September 23, 2008

Willie Bosket: Tale of a wasted life

Imagine spending one day all alone in a 9-by-6-foot room.

Now, imagine spending one week in that room. How about one year? It seems almost unbearable.

But Willie Bosket hasn't been in that room for just a day or a week or a year. He has spent two entire decades there, and he is scheduled to be there for another four - until the year 2046. In fact, since the age of 9, the 45-year-old New Yorker has been locked up for all but about two years of his life. He gets three showers a week, plus one hour a day of solitary "recreation."

If that is not torture, I don't know what is.

As today's New York Times describes him, the man who at age 15 killed two people on a New York subway is "a paradox, a man of charm and extraordinary intelligence but also of inexplicable fits of rage." His story also exemplifies the human spirit at its most enduring:
Despite his bleak situation, Mr. Bosket refused to concede defeat: "I'm not broken down and never will be."
His life has always been empty, he said. "I grew up with nothing," he said. "I was born with nothing. I still have nothing. I will never have nothing. Forty-five years of living the way I have lived, I like 'nothing.' No one can take 'nothing' from you."

"I've become so callous to the poking of the sword that, literally, instead of bleeding to death, the blood was drained and I became absent of concern, void of emotions, cold - plain cold to the degree that not much affects me anymore," he said.

Yet Mr. Bosket did hint at something of a life of suffering.

"If somebody came to me with a lethal injection, I'd take it," he said. "I'd rather be dead."
The full story, "Two Decades in Solitary" by John Eligon, is here. If Bosket's name sounds familiar, it is because he is rather infamous. It was his case that led to New York's law allowing children to be tried as adults. His family is the subject of a controversial 1995 book by journalist Fox Butterfield, All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence (available in a new paperback edition this year) that traces the family's descent from slavery in South Carolina. The Crime Library also has an online version of Bosket's life story. The prisoner portrait above was drawn by his father, Butch, when he was an inmate at the Wiltwyck School for Boys as a child; by the time his son Willie was born, Butch himself was already serving life in prison.

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