- The Devil's Greatest Trick
I don't hear the word inmate at the Whiting Forensic Institute. I don't hear prisoner. The men and women who fill the facility, a maximum-security division of the Connecticut Valley Hospital, are clients.
Clients, like paying customers—the customer is always right.
One of these clients is my little brother, Tim.
When I visit Tim, rules allow for "a brief handshake, kiss, or hug at the beginning and end of your visit."
When we hug I feel the weight of Tim's hands on my back. I can smell his shirt, a cotton shroud mildewed with dried sweat. He wears sweatpants with the drawcord cut out because the string is long enough to wrap around a man's neck.
When we hug he is as close to me as when we were boys wrestling on the sea-green carpet in our basement. During those afternoon bouts, we wielded whatever was available—discarded foam booster seats, deflated exercise balls, a canvas beanbag chair. We pawed at each other like bear cubs, like tumbling tufts of damp fur.
I was 27 when Tim killed our mother. He attacked her while she was sifting through used jewelry on eBay. After he killed her, he sat on our front steps and dialed 911. He held a white Bible in his left hand. He explained what he was wearing to the dispatcher—glasses, white T-shirt, sweatpants—and started walking down Wild Rose Drive. Police found him at the bottom of the hill where we had raced our bikes as kids.
Tim has been at Whiting for more than two years. When I visit him, we meet in the same place, a space that feels like an assembly room, one that [End Page 127] might be in a church, community center, or town hall—a place for coffee in Styrofoam cups.
It's strange; for a room I've been in so many times—the only place where I see my brother—I struggle whenever I describe the space. I see white cinderblock walls, dark heavy carpet.
Corrections officers scatter two dozen chairs around the room, clustered in pods of three, a low table separating visitor from client. My brother and I are tall. When we face each other behind these tables, our shins press against rounded wood. During one visit, Tim tells me that the tables are placed this way to prevent one person from lunging at the other.
When I first visited Tim, three months after he killed our mother, antipsychotics injected into the meat of his shoulder struggled to lift schizophrenia's haze. He couldn't order his thoughts. He couldn't remember.
"It seems like I am talking about a book, and it is not me," Tim said.
Tim still spoke about our mother in the present tense. Once, he said that she had visited him, just that previous week, on the same day they had been served hot dogs in the cafeteria.
Eventually, Tim asked me about our mother's funeral.
"I wish I could have been there," he said.
Eventually, Tim told me that he didn't want to talk about our mother.
"It might attract the wrong type of attention," he said.
I thought he was talking about the corrections officer who chaperoned the visiting room, but he meant the demons, the forces he believed vied for control of his mind.
"I don't want to be under their control again," Tim said.
In this way, during our early visits, we circled the day when his demons pushed him to attack our mother in the family room. In this way, I watched the veil of his illness begin to recede.
Eventually, Tim would tell me, "They say I killed Mom."
Tim spent his last semester of college fleeing evil forces that he knew were real. A man sent to fix the furnace poisoned his food. An assassin planted a tracking device in his car. A classmate's bracelet, one that glinted in the sunlight, was the Devil's amulet.
Months after his 22nd birthday, his delusions multiplied, refracting vividly [End Page 128] through the prism of...