Monday, March 23, 2015

James Garbarino's "Listening to Killers"

James Garbarino holds the Maude C. Clarke Chair in Humanistic Psychology and was Founding Director of the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University Chicago. He was formerly Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, and he is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. He has served as an adviser to the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, the National Institute for Mental Health, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, and the FBI. He is the author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them.

Garbarino applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Listening to Killers: Lessons Learned from My Twenty Years as a Psychological Expert Witness in Murder Cases, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Listening to Killers touches on several themes that pervade the book. First and foremost, it includes a “case,” the story of a particular individual (in this case a 19 year old named James). I have served as a psychological expert witness in more than 70 murder cases in the past 20 years. But what makes the book more than just a compilation of cases, is the fact that in the book I link the stories of individuals to research findings from psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, and even history and political science. This is at the core of the book—inviting compassion by illuminating the humanity of individual killers through grounding their stories in an appreciation for the adversity and suffering of their lives that gives rise to their violent behavior. The facts of race loom large throughout the book, and page 99 is no exception (including the fact that some one in three Black men will be imprisoned at some point during their lifetimes). Page 99 also considers the important ways in which individual “choice” (the foundation of the criminal justice system) is always conditioned by the social realities in which these “choices” are made. This includes, for example, the very desperately bad choices that confront a young male inmate who is faced with the alternative of submitting to sexual assault or fighting back and being battered or even killed for his resistance. Often this terrible choice is wrapped up in a “code of honor,” in which experiencing “disrespect” and “humiliation” is experienced as the prospect of psychological annihilation. Whether it be in prison or in the outside world, many killers are driven to commit violent acts to avoid what they perceive to be the shame of being disrespected. Add guns into this equation and the result of often lethal. The book focuses upon the emotional and moral damage that shapes many killers, so much so that it offers the proposition that the best way to understand them is as “untreated traumatized children who control the scary men whose minds and bodies they inhabit.”
Learn more about Listening to Killers at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue