What does it say about human nature—my human nature, in particular—that I’m relieved that David Sweat, one of the Clinton Correctional escapees, was shot, while Richard Matt, the other one, was killed?
Not that I wish death on anyone, except in self-defense when they’re coming at me with a knife or a gun.
But one could conceivably construe this to be a case of self-defense in the loosest, most imaginative sense of the term.
Because who among us, for at least a fleeting second or two, whether urbanite or rural resident, New Yorker, Californian, or anywhere in between, didn’t watch the news fearing those two desperados would show up on our doorstep and kill us for our weapons (those of us who have weapons) cold cuts, or what have you.
The chances of that happening, obviously, were slim. But in the heat of the manhunt it felt as if they could have showed up anywhere from Sitka, Alaska, to the Upper East Side. If they were slick enough to cajole the prison’s staff into supplying them with power tools, they would know how to hail a cab or download the Uber app on a purloined cellphone.
Self-involvement, not to mention hubris and self-pity, is the American way. All you need to do is look at the arc of your own life to realize that having a couple of sociopaths on the run show up in your apartment lobby has a sort of perverse logic.
That’s got to be at least part of the reason the story—with everything else going on in the world—had legs, becoming this month’s missing Malaysian airliner on CNN.
And while I doubt anybody was rooting for them, except for their fellow inmates, you had to admire their ability to evade capture for so long. In some warped way it seemed a small, if transient, victory for the individual over the system.
I can’t say I was paying especially close attention, though.
While the story about Mr. Matt’s romance with prison seamstressJoyce Mitchell and his alleged endowments was mildly interesting—though I was more impressed with his portraits of Julia Roberts andAngelina Jolie—what kept me refreshing my news apps was the fear that, with any luck—and out of the approximately 123 million households in the U.S.—he’d show up at mine.
Of course, some of us had more reason to fear than others—those closest to the upstate prison where they made their break and the nearby vacation cabins where they were said to be hiding out, most of all.
But I would come next.
While my home is well over 200 miles from the scene of the escape, we’re at the end of a dirt road, and the only house on it.
I’m not a big gun-rights advocate and don’t own one. But had the murderers somehow managed to hitch a ride south on the Northway, or maybe score a couple of seats, unrecognized, on an Adirondack Trailways bus, and showed up on my front step—Jehovah’s Witnesses do all the time—I’d have quickly realized that I’m the entire police department.
If it looked as if the tide was turning subtly toward criminal background checks in the wake of the church killings in Charleston, I suspect the story of Messrs. Matt and Sweat served to reverse the course of public opinion, and then some, toward the virtues of sleeping with a Beretta under your pillow and having a shotgun handy lest anyone misinterpret the meaning of your “No Trespassing” signs.
Of course, the chance of me hitting a target is remote at best, even though I achieved the distinction of Marksman First Class at summer camp and have the parchment and shoulder patch to prove it.
For years, I’ve been trying to get my children to read “In Cold Blood,” perhaps for some of the same reasons the recent manhunt had us riveted. You could also argue, as my wife does, that it’s further proof, lest any were needed, that I’m a bad parent.
The book’s potency came from Truman Capote’s prose poetry and the fact that it was a true story. I remember reading it when it came out and being both enthralled and terrified, though I don’t know how much of that was because it was great literature and how much because it wasn’t hard to imagine myself in the shoes of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kan. They lived blameless lives out in the middle of nowhere, and yet were marked for death, almost at random, by a couple of losers.
Come to think of it, perhaps my wife was right. It’s not for children.