Last night, just a month and change into serving his life + 1,000-year sentence for kidnapping three Cleveland women and keeping them captive under hellish conditions for a decade, Ariel Castro committed suicide in jail. After I heard the news, I felt a range of awful, base emotions, none of which made me feel good about being a person. But is there a "right" way to respond to the death of a monster?
I didn't learn about Castro's death until this morning, when the dulcet tones (I'm legally required to refer to NPR talking voices as "dulcet") of Morning Edition host Renee Montagne wafted their way over from the clock radio. Ariel Castro — the subhuman waste whose horrifying courtroom statement only a month ago was the closest anyone's ever come to making me throw up just by talking — was dead. I wish I could say that I responded rationally, with dignity, with thoughts devoid of cruel fantasies and anger for what he did to the victims and what he won't have to live with for the rest of his shit-life. But I didn't.
Here's every awful thought my brain fashioned in the 5 minutes following that matter-of-factly delivered 30 second snippet of bottom-of-the-hour news, in the order they lurched across my morning-addled, morally confused mind.
1. Fuck. Yes.
First thought: I wanted the news to be followed by a guitar riff, like the kind an 80's sitcom would play when a totally radical teen did something both tubular and awesome. Fuck yes. Fuck yes. No one should have to share air molecules with Ariel Castro. But then...
2. Wait a second. Ugh, that bastard gets the dignity of controlling his own death? Fuck that.
Ariel Castro's crimes involved stealing control over the bodies and lives of three people — Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus — whom he abducted when the women were just teens. He robbed them of their youths, of a decade of their lives. He controlled their bodies, beat them, sexually assaulted them, kept them in chains. When he was caught, his specter snaked its way into Americans' consciousness, invoking vile images of the sort of tragedy and pain one evil person is capable of inflicting on entire families, entire communities.
Ariel Castro has always had control and killing himself was him exercising his last semblance of control. It was a middle finger to his victims. Fuck the guards who, by dropping the ball, let him control his death.
3. (elaborate violent Ariel Castro death fantasy that occurs within a desert anthill under the noontime sun)
I'm not a violent person. When my dreams involve hand-to-hand combat, my unconscious brain can't conceive of what it must feel like to hit someone, so I always end up frustratingly incapable of punching.
But that doesn't mean I didn't hope, in the dark crevices of my soul, that something terrible would happen to Ariel Castro in prison. I know that Castro's pain couldn't undo what he'd done to those three women, but a base, animal part of me always returns to the idea that violence can balance the karmic scales. I wanted him to suffer worse than those women suffered. I wanted him to experience a CSI-level fucked up fate. I wanted Old Testament-style justice. And now I'll never be able to quietly relish it when it happens.
4. Why the fuck?
In July, Castro pled guilty to the 937 charges leveled against him in an attempt to avoid the death penalty. So what happened to him between six weeks ago and now that made the prospect of life in prison so intolerable that he resorted to a probably-more-painful, much-less-dignified death?
Apparently being held prisoner sucks. It's incredibly ironic that Castro wasn't aware of this before he agreed to serve a bajillion years in jail.
4. Someone please send Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus out to the world's most relaxing and luxurious spa.
As a psychologist quoted by NBC News noted, Castro's death by his own hand was probably a "slap in the face" for his victims.
"Going forward now these girls are going to have to find a way of healing without a sense of justice," said Dr. Linda Papadopoulos, a U.K.-based psychologist and author. "We want the sense of justice when we heal. Sometimes we have to heal without it, and sadly that is what they will have to do."
She added: "He decided his fate, something they were never ever ever able to do for themselves. He had ultimate control. To some extent this was in a way his last slap to their faces — 'I’ve got this over you'."
Granted, Dr. Papadopoulos doesn't treat any of Castro's victims, so she probably doesn't know exactly what any of them are experiencing today. But no matter what that is — God — I hope they're each in a place that is safe, positive, and promoting of healing. I hope what Michelle Knight said in her brave-as-hell courtroom speech continues to hold true.
5. Jail suicide is too good for him.
Contrary to what The Notebook might indicate, natural death is far from dignified. It's a shame he had the luxury of privacy when he died.
I hope he shat his prison pants, and I hope the people who found him were disgusted.
6. Ohio taxpayers just saved a lot of money.
Oh hello there bloodless capitalist argument I usually use in arguments with fiscal conservatives about why the death penalty should be abolished — lovely to see you.
While Castro's status as a non-death row inmate means he is considerably less expensive for the state to house than someone facing capital punishment, he's still pretty expensive to keep alive, especially since he's basically a walking crap pile whose existence has made the world worse. In California, inmates cost the state between $44,000 and $47,000 (ballpark) to house annually. If you figure that 53-year-old Castro had 20 years left on him, that's, like, dozens of teachers salaries' worth of savings.
7. I hope his last moments were terrible.
But why did he get to die now? Why didn't he suffer more? I hope his death was awful.
What is wrong with me?
8. This isn't fair.
Not believing in heaven, hell or God is great when a believer tries to make me feel bad by telling me that God's disappointed in me (Oh boy! Well at least I'm still on the Tooth Fairy's good side!) but incredibly inconvenient when my brain just wants things to make sense.
If you don't believe in an afterlife, then death is an escape — a cowardly, cop-out-y escape, but an escape nonetheless. And Castro got away, and we're just left shaking our fists after him as he drives off laughing.
9. Is there any way to make a joke about this?
Humor is a great defense mechanism — probably the best, actually — and it's helped me eek past many a close call with feeling/coping with actual emotions. But it's hard to joke about something when you're still angry. It's hard to joke about something this shitty without coming across as glib or unhinged. So I have to hand it to comedian and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon writer Mike Drucker-
If I were the doctor doing Ariel Castro's autopsy, I would've stabbed him and shot him a few times just to make sure.— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) September 4, 2013
Because this is pretty good.
Looking for strength and positivity in the death of a rapist and murderer is a fool's errand, and at the other end of these ugly thoughts we arrive in an uneasy ethical purgatory. There's no "right" or "wrong" way to feel about the suicide of heinous human garbage. Be frustrated. Be angry. Be happy. Be gleeful. Be sad. But, like it or not, Ariel Castro's time on earth has expired, and now, all we can do is focus on who is left, and take solace in the fact that his victims no longer must suffer the indignity of sharing a planet and species with Ariel Castro.
Image by Jim Cooke