Last year, Slate published an article called My mother married her prison pen pal. A synopsis of the story is this: After 22 years of marriage, the author’s parents divorced. One day her mother receives a collect phone call from Joe, who was incarcerated. He dialed her phone number at random; thinking it was someone she knew who had the same name, the woman accepted the call. The prisoner asked the woman to write to him. She thought it was a good mentorship opportunity, so she did. Eventually, the woman married the guy.
Please pause now and read the story:
By Anna Balkrishna
The biggest myth
Mom knew that Joe was in jail—she started writing to him because she wanted to be a “positive influence” in his life. She fell for one of the biggest myths that our culture propagates: There’s good in everyone.
Unfortunately, it isn’t true. Despite the platitudes we’ve grown up with—“All men are created equal,” “Everyone deserves a chance,” “We’re all God’s children”—some people are rotten to the core. And they’re called sociopaths.
Joe worked his sociopathic magic, and Mom fell in love. So even when she married him, and then found out that he wasn’t in prison for vehicular manslaughter, he was really in prison for rape, she stood by him, and spent her retirement money on his lawyers. Balkrishna wrote:
She believed that he was put into her path for a purpose. She made a commitment: morally, to “turn him around” and wean him off his bad behaviors, and practically, to help him through his sentence and his parole until he could integrate back into free society. Once she made the commitment, she could not break it.
So Joe gets out of jail and guess what? He cheats on Mom. He stops looking for work and starts doing drugs. Eventually he ends up back in jail. Mom was heartbroken, and the author of the story makes a very telling observation:
Lovers are hard enough to give up, but ideals are even harder.
Many of us know exactly what she means. Many of us tried to nurture that “poor, unloved child” under the abusive shell—only to find out that under the shell there was nothing.
We were crushed. We were deceived and emotionally destroyed, and we were forced to admit that our view of the world was deeply flawed.
Yes, our experiences with sociopaths were devastating. But I don’t believe that once we’ve encountered these predators, we have to totally give up on our ideals. However, we do need to recognize that our ideals can’t encompass everyone.
There are people who have been dealt a bad hand in life, and with understanding and assistance, can turn their lives around. They are worthy of our efforts. The sociopaths, however, will continue to do what they do, no matter how we persevere in our attempts to help them, save them, reform them. Once sociopaths are adults, they are not going to change.
We are not all created equal. We don’t all deserve a chance. We may all be God’s children, but some people have forgotten, and don’t care.
We need to be able to discern which people have a heart and a conscience, and which people don’t. Then, we can lavish our time, love and idealism on those who can benefit from our efforts. The others, we leave behind.