From Psychopath to Healer
A Profound Story of Miraculous Transformation
"As Peter was escorted back to his solitary prison cell, he could hardly believe that he no longer felt like a zombie. He actually felt human for the first time in his life."
One beautiful morning this August at a personal growth seminar I was attending, I fell into conversation with a wonderful woman I’ll call Sheila (she asked me not to share any real names) after a profound breathwork session she led. Seeing my interest in talking about things that really mattered, she asked if I might be interested in hearing a disturbing, yet remarkable story of transformation. I was a big yes to this intriguing offer.
She then proceeded to tell me about an incredible event — or maybe better described as a miracle — that touched me to the core.
Sheila told me that a man we’ll call Peter is in a maximum security prison for life. A true psychopath, Peter murdered 27 people before he was caught. You may not know that mass murderers can get a therapist while in prison. This story was related to Sheila by a man we’ll call David, who was the therapist for Peter and other mass murderers in this prison. David and Sheila are good friends. He related this highly unusual occurrence in confidence to Sheila.
David first explained to Sheila that mass murderers like Peter are kept in solitude in their own cells. They are not allowed to be in contact with other inmates, as many of them would have no hesitation in attacking and killing other prisoners even for petty reasons. Psychopaths are known for not experiencing any real emotions, though they can be quite good at faking them. David informed Sheila that this man we’re calling Peter had been living a solitary life in prison for years when, at one of his therapy sessions, David made him an unusual offer.
The mother of a young woman Peter had killed had contacted the prison to say she wanted to meet the man who murdered her daughter. Though he was sure Peter would not be interested, David felt obligated to relate this to Peter, and so asked if he might be interested in meeting her.
To his great surprise, Peter said he would. Apparently his eternally boring existence in solitary confinement made him interested in this as a break in his monotonous routine. As Peter experienced practically no emotions, facing an angry mother was at least more interesting than staring at prison walls all day long.
So David arranged for the mother, who we’ll call Julia, to meet with Peter in a small room in the prison designed specially for visits like this with thick, bullet-proof glass windows protecting Julia from this cold-blooded murderer.
At his first therapy session after Peter came back from the meeting, David was in utter amazement to find Peter, who he had counseled for years, a changed man. He was showing genuine emotion and his entire demeanor had changed for the first time since David had known him. Astounded, David asked what had happened.
Peter related to David how on the arranged date, he was escorted into the small room where Julia was waiting. Julia looked him straight in the eyes and began angrily spilling her guts, telling Peter how he had robbed her of the precious life of her only child. She raged on about the many ways she had suffered since her daughter’s murder. A day didn’t pass when she felt a deep sadness at this tragic loss.
None of this bothered Peter in the least. He had confided to David in previous sessions how as a result of the severe, repeated physical and sexual abuse he went through as a child, he had learned early how to completely shut off all emotion. By the time he was a teenager, he felt like a zombie moving through all the motions of life without feeling anything.
He had also confided that the first time he killed a person, Peter was surprised and thrilled to actually feel the excitement of an adrenaline rush he had never experienced before. This feeling was so intoxicating that he soon decided to kill again just to get that amazing high he felt after killing. Soon, addicted to this new high, he killed again and again until he was finally caught and thrown in prison on death row. His only regret had been that now in prison, he could no longer feed his addiction to get that high by murdering people.
So when this woman poured her anger out to him, Peter was not in the least disturbed, though he was content to at least see something other than the drab walls of his prison cell.
“So what happened with Julia to change this?” David asked.
After exhausting all of her anger at him in that little room, Peter continued, Julia slumped back and sat quiet for a couple moments. She then took a deep breath, sat up straight, and looked him deep in the eyes. With tears welling up in her eyes, she said with a soft and even caring tone, “And Peter, I want you to know that I forgive you.”
In the pregnant silence after these totally unexpected words, Peter was shocked. As these words reverberated throughout his being, he was amazed to feel something stirring inside. A mixture of joy and sadness welled up within him for this first time in his entire adult life. As these emotions swirled through his body, something in him opened. He lips trembled and he found his eyes tearing up for the first time ever. Something deep inside of him was touched and moved to the core.
As Peter was escorted back to his solitary prison cell, he could hardly believe that he no longer felt like a zombie. He actually felt human for the first time in his life. Julia’s heartfelt expression of forgiveness had created a miracle.
The story does not end there. Peter had been so moved that after relating what happened with Julia, he leaned forward and whispered to David that he had been thinking long and hard, and he had an important request. He knew that the parents and families of other mass murderers in his prison occasionally requested to meet with the murderer of their loved one. The killers almost always denied the request, not interested in facing the anger and hatred which would come their way.
Peter told David that from then on he wanted to stand in for any of the murderers in his prison to meet with these relatives. He wanted to hear and experience their anger. And he wanted to apologize for what they had done, and for what he had done.
Julia’s heartfelt forgiveness had made David human again, and as an expression of his profound gratitude, he wanted to help heal the deep wounds both in himself and in those who had suffered the loss of loved ones as a result of cold-blooded murder.
This one act of forgiveness had not only caused Peter to become human again, it inspired him to the almost superhuman act of offering to fully bear the anger of those who so needed to express it.
Wow!!! I was stunned and touched to the core to by this moving story. I shared my deep appreciation with Sheila and asked if I could share it with others and with my email list. Concerned that this might cause problems because of the confidentiality required by therapists, she gave me permission to share the story only if no names were mentioned.
So there you have it. Even a hardened psychopath mass murderer can have a change of heart when the power of forgiveness is gifted to him. Just to be clear, I certainly would never expect family members of those murdered to be able to find forgiveness like this, but if nothing else, this story inspired me to ever more fully embrace the incredible power of forgiveness to change lives. Thank you, Julia, and thank you Peter for being a shining example of what's possible in our world.
With warmest wishes for a transformed world,
Fred Burks for the PEERS empowerment websites
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