Death row has fascinated generations. It’s where some of the world’s most notorious criminals have met their just end and, on occasion, where innocents have wrongly been put to death. Many people have wondered what goes through a prisoner’s mind during their final days on Earth; from the remorse they may or may not express to their carefully thought-out last words.
Even though many of those on death row have committed atrocities, they are still treated humanely. Naturally, this has outraged a lot of people. Why should they be treated with respect when they’ve treated others so cruelly? We interviewed a psychologist working on death row in Egypt to gain an insight into this troubling world of forgiveness and retribution.
VT: As someone who works around people who have committed some of the worst crimes imaginable, do you believe in evil?
“The more I see horrible things, the more I believe in the positivity of life. Believe it or not, working with people on death row has made me an [idealist]. I’m not really an optimist. I don’t really believe in a glass half full or empty. I think evil comes out when there’s a lack of kindness and a lack of giving someone a chance. So I don’t really believe that you’re born evil, or that evil comes out on its own. I believe in evil from a religious perspective. There are demons, but I believe that [people] go and seek them out [and] then [they] become evil.”
VT: Do you think there’s anything that can trigger people into committing unthinkable crimes?
“I definitely believe that there’s things that can trigger you into committing unthinkable crimes. Some of them being pressure from society, pressure emotionally, [and] some of them being that [the person in question has] addictive personality traits. [People take drugs] and that obviously [affects] the way that [they] act. I believe that upbringing makes a huge difference [as well as] genetic code. I believe that a wrong combination of upbringing and genetic code would trigger someone to commit evil crimes.”
“Some people who are not evil commit evil crimes. They are pushed to their limit, and they just see red. [If] you’re a doting, loving wife, and your husband keeps abusing you on a daily basis, at some point all of your psychological energy will go into hating him. You won’t have any energy left to think about [your situation] logically. You will do anything you can to get rid of this burden.”
VT: When faced with their impending death, do the majority of prisoners show remorse for what they’ve done?
“Some people who [committed] crimes because they didn’t really mean to, because they were seeing red, and couldn’t control their emotions would feel bad. [But] if you had a psychopath, and they commit a crime, one of the red flags of being a psychopath is that they don’t feel guilty. They feel like they did something for a reason, and they had every right to kill that person and abuse them like that.”
“Some of [the prisoners] don’t [feel remorse] and that would depend upon why they committed the crime. [If they are a psychopath, they can be] fed information to act like they feel remorse. Their lawyers feed them information so that [their psychologists] feel sorry for them, and maybe change the sentence.”