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Are You Sure You Want To Quit The World?

A thorough and fascinating look into someone who lurks in suicide chatrooms and convinces people to kill themselves. Nadya Labi Reports on William Melchert-Dinkel's Suicide Chatroom Case: Newsmakers: GQ
Suicide chat rooms can save lives. The very act of logging on to a site like alt.suicide.methods (ASM) or alt.suicide.holiday (ASH) offers a potentially suicidal person the chance of finding support, redemption, or relief from the loneliness that led him there in the first place. Or logging on could be the first step a suicidal person takes to find the expertise, the courage, even the companionship, to go through with it. These chat rooms can provide a lifeline, or they can amount to a death sentence. It all depends on who's online and what they're doing there. ASH began as a Google discussion group about why suicide rates increase over the holidays, then grew to become a regular destination; ASM bills itself, unapologetically, as "discussions about how to do yourself in." Members consider themselves pro-choice (choice being the right to suicide), and the forums host a range of people—not just those intent on committing suicide. Many do go there specifically to gather information on surefire ways to "catch the bus," or CTB, as suicide is known. But others may be recovering from a previous attempt or feeling down and looking for support among the like-minded. Still others may be there to offer a connection to those in need. Suicide is, for the most part, a solitary act; the majority of the 35,000 or so individuals who kill themselves in the United States every year are isolated and withdrawn from society. Simply accessing a world outside their own heads, as they do on ASH or ASM, might improve their chances of survival. Mostly, members are supportive of one another, querying those who declare their intention to CTB to make sure they've explored other alternatives. But chat rooms are also places where a person can forge a connection that makes it easier to take that final ride. Some even form suicide pacts, promising to kill themselves at an appointed time, either virtually or in person. Who knows just how many follow through? But it does happen. In Japan, where suicide has traditionally been considered an honorable act, the pacts have proven contagious. Teenage girls hook up online with like-minded partners whom they then meet in person, taking their lives together. In 2003, according to Japan's National Police Agency, online suicide pacts resulted in at least thirty-four deaths there; the number jumped to fifty-five in 2004 and ninety-one in 2005, but many experts say even those figures are underestimates. As hard as it is to fathom, not everyone who makes a pact is sincere. Disturbingly, some get off on witnessing, even encouraging, the despair of others. . . .

May 15, 2011

On the rape of American prisoners

This is strong stuff. The Rape of American Prisoners by David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow | The New York Review of Books
Adults who want to have sex with children sometimes look for jobs that will make it easy. They want authority over kids, but no very onerous supervision; they also want positions that will make them seem more trustworthy than their potential accusers. Such considerations have infamously led quite a few pedophiles to sully the priesthood over the years, but the priesthood isn�t for everyone. For some people, moral authority comes less naturally than blunter, more violent kinds. Ray Brookins worked for the Texas Youth Commission TYC , the state�s juvenile detention agency. In October 2003, he was hired as head of security at the West Texas State School in Pyote. Like most TYC facilities, it�s a remote place. The land is flat to the horizon, scattered with slowly bobbing oil derricks, and always windy. It�s a long way from the families of most kids confined there, who tend to be urban and poor; a long way from any social services, or even the police. It must have seemed perfect to Brookins�and also to John Paul Hernandez, who was hired as the school�s principal around the same time. Almost immediately, Brookins started pulling students out of their dorms at night, long after curfew, and bringing them to the administration building. When asked why, he said it was for cleaning.1 In fact, according to official charges, for sixteen months Brookins and Hernandez molested the children in their care: in offices and conference rooms, in dorms and darkened broom closets and, at night, out in the desert. The boys tried to tell members of the staff they trusted; they also tried, both by letter and through the school�s grievance system, to tell TYC officials in Austin. They did so knowing that they might be retaliated against physically, and worse, knowing that if Brookins caught them complaining he could and would extend their confinement,2 and keep on abusing them.3 They did so because they were desperate. But they were ignored by the authorities who should have intervened: both those running the school and those running the Texas Youth Commission.4 Nor did other officials of the TYC who were informed by school staff about molestation take action.