A Love for Helping the Helpless

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.



  1. You sure about that businessman’s name? Joseph Paul Franklin is the name of a serial killer who was just executed a few weeks ago in Missouri. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Paul_Franklin

    Fun fact: Franklin was the first person to be executed in Missouri with pentobarbital, versus the traditional three drug cocktail. Apparently, he took 10 minutes to die, which is way too long. The traditional lethal injection is real quick. The science behind the cocktail is super interesting; the first drug (sodium thiopental, also used as a “truth serum” in lower doses) knocks you out, the second (pancuronium bromide) stops your breathing, and the third (potassium chloride) stops your heart. Apparently there’s a shortage of pancuronium bromide, which is why I guess states are moving to pentobarbital.

  2. It sounds like we have very similar views on capital punishment and the prison system- yeah it costs tons to lock people away forever, yeah American prisons are currently overpopulated to inhumane degrees, but killing criminals as a punishment doesn’t seem like the right answer either.

    The best ideas I’ve ever considered have to do with the ways that other countries run their prison systems; like Halden prison in Norway. Now those guys seem to have the right idea. For one they don’t lock away every minor offender, and they are also focused on rehabilitation rather than punishing inmates . By teaching them skills and trades and giving them motivation to behave upon release their success rates (no re-offending after release) are unlike those of other places. http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1989083,00.html

    1. I’ve actually read about that prison before! You’re so right. And that’s what I’ve always preached. The recidivism rates in the U.S. are insane. Back when I was in college, California’s rate was 80%. EIGHTY percent. It’s horrendous.

      I spent a lot of time studying sociopaths in my undergrad. The hopeless, as many see them. Though they are the hardest to even attempt to rehabilitate, I don’t think they should be ignored. They should be studied even further.

      I’m glad there are people who share my views. Many people just think “Lock em up and throw away the key.”

  3. I think it’s such sensitive thinking that would make you great in such a job. It really is a tricky question. I just get get how anyone can play God in such a way. I love how you can turn from your usual witty posts to something so thought provoking. Great writing.

  4. You need to go after that career. You have that “thing” in you, that capacity to look for the humanity in people– there are waaaayyyy too many people working in the mental health/corrections field who do NOT. You need to go balance them out. Having worked with mentally ill people, many of whom have killed people, there is always a story that can be traced back. I won’t say much more on here because you clearly already get it. But…. I think you should start making that move. It’s a serious line of work, but… it’s not draining when you’re a compassionate person. It actually just might fill you up.

    1. Aw Aussa, I absolutely love that last line-it’s not draining-it actually might fill you up. I love it. So true. I know I will do it someday. There’s only so much longer I can sit behind a computer for a living. It’s not me!

      And I totally know what you mean about the health field. It’s sad. I wonder why people go into such a field when they truly have no compassion for people whatsoever? I mean, like, be a mailman. Or a telemarketer. DONT work in healthcare if you don’t care about people hehe

      Thanks for the comment 🙂 Made my day!

  5. The death penalty actually cost more than life without parole. It has to do with the price of the drugs and all that. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty

    I agree, I think it’s wrong because they are still a being. You have a great philosophy. I’ve often had the same thought. If I can make just one person’s life better, I will consider my life a success. Change one person’s life and you’ve changed their world and the lives of all that encounter that person. Those small acts are what end up changing the world.

    1. Aw great comment. I didn’t even think of that-changing one person has the ripple effect. So in actuality, we’re changing more than that one person. Love it.

      Thank you, as always 🙂

  6. i have mixed feelings about the death penalty, due to certain circumstances, however… i share a love for psychology too. it’s just amazing, there’s so much to learn and it’s all so interesting and i could go on and on about it for days! I want to major in it too, but anyways if that is what your heart wants to do, go for it! im sure there are only a handful of people in this world that could do that kind of a job and we probably need more! you are much braver than i am to want to do that, but you know what? it could totally be worth it! let people say that they think you cant do it, and then when you DO do it, you’ll amaze them! murderers who are biologically like that do interest me too, somehow, somewhere their wiring is messed up and i’d like to figure out why or how!

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