Last night a man was executed.
In many people’s eyes, it was fair. It was just. It was the right thing to do.
His name was Allen Nicklasson. In 1994 his car broke down on the side of the highway, a kind business man stopped to help him. He murdered Mr. Drummond in cold blood. Nicklasson said he got a “euphoric” feeling from it.
He had no last words. He prayed with a priest for a while before his execution.
He was injected with pentobarbital. His eyes fluttered for a few minutes. At 10:52 pm, he was pronounced dead.
When it comes to execution, my brain goes haywire.
I don’t believe in killing anyone that way-no matter how awful of a human being they are. They are still a being.
This isn’t a discussion I want to debate.
I get it. He was sick and twisted man. He can’t be out with the general public and he was wasting our tax dollars by rotting in prison. I’m not trying to change the system. Because I get it. But I can still think it’s wrong.
He may have been sick, but his life story didn’t have a chance. He grew up in a fatherless home. His mother was a mentally ill, heroin addicted stripper who brought countless numbers of men home. Those men sexually abused Allen for years. His mother actually had him participate in a dog fight for money once. Now THAT is sick.
Reading stories about murderers has always fascinated me. My love for psychology developed in high school, but I truly believe I had a thing for it before I even knew what psychology really was. I was one of those children who clung to “sick puppies.” To bad children. To troubled children. Because I always wanted to help them. Behind their evil demeanor, I saw sadness. Loneliness. Cries for help. And even though I might not have changed their entire lives, the love I gave them changed their days. And that was always good enough for me.
I went to college for psychology with hopes of becoming a maximum security prison therapist someday.
Who’s crazier now-the serial killers or me?
Even though I’ve changed my route to HR for the moment, I still have that dream. It’s still in the back of my brain. Sometimes it’s still closer to the front. But now that I’m an adult, I have so much more to think about. I think about having a family and what an occupation like that could do to me while raising children. I think about my own skeletons in the closet-and how I want to clean them out before I help others clean theirs.
Another large reason for changing careers was what I saw when I looked in the mirror. Would these troubled people look at me and actually take me seriously? Or would they spent every waking moment in therapy trying to “break” me. I figured I’d need to age a little bit before I delved right into the hard road.
I was scared to death when I was looking at grad school programs and I saw that they would literally have me do my internship at a prison. I thought to myself, too soon, Lara. Too soon.
But someday, I know I’ll accomplish that goal when I’m ready.
My professors thought I was crazy in college. They’d warn me about the thick skin needed to handle that sort of job. But they didn’t know me. They didn’t know that I spent years with people who turned out to be murderers and mentally ill. They didn’t know I actually spoke on several occasions to a documented sociopath (who actually used to call my phone once every 4 months and creep me out. He’s in prison now, but that’s a post for another day). They didn’t know about the time I made a murderer actually weep. Sure, I didn’t know if those tears were legitimate, but up until that moment, nobody had ever seen him cry.
Most importantly, they didn’t know my true love for those people. My compassion. My empathy. My unconditional positive regard. Most of them, like Allen, didn’t stand a chance. There’s a theory that children develop a conscience by the age of 5. If they have not learned what is right and wrong by then, it is very likely they will never learn. A window of opportunity, as you would say. Much like language. How could Allen have learned right and wrong from his mother?
In my years of studying, learning, eating, sleeping, and breathing psychology, I’ve chalked up murderers into three categories (even though there are several, but bear with me).
There are murderers who developed more environmentally, like Allen. The broken homes. The traumatizing childhood. The children who didn’t stand a chance.
But the other group-the ones that fascinate me the most-are the biological murders. The children who did learn right and wrong and grew up in the most loving household, yet turned for the worst. These people, I’m convinced, have some crazy-messed up-wiring in their brains that made them the way they are. It’s in their genes. In their blood. In their brains. Though it looks like they had a chance, they actually had less of chance than the environmental group. Cause baby, they were born this way.
The third category, of course, is a combination of the two. Nature AND nurture, if you will. I think the other groups have a little bit of both in them as well, but the obvious cases stand out to me the most.
So today, I will be thinking about Allen. I’ll say a prayer for him because I don’t think anyone ever has. When people get thrown in jail, nobody ever thinks about what happens to them. But I do. Everyday. Because I have a love for helping the helpless.
Someone once asked me if it would be worth it to only help a handful of people in my life.
I looked at them and said,
If I go through my entire life and was only able to save one person, I would feel fulfilled.
And that’s the truth.