[Paleopsych] NYT Mag: Passion and the Prisoner

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Passion and the Prisoner


    I once wanted to write a novel called ''Bad Taste,'' about a female
    character who has incomprehensibly rotten instincts when it comes to
    making romantic choices. While I was toying with this idea, I was also
    deeply enamored of a man whose upper-middle-class presentation (which
    included engraved stationery of the thickest stock, on which he penned
    the most proper of thank-you notes) couldn't fully mask some alarming
    tendencies, one of which required him to report in monthly to a
    law-enforcement agent as to his whereabouts. This relationship had
    followed upon a two-year involvement with another questionable sort
    who ended up serving a yearlong prison sentence after we stopped going
    out, convicted of some white-collar malfeasance he may or may not have
    committed. By that low point in his life he was married to another
    woman, but all the same, he sent me letters from the clink describing
    his daily routine (which seemed to consist of working out in the gym
    and taking computer courses courtesy of the federal government). I
    always felt a faint outlaw thrill when an envelope bearing a
    Pennyslvania postmark and an anonymous, ''Stalag 17''-like return
    address (Bunk #, Unit #, Division #) arrived in the mail, as if I were
    implicated in the whole sordid drama, a Bonnie Parker by proxy.

    Although my yen for bad-boy types has always had its limits, at least
    in real life, I was reminded of these wayward ex-boyfriends by the
    ''Bonnie and Clyde'' doings that took place outside a Tennessee
    courthouse on Aug. 9. These starred Jennifer Forsyth Hyatte, a
    31-year-old former prison nurse who stands accused of killing a
    corrections officer in the attempt to spring her 34-year-old convict
    husband, George Hyatte, who was serving 35 years for aggravated
    robbery and assault, as he was leaving a hearing in handcuffs and
    shackles. After his wife, in response to her husband's directive,
    ''Shoot 'em!'' opened fire on the two officers escorting Hyatte,
    fatally injuring one, the couple set off on a 300-mile escape route.
    In a strangely calm conclusion to the manhunt that this murderous
    outburst set off, the lovebirds were arrested -- ''without incident''
    -- a mere day and a half later in a Best Value motel along Interstate
    71 in Columbus, Ohio.

    Jennifer Hyatte, the mother of three from a previous marriage and
    herself the daughter of a former sheriff's deputy, had no prior
    criminal record. She was married less than three months to her current
    husband when she sacrificed her own prospects in a wild plot to free
    him. Her mother characterized her as a loving wife and mother; her
    ex-husband seconded these claims. Jennifer had sole custody of her
    children and had put herself through nursing school. The questions
    that inevitably arise are How did she go from being a solid citizen to
    acting like a bandit? And why?

    Whatever the reasons behind Mrs. Hyatte's perplexing behavior -- a
    rescue fantasy, a need to nurture, the sexual excitement of being with
    a violent person (also known as hybristophilia), a wish for attention,
    a sense of low self-esteem, a grandiose us-against-them scheme -- she
    is far from alone in her seemingly lunatic infatuation with a man
    behind bars. Indeed, she is part of what has been recognized as a
    growing phenomemon, one common enough to have spawned Web sites like
    [3]WriteaPrisoner.com and [4]inmates.com as well as psychological
    studies with titles like ''Women Who Love Men Who Kill.'' This is the
    phenomenon of women who are attracted to the scent of demonic males --
    fatally dangerous guys like Erik and Lyle Menendez, Robert Chambers
    and Scott Peterson. (Both Menendez brothers married in prison;
    Chambers was reportedly so besieged by transfixed females vying to
    smuggle him contraband that he had to be transferred to another jail;
    and Peterson has received at least two marriage proposals). The
    indubitably handsome and unlamented Ted Bundy was perhaps the
    archetypal demonic male, one who successfully posed as the dreamboat
    next door time and again, with the charm and verbal facility to knock
    the socks off any young woman unlucky enough to meet up with him when
    he was out cruising for prey. But while it would make for a simpler
    hypothesis if we could attribute the allure of inmates to their brute
    physical appeal, the truth is that even a one-eyed serial killer like
    Henry Lee Lucas had women panting after him, while John Wayne Gacy --
    no one's idea of attractive and gay to boot (he killed 33 young men
    during homosexual encounters) -- became involved with a woman in

    I suppose we who believe in an unconscious life should understand by
    now that if it's difficult to figure out the rationale for your
    friends' marriages and love affairs, it's well nigh impossible to
    figure out why some women fall for miscreants. The apparent emotional
    illogic of killer cachet may make for a sweet lyric in a Waylon
    Jennings song -- ''Ladies love outlaws like babies love stray dogs''
    -- but it has left cultural observers scrambling for answers. These
    range from assigning blame to Western culture as a whole for adulating
    male violence to blaming a particular family background for creating
    the sort of vulnerable female who is looking to have some power in a
    world that has granted her none by hooking up with a man who is both
    dependent on her and has exhibited his dominance over others.

    It has been more than 25 years since Gary Gilmore was executed after
    issuing his succinct last words, ''Let's do it.'' I had a crush on him
    from the moment he appeared on the scene for any number of reasons:
    his good looks; his soulful letters to his pretty girlfriend, Nicole;
    the wounded aura of defiance he carried with him. Even after reading
    everything ever written about him, from Norman Mailer's
    ''Executioner's Song,'' which glamorized him, to his brother Mikal's
    ''Shot in the Heart,'' which cut him down to pitiful and thuggish
    size, I think I'd still pick his photo out of a lineup of eligible
    men. What's a lady to do? Such is the unreasonable pull of pheromones,
    such are the crooked ways of love.

    Daphne Merkin, a critic and novelist, is a frequent contributor to the


    3. http://WriteaPrisoner.com/
    4. http://inmates.com/

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