Ronald J. Massey, PhD
Dr. Massey is located at the Rivershire Plaza Building, Ste. 285, 333 N. Rivershire Dr. , Conroe, TX 77304
EVIL: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side
by Julia Shaw
This was a stimulating and enjoyable read. Lay persons and professionals who work with criminals can benefit from the author’s unique take on criminality and from her up-to-date information on how the physical brain is known to work. Dr. Shaw is a psychologist and employed as the senior lecturer at University College London. The book’s jacket informs us that she is a regular contributor to the prestigious magazine, Scientific American.
Having been motivated by the book’s catchy title, I was pleased to discover Dr. Shaw is an excellent writer and provides worthwhile content. I was also pleased to see how she moved on from the emotion-laden, overly general term “Evil”; for, she illustrated evil with brief case histories of notorious criminals. Then, she revealed what can be known scientifically about the causes of criminality. Much is now known about how different structures in the brain generally influence moral and strategic decision-making. She describes what might have been wrong in the physical brains of several notorious serial killers. However, she also reveals why much crime cannot be explained as a specific brain problem. She states, “Neuroscience has given us but a tiny glimpse into how humans make bad decisions.”
Here are some of her enticing discussion topics:
She summarizes the research on what makes some people look creepy. Very interesting! There is a single, general factor which explains most of what gives the impression of creepiness.
The only mental illnesses related to increased likelihood of violence are schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. But they are rarely violent just because of their mental illness. Instead, persons with those diagnoses are significantly more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol; and, the substance abuse is a risk factor for violence. Mental illness alone is a poor predictor of violent tendencies.
One chapter in the book is devoted to “understanding, preventing and humanizing” pedophilia. She remarks that pedophilia is felt to be particularly heinous and disgusting--even within the general criminal population. Her treatment of this topic is exceptionally well done. In this chapter she also writes about the victims of pedophiles, and she gives references for recommended reading on victim impacts.
Dr. Shaw’s book is a very useful read.
Prisons and Punishment in America: Examining the Facts (Contemporary Debates)
By Michael O’Hear
I have been looking for a book like this for a long time and found it in the local library “New Nonfiction” area. The information in this 241 page book is so important and so readable, I’m buying my own copy. Keep reading to find out what makes this book worthwhile to anyone worried about mass incarceration.
1. O’Hear’s book provides very credible facts and conclusions on eight major law enforcement topics. Anyone interested in law enforcement would want these topics covered. Under each topic are several subtopics in the form of questions, such as “Are African Americans incarcerated disproportionately in the United States?” Each question is answered in a short paragraph which contains the conclusions which are drawn based on research findings.
2. O’Hear is a professor who teaches criminal law and procedure at Marquette University Law School. He has written two other books and is an editor of the journal Federal Sentencing Reporter. His resume shows him to have authored more than 60 scholarly articles.
3. He introduces a new term, false equivalence. (Before O’Hear’s book, I had only heard this term used twice, by TV news analysts.) A false equivalence happens in a discussion or debate where there are two, opposing sides; both sides talk as if they are right and offer biased, misinterpreted, or no good evidence; such a discussion goes round and round and usually leads only to frustration; persons listening to such a discussion can observe that both sides earnestly present themselves as credible—but one or both sides are fooling themselves. Observers of the argument are left wondering why the intelligent discussants couldn’t find any common ground.
4. The book Prisons and Punishment in America, on all the topics and subtopics, states the known facts, with references; it draws what conclusions can be drawn and answers 40 vital questions in eight topic areas. This very readable book provides excellent information about law enforcement and incarceration. Without such a book, one would have to read a dozen barely readable books and countless barely readable journal articles to get this information.
I didn’t seek out the two books, Prisons and Punishment in America and The New Jim Crow. I happened upon them while browsing in a bookstore and library. But I strongly recommend reading both of them. The authors are well informed about the same research. But the purposes, style and emotional impact of each book are different. Reading both books is definitely worthwhile.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Copyright 2010, 2012
By Michelle Alexander
As I browsed in Barnes and Noble’s bookstore, this book’s title caught my attention. As the author, Michelle Alexander, warns in her preface, “This book is not for everyone.” Her book is intended for those who care about racial justice and need more information about the magnitude of the crisis faced by “communities of color as a result of mass incarceration.” But it is well researched and well written. I learned a lot.
The simple, common-sense idea of punishing bad behavior found its way into the first writings of civilization, over three thousand years ago. This simple idea along with a battle cry of “get tough on crime,” is not sufficient for America. Since the 1970s America has imprisoned so many persons we can’t build prisons fast enough to hold them. Prior to 1973 we locked up about 110 persons per 100,000. Then the rate gradually increased until in 2016 when we locked up 464 per 100,000. We locked up persons at a higher rate than any other civilized country—more than Russia, United Kingdom, Canada, France, etc. According to the US Bureau of Statistics, for the year 2013 about 2,200,300 adults were incarcerated in federal and state prisons and county jails—more than any other nation.
An equally distressing problem is that African-American males are imprisoned at a much higher rate than non-African American males. This consistently found fact has been around for a long time. Alexander’s theory goes as follows: Blacks were exploited as slaves. Then, even when freed during and after Civil War, they were discriminated against. Whites found ways to keep them apart as a separate caste of persons. Historically, this happened when local and state governments enacted laws limiting the rights of African-Americans. Such laws, that legalized segregation, were called Jim Crow laws. Eventually such laws were struck down by federal courts. Nevertheless, discrimination persisted in both subtle and not so subtle forms.
Alexander’s theory is that in recent decades political correctness dictates that no one admits to discriminating against African Americans; but America has found new ways of discriminating, namely by disproportionately imprisoning African American males, keeping them imprisoned, burdening them with probation and parole—all of which makes their reintegration into normal society much more difficult. Mass incarceration does affect white males, but it affects black males disproportionately more. Alexander does an excellent job of analyzing the actual workings of the criminal justice system to explain how disproportionate imprisonment occurs. The attention-grabbing title of her book suits her profoundly important analysis and the call to action of her New York Times best seller book.
Takeaway: This book provides a wealth of information on the historical facts of slavery and the worse sorts of intentional discrimination against people of color. In the past there have been abuses of African Americans that most people will never hear about, except in this and a few other books. Alexander’s book and the book Prisons and Punishment in America reveal and substantiate whether and how the criminal justice system in our American society plays a role in (1) excessive incarceration and (2) disproportionate incarceration of African Americans.
Communism: A History
by Richard Pipes
I’ve read a lot about Russia—and the millions of citizens murdered in Stalin’s reign of terror. But I had never read an authoritative book about communism, how it was supposed to work, and whether it ever did work. The author, Richard Pipes, is a Harvard professor of history who was also a national security advisor to President Reagan on Soviet and East European Affairs. This is a very good book.
Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto of 1848 laid out the theoretical program of how Communism was supposed to work. They believed they had discovered a scientific theory by which capitalism was doomed to failure and would be replaced by social equality and be an end to societies based on class distinctions. Professor Pipes in 160 pages tells how Lenin gained control of Russia after the outbreak of the Russian revolution and set the stage for Stalin to later take over upon his death.
Communism essentially meant that there would be no more private property. The State would own and control everything: the land, the buildings, the factories, and even the minds and bodies of the population. Those who protested were murdered or sent to work camps. Everyone was expected to be informants for the Communist Party and to identify the enemies of the state.
This book takes the reader on a tour of communism, not only in Russia, but also in many other countries. It documents why and how the communist methods eventually ruined the productivity of the people and the country, which brought communism to an inevitable end. Pipes wrote that by 1988, “Gorbachev and his advisers had concluded that Communism was unreformible and took steps to transform the USSR into a democratic socialist state.”
This is a very readable book. In our world today are many countries with governments trying to both satisfy and keep control of their citizens; and, most of these countries claim to be some form of democracy. Countries vary drastically in how much freedom they allow their citizens. Pipes’ book reveals the blueprint of Communism and why it failed in the end.
A less readable book is Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction, by Professor Colin Ward. Political anarchists are against authority, rulers, and the usual forms of government. They have believed that productive organization can exist without the burdens of government. There are many styles and versions of anarchism, which makes for more difficult reading. This book is filled with useful illustrations of the breaking out of anarchy into revolutions which change the form of the government—revolutions in America, France, Russia and many other countries.
These two books together portray governments like living organisms composed of cell-like citizens in container-countries whose life blood is their economies. As a result, a reader can perceive governments with new and fascinating insights. Young people with any interest in government would do well to read these two books.
Making Sense of Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Create the Brightest Future for Your Child with the Best Treatment Options
By James Coplan, M.D.
This is the best, most authoritative book I have ever read on the subject of autism and related disorders.
The first reason it is so good is due to the training and experience of Dr. Coplan. He was trained in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, and he is board-certified in both developmental-behavioral pediatrics and neurodevelopmental disabilities. As a practitioner he has specialized in the treatment of autistic children.
Secondly, this book of 424 pages is very comprehensive and is written in a clear, direct and helpful manner. One does not need to be a health professional to read it. In fact, it is written with parents in mind. The book has three parts: “The World of the Child,” “The World of Intervention Services,” and “The World of the Family.” Clearly Dr. Coplan has great compassion for the parents coming to grips with their child who might have or does have autism. He has experience with the symptoms of autism from the first year of developmental and into adulthood.
Thirdly, what he presents is up-to-date. The autism issues of 2018 are all discussed in this book. He explains the technical autism-related terms “syndrome”, autistic “spectrum,” and “atypical” development. He provides good definitions and uses illustrations that parents would be able to understand.
Finally, he describes the current state of the art and science of treatment for autism, He also provides a very fairly written caution to parents about misinformation and quackery they might encounter when they seek answers and services.
Hunting the President: Threats, Plots, and Assassination Attempts—from FDR to Obama
By Mel Ayton
Most Americans know that several US presidents threatened, almost killed or killed. Mr. Ayton gives the reader many dramatic stories about the frequent threats against all the presidents. FDR (Roosevelt), president during World War II, received an average of 40,000 letters a month at the White House. Five thousand of those letters were threatening. One would-be assassin fired several shots at him, missing him by only about two feet. Decades later a woman fired shorts at President Ford. She ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. She was asked whether her attempted assassination was a waste of time. She replied that it wasn’t a waste of time because, “…at the time it seemed a correct expression of my anger.”
For any one interested in the causes and varied motivations of threateners and assassins of the presidents, this book describes their varied motives along with their personalities. They were often failures in life and many of them had mental illness. A significant percentage of them were depressed or had delusions. A study of the assassins’ motives revealed that many sought to gain a sense of “notoriety.” Oddly enough, political motives were rarely predominant. Some threateners and assassins were “copy cats.”
In addition to the interesting stories about the assassins, the book reveals how the secret service thought and felt about the presidents and their families they guarded in close quarters. A few presidents were generally very well liked, but some who were disliked would surprise you.
What the Future Looks Like: Scientists Predict the Next Great Discoveries and Reveal How Today’s Breakthroughs Are Already Shaping Our World
Ed. Jim Al-Khalili
This is the best book I’ve ever read on what the future will bring, based on well-established and up-to-date science. While only tangentially related to criminal law and forensic evaluations, this book’s conclusions and predictions will increasingly be an important background to both professional and daily life. For example, most of us have read or heard about Cybersecurity, the Cloud, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Few of us have heard about the Internet of Things (IoT). But all of these impact the laws and relationships which affect citizens.
The book is 240 pages in length and divided into 18 chapters written by true experts in their respective fields. All the chapters are about 10 pages in length and are understandable to an average reader. The authors do a superb job of illustrating for us the exciting discoveries in physical science. So, for take-aways, here are a few fascinating topics:
Demographics: People are moving to cities and mega cities (populations of over 10 million), and as of 2007 over half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2035 over 60% of the population will be in cities. The author of Demographics states, “It is not clear that we can sustain a planet with more than 9 billion people on it, as is predicted for 2050, without substantial innovations, particularly in food growth and production and water resources.”
Climate Change: This author’s 14 pages are the best summary I’ve ever read or heard concerning climate change, the dangers of global warming, and what should be done about it. Author Julia Slingo convincingly explains the science of long-term climate cycles and short term climate changes, which together create extremes of weather, some of which have shown themselves within the past decade and are attributed to greenhouse gases leading to global warming.
Genomics and genetic engineering: The coding system used by DNA as the blueprint for making living things can be thought of as a digital data storage mechanism/blueprint. Computer scientists have made DNA storage systems which can store more data in a smaller physical space than ever before. DNA code is stable enough that it’s possible to recover the genome of an animal tens of thousands of years old. Within the past decade scientists have found ways to separate out standardized, functional components of DNA which could be successfully attached to DNA in an animal to create a known effect or physical part.
Robotics: The takeaway here is that robots have been commonly used in factories since the 1950s. Around the world there are many millions of car, truck, medical, and other machine robots doing a wide range of work such as: moving heavy equipment, mixing drinks and making coffee, and interacting with humans as in providing elder care. The growth in the number of robots has created fears the robots will result in fewer jobs for humans; this has stimulated much ethical and political discussion.
Perhaps these few takeaways will inspire you to read What the Future Looks Like. It’s certainly a very good read. Nothing in the book is science fiction, even in the chapter titled “The Far Future.”
Outrage: The Five reasons Why O. J. Simpson Got Away With Murder
By Vincent Bugliosi, Prosecutor of Charles Manson, author of Helter Skelter
This 356 page book gives an extremely interesting and trenchant account of the travesty of justice which was O. J.’s murder trial. At the time of Simpson’s trial, Bugliosi was no longer working as a prosecutor at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. Impressively, during his tenure there he won 105 out of the 106 felony jury trials which he prosecuted. As he follow the trial’s progress he eventually concluded the prosecution was likely going to lose their case. After the guilty verdict Bugliosi was asked to write a book about the trial.
Bugliosi was not shy in his criticism of the dozens of lawyers for the prosecution. The book’s fourth chapter is titled, “The Trial: The Incredible Incompetence of the Prosecution.” He documents the mistakes by which there was a change of venue and the judicial error by which the defense was allowed to play the “race card.”
I took particular interest in Bugliosi’s discussion of how much the defense benefitted from the trial consulting of Dr. Vincent of Decision Quest. But the prosecution’s chief attorney, Marcia Clark, didn’t feel there was any need for that jury consultation, and she told her team to prepare their own jury questionnaires without input from Decision Quest. Following the trial, Bugliosi interviewed Dr. Donald Vincent, who at that time was the chairman of the board of Decision Quest. Bugliosi provides an in-depth analysis of what the prosecution did wrong and the defense did right and how this greatly contributed to the not guilty verdict.
For anyone interested in the inner workings of high profile murder trials, Outrage will be a good read. Bugliosi meticulously presents the causes for the verdict. The book includes several appendices, and one of those is the “Complete LAPD interrogation of O. J. Simpson.”
By Oliver Sacks, M.D., Vintage, 2013
Oliver Sacks recently died at the end of a long career as a neurologist and author of over a dozen books on medical topics. He is a very entertaining writer, for most of his books include exotic case histories and enlighten the reader about the mind. He is exceptionally skilled at portraying the inner experiences of his patients as well as helping lay persons understand the underlying neurological causes.
His book Hallucinations is not much about hallucinations found in serious mental illness like schizophrenia; rather, it is about the audio and visual hallucinations resulting from diseases such as the following: seizures, delirium, visual migraine, sensory deprivation, and the hallucinations which can occur just before sleep and just before waking up.
Sensory deprivation has been found to lead to hallucinations in persons kept in isolation in darkness, and this has been called “the prisoner’s cinema.” Truck drivers and pilots and sailors often endure long periods of visual monotony. According to Sacks, common everyday visual imagery is much different from hallucinations, which seem to result from a lack of normal sensory input that activates lower parts of the brain’s visual pathways.
By the end of the book the reader will realize that there are so many different appearances and causes of hallucinations, they can’t be neatly categorized. Even abstractions can be hallucinated. In contrast to that, persons in a state of acute bereavement commonly report seeing a vision of their loved one. Sack’s wrote, “Any consuming passion or threat can lead to hallucinations in which an idea and an intense emotion are embedded.”
By Peggy Parks, Reference Point Press, Inc., 2014
Methamphetamine,commonly referred to as “meth,” has long been known as the drug which most quickly can lead to addiction. But just how quick? This book states that not only is meth the most addictive drug but also that persons commonly become addicted after using it only once or a very few times. Meth produces a high several times stronger than cocaine, and the high lasts much longer. After the high, the meth user becomes extremelydepressed.
Methamphetamine drug abuse use has devastating effects on the body and mind—both short term and long term.
Some of the short term effects include: dramatic changes in body physiology, bizarre and sometimes violent behavior, panic and paranoia, and risk of convulsions from high doses.
Some of the long-term effects include: circulatory system damage (which can lead to heart attacks or death), severe dental problems, psychosis (unable to correctly perceive basic reality), addiction, depression when off the drug, and permanent brain damage. Long term use of meth damages the brain’s capacity to manufacture dopamine, which is one of the brain’s important neurotransmitters.
Now only is meth's reputation that of the most addictive drug; but meth addiction to meth has the lowest treatment recovery rate. There are no medicines approved for treatment of meth addiction. Most persons who go to drug rehabilitation end up relapsing. The relapse rate for meth addiction has been said to be 80 to 90%.
Many experts say that the only way to escape from the power of methamphetamine is to never use it in the first place.
The author of Methamphetamine does point out that meth is a DEA Schedule II drug which means that meth has some medical uses but also has a “high potential for abuse.”
To Be Noted: There is a similar and more recent book, Downside of Drugs: Methamphetamine and Other Amphetamines (Rosa Waters. Mason Crest, Broomall, PA 2015) which makes several strikingly important statements:
Courtroom 302: A Year Behind The Scenes in An American Criminal Courthouse
By Steve Bogira. Alfred A. Knopf New York 2005
This very well written book grabs one’s attention and enlightens the reader about two related topics: (1) How the criminal justice system really works and (2) Chicago’s uniquely difficult problems.
Although defendants have a right to trial before a judge or jury, few criminal cases go to trial. It is often said that 90 to 95% of cases are settled by a plea agreement between the prosecutor and defense attorney, an agreement accepted by the defendant and approved by the judge. Another remarkable and related outcome occurs when a defendant rejects a plea bargain, goes to trial and is convicted. Then the defendant will likely receive much more jail time than had he plead out.
Just why defendants usually agree to a plea bargain is explained by Borgia:
“Not many defendants would plead, of course, if they had nothing to lose by going to trial.But a jury trial usually takes two days to a week, and if the jury convicts, there will be post-trial motions and a sentencing hearing as well.A guilty plea can usually be wrapped up in twenty minutes.The jail behind the courthouse—the most populated single-site jail in the nation, with more than nine thousand inmates in 1998—has always been overcrowded.But its eleven divisions couldn’t possible contain all the defendants if even a tenth of them insisted on a jury trial, instead of the one percent who do.”
So, there are a variety of pressures in the criminal justice system which reduce the number of bench and jury trials in favor of plea bargaining. This expediency has been attacked for many good reasons and reforms demanded, but it has been typical throughout our criminal justice system, according to Bogira, since the late 1800’s.
Author Borgia in Courtroom 302 discusses the importance of getting confessions as a primary ingredient in finishing and closing cases. And, he provides revealing insights into what can make a confession unreliable. He illustrates the methods by which confessions can be coerced. He describes several quite different causes or motivations for making false confessions. Aa past presidential panel having to do with mental retardation made the statement, “If a confession will please, it may be gladly given.” Finally, he suggests a book as the leading authority on reliability problems with confessions: Criminal Interrogation and Confessions by Fred Inblau and John Reid.
Indefensible: One Lawyer’s Journey Into the Inferno of American Justice
By David Feige. *** Publisher and Date
Feige’s book is a tour of the messy and tragic trenches in the State v. Defendant criminal law battlefield. Idealistic civil rights are simple and beautiful; but the realities are far different. Feige tells how he felt deeply compelled to become a public defender in New York City. Once his book is started, it’s very hard to put down. He narrates a single day in his work as a public defender whose cases he has worked on for months and which are resolved in the space of one frenetic day. For any lover of nonfiction, this is a must read.
The sheer numbers of criminal cases which must be handled by a large city determines and explains many of the tragic standard operating procedures endured by a large percentage of defendants, most especially the poor. He wrote that 300,000 persons were criminally prosecuted in New York City in a typical year. He went on to describe what the defendants endured:
“They are paraded before judges who have seen it all a thousand times and couldn’t care less about the factors that make each case unique and each defendant human. Many are shuffled through the system so damn fast that no one has time to think about much beyond the docket number stamped on the case files at arraignment.”
The NYC court system could realistically have a trial for only one percent of the cases coming through. Furthermore, Feige’s experiences showed him that even skilled public defenders generally have little time to create good relationships with their clients; and as a result the attorney-client relationship is often “fraught with contentiousness.”
Defendants with enough money can hire an attorney and an investigator to work their case with the result that: “Private clients are far closer to the mythical rational actor. A private clients looking for criminal representation will usually do all the things public defended clients are often prevented from doing: They’ll probe and prod, ask questions about the case or predicament, listen for that tone of directness and reassurance that gives a client the confidence and knowledge that although everything might not actually be all right, at least there will be someone to protect them and defend them and try his best to be sure that things don’t get too terrible.”
Feige provides many insights into the pressure-filled moving parts of the criminal court. His explanation of those moving parts makes understandable some of the distressing and bizarre results of that system. He explains: