111 Years: Kip Kinkel's Future

As a teen with mug shots of my own, I can't keep my eyes off the photograph of convicted killer Kipland Kinkel. It looks like a Norman Rockwell painting gone bad.His eyes are so thick with water you can see the photographer reflected in them. His lips are gently parted, his eyebrows somewhat raised and one ear sticks up slightly more than the other.Kip looks like a kid who just got slapped around, cursed at and humiliated by the kingpins of the video arcade.But apparently Kip was the predator -- a heartless ruthless killer who, as Laura Woodward, the mother of one victim put it, deserves to be "tortured and troubled."In May of 1998, at the age of 15, Kip snapped, killing both his parents and going on to his high school cafeteria, where he opened fire again, killing two and injuring dozens. He was arrested, confessed to the killings and was sentenced to 111 years in prison without possibility of parole.Before the sentencing, Kip -- now 17 -- read an apology that included the words, "These events have pulled me into a state of deterioration and self-hating that I didn't know existed."A psychiatrist, testifying for the defense, contended that Kip Kinkel had struggled with mental illness for years -- a reality that went unrecognized. So it may be that Kipland Kinkel is not the heartless, ruthless beast he's been portrayed as. Maybe he's a sick, conflicted boy who needs help before he needs 111 years. As it is, Kip is so full of "self-loathing and deterioration" that he'll probably tie a bedsheet as a noose around his neck before he sees 18.What interests me is not the horrifying specifics of his crime or the nature of his mental illness, but rather the fact that Kip Kinkel is an alienated, confused, lost and disturbed kid with not much to live for.An older friend and I were discussing the sentence on the day it was handed down and he said he felt that life without parole was far too harsh for any youngster, regardless of the crime.He said that maybe 25 years was more reasonable. But to a 17-year-old kid eaten up inside by his horrible deeds and scared out of his wits by the prospect of spending every waking day with 40-plus-year-old hairy, muscle-bound criminals, 25 years and 111 are one and the same.Suppose he did get a 25-year sentence. At age 42, Kipland Kinkel would be released from captivity and sent out into a strange world he knew nothing about, with no social skills, job skills or support network. If Kip is alienated at 17, imagine what it would be like for him in middle age, fresh out of prison.In considering his reality, I started feeling a strange kind of compassion for this young man. I am not contending that his crimes are excusable or that his actions don't deserve repercussions.But I hurt for him. He is alone, and facing one of the most frightening experiences any man can face. I look into the watery, dumbfounded eyes of his photo and see the fear that lives inside of him.Some of my empathy has to do with my own experiences in the criminal justice system as a confused, lost young man. After I was released, I began to work with a writing program, which brings me into interaction with a group of incarcerated youngsters every week.We try to give young people in the system a way to release the confusion, conflicted feelings, loneliness and self-loathing that plague Kip -- with a pen. This program helped me exorcise my demons, and I would love to extend that opportunity to Kip Kinkel.

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