Berkowitz Takes Part in a College Class Study...
Dr. Woodworth explained that the topics of this particular class would ask the students to consider if someone can behave in an incomprehensibly evil manner and then find enlightenment at some other stage of their life and no longer be evil. Then the students would be asked to consider when an individual commits and extremely violent act or acts, is that something that will always define part of their core being or "soul" or if it is truly possible to still come to define something pure and good?
Dr. Woodworth's proposal was for David to "present his story of how he has found hope through religion and how he now believes that he is someone who is defined by goodness, rather than evil." The class would provide a list of questions for David to answer.
David agreed. The questions and his answers follow:
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1) Do you think you would have found God and religion if the concept of “forgiveness” hadn't been such a big part of the religion? What if the religion only stressed caring and love, but was unclear about the role of forgiveness?
A) This is a question that I could never answer with certainty because, first, Christianity is not a person finding God, but God, in the person of Jesus Christ comes to seek out those who are lost. Christianity involved people making peace with God, and it is God who does the forgiving. My faith does stress caring and love. In fact the Bible says that “God is love (I John 4:8).” For example also in the letter of First John, it says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (I John 4:11). Since “love” is the essence of the Christian faith, although many of us fall short and do not show this love and caring to others like we should, how can there ever be love and caring without forgiveness?
2) When one makes the transformation from Evil to Good, do you feel the individual will become impervious to any situation which may persuade the individual to perform Evil once more? Further, do you ever fear that you are more vulnerable or likely to succumb to evil temptations because of your previous behavior?
A) Concerning the first question here, having faith in God now and trying to live a better life today is never a guarantee that a person will not revert back to past behaviors. Regarding Christianity one is taught that the so called “sin nature” is always going to be present and an individual is always going to have the capacity to do wrong. But that through faith in Christ and by the indwelling of God’s Spirit within, that evil can be resisted and should be. But even a person of faith can fail. This is where God’s mercy comes into play. I believe that the fact I committed such horrific and irreversible criminal acts in the past, and because I am so ashamed and guilt-ridden over my past conduct, this acts in a way as a safe-guard that such conduct is never repeated. My past bad experiences cause me to absolutely never want to live an evil life ever again.
3) What do you think the ultimate definition of evil should be (what would be your evil diagnosis check-list)?
A) Many see “evil” as committing a very horrific act or acts such as committing a string of brutal crimes. But I think this is too narrow a definition. Evil can be anything which harms another individual. Evil to me can be anything which deliberately causes hurt to someone. For example, a man cheats on his wife and carries out an adulterous affair. Then he is finally discovered and his wife is devastated. She has a nervous breakdown from which she never fully recovers. She begins to drink heavily and eventually becomes an alcoholic and dies prematurely, never having come to terms with her husband’s infidelity. Hasn’t he lived with evil? After all, he destroyed his wife’s life and selfishly carried on and affair for years without any regard for his spouse. And we could think of dozens of examples of those who wrong others. To me, if one could actually make an “evil diagnosis check-list” I would have to say any person who does things that could harm another individual would be practicing evil. Realistically, therefore, most of us would be somewhere on this scale, for we’ve all done things that were selfish and could’ve caused harm to someone else, like getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated.
4) To what extent do you identify the events and deeds of your past as part of yourself? Do they seem at all congruent with the person you are now, or, looking back, does it feel as if it was a different person who committed the crimes?
A) It is hard nowadays to see myself as the person who once committed crimes and hurt people. I feel this was a totally different individual. I feel disconnected from the past, to a degree, and I do not go along in life rehashing those bad things. I don’t live in the past. This is not to negate it. Rather I have come to understand that oftentimes there are no clear-cut explanations for everything a person does. Sometimes the exact motives will never be discovered while of course all the “experts” will have their pet theories. Personally I believe that not every act of human behavior can always be explained. In addition, concerning the past, while I am deeply sorry for the wrong I have done, no amount of wishing can change it. I have to accept what I cannot change, fix or undo and, by God’s grace, go on with my life making amends whenever possible.
5) Do you feel that society would be safe if you were released tomorrow?
A) Yes, I am sure “society” would be safe. The real question is, with all kinds of kooks and angry people out there, would I be safe?
6) At what point did you realize your mind was unhealthy at the time of your crimes, and do you ever fear it could become like that again? Are you taking any kinds of medication for your mental health?
A) At the time of my crimes I was lost in my own delusions and I was, in my opinion, lost in a satanic web of confusion and false beliefs. So I did not see myself as being troubled. I was not seeking help. In prison, however, I have not received any psychiatric help. I am not under the care of mental health professionals and I receive no psychotropic medications. I have no disciplinary or behavioral problems and prison officials trust me to work with inmates who are legally blind, those who live in the mental health/special needs housing area (I live in the prison’s general population), and they allow me to help lead the chapel services. I’ve written a great deal about all this in my online prison journal. I believe I have a good and positive attitude toward life.
7) How often do you still have unhealthy or negative thoughts (such as self-doubt, shame, or “urges”) and how do you handle them?
A) I am not perfect by any means and I have my share of day-to-day struggles and times when I feel down. Sometimes this is because of my busy schedule or not enough rest – I am basically a “Type-A” personality and I like to work. Other times I feel sad because I miss my family and friends. Prison is a difficult environment to live in and it is not easy to overcome the general negativity that exists in such an environment. Nevertheless my faith in Christ is strong, and my hope is in God. Considering the fact that I have been incarcerated for more than thirty years, to have such a healthy and realistic outlook is something that I believe can only come with God’s help.
8) It has been reported that for a period of time after serving in the war you also considered yourself to be a born again Christian. This stage of your life preceded the criminal incidents that you are incarcerated for today. Do you have any thoughts on what is different about finding God this second time?
A) I served three years in the U.S. Army. After returning from a tour of duty overseas in Korea, I was then stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was here, for about several months, that I got involved in going to church when another man invited me. There was a bus ministry from a Baptist church in town that would pick up soldiers on Sunday mornings and invite them to church followed by a special lunch. It was a nice thing for lonely soldiers like myself. The people were very friendly. I became emotionally involved with the friendship and I wanted to be accepted. However I do not believe this was a genuine conversion experience. I was lonely more than anything and I was far from home. There was almost nothing to do on the post during the weekends other than going to the movies. My military job as a clerk typist was boring, too. So my Sunday trips to town to be surrounded by kind folks was something I probably needed socially and psychologically. Yet after several months my visits to the church and their afternoon meals began to wane. I stopped going well before I left the service. So I think that, all told, the media made more of this than it actually was.
9) What has been your favorite year of your life?
A) This is a difficult question to answer, but I would say that 1964 was a nice year for me because I vividly remember several trips I made to the World’s Fair in New York City (Flushing, Queens).
After receiving David's answers and having time to present them to his class, Dr. Woodworth replied back, "I can definitely say that many of the students are now much more unsure of how stable of a trait evil necessarily is, and found David's responses to be quite compelling."