"I Don't Want To Live Long. I Would Rather Get The Death Penalty Than Spend The Rest Of My Life In Prison"

  • There is probably never a good time to ask the question--Tell me, do you consider yourself insane?--but when the time comes, Ted Kaczynski responds without hesitation. "I'm confident that I'm sane, personally," he says. "I don't get delusions and so on and so forth...I mean, I had very serious problems with social adjustment in adolescence, and a lot of people would call this a sickness. But it would have to be distinguished between an organic illness, like schizophrenia or something like that."

    He is sitting on a concrete stool in a concrete booth with windows made of reinforced glass. When he was first led in, his wrists were handcuffed behind his back. Facing forward, he squatted down so a guard could remove his cuffs through a slot low in the door. This is how things are done at the federal "Supermax" prison in Florence, Colo., where he has been since last spring and may well remain for the rest of his life.

    His voice is nasal and singsongy, full of flat Chicago vowels. He is 57, his hair and beard trimmed close, and his upbeat manner hardly resembles that of the man who three years ago was marched out of his tiny Montana cabin and into infamy. He makes constant eye contact, laughs easily and often; when it's time for a photograph, he jokingly pops out a fake front tooth, as if to parody the deranged mountain-man image he inhabits in the public's mind. He is, for the most part, affable, polite and sincere. It would almost be easy to forget that he mailed or delivered at least 16 package bombs and then logged the results with the glee of a little boy tearing the wings off a fly. Over the course of 18 years, the Unabomber killed three people and wounded 23 more.

    When he was arrested, Kaczynski was widely assumed to be insane. But he will not tolerate being called, as he puts it, "a nut," or "a lunatic" or "a sicko." He says he pleaded guilty last year only to stop his lawyers from arguing he was a paranoid schizophrenic, as had been the diagnosis by court-appointed psychiatrists.

    While the world might take some comfort in attributing Kaczynski's deeds to illness rather than ill will, he is actively opposed to lending such comfort. He has written a book, Truth Versus Lies (to be published by Context Books in New York City), its chief aim is to assert his sanity. The book does not address the Unabomber crimes (nor does Kaczynski in person, for he is seeking a retrial and doesn't wish to damage his slim chances), but it is the most thorough accounting of his life to date.

    The book is also Kaczynski's counterattack against his brother David. It was David, of course, who turned Ted in, at the urging of his wife, Linda Patrik, the woman who had come between them years earlier. After Ted's arrest, David was instantly lauded as a sort of moral superhero for sacrificing his beloved if troubled brother. Not surprisingly, Ted finds fault with this scenario. David's decision to turn him in, he says, was less a moral or lawful one than a way to settle a perversely complicated sibling rivalry. Beneath David's love for him, he argues, lay "a marked strain of resentment," and "jealousy over the fact that our parents valued me more highly."

    "It's quite true that he is troubled by guilt over what he's done," Ted writes, "but I think his sense of guilt is outweighed by his satisfaction at having finally gotten revenge on big brother."

    There is, it should be said, a certain lack of perspective in Ted's writing. After all, it was he, not David, who sent the bombs. Still, the original tale had been so much neater: the evil, deranged brother and the righteous, heartbroken brother who put a killer out of commission. As it turns out, the Kaczynski tragedy is more Greek than American, a morally complicated tale in which even the most righteous intentions have created shadows that will haunt all the players for the rest of their lives.

    In the wake of the Unabomber's arrest, as David simultaneously lobbied for Ted's life and reached out to Ted's victims, he and Linda struck me as extraordinary. They seemed to have stumbled into an impossible situation and acted honorably at every turn. Several months ago, I contacted them to talk about the price of morality--that is, the cost they have paid for committing a deeply difficult act. Because they have sold the book and film rights to their story (the money, they say, will largely go to a fund for bombing victims), certain aspects of their lives are off limits, but otherwise they were forthcoming and frank.

    As publication of Ted's book neared, however, what became even more intriguing than the consequences of their moral act were the motivations behind it. So in August, I wrote to Ted; I wanted his take on the tortured dynamic between the two brothers and the woman who has played such a catalytic, though overlooked, role in their story. (David and Linda were upset when the article shifted in this direction, and eventually stopped participating.)

    Ted, as it turned out, was more than eager to talk about David. And about pretty much everything. The life of a notorious prisoner, he admits, has its advantages. He lives on "Celebrity Row," a group of eight cells protected from the prison's general population. His cell is equipped with a television set (he says he rarely watches) and a light switch, which allows him to stay up at night reading (he has gift subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker and National Geographic) or writing (answering letters or preparing legal papers). He goes to bed around 10 p.m. and wakes up before 6 a.m., when breakfast is delivered. "The food here, believe it or not, is pretty good," he says. He showers only every other day ("I have sensitive skin") and several days a week is allowed a 90-minute recreation period--the only time he has contact with the other "celebrity" prisoners. "These people are not what you would think of as criminal types," he says. "I mean, they don't seem to be very angry people. They're considerate of others. Some of them are quite intelligent."

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