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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Ted proved to be exceptionally bright from an early age. He was generally happy, he writes, until he was about 11. That was when he skipped the first of two grades in school, which led to his entering Harvard at the age of 16. At school he was painfully awkward around his older classmates. At home he sulked, and his parents, he says, railed against his antisocial behavior, calling him "sick" and "a creep." He began to despise them, especially Wanda, who he felt treated him more like a trophy than a son. "I hate you, and I will never forgive you, because the harm you did me can never be undone," he would write her more than 30 years later. (Through David, Wanda declined to be interviewed for this article.)

David Kaczynski, seven years younger, had an easier time of things. He too was bright--he would go on to study literature at Columbia University--and he was far more socially adept.

The brothers got along fairly well, although Ted admits to taking out his teenage frustrations on David. Nevertheless, it was Ted whom David most admired, especially as Ted began to speak about abandoning civilization to live in the wilderness. The boys' father often took them on hikes outside Chicago, and Ted read extensively about nature, wondering what it might be like to live beyond the reach of the modern world.

At Harvard, Ted felt socially isolated by other students. He recalls that "their speech, manners, and dress were so much more 'cultured' than mine." There was an even greater unease in Ted's life; he suffered from what he calls "acute sexual starvation." Sexual references run throughout his book, and although he never ties them into a knot, one cannot help wondering if sexual frustration was his main despair. As an adolescent, he recalls, "my attempts to make advances to girls had such humiliating results that for many years afterward, even until after the age of 30, I found it excruciatingly difficult--almost impossible--to make advances to women... At the age of 19 to 20, I had a girlfriend; the only one I ever had, I regret to say." According to a psychiatric report compiled before his trial, Ted, while in graduate school at the University of Michigan, experienced "several weeks of intense and persistent sexual excitement involving fantasies of being a female. During that time period, he became convinced that he should undergo sex-change surgery."

In the face of such constant sadness and humiliation, Ted Kaczynski eventually decided he would live out his life alone in the wilderness. His retreat to the Montana mountains could simply be viewed as an embrace of a desire he harbored much of his life. Or it could be viewed as a rejection of the world that had rejected him--a world full of purposeful academics and scientists, of happily married couples, of people who weren't humiliated by daily social interaction--and that would someday pay for its ease.


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