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tv   Book Discussion on The Wilderness of Ruin  CSPAN  March 28, 2015 8:00pm-8:40pm EDT

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talk about the greeks and their political growth period and the romans and their political growth period. exactly what ages are we talking about here? light-years? just go in athens so when is acting in about 510 b.c. which is the sixth century. it goes the other way when you're going backwards and plato and aristotle are writing in the a 300 so athenian democracy more or less comes to an end after alexander the great fights a battle that distinguish it.
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there is a few square misses in the aftermath but essentially bad and that i write about the hellenistic period under alexander's generals and at the same time you have the rice of the roman republic also arguably established in 510 and i am glad new institutions are being formed and new versions of the tribunes of the plebs and other new roman institutions until essentially it is extinguished with a battle in 20 or 25 years before the birth of christ. i've read about the early centuries of the roman empire after the birth of christ. >> host: another one of the ideas, why they matter today according to professor melissa lane is cosmopolitans. >> guest: this is very
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interesting because the greeks, politics is really something that took place in the city state bounded by the city's walls and the city's laws. what happens partly with this breakdown with greek city states and the rise about xander the great andes empires and the hellenistic. they start to get empires based in egypt based in macedonia and other parts of the larger mediterranean is that people start to think about politics. maybe politics could even in principle not just through conquest expand beyond a particular city's walls or laws and so this becomes the idea the first person who uses this term says i am a citizen of the cosmos as opposed to being a citizen of athens, a citizen of sparta. and that develops into a kind of ethical ideal that maybe one can
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live according to a kind of set of universal values and laws that aren't bounded geographically. i think that really is the origin of our idea of cosmopolitan ethics and politics today. >> host: that was a pretty daring idea that ben was meant to declare you are a possum politan? >> guest: and the first person that does it, diogenes, we call him -- nisa cynic he had an in-your-face rejecting way so he actually was famous for rejecting not just the city's boundaries but also all kinds of human convention so he lived in a barrel. he often defecated in public or had sex in public. he didn't abide by any of the conventions of clothing more money that ordinary people would follow. according to him this was living according to nature and
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political boundaries were another set of doors or conventions that he projected the later philosophers especially stoics take up that idea and gradually they make it something more seemly you might think where it doesn't have to do with rejecting all these every existing boundaries but with kind of pushing our allegiances. too wider and wider circles so just as now we might say i start off with an allegiance to my own body and self and to my family to my town to my state then why not go further and have an allegiance to all rational beings that lead to the cosmos? >> host: what with plato and socrates think about our current democracy? >> guest: i think they would raise some pretty powerful challenges so plato's view was it's hard to imagine a democracy that can take scientific expertise and scientific knowledge seriously enough.
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he thinks in a democracy the problem is that people think they are all equal and many think their opinion is just as good as everybody else about anything so that makes it very hard to respect what we would call scientific knowledge scientific authority. this is something that tocqueville saw an american democracy in the 19th century. i think the jury is out in terms of criticism. i think it's really a question style whether democracy can actually manage to take sufficient account of scientific threats, scientific challenges scientific understanding and respond adequately and respond quickly enough. i think we need to take stock of that challenge and really kind of reflect on whatever resources democracy has to meet it. >> host: what about socrates? >> guest: socrates is quite a teacher. we know about his ideas only through the writings of plato and others but was socrates did
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in his life was he raised a similar kind of challenge but really to the individual. in his society most people were concerned with pursuing power and wealth like what a lot of people today spend their time doing. socrates challenged them as individuals to say what is the real value of what you are pursuing? don't power and wealth end up undoing themselves as ideals? uis want more power. what he wants well for? there must be some good which is the irony to which wealth is a means so he really challenged people to see that virtue might be logically the more fundamental thing they needed to allow you and that they need to care about living an ethical life more than pursuing just the power and wealth. >> host: that is a taste of professor melissa lane's "the birth of politics" eight greek and roman political ideas and why they matter.
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there is the cover. if you have been watching booktv on c-span2 from princeton university. roseanne montillo recounts a search for jesse pomeroy who was arrested at age 14 for the serial torture and killing of children in a working-class neighborhood of boston in the late 19th century. his capture spurred a debate on mental illness and the criminal justice system. >> now i am pleased to introduce roseanne montillo. roseanne montillo joins us from just over the river. she is a professor of literature at emerson college where her courses blend writing and literature with history and philosophy. you might be familiar with her last book, 2013's critically
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acclaimed a lady and her monsters which "the new york times" sparked across the page. follow her on twitter@roseanne montillo 16. is his bostoner requested a? is a hot topic today in gilded age boston wondered the same thing. in 1858 oliver wendell holmes declared this to be the hub of the solar system. 14 years later the city nearly burned to the ground. a pot boston didn't just have to rebuild it had to redefine itself. in the midst of all this children began to disappear. montillo's new book "the wilderness of ruin" takes on this tumultuous period the story of the young serial killer the call the cities, and is the story of headline grabbing and sensational trial. montillo describes the ethical conviction all in gripping prose. according to publishers weekly delving deeply into the history of boston's circa 19 century montella enters a riveting true crime tale that rivals anything of writers of the 20 centuries
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could concoct so please join join me in welcoming two -- welcoming hurts the harvard bookstore. [applause] >> thank you very much for coming out tonight. i know it's a holiday so you would probably rather be somewhere else but thank you for coming tonight. i think they'll talk about how i came to jesse pomeroy or how he found me. i was working on my last book the lady and her monsters and i was actually browsing the harvard university library. they had wonderful on line collections and i was looking for information on the body snatchers for my last book. harvard has a wonderful collection on bodysnatchers and all kinds of creepy wonderful beautiful stuff that i was interested in. i didn't find anything that tied into my topic but somehow the search engine on the harvard libraries tour different collection that had nothing to do with my topic but was interesting as well.
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it was a collection from a detective from the 1860s who was a boston police detective. his name was james woods and i love detectives. i love detective series -- stories. i was teaching a class many years ago at leslie university. i've taken many classes and he seemed interesting and fun and a lot of good things perhaps a have come out of it. one of his cases harvard has a very long list of cases that he worked on in one of his cases was the jesse pomeroy case an impact he said he was one of the youngest serial killer said he had worked on. so it seemed like a very good topic for my next book. i didn't really know too much about him. i couldn't find an awful lot about him. few people had really ever heard about him so i started digging around a little bit in the boston libraries and archives in places around the city and i discovered a lot.
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for those of you who don't know about jesse, jesse was born in charles town in 1859. he was a local boy if you will. he was born with a slight defect and his right eye. his eye looked really wide and because of that people made fun of him quite a bit. his family, his schoolmates. he was abused because he looked a little bit different and he really got beaten up for that. he really got abused at school. children who are much older than him and much bigger than him really made him pay dearly for that. his own father believed that maybe he was possessed and it was some kind of a sign of the devil something terrible within him. his father really abused him terribly. so he grew up knowing quite a lot of pain and the only way that he could control that he
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started abusing children who are much younger and much smaller than he was. people didn't know that it was actually him doing that early on. they found in 1871 when children had crossed the street in chelsea started suffering and talking about a young boy who would brief -- befriend them and take them places, give them candy, give them money, take them to the circus, just be friendly to them and eventually he started taking them into sheds, places that were far away from the city and their he really abused them, them, burn them and mutilated them. the city didn't really want to deal with it. it was a very local story in chelsea until boston realized that something more was going on and the "boston globe" got wind of it. they wrote an article about him
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that was published early in 1872. as soon as that hit people realized that maybe they had something more and even his mother mrs. pomeroy sort of recognized there was something about the description that people were giving that sounded familiar. she learned that maybe this boy that people didn't know too much about she had an inkling that what it was her own son that was doing that. instead of telling the police which he did was take the whole family away from charles town and moved them to south boston. she figured taking him away from the environment that they were things would stop. instead what she did was just take the problem away with her because while the abuse stopped in chelsea it started up again and south boston. over there he almost right away he became isolated. he became lonely.
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children didn't really want to play with him so he started walking the sands of south boston, the beaches of south boston and there he would come across little children who would have who looks kind of lonely as well and he started abusing them as well. he got away with that for quite a long time until one boy who is not as fragile as the rest of them gave the detectives occlude that really helped them to figure out who was doing this. joseph kennedy was the little boy who told them that he could give him a good description because he recognized this boy this really tall boy he was doing these things. he had a really funny looking little i am because of that they narrowed down the person that they were looking for it. they started looking all over the city. the detectives went looking through the schools. they went looking all over and they still didn't find him.
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jesse pretty much gave himself up. one day while walking home from school he decided it would be fun to walk into a police station just to see what was happening and he opened the door and walked right in. the one person that he saw the first person that he saw was this little boy that he is just abused and he pointed a finger at him and pretty much he was done. he knew that he had given himself up. he realized that it was too late and he was arrested and taken to juvenile. at the time the court decided that he was too young to be placed in jail so he was sent to reform school. there's a state -- there was a state reform school at the westborough facility. back then he was supposed to be there up to the age of 18 which was six years. he was only 12 so they realize that perhaps by keeping him there for about six years these
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tendencies that he had he might grow out of it almost like a disease. he would feel better but his mother was the only person who really understood him and tried to take care of him. she made sure that he wouldn't stay there for too long. she had affairs with the local police commissioners, the local detectives and made sure that they recommended his release early on and 16 months after he went and he got out. he was able to leave before it was his due time. south boston really didn't want him there. they didn't want him in their neighborhood. they knew something terrible was going to happen but regardless of that he came back home. he managed to return and for about five weeks he did very well. he worked with his brother. he worked with the family but
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soon after about a month or so a little girl went missing katie. she was about 10. she was not his usual style if you will. he usually went out looking for victims. he went out and picked children who were mostly boys. they were small. they were very young. katie was a girl which was unusual trait she was a little bit older. she was 10 and she actually walked into the store where he was working and she disappeared. the police managed to look into the store and they couldn't find anything, so they let him go. they didn't do anything to him. they searched the area. they searched the basement but they didn't find anything. until about five weeks later when i found a little boy right on the beach. they found a mutilated 4-year-old boy on the beach. they had an idea that maybe he
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was involved. he hadn't been too careful about hiding himself early on. there were lots of people on the streets of south boston that it seemed a little boy going around the bakery with jesse just walking around in parading around the streets so he really wasn't all that careful. even on the beach where the little boy had died there were some people that recognized the half that he was wearing, the heights. they knew that he had been there there, so with the description they had they just went into the home where he lived and arrested him based on the past that he had and the clues that they have now. they managed to arrest him and one of the people who are arrested him was detective woods woods, the man whose collection i found. he has all the details the wonderful details of the arrest, if you can call them wonderful. maybe that's not the right word for them but the detailed, gruesome details about the case.
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so they really look at him they connected his past to what he had done now. aside from that he had lots of scratches on his body. he had lots of blood on the clothing that he was wearing and his footprints matched the footprints that have been found on the sand. so he was done if you will. even though lots of people had gone over in that area before they figured that his boots were the ones that matched precisely the ones that were next to the body. so they arrested him and the imprisoned him. there was a huge trial at the time and lots of people. they didn't even really want the trial. the only way to get rid of just -- jesse was to take into the boston commons and hang him if you will. it was the only reasonable way to get rid of someone like him.
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there were lots of questions that came up. people wanted to know how was it possible that a 14-year-old boy could actually do that. it was unusual in the 1870s to hear about something like this. it was unusual for a child to do what he had done. people didn't hear too much about it but those people who talked talk about it wanting to know if maybe he came from a family that was mentally diseased. maybe he liked to read those dime novels. they were called dime novels that than which were very bloody, very gruesome. so maybe people thought those things that influence his mind. maybe the abuse he had suffered as a boy that influence what he was doing now. so they try to find a reason as to why he was doing that. lots of people thought he was just a horrible terrible person. he was born that way so there
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was no reason to give it any other explanations. of course a trial was to be had. he was given a trial that started on december 8 1874. he was put on trial back then and at the time the city, in the city was the author herman bell briganti followed the trial quite a bit. he was interested in madness and evil. so he followed what was happening to palmer right as to the physician oliver wendell holmes. he liked to follow it as well. in his mind pomeroy come he didn't have to be placed in jail or killed. he needed to be studied and they figured he wasn't the only child i was doing these things. he was the only one that people have actually heard of so it would have been a good idea to just study him and figure out if they could learn something from him.
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people didn't really agree with him and the jury didn't either because as soon as the trial was done he was sentenced to die. he was sentenced to hang. at the time the governor was the only one that could sign even though the jury decided that the governor had to sign the warrant of execution and he refused to do that. governor gaston didn't want the state to be known around the country as a state who would execute a 14-year-old boy. he felt they shouldn't have that mark on your conscience in and the state shouldn't have that stamp and be known as the state who had executed a 14-year-old boy. he refused to do that for well over a year and jesse was placed in the charles street jail. i'm not sure how many of you knew that right now that place is the liberty hotel right next to -- so now it has become a very fancy hotel. back then it was a local jail.
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he stayed there for over a year until the new governor came on and he decided it would be very kind of him not to execute him but to actually placed jesse in jail for life not only to place them there for life but in solitary confinement. so he felt that this would be the only thing that would be kind enough for him to do. so jesse became one of the youngest people to be placed in the state prison in solitary confinement at the age of 16. he ended up staying there for over four decades and he didn't get out from solitary until 43 years had passed. so he became only the second person in the country to spend that stretch of the time in solitary confinement. surprisingly enough he did very
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well. most people in solitary confinement committed suicide. they died on me after a week or so. he thrived. he actually liked it. he learned half a dozen languages. he got a chance to read a lot. he tried to escape at least half a dozen times but probably even more than that. he was not very lucky in that sense because he managed to get out of jail out of his little cell but somewhere he was always caught. a couple of times the cat gave him away. as soon as he got out from his cell he would have the little kitten up along to one of the guards and he were would just start meowing. people would be alerted that he had been out of the cell. so it was not because he didn't try hard enough. he just a few well luck was not on his side. he tried many many times. in 1929 when he was 69 years old
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the state decided that he had spent too many years in the state prison. he had become insane. he really wasn't. he had never been insane but they decided he had become too old to stay there. they transferred him to the bridgewater state hospital which is still in existence today. he was therefore about two years years. even though he was close to 70 he was still pretty crafty. he tried to escape a handful of times as well. no one knows where he was going because if he had been on at the prison, people would have killed him for sure. nobody wanted him around but in 1932 he passed away of a very common disease. he just died of a heart attack nothing more exciting than that if you will. he just died and by the time he
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died everybody else that he had none, james woods the cops who had arrested them they all passed away. he was sort of the last link to the 1870s. those who were left behind tried very hard to forget about him. if you read the details of the 1870s until the 1930s very few people knew about him. very few people wrote about that time period wrote about jesse. it was mostly because the city didn't really want the outsiders to know that someone like jesse had really existed in the city. he was a stain if you will. he was someone that shouldn't be remembered but you can still learn quite a bit if you look at the papers and the archives and information they have on hand. that is sort of in a nutshell jesse pomeroy's saga and a very
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abbreviated sort of way. the book is much longer of course. there are a lot more details than that. i sort of gave you the cliff notes version of it. questions? [inaudible] >> the first is when you are doing research on him and his psychology did you come across anything like, was this a case where he was just a bad seed from the beginning? obviously the abuse that you described that he experienced in the bowling was part of it but were there other things that you found about the psychological makeup? >> while he was born up until the age of six or seven there was nothing terribly wrong with him. he had an older brother who experienced pretty much the same home life that he did. he also was punished quite a bit by their father but as far as
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jesse the only difference was that he was born looking a little bit different so he paid for that if you will. children in a school as soon as he went to elementary school they started picking on him quite a bit. they started abusing him a lot especially the older children who were there. he experienced quite a few beatings on a daily basis. so i think that had a lot to do with it. his father also like to strip him from head to toe and really beat him up on a daily basis as well. so that didn't help his psychology at all. a lot of what was done to him if you look at the cases of what he did two other children, they are the same thing. it's not surprising that he likes to strip children and beat them up with about or whatever was used on him he used on others. he was just repeating a lot of what he experienced.
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>> my other question is there has been the sort of renaissance right now in true crime stories. there is the double cereal craze and right now people are talking about "the jinx," the series that was on hbo. do you see your book situated in that anywhere? >> i only saw one episode so i haven't seen the whole thing. i think people are fascinated with true crime. they like to know what goes on in peoples minds or at least they like to guess. we would like to think that we would do things differently in that situation. we would like to feel we'd never do something like that and of course people would never have to experience anything like that. but we are detached from that as well. we are distanced from 150 years gives you a little bit more of a chance to reminisce if you will. things were much different in the 1870s than they are now so you have a better understanding
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of psychology. although perhaps not as much as you think. >> do you think other social services, things might have turned out differently. >> probably. his mother had no one to turn to. mrs. pomeroy was a very young woman. she was only in her early 30s. she was separated from her husband. she worked on in office a seamstress. she was always looking for a job, for jobs. she had no money. she had no friends. she was not i hate to use pleasant woman. she was kind of an unpleasant woman and people didn't like her and she didn't like people as well. so she didn't have the greatest support system. she didn't know anyone to turn tail to and also people didn't know too much about the children be killed. today you hear about them but unfortunately on an almost daily basis but back then she had no
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clue what she was dealing with. and this was her son. this was her baby. people were abusing him and making fun of him so she tried to protect him. i think she felt guilty that she couldn't do anything more. she did the best she could i think, or she tried to do the best she could. >> due to his age it seems he had a brother -- methodology with his beatings. you believe he were to continue before he caught that would be more consistent? >> it was not as inconsistent as you think. the children of the abuse early on, he started off almost by chance he picked up on child. he brought into a little shed. he gave him a couple of slaps and he moved away. the second time he stripped him a little bit and cut him a little bit and moved away again.
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the third time he really tied him up and did a little bit more. by the ninth child he had tied him up to a pole, stripped him completely almost him. by the time he got to south boston the little girl that he killed katie he killed her and buried her in the summer in the house where he was living so he managed to cover her up. by the time he got two little boys chorus he boys chorus it was for yet done unspeakable things to him. it was horrifying to read how far he had grown. he hadn't been caught. there was no denying that he would have done much worse than that. he got caught because he was so young and because he really wasn't thinking about hiding or trying to get away. >> also i was going to ask with
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his early mutilation of animals do you believe in a sort of antisocial personality profile could have been -- >> he started by killing a cat very early on and also his mother had pet birds that she kept in her house. after about a week she found them dead in a cage. nowadays if you read about profiles one of the first signs you have of antisocial behavior would be killing of animals, not having any friends not feeling sorry for your neighbors. you can go down the list and jesse have those in probably 20 more that you could pick on city pick on city which are classic psychopath if you will. >> was there in the history of what became of the victims that he abused lexa seems like something we considered a modern
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kind things but back in those days they didn't have the social skills to deal with it. >> they testified before he was sent to reform school. that was the only detail you could find about him. people felt a little bit of shame for what was done to them so the parents of the little victims in chelsea, they didn't want their children to be exposed any more than was necessary. they testified just for a little bit. they pointed to him as someone who had committed those atrocities on them and nothing much was left. there was no indication of what happened to them afterward. >> thank you. >> today you would know beyond that. >> i am not sure if you ran into this or not and you don't have to harp on it if you did that where did you do most of your research and what was the method and how long did it take in all that? >> i actually found the idea of
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harvard, the harvard university on line collection. i found a collection of material that belongs to one of the detectives who worked on the case, james woods. he was sort of the one that went after him that connected him to the cases in chelsea so if you look in his files he was one of the earliest detectives in boston. he was the first detective who opened up the first detective agency in new england. his files and from the 1860s to 1933 i want to say. his son took over the agency as well so you have probably thousands of volumes. this was the one that really stuck with him the most because he said he had never seen anyone as vicious as jesse as young as he was. so that collection was the first one i looked at. also the state archives have all
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the trial records have all the information as well. the state house has a lot of material. bridgewater where he went later on. the state reform school nowadays is called the lyman state school for boys and the boston bpl. they have thousands of articles written about him. at the time boston had probably 250 newspapers and magazines. it was really good time to be a journalist back then if you will. so you can find thousands of articles. it took me about three years to collect everything. >> the fire that destroyed the city, do you go into that anymore or is it the backdrop of jesse story? >> it is mostly the backdrop. by the time the fire happened in
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1872 i don't know how much people knew about it. people tend to know more about the fire that happened in chicago in 1871. it tends to be the most famous countrywide fire but the boston fire is not well-known. the person i was dealing with that was the chief the fire chief here in the city. at the time when the fire took place is sort of parallels the crimes that were happening in chelsea. people really weren't paying much attention to what jesse was doing and to what jesse did because the city had been pretty much destroyed from the downtown area to the waterfront. the city was busy trying to rebuild and trying to figure out how to get back on its feet again. what was happening in a poor section of the city, it was a localized story.
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people didn't pay too much attention to children being abused by other children. it was more important to rebuild stores places for people to work. it was more important to get back the city and getting the economy started up again. suggest a kind of went by the wayside if you will. it was easy for him to do what he did because no one really paid attention to him. >> you also mentioned that some people wanted to study jesse to figure out why he did this. and not being executed in living for so much longer did anyone get a chance to talk to him? >> no. you had a couple of doctors who tried hard to study him. you have the occasional doctors in the trial period to figure out what to do with him. he was in prison for over 50 years. people would make more for point to study him he would think that you have the occasional doctor
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went after him. he applied for parole quite a few times so you had to figure out if he was fit to go back in society again. beyond that, no. he was just shocked into solitary. people thought if you don't see him you just don't know that he's there. no one paid attention at all. they just made sure people forgot about him. even though he made sure that people didn't forget about him. he became a writer. he wrote articles for newspapers. he wrote dozens of letters to every governor who came into office. he wrote letters to lawyers. you can find those as well. he wrote a short autobiography. even those the city tried to forget about him he wanted to be remembered. he liked to be the center of attention.


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