Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killersby Published 01 May 1999
|Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers.pdf|
A psychiatrist and an internationally recognized expert on violence, Dorothy Otnow Lewis has spent the last quarter century studying the minds of killers. Among the notorious murderers she has examined are Ted Bundy, Arthur Shawcross, and Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon. Now she shares her groundbreaking discoveries--and the chilling encounters that led to them.
From a juvenile court in Connecticut to the psychiatric wards of New York City's Bellevue Hospital, from maximum security prisons to the corridors of death row, Lewis and her colleague, the eminent neurologist Jonathan Pincus, search to understand the origins of violence. Guilty by Reason of Insanity is an utterly absorbing odyssey that will forever change the way you think about crime, punishment, and the law itself.
Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers Reviews
A fascinating and disturbing book, by a shrewd and compassionate doctor who has made it her life's work to study human violence and violent humans. The author uses her experiences in a number of cases to tell, in a matter-of-fact way, how she and a colleague learned important things about the human mind and soul, and had to unlearn much of what they had been taught in medical school.
As a psychotherapist myself, I find that this is one of the most interesting and informative books I've read. I also find that her conclusions about her patients are different from, but compatible with,
much of what I learned in working with a similar group of clients, first as adolescents whose lives were wrecked by family violence and mental illness and then later in the psychiatric hospital serving the state prison system.
Powerful, strongly opinionated about both violent criminals and the legal and penal systems, and hard to put down. I challenge anyone who views issues like capital punishment or the role of insanity in deciding guilt as clear and simple to read this book.
Throughout my legal career I wound up working with a numberof convicted sex offenders and discovered some startling similarities (besides the offence itself). One of those was a history of familial violence and sex abuse. I remember thinking "this can't be a coincidence." Although I have had nothing to do with violent killers, I recognised the same patterns that Dorothy Lewis was highlighting in this book. Lewis found herself working with violent murderers - both youngsters who snapped and went on a rampage and serial killers, who tend to go about things in a far more methodical way.
There are two main mental disorders explored in this fascinating book. The first is one that has been dismissed as hokum by most psychiatrists: multiple personality disorder. The second details Lewis's search for a true sociopath, someone who hurts people with no remorse or compunction for no apparent reason. What she found is, in my view, much more disturbing.
I think the point Lewis is making is that happy, well-adjusted people do not commit violent crimes, only "crazy" people do. Therefore most, if not, all violent criminals are, to some extent, insane. They are guilty by reason of insanity.
I found the book fascinating and disturbing. I truly sympathised with Lewis as I know what it is like to work in a field where you are confronted with disturbing cases that are nevertheless fascinating, a field which can easily destroy relationships and consume the lives of the unwary. I heartily recommend this book to anyone as Lewis has a masterful ability to break down difficult concepts in an interesting way. She is also unflinching in her description, in some parts I found myself simultaneously engrossed and disturbed.
Dr. Lewis studies violence and its frequent roots in violent abuse and nerological damage. And her case stories are very interesting. And as her views evolve over her years of study and experience, she becomes an expert at trying to determine the "why" of appearingly senseless crimes. A very intense read.
The more we understand about the genesis of violence, the harder it is to draw a clear line between guilt and innocence, sanity and insanity. We, as a society of thinking and feeling human beings, struggle within ourselves to cope with competing interests and motivations: the need for protection from dangerous people, sane or insane; the desire for revenge; the knowledge of the psychobiological and environmental influences on violent behavior; and the wish to adapt evolving standards of decency and morality. Guilt was a lot easier to measure before we recognized that free will, like sanity and insanity, is a constantly fluctuating intellectual and emotional continuum and not a fixed, immutable capacity or state of mind. In response to our struggles to strike balances between what we feel we'd like to do to people who commit grotesque acts of violence no matter what their mental state, and what we think perhaps we ought to do and ought not to do, jurisdictions have swung back and forth, changing from one definition of insanity to another, then back to the first, often in response to a sensational case of the moment.
I am extremely interested in the reason we believe some of the crazy things we believe and ultimately do some of the horrible things we do. This fascination has led me to read any number of true crime books in conjuction with books that explore the biological and environmental basis for behavior.
Lewis' book seems to fall firmly in the middle of those two genres. Partly a true crime book, it is also a summary of her extensive career, which has led her to interview many famous and many not so famous killers and which often times describes even if only in general detail the cases. The book is a fascinating read if only for the questions its author raises about the nature of violence.
Lewis seems to believe that only a "crazy" person could commit the grizzly crimes her clients/patients on death row (patients like Ted Bundy and Arthur Shawcross) have committed. Unfortunately, being crazy isn't the same thing as being insane, at least not in the eyes of the US legal justice system. And therein lies the meat of her narrative. How do we deal with violent criminals in a way that acknowledges the mitigating circumstances (often mental illness consistent with a psychiatrists definition of insane even if not with the law's interpretation) that often leads to the most vile and heinous crimes, without feeling as though by doing so we've let them literally get away with murder.
There is also some interesting evidence presented for the existence of multiple personality disorder, which I know isn't universally taken seriously, but that was still worth reading as her experience.
Though I don't agree with all her arguments and feel as if she was a little too quick to arrive at certain conclusions (after all, she was generally hired to find mitigating circumstances for the purpose of having a death row sentence revoked), I still felt this was a fascinating read. Many of the questions she raises about our views of violent criminals and our inability or rather reluctance as a society to accept that freewill isn't this concrete, tangible, or well-defined human attribute is well stated. This idea that we would all be capable and even likely to become murderers given the right combination of biological and environmental conditions seems a no-brainer, yet still we execute people insisting it is a deterrent to these ghastly crimes.
Beneath all the neuropsychological meanderings is a valid and poignant discussion of the death penalty which culminates when Lewis interviews an executioner, who she quickly paints as being more like the men he helps to kill than he might realize.
As an aside, some of her clients' histories (many clients were children at the time they committed the murders and were sentenced to death) were beyond shocking and heartbreaking. The extent of abuse inflicted on these kids--physical, emotional, sexual--is sickening. The idea that these things are allowed to happen is a sad comment on our society. We spend weeks and months and years not only talking about terrorist attacks but waging war on these would be invaders...which don't get me wrong is understandable, yet we somehow forget about all the children that are tortured and terrorized by our own citizens right in front of us. I'm sure if someone tallied up the number of Americans or even humans around the world directly affected by terrorism from some extremist group and those affected by unspeakable abuse (terrorism) from their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and trusted community leaders, the numbers wouldn't even be in the same ballpark.
Good stuff for those interested in this sort of thing.
I am conflicted with this one. It is somewhere between two and three stars.
In the books defence it was written over ten years ago. Psychology and understanding has continued to develop since then. It may have been a better read when it was first written.
What I didn't like about the book is that the author never considers the possibility that the prisoners that she interviews are not completely telling the truth. In a different novel, regarding the son of Sam, the interviewer then tells SoS "to cut the crap" (in regards to multiple personalities now DID) and to his amazement he did. There are some motives to lying in these interviews and I had my doubts about some of the cases.
The interviews are summaries..some are phrased in the interviewee dialect but then switch to clinical dialect when describing more upsetting scenes such as rape. The problem with this is it made it seem less genuine.
It is a interesting read in its own respect, especially if you want to learn more about why people might torture and kill. But take the information with a pinch of salt.