“All of a sudden I realized that I had just done something that separated me from the human race and it was something that could never be undone. I realized that from that point on I could never be like normal people. I must have stood there in that state for twenty minutes. I have never felt an emptiness of self like I did right then and I’ll never forget that feeling. It was like I crossed over into a realm I could never come back from.” – David Alan Gore
Alcatraz Prison. Cell Block D.
“Make Your Own Kind of Music” plays over the crackling gramophone speakers.
Splayed out on the floor of the cell, in a blown-out three-cell width enclosure, is a manila file folder. Documents inside are feathered out in haphazard fashion, but stapled to the inside is a photocopy of a letter, written to and addressed to the State of Florida Corrections Parole board, dated May 17th, 2020.
“I know what you’re thinking.
But my thoughts and their intended purpose are of greater consequence to me, while yours vanish in the air before they are spoken. It is meaningless to me, dead, or soon to be.
I am not trained to interpret the workings of the mind and its effect on personality and actions. With only a modicum of actual experience, my personal conclusions flow from what are only some unofficial guesstimates.
The experts do not know me as I have known myself. I have felt that since my teenage years that I am a creative psychopath. Since those halcyon days, I have committed killings and probably a dozen or so more attempted killings. I feel able to go further on this self-assessment. For times of acute emotional pressure and under the triggering influence of alcohol, usually dormant mental forces have been released which have made mine the actions of a destructive sociopath. These two conditions are not strictly ‘mental illness.’ They seem to be more ‘acceptable’ in law as ‘gross personality defects.’ I felt an overwhelming desire to kill, in the cases I remember.
The strong moral side of my character should have produced the strength and power to resist. It may be that the conditions which existed at that time are now gone, but I cannot allow the ‘buck’ to stop outside my personal responsibility.
Being a practiced student of psychology before incarceration makes it difficult to display the weakness of open emotion. My actions are still causing emotional pain to surviving relatives of the victims. I can’t look back – only forward.
I deserve punishment for their deaths. I feared the inevitable punishment from the start. In the cold light of day, I know that I have committed grievous crimes. I couldn’t handle the feeling of horror and shame. But ultimately, I was able to suppress all thoughts and emotions concerning my mortality from my mind. I would make my peace and my mind is now at rest.
Oh the happiness I could have mingling among you hedonists, being counted as one of you, only if you didn’t fuck the living shit out of me. You could have been great. I could have been great. Ask yourself what you did to me to have made me clean the slate. Only if you could be the victim of your reprehensible and wicked crimes, you would have brute-restrained your animal urges to fuck me. You could be at home right now eating your fucking caviar and your fucking cognac had you not ravenously raped my soul.
I don’t want redemption. I want to redeem.
I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a killer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to write, or the singer the inspiration to croon – I was born with the ‘Evil One’ standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me ever since.
Yours, as always, be in good health,
Jeffrey James Roberts”
Roberts is sitting ‘Indian style,’ legs crossed with his back to the plexiglass and cell bars. His eyes are closed as he listens to the music, his torso swaying back and forth slightly.
The 4th Wahl steps lightly into view of the contents of the cell, and he moves cautiously, with little of the cockiness displayed around the other prisoners. He looks the cell up and down, and his eyes finally rest on the small 6-inch by 8-inch slot meant to provide food, where there are tell-tale signs of fresh blood on the edges and around the inside. Some of it is congealing, some is fresh. Small bits of flesh rest in the liquid.
He looks up, sees the record player by the wall and watches as Roberts sways.
Puffing himself up and raising his chin, he steps closer to the plexiglass, but not too close.
“I’ve been told that the guard who tried to serve you lunch will need reconstructive surgery on his right hand.”
The 4th Wahl blinks, smiles then continues.
Roberts continues to sway back and forth.
Cautiously, the 4th Wahl walks forward and reaches for the opening, taking care not to touch any of the effluvia present. He shoves a small note through the slot, making sure to pull his hand back as soon as possible. At the sound of his touching the glass, Roberts stops swaying and sits bolt upright, leaning his head slightly back, as if smelling something in the air.
Finally, he lowers his head and speaks.
“More instructions, I presume.”
The 4th Wahl continues backing away, not responding. Roberts tilts his head to one side.
“My dear man, your steps bely your hesitation. What is the matter?”
4th Wahl flinches. “Just doing my job.”
Even from the back, 4th Wahl can see Roberts slowly nodding his head.
“Yes, yes, we all have jobs to do. I’ll miss these little chats while I’m away. Tell me, I hear screaming throughout the day, is there someone else here who concerns you this way? Do I have some company who might be of interest?”
“Come now. Am I not as entertaining as the others? Do I not attract your curiosity? Ah, I suppose you have your orders as well. Understandable, so obedient, so subservient. Tell me, do you have a mind of your own or are you an inanimate automaton pointed in a direction and told to jump? Toss a fish in the air and watch you leap through the hoop. And why shouldn’t you obey? Yes, you’ll do as you’re told….”
Roberts turns his head, smiling, showing dry crusted blood around his mouth and staining his teeth.
The 4th Wahl takes another step back and turns, walking away as Roberts turns his back to the glass once more, but stopping as Roberts speaks one more time.
“Tell him, thank you. I’ll carry out his instructions to the letter.”
The 4th Wahl disappears. Roberts takes a deep breath, and the music plays on, and he sways.
“Roberts has crafted a Victorian melodrama in which he portrays himself as being forced to murder serially. In character, he is essentially a chameleon, adopting whatever camouflage will suit and voicing whatever he believes the individual wishes to hear. He will calmly, cooly, gain confidence until he becomes bored and enacts his will. He remains charming, but superficially so. There is no sincerity underneath, and eventually, the facade fails. He remains dangerously adaptable. He can kill, both in cold blood or in a rage.” – David Wilson, Analytical, dictated audio recording sent to the State of Florida Corrections Parole Board, May 21, 2020
Panning over the inside of the cell, we see Roberts sitting now with his back against the far wall. He runs a hand over the stubble on his head and picks up a small cassette tape. An old tape player, perhaps six inches wide and tall, sits on the floor in front of him, the compartment flipped open. Next to him, also on the floor, is the envelope brought earlier by the 4th Wahl, opened, the note inside read, and then neatly replaced. Roberts takes the tape and places it into the tape player, closing the lid and pressing a red button labeled “record.”
“In order to facilitate understanding, I thought it might be proper to send you some sort of correspondence prior to our meeting. I know who you are, which is to say, I know your name is Darin Zion and I know what I’ve been told, but any fool can read between the lines, and I will attempt to do so myself.
Unless you’ve spent time studying crime in the Florida peninsula, I have no doubt that you’ve never heard or read my name before now. You probably have spent a lot of time in recent days looking into my background trying to get some sense of what you’re up against. No doubt much of what you’ve read terrifies you. Don’t be afraid. Much of what has been said is a gross exaggeration and I much prefer we know each other on intellectual levels rather than pheromone-based reaction. I’d enjoy an analytical discussion, but it is usually futile to try to talk about facts and analysis with people who are enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance.
Quite simply, my friend, words need not be wasted.
I take it you are something of a gatekeeper in this company you work for, that you are long-worked, having your abilities both physical and mental questioned on a regular basis. Whether this is fair or not, I do not know as of yet, but I would like to reassure you and assuage your trepidation.
For nearly ten years, I have been alone in a cell, for my own protection and everyone else’s. I am a monster, but not a monster like what hides under your bed or in your closet. I’m the monster you see every day wearing a suit, or working construction, teaching at your local school. I’m the monster you can’t see, but in the end, the validation is what I craved. I had to be caught to matter, you see. Ironically, my incarceration has been my freedom. It is both a strength and a dire weakness.
It has been a long time since I was in college those ten years ago, training to be a combatant, studying for a degree in psychology, and so I expect that my performance this week will not be that of a polished fighter, but that of a man with a purpose, a man given a job to do, and capable of determining the tools necessary to complete his task. I will strive to be disciplined and orderly, for I value these qualities greatly and find them absolutely required in my line of work. There is no place for sloppiness, no place for loss of control and I will not abide the slovenly.
I don’t yet know the purpose for all of this, why I have been summoned this way, or the motivations of my benefactor, but you should understand that I am more than willing to play the game they would have me play. I have no moral or otherwise empathetic feelings toward you to make me question it and it is, quite simply, preferable to the endless solitude of my prison cell.
After all, by God’s grace, I am living proof that anyone can be forgiven if they want to be. Who would have ever thought that such a wasted life like mine could be redeemed and salvaged and by absolutely no goodness within myself? I do know that I am not worthy. I was nothing, lost, demented.
You are the star player in the first chapter of my book of redemption, Zion.
I will likely do again what I have already done. It isn’t something I have too much of a real grasp on, you might say. But my sincere hope is that perhaps meaning can be found in the pathology of me. Perhaps there is something more to move it beyond simple mechanics into truth.
I like to keep trophies. They fill me with the closest approximation to warmth that I have known. Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house – the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture – must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. This is why I do it, I believe. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.
It’s all crap.
Living is crap.
Life has no meaning.
None. Nowhere to be found.
Why doesn’t anybody realize this?
I have to wrap this up. I’ll deliver this to someone who can get it to you. I do hope it’s the larger fellow and not another of the smaller ones.
Don’t be troubled, good sir, for these thoughts and more are the ones who will trouble me and me alone while the rest of you meander through your meaningless lives. Just know that for one moment, this moment, yours will have meaning.
I simply need to discover what that meaning is.”
Roberts presses the “stop” button on the tape player, then lifts the lid of it and removes the cassette. He retrieves the letter from the envelope and places it on the floor, then replaces it with the cassette and closes it as well as he is able. Standing up, gracefully he strolls to the plexiglass and shoves the envelope through the slot clattering to the ground.
The drip, drip, dripping of water can be heard as he moves again and sits, back to the plexiglass, and sways.