Saturday, June 27, 2009

The criminal mind 12/24
   The way of the criminal

Some people have trouble getting past fear.

Some who cannot see realities above fear choose the way of the criminal. Stanton E. Samenow, after spending hundreds of hours working with violent criminals, came to define criminality “not in terms of crimes committed but rather by the presence of certain thinking patterns.” Many criminals saw themselves in a story pattern which repeatedly led to their being treated wrongly, triggering a violent defense.

Samenow’s view is confirmed by Lonnie H. Athens, who conducted extensive interviews with convicted felons. After asking them to retell the stories of their crimes, he found that they “self consciously construct violent plans of action before they commit violent criminal acts.” They made up stories then acted them out. He rejects widespread views offered by countless other theorists that “criminal acts are committed as a result of unconscious motivations, deep emotional needs, inner psychic conflicts or sudden unconscious emotional bursts.”

Interestingly, Samenow learned that nearly every criminal believes he is a good person at heart: “He may write poetry, paint, play an instrument, love Bach, and have other laudable interests and talents. He may go to church and believe in God. He may embrace humanitarian causes and give money to a beggar or help an old lady across the street, even en route to a crime. He does not view the world with malice. He just assumes that people are his pawns. He does not consider himself obligated to others; rather, others are indebted to him. He believes he is superior and need not be accountable to anyone. It is this personal rebellion against external constraints and principles, this desire to be a law and a kingdom unto himself, that works evil.

“The criminal often shrouds himself in secrecy and does whatever he regards as necessary to preserve a self-created image of a powerful, totally self-determining human being. If he is interfered with, he considers himself the victim and decries the injustice. He is intolerant of adversity or any threat to his view of himself.”

Deep fear naturally accompanies such unrealistic views of the self, and the typical criminal is deeply afraid. Whatever does not confirm his inflated sense of himself, he experiences as a put down: “If someone disagrees with him over a point in a conversation, he is put down. If his boss rejects a request, he is put down. If his wife or girlfriend refuses him anything, he is put down.” His fear can quickly reduce him to a zero state in which he feels totally worthless. The criminal meets his fear with great intolerance, and he often projects a stance of invincibility. He attempts to cut fear off quickly and to get control of what scares him. He often responds to a put down by becoming angry and trying to get the upper hand. The criminal is nearly always angry, though he may not be aware that he is. He meets the normal frustrations and disappointments of life as though his entire existence is being threatened, and violence is pervasive in his thinking if not in his actions.” Sooner or later a situation occurs which calls forth these thoughts into deed.

A person who thinks his impulses are more real than the testimony or witness of others will tend to avoid letting others know what he is thinking, both because experience teaches him that others do not take his desires as seriously as he does himself and because he will encounter many opportunities to appease his desires that require him to deceive those around him.

His real life will thus tend to be his own secret, and he will need constantly to fear being found out or seen through. When honest people are brought into close association with those on the way of the self, they are often confused. The actions of the truly selfish frequently make no apparent sense, and fall into no predictable pattern that an outsider can see. This is partly because so much of the person’s agenda is hidden, but it is partly because such people often do act in contradictory and irrational ways. Since the self is not a unity but a city of voices, one who looks only inward for guidance is likely to behave erratically and even self-destructively. Normal people are often simply confused in their initial dealings with criminals. They often seem to ignore even their own self-interest.

I find it very hopeful that most criminals believe they are good people, and that being good matters to them. They are not at war with the idea of goodness, but their bad actions result from poorly developed views of reality, from mental captivity in unintelligent stories that don’t teach them how to untangle knots or take the bumps and scrapes of life in stride.

To the extent that this is true, it suggests the possibility of liberation through teaching.


Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 06/27 at 05:12 AM
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© 2009 Michael L. Umphrey
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