I met Andrew Vachss (pronounced like tax) back in ’99 or so in Madison, Wisconsin during his book tour. It was a 5 hour drive from Minneapolis, but I wanted to meet him. I’d written him earlier that year, after my petition to keep a child murderer in prison succeeded. The killer was now wheelchair-bound and wanted early release. He was in for abducting a child from a church social, raping and killing her. He was a cab driver who drove the mom and her kids to church. I’d read about him in John Douglas’s FBI profiling memoir, Mindhunter, and recognized his name in the newspaper.
When you have a violent offender like that, you don’t depend on ankle monitors and sex offender registries to keep him from his victims. You need to contain them:
There are individuals who are so toxic that their presence threatens us all. They self-identify by their conduct. And we cannot protect ourselves from monsters by calling them by another name. If prison cannot rehabilitate, it can at least incapacitate. If we cannot transform sexual predators, we certainly can contain them. — Andrew Vachss, How to Handle Sexual Predators.
I wrote Mr. Vachss back when he accepted books to be signed. I wanted him to sign “Down in the Zero,” because it was the first book of his I’d read, and “Born Bad,” because I believe the title story in that collection to distill the essence of his most important message: We Make Our Own Monsters. By averting our eyes when a child is abused: sexually, physically, or emotionally. By snickering at the prevalence of rape in prison, the Animal Factory as ex-con Edward Bunker called it, where we breed future predators.
He wrote back with a kind and touching letter:
click letter for readable version
It meant a lot to me then. Mr. Vachss and I have had minor correspondence since then. He’s got work to do and so do I. He wrote for a cause, and made art that made a difference. He’s more than a writer I admire, he’s a hero, in a time when that word is bandied about lightly. In person, he is respectful. More of a political organizer than a self-promoter. With the PROTECT PAC that he helped build, the abused have a voice. And when politicians talk of “protecting the children,” they are there to make them put their money where their mouth is.
If you haven’t read Andrew Vachss, I’d recommend you begin the Burke series at the beginning with FLOOD. Then Strega, Blue Belle, Blossom, Hard Candy, Sacrifice and Down in the Zero. As pulse pounding and gripping as any crime fiction you’ll find. If a series is too much for you, his standalone novel SHELLA is an amazing story.
and make a difference. These issues aren’t even on the politicians’ radar. The NRA and AARP know how to get politicians to listen, and PROTECT
has started off strong. They deserve your support.
© 2011 Thomas Pluck