By Mark Wilson, The Appeal, September 14, 2020
Now in my 50s and considered an “elderly prisoner,” I have just completed my 33rd year of incarceration for a crime I committed as a teenager. My incarceration continues, in part, because of a malicious lie that was told about youth who commit crimes. Although the “superpredator” myth has now been discredited, even by the man who coined that disparaging epithet, its great potency allows it to continue controlling my life.
The belief that some children are “so utterly and incomprehensibly other,” as author Nell Bernstein described it, has reduced me and so many other teenagers to being seen as something less than human by most people. We were judged to be beyond saving: irredeemable, unsalvageable, pathological monsters, so why waste time naively trying to rehabilitate us?
I was 18 when I committed the crime that has kept me in prison since 1987, but the path to that horrifying moment began many years earlier. I don’t know who first said, “hurt people, hurt people,” but I know it to be true. Unhealed, unacknowledged childhood trauma is at the root of most youthful criminality and violence.