I Don't Want To Live Long: Ted Kaczynski

I Would Rather Get The Death Penalty Than Spend The Rest Of My Life In Prison Ted Kaczynski talks about life in jail, his appeal plans and his brother David, who still struggles over the decision to turn in the Unabomber

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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."

Among them, he says, are Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing, and Timothy McVeigh. One can only imagine this bombing trio's conversations. Kaczynski says McVeigh (who has recently been transferred to another prison) lent him one of the most interesting books he's read lately, Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab, by John F. Kelly and Phillip K. Wearne. "I mean, I knew from my own experience that they were crooked and incompetent," Kaczynski says, shaking his head and laughing. "But according to this book, they're even worse than what I thought."

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