Did anyone see Lifers last night (available on 40D)? It was a documentary about murderers serving life sentences and it was fascinating.
The documentary makers did a fantastic job of giving an insight into possibly every sort of murdering mind possible; from the autistic man who was failed by the system to the ruthless man who shows no remorse.
I was sceptical at first; these men will say whatever will get them what they want when a camera is shoved in their face, be it parole or to stay behind bars. However it actually felt like there were some truths being spoken and in some cases that was more chilling than thinking the convicts were just playing the game.
Whether it was the true personalities of the prisoners coming through or the clever editing of the documentary makers, there were murderers who I empathised with and liked and others who scared me. Ozzy and Shaun were two that I definitely liked.
Shaun killed a woman completely at random and then handed himself in to the police. As he was telling his story of how he never felt that he fitted into society and how he felt when he first met the woman he killed, I thought to myself ‘that man is autistic’. Sure enough, he has been diagnosed with Asbergers syndrome. He had been failed by the government, I thought, and therefore so has the woman he killed. I wonder if he had received some sort of treatment and/or support at an earlier age, if that woman would still be alive. He was full of regret but also seemed a little relieved that finally someone else had confirmed that something was wrong with him – what a shame that it had to come to murder for him to finally get an answer.
Then there was Ozzy, a very open man who had killed his best friend over an argument about drugs. He showed real remorse and acceptance of having to spend those years behind bars. I was very pleased for him when he was moved to an open prison and one step closer to freedom and his family.
A lot of the prisoners spoke with logic – why escape if that means that you won’t be able to see your family and friends for fear of being caught? Why escape to go from one prison to another, better to bide your time and behave and hope for early release. That isn’t to say that many were just playing a game. So many seemed to be remorseful and many of those cases appeared to be moments of madness – the snapping of a mind during an argument, or in Shaun’s case perhaps the build up of tension and frustration of knowing something is wrong but being unable to do anything about it.
Although sad, it was nice to be able to empathise with these murderers. As a writer, these are all fascinating characters, but perhaps a little too easy; a genuine person who makes a mistake for whatever reason. What about the bad side of the Lifers?
At the beginning a haunting point is made – for those who will die in jail, what is the incentive to be good? When a prisoner is left alone with police guards, why not kill them both? What’s the worst that could happen?
The prisoner that really got under my skin was the Welshman who kicked a friend to death for an hour and a half after a night of drinking. The documentary makers asked this English hating man why he showed no emotion with recounting his crime and the prisoner laughed and said ‘I don’t know.’
And then there was the bloke who killed an old man for his money, playing pool he tells the camera that he would rather be in prison right now. Where he has a roof over his head, three meals a day, work, social time and opportunities while out in the real world he wouldn’t be able to get a job and would struggle to make ends meet. While I personally wanted to hurt him he did have an annoying point – given the economic crisis, do the prisoners have it better than us? I do hope David Cameron was watching that part.
It is always interesting to get into the mind of someone very different from you (or not so different – everyone is capable of murder), to find out what makes them tick. It is fascinating that so many people act completely differently when faced with the reality that they have taken a life, whether they show remorse or take it as an opportunity to simply gain qualifications and better themselves (this did leave me fuming with confliction – prisoners should be given the chance to better themselves so that they can return to society but what about the mentality of ‘I can’t afford to get a qualification I want, maybe I should go and kill someone?’).
This documentary is definitely worth a watch whether you’re a writer or not. If you are a writer, who do you think would make a more interesting character for a story? Who would you focus on? Does it change your perspective on any of your existing characters?
Given that my beloved Emily May considers herself a murderer, I may have a rethink of what exactly is going on in her mind and how she copes with this to see if there is anything more that I can bring to her.