Criminal Mentality

Grey cinderblock and iron bars — not incredibly conducive to one's mental stimulation. I suppose that's the whole point of it really. It's like living in the modern day's vision of the '30s: all monochromatic and drab. Washed out white-grey sheets, itchy, questionable wool blankets, and everything's cold and hard to the touch. Yes, cataloguing the characteristics of one's jail cell is tedious and overly irritating.

My name is Daniel and I am about to be put to death. I and three other guys — Jeff, Kyle, and Shane — are convicted on five counts of first degree murder. I say convicted, but I don't necessarily mean guilty. At least…I'm not guilty, not entirely. Of course I was with them, I was always with them, but I didn't exactly participate. Oh yes, they are guilty, beyond the shadow of a doubt, but me…I had no choice but to go with them. It's always been that way. They get into trouble and I tag along. Despite never really doing anything wrong, I was always punished right along with the rest of them.

I didn't mind so much, at least I had people around, people to talk to. It wasn't really like that when I was younger. I was the weird kid in school. It wasn't popular to have imaginary friends in middle school, so I didn't have any real friends. Things changed when I met Jeff. He was nice to me. He got me through high school.

My parents died not long after graduation: car crash, they died fairly quickly I was told. Not long after they made it to the hospital. I didn't have any siblings, I was orphaned. But I had Jeff. He could see how broken I was, and so he introduced me to his two friends: Shane and Kyle. They were great to me, always making me smile or laugh, taking care of me when I got picked on in public. So when they started asking me to get into trouble with them, I found I couldn't refuse.

It didn't start out as much, really; just some petty crimes here and there: breaking and entering, vandalism, burglary — each an escalation from the previous. But still, no one was getting hurt. It was just something to amuse ourselves with.

I'm still not sure which one of them first suggested it. It was a late night out, we'd been drinking. Alcohol never really mixes well with me, I tend to black out pretty easily and one of the others usually tells me what happened. That particular night, I'd had quite a bit to drink, so I only remember bits and pieces, Jeff filled in the rest. We were walking back to my house, there was plenty of space for us and it was in the city, when we passed a young girl walking by herself. Jeff refused to give me the details, but I read in the paper that the girl had been brutally attacked and barely survived. Shane and Kyle seemed to get a real kick out of it. They wanted to go out again, but this time attack someone stronger, someone more of a challenge. I wasn't too keen on it myself, and Jeff couldn't decide if he wanted to do it or not. In the end, Shane and Kyle got their way.

This time, we were all completely sober, and I remembered it more clearly. I don't know who attacked her first, all I can recall were hands tightening around the ends of her scarf, squeezing the life from her lungs, the light from her eyes as it dimmed. I felt queasy over it; Jeff consoled me, told me that it wasn't really my fault. We couldn't control Kyle and Shane anyway. We walked back home and all Kyle and Shane could talk about was how great that had made them feel. 'We were gods,' they said. They relished having power over someone else. It just terrified me.

I had nightmares of that murder, almost every night afterwards. I saw everything that happened, the only difference was that I could clearly see her dying with my hands holding the scarf wrapped around her throat and my face reflected back at me through her eyes. I'd wake up in a cold sweat and lie awake waiting for dawn. I knew that if Shane and Kyle decided that they wanted to kill again that I wouldn't be able to stop them and the nightmares would only get worse.

I begged and pleaded with them from the moment I could feel their anxiety building; they were itching to do it again. They wanted to go outside the city this time, look for a girl that would be harder to get alone. They wanted a bigger challenge. And they wanted to kill her differently. They liked the strangling, but thought they could feel it more if they used their hands. So in preparation they went out and bought latex gloves, 'no fingerprints' they said.

This time, we drove at least an hour outside of the city. Shane was hoping it would throw off any investigators that could end up on the case. We found a nightclub that was absolutely packed. Kyle wanted to change things up even more. He suggested that we go inside and scope someone out, then follow them as they left. He wanted to feel like a predator; knowing the girl's fate before she did. Kyle found a pretty brunette laughing and dancing with a group of friends. 'That one' he said. I could feel the dread already building. A couple hours went by before she finally left, and surprisingly she left alone. We followed her out the door, keeping back a ways to avoid suspicion. She'd parked her car in the dark lot down the street. It was an unfortunate mistake on her part. There was no one around at 1:30 in the morning. Kyle jumped her and I watched in horror as he wrapped his hands around her throat, cutting off her air. He smiled as she flailed, trying to escape. Shane laughed. He was enjoying it. Jeff stayed quiet. We left her there by her car, looking so much like a fallen angel, her arms spread wide and her legs at odd angles. It took some time for me to finally look away.

I don't think the rest of them really want me telling you about this. But I feel like I should. I didn't get much of a chance to talk during the trial; it went pretty quickly, so I'm getting it all out now. I wanted someone to know my side to everything. I was a bystander. I won't say innocent, because I'm sure there's something I could have done to stop them, but I don't think I deserve to die along with them. Of course, maybe death will be peaceful for me. Even after the world knowing what we'd done, my mind still couldn't find peace. I still have nightmares about every kill. Each innocent girl was taken before her time, simply because they wanted to feel powerful. I wish that I could say something to their families, something to show them how sorry I am, but honestly, the best way to do that would have been to stop it altogether. I wasn't brave enough to stop them, and five young girls paid for it.

The third time we went out, I'd given up on trying to stop them. They were adamant and they enjoyed it. I took some solace in the fact that Jeff at least didn't join them. He watched alongside me, but didn't participate. I don't know if he changed after the third one or if he just decided that he was going down with them anyway. See, the third girl was a little different. She was Kyle's and he'd strangled her, just like the other one, but she went out faster. He didn't think anything of it until he let go of her neck. She pounced up and tried to attack him, he freaked out and Shane had to finish it. He punched her as hard as he could in the throat. She dropped like a rock. We didn't talk for a while after that. Things had gotten close, and no one wanted to acknowledge it. Shane decided we would lay low for a while. It didn't last as long as I wanted it to.

We went to another nightclub for the fourth one. This time, Jeff picked out the girl. I couldn't believe him. 'What are you doing?' I asked. 'Might as well,' was his only reply. Jeff was my rock, and he'd given in too. I knew it was only a matter of time before they completely pulled me in with them. I didn't want to. And I didn't want Jeff to either. I knew it would scar him just as much as it had scarred me. But just like Shane and Kyle, I couldn't change his mind either. He opted for strangling with a rope. 'More impersonal,' he said. It didn't matter. He still killed her. I didn't talk to Jeff for a long while after that. I couldn't even stand the thought of him.

In his defense, I could feel the sadness and guilt radiating off of him. He didn't want to do it either, but I think he would rather be the one with blood on his hands than let it be me. I forgave him before we got to the fifth girl.

Shane and Kyle wanted to go right out and do another one. But Jeff convinced them that it would be better and more interesting to try to plan it in advance. Personally, I think he was just trying to stall them. Maybe he was hoping we'd get caught before we killed again. I don't know. He didn't actually tell me. They didn't include me on the planning. I was pretty unstable at that point. I kept seeing myself killing those girls, even in the day time. I won't say they were day dreams, because there was nothing pleasant about them, but I felt like I couldn't even blink without seeing their faces. They haunted my every step, my every breath; knowing that I was alive and they weren't, they couldn't leave me alone. I didn't blame them really. But I just wanted it to end.

Despite the meticulous planning that they insisted on, everything went wrong with the fifth girl. Seems like justice to me. We decided to stay in the city this time, since they felt it had been long enough. Just as before, we waited in a club Shane had found, somewhere a good distance away from our house. Shane tried to talk me into taking this one. Said it might help get rid of those nightmares, maybe release the tension. I wasn't buying it. But he kept nagging. Finally, I chose a girl, but I refused to kill her. Apparently, that was good enough for Shane. He was already tingling with anticipation.

She was a beautiful girl; the sort of girl that I could have one day dreamed of marrying. If things had been different, maybe I could have taken her home to my parents, introduced her. They would have loved her and welcomed her with open arms. 'A new member of the family,' they would say. She would fuss over how to decorate for the wedding and I'd just smile and let her do it. 'Anything you want, babe,' I would say. Anything for her to be happy and smiling; full of life. But no, we ended that. We changed any chance she might've had at happiness. As she was leaving, Shane motioned for us to follow her out into the chilled night air. I wanted so badly to just drag Shane and Kyle away, to save that poor girl's life. But I just couldn't do it. She rounded a blind corner, no doubt heading for the bus stop not far away. Shane was manic with glee.

He had her in minutes, but somehow, he underestimated her strength because she was able to fling him off her for a brief moment. He yelled at me to stop her. Almost acting on reflex, I reached my hand out and grabbed her arm to yank her back. I succeeded, but not before she gouged three long marks down my arm with her fingernails. She went deep enough to bring blood. I flung her to the ground in pain and anger. I sat on her chest before she had another chance to escape. Jeff stopped me from actually killing her, though Shane and Kyle were all for it. Jeff gently pulled my hands away and replaced them with his own. She was dead in no time.

We couldn't afford to go to a hospital to patch my arm up, someone would ask questions. So we just made it home as best we could and patched it there. The bleeding wasn't too bad, but my arm stung like I'd raked it across hot coals. The best we could do was slather on some antibiotic ointment and wrap it in some gauze we thankfully had stashed in the bathroom.

Shane and Kyle were sour on the way things had turned out. They said it was way too close this time. It was time to leave. If there was anything that was going to cut through the stinging pain in my arm, it was that comment. I didn't want to leave. That was my home; that was my parents' home. I'd lived there my entire life. It was my refuge, my sanctuary, my memories. I refused to leave. Leaving meant forgetting everything about my past, every little glimpse of some kind of happiness; every moment with my parents. Those times when it was just me and Jeff, hanging out. I didn't want to leave that behind. Apparently, I put up such a fight about it that Shane didn't mention it again, though I was sure he was thinking it.

A few days later, our misdeeds finally caught up to us. Dozens of men armed to the teeth broke our door down. They only shouted my name, yelling for me to get down. I complied without a word, though Shane tried to antagonize me into going down fighting. I didn't listen to him. We deserved it.

When we were in interrogation, they only asked me questions. The others were vocal at times, but they were ignored. Jeff was pretty quiet really; I think he just came to accept it all, just like I had. As we sat in our jail cell, waiting to hear when the court date was, I tried to apologize. I tried to tell them that it was all my fault that we got caught. Amazingly enough, even Shane and Kyle brushed it off; they were resigned to our fate. Someone came for us pretty quickly, but they didn't take us to court. Rather, we were carted off to a mental hospital. I didn't know much about the court system, but it didn't seem like normal procedure to put four five-count first degree murderers in a mental hospital. Maybe all killers are crazy to an extent. Or maybe they really believed that there was something wrong with us. But honestly, something collectively wrong with the four of us? It didn't seem right to me.

I don't like to think a lot about our time there, I felt alone a lot and the medicine they gave me made my head feel funny, almost empty. A few days before we left, I was completely alone. I don't know where they took the others, but they weren't there with me and I didn't like it. Being alone had never been good for me. Finally, they did let us go, though I didn't see the other three until we were placed back in a jail cell. My head felt better, I guess they were a little more lax on giving out medicine in prison. One by one, my friends were brought back into the cell: first Jeff, then Kyle, then Shane. I asked them where they'd been, but they didn't have an answer, or they didn't want to tell me. I didn't care, as long as they didn't leave me alone again.

And now we've come full circle. Once we were brought into court, though I suppose they held separate trials, because I was alone in mine, our sentencing was pretty quick. It was hard to concentrate during the trial, being alone and on that medicine. I'm still not sure what it was for. But it made me feel sluggish, so I didn't talk much. We didn't have long to sit on death row after that. Our sentencing is to be carried out tomorrow actually. One of the guards suggested that I write some things down, maybe to help me make sense of it all. I'm not sure it's really served its purpose, but I do feel a little better, even if it doesn't exactly absolve me of my sins. A priest came in to talk to us a few hours ago. We let him pray with us; Jeff and I felt better, Shane and Kyle seemed indifferent, but I think the presence of a man of God made them uneasy. He was a kind man, and he looked on me in compassion. Just me. Not the others. Just me.

We haven't really talked much since the priest was here. We kept to ourselves, enjoying each other's company but remaining in silence. It was nice actually. Calming. Our last night on Earth, and I'll admit, I actually slept pretty well. No nightmares; instead, I dreamed of my family. I saw my parents again, and they were smiling, welcoming me back home. I awoke with the biggest smile on my face, completely prepared to face what was coming. I am at peace for a few moments until I realize that I am alone again. No Jeff, no Kyle, no Shane. Complete and utter silence. Did they take them already? I ask the guard who comes to collect me; he handcuffs me and says simply 'I'm sure they're waiting for you.' That sounds right.

He takes me into the last room I will ever see, it is unfortunately procedural. I had hoped it would be a little nicer. They strap me to a table: wrists, ankles, and two across my chest. Jeff, Kyle, and Shane still aren't here. There is only one table. I don't get much of a chance to ask because as soon as I'm strapped down, they prick my arm with an IV. Once it's taped down and ready, they lift the table so that I'm vertical, facing a window to another room. They draw the curtain to show a crowd of people on the other side.

They watch as Daniel stares back at them, battling images of peace and anxiety flashing across his face. This man had killed five young girls, their families now watching as his life is ending; mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers — all waiting for his end. The room also contains members of a civilian audience, two of whom are in a deep discussion over the circumstances of the man behind the glass. The first man is speaking:

"Yeah, this guy's a real whack-job. He almost avoided the death penalty because of his insanity plea, not that he was pleading much I'll tell ya that. His lawyer said he was suffering from multiple personality disorder, kept blaming all those murders on the other personalities. What were those names he used…oh! Right, Jeff," he counts on his fingers, "Kyle, and Shane."

"Wow. You're telling me that this guy was living with four personalities bouncing around in his head? That couldn't've been easy. Maybe he should've gotten that insanity plea," the second man replies.

The first man scoffs, "He could've had an entire football team of personalities in there, but it was still his hands that killed those girls. And he should be punished for it."

The second man doesn't reply as an officer steps up to the window on the other side and presses a button for the speaker.

"Daniel Alastor Stokes, you have been tried and convicted by a jury of your peers and are now being sentenced to death by lethal injection. Do you have any last words?" The officer speaks with an official air of stoicism.

"W-where are the others? Kyle? Shane? Jeff? Where are they?" Daniel's former peace is shattering, replaced with sheer panic at dying alone; at suffering their fate by himself. "We were supposed to die together! I didn't even kill anyone! They did! It was all them!" Daniel is screaming at this point, his voice tearing through his throat. He seems to realize that they aren't there, and they probably wouldn't be coming. Daniel is reduced to sobbing and repeating their names under his breath. The officer nods to the attending physician, who flips the switch for the first dose of drugs to enter Daniel's system. Daniel drifts off as the other doses follow suit, his mind calming and his vision filling with the faces of his parents.