter who was starting college that year.
During the Q&A after his presentation, a member of the audience asked him if he had, in prison or as a counselor at the Fortune Society, ever met a violent criminal who had not been abused as a child. He said,”No.” He hadn’t. Not ever.
This is not a bleeding heart “they’re-depraved-on-accounta-they’re-deprived” argument; no rationale that society needs to go soft on criminals. It’s about insight. First and foremost about the possible causes of the kinds of crimes that get harshly punished in our society. (Unlike the unjustly lenient desserts doled out to greedy crooks who steal with a pen or a computer.)
Also, knowing this might help us crime writers infuse our bad guys with a dollop of childhood realism.