When I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, the name “Unabomber” came up a lot in adult conversations. Like a distant relative I’d never met, I would try to imagine his physical appearance and always picture a man in a long black coat holding a metal briefcase that happened to have a maze of multi-colored wires on the inside. If it opens, the world will explode into a ball of fire, just as King Koopa from the “Mario Brothers” movie exhales.
When I was 10 years old, in 1994, I was both terrified and curious. I never thought that my future work would lead me down a path where I would receive letters from a convicted domestic terrorist and engage in conversations with him about the current state of the world.
The Unabomber was finally captured in 1996 and his identity confirmed after he planted and sent home-made bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others over the course of 18 years. When I was a kid, I couldn’t get much out of it, except that the FBI now had the metal briefcase I had created in my mind that could destroy the world. I had no knowledge of the ideologies that this man, now known as Ted Kaczynski, had. Believes“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”
Away from playing Nintendo, and at school, “The Oregon Trail,”” I didn’t think much about the modern world or technological advancement.
It will be many years before I begin to think seriously about the reasons why people commit crimes, especially murder. Even then, in 2012, when I began researching my first true crime book, I had not given much thought to the reasons why people other than my “subject,” Maxim Gelman, committed the murders. However, after nearly eight years of conducting interviews in prison, I was hearing an overwhelming number of stories about what happens behind those walls. As I sat in the visiting room each month, where I met many other incarcerated men, I began to wonder not only about the crimes they had committed, but also Why They made those choices.
In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, while isolated at home, I began searching for answers. I have created a website, behind the crime, It serves as a platform for people incarcerated for murder to discuss any topic of their choice in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the criminal mind and the criminal justice system. After sending out a batch of letters, the responses I received from prisoners across the country were overwhelming.
There were some people I didn’t expect to hear from, and Ted Kaczynski was one of them. When a letter arrived in my mailbox, I stared in amazement at his name, which was printed so finely that it could pass for handwriting.
By this time, I had a fair amount of knowledge about his case and had read his case StatementSo I wasn’t shocked when he asked me in his first letter about my thoughts on societal issues and hypothetical positions related to the current political climate.
I’ve always been open-minded and believe that anything is possible, no matter how far-fetched, so I got involved. In my next letter to him, I thought about the different outcomes of his bizarre scenarios involving sexual compensation. I also explained why something like this was never likely to happen, to which he agreed, admitting, “It was a joke with some meaning.”
Thus a friendship developed between him and a pen pal when a few weeks later he replied complimentarily: “The fact that at least one intelligent person – you – has taken it seriously shows how far the left has veered towards the absurd.”
For several months, we continued to correspond, often discussing topics ranging from political correctness, language, and societal issues in America and other cultures. In each message, we exchanged thoughts centered around several of his emphatic observations such as: “We now have a society in which people (not just those on the left) try to get what they want by making others feel sorry for them.” they. This does not happen only in individual cases, but is a collective phenomenon.
Eventually, he agreed to a formal interview and gave me permission to participate in Beyond the Crime.
“True crime writers are not my favorite breed, but I tend to like you, and perhaps trust you a little, because – so far as I can tell from your letters – your ideas seem balanced and rational. “I may have time to answer one or two leading questions about the content of my books.” , admitted the Harvard-educated mathematician.
We planned to discuss his book Technological slavery, But when I sent him my questions in the late fall of 2021, I was met with silence. I never trusted the prison mail system, and wondered if my letter had been lost, so I followed up with another letter, asking if he had received my questions – more silence.
In the pit of my stomach, I knew something was wrong. In the next message, she asked him if he was okay. By the end of December 2021, news stories were published showing that he had been transferred from prison in Colorado to Butner, a federal medical center in North Carolina.
The “farewell” message came shortly after I heard news of his deteriorating health, in which he explained: “I must apologize for not responding sooner, but I have a good excuse: I am very ill and may not live long – which is why I have been transferred to the Federal Prison Hospital in North Carolina… Whatever time I have left, I have to spend sorting out some legal matters and (if possible) finishing some writing projects. So, I won’t be able to contact you anymore.”
He then went on to give me an idea for a future book he hoped I would write and pointed out where I could begin my research, encouraging, “I expect you’ll find a lot of this material fascinating (even if it’s sometimes horrifying),” perhaps fascinating enough that you You’ll want to write about it.
I’m not sure if I will follow through on any of the ideas he suggested to me. I’m still trying to understand my feelings about the 81-year-old’s death by apparent suicide while battling cancer in June of this year.
As I corresponded with him, I began to look forward to his letters. It allowed me the rare freedom of full self-expression, something that is uncommon these days. Even if he disagreed with my opinions, he always seemed to remain open enough to consider and discuss my ideas, and I did the same when it came to his opinions.
Nowadays, even among close friends, open dialogue and listening to what someone has to say without taking offense seems to have become a dying practice. However, those letters provided a space that felt familiar to the old college classrooms I remember sitting in during my time as an undergraduate where all ideas, no matter how unconventional, seemed welcome.
I know that many people will find my sentiments strange, and may be judgmental – how can I not only speak kindly, but actually admit that I enjoyed talking to a murderer?
In trying to understand why anyone would commit murder, empathy has always pushed me forward. With Ted, it was no different. From my perspective, he was someone who committed some of the worst atrocities, but from what I’ve learned he was also able to bring some humanity.
I can’t help but wonder where the two extremes – good and evil – meet and separate. I imagine a line drawn in the sand, erased and redrawn again and again as I realize that it is impossible to find balance in such vastness. A drawn line will never represent complete equality on both sides. Isn’t this the predicament of the human heart, or rather the human conscience?
Really, how could someone who had caused so much destruction and hurt so many people show me care and kindness? I’d like to think this is what it means to be human, but what the media calls, instead, “the monster” and buries under heavy sensationalism.
I regret that I was not able to complete my interview with Ted – I know it would likely have provided further insight into his thoughts and beliefs, which were undoubtedly the catalyst for his criminal actions. However, I am grateful for the experience that gave me access to his mind and thoughts – “your own for wild nature” – as he always said at the conclusion of every letter to me.