Idealism and sociopaths

Last year, Slate published an article called My mother married her prison pen pal. A synopsis of the story is this: After 22 years of marriage, the author’s parents divorced. One day her mother receives a collect phone call from Joe, who was incarcerated. He dialed her phone number at random; thinking it was someone she knew who had the same name, the woman accepted the call. The prisoner asked the woman to write to him. She thought it was a good mentorship opportunity, so she did. Eventually, the woman married the guy.

Please pause now and read the story:

My mother married her prison pen pal

By Anna Balkrishna

The biggest myth

Mom knew that Joe was in jail—she started writing to him because she wanted to be a “positive influence” in his life. She fell for one of the biggest myths that our culture propagates: There’s good in everyone.

Unfortunately, it isn’t true. Despite the platitudes we’ve grown up with”—All men are created equal,” “Everyone deserves a chance,” “We’re all God’s children—”some people are rotten to the core. And they’re called sociopaths.

Joe worked his sociopathic magic, and Mom fell in love. So even when she married him, and then found out that he wasn’t in prison for vehicular manslaughter, he was really in prison for rape, she stood by him, and spent her retirement money on his lawyers. Balkrishna wrote:

She believed that he was put into her path for a purpose. She made a commitment: morally, to “turn him around” and wean him off his bad behaviors, and practically, to help him through his sentence and his parole until he could integrate back into free society. Once she made the commitment, she could not break it.

So Joe gets out of jail and guess what? He cheats on Mom. He stops looking for work and starts doing drugs. Eventually he ends up back in jail. Mom was heartbroken, and the author of the story makes a very telling observation:

Lovers are hard enough to give up, but ideals are even harder.


Many of us know exactly what she means. Many of us tried to nurture that “poor, unloved child” under the abusive shell—only to find out that under the shell there was nothing.

We were crushed. We were deceived and emotionally destroyed, and we were forced to admit that our view of the world was deeply flawed.

Yes, our experiences with sociopaths were devastating. But I don’t believe that once we’ve encountered these predators, we have to totally give up on our ideals. However, we do need to recognize that our ideals can’t encompass everyone.

There are people who have been dealt a bad hand in life, and with understanding and assistance, can turn their lives around. They are worthy of our efforts. The sociopaths, however, will continue to do what they do, no matter how we persevere in our attempts to help them, save them, reform them. Once sociopaths are adults, they are not going to change.

We are not all created equal. We don’t all deserve a chance. We may all be God’s children, but some people have forgotten, and don’t care.

We need to be able to discern which people have a heart and a conscience, and which people don’t. Then, we can lavish our time, love and idealism on those who can benefit from our efforts. The others, we leave behind.

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Ox Drover

Dear Donna,

You are so right—-your last two paragraphs say it all.

The story of Anna’s mother is less rare than most people would think it is. Inmates continually place ads for “pen pals” There was an article in the state newspaper here a few years ago of one inmate female who was bringing in more than $50,000 a year from pretending to be some poor sweet SEXY girl who just needed a male friend to help her out a bit when she got out and she would send photos of beautiful girls cut out of magazines, to older men, who would send her money. Sounds unbelieveable!!!! But apparently it works!

Jefrey Dahmer was wrtiing to 14 different women and each one thought he wanted to marry her at the timehe was killed in prison.

One of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echolls, the one on death row, for killing some small boys 17 years ago (actually I do think those guys were framed) according to the latest hour long TV show is married to a woman he met as a pen pal. They’ve been married for 10 years of the 17 he has been in prison. She spends her time working and raising money to get him a new trial. She has a degree in engineering and is well spoken and apparently intelligent. At the time Damien went to prison he was a thug, but seems to have matured and educated himself with her help and plenty of time to read.

I can’t imagine that the marriage would be all that long lasting if Echolls does get out. Right now, she has a “mission” and that is to “save” Echolls. What happens if that mission is accomplished? He gets out, having gone into prison at age 16 or 17 and spent his time on death row reading books, now what do they have in common?

What happens if he doesn’t get a new trial and she is made a widow by the state when he is executed? What if he isn’t executed and gets life without parole instead?

I’m actually convinced that in the rush to judgment to find someone to pin this horrible crime on that Echolls and his two friends were railroaded without any evidence except that Echolls was a cocky smirking teenager and made you want to b1atch slap his arrogant face. Is he a sociopath?–whether he’s guilty or innocent of the crime he is incarcerated for. I don’t know, and have no way to judge.

If you met my psychopathic son, though, you would be charmed by him I think. Until you got to know him really well, or crossed him and his mask slipped. He could probably even convince you to send him commissary money, and that he was incarcerated for singing too loudly in the church choir, and if you wanted to strudy scripture with him, he could quote it with the best! He wants to be a “minister to disadvantaged youth when he gets out you know.” Pretty much like Casey Anthony does!


This one cuts close to the bone. I am sure mine has a bzillion pen pals by now. The reality of the whole thing set in and the discomfort of understanding how completely I was decieved resident in experience.

Well, they do what they do. And all we can do is stop playing as soon as we figure it out and the ones that don’t figure it out will either figure it out later or they won’t.

In some ways I can understand that figuring it out is so horrible that one might choose not to! The experience sucks! I think that people who figure it out and move on have to find inordinate strength and sinew, without it, the tempataion to go back and stay in the relationship is as tough as fighting undertow in the ocean, and people don’t always succeed at that.

Three cheers for LF and shining the light that showed me! Three Cheers for the LF Bloggers who are present and accounted for! Three Cheers for articles like this that re enforce what is true over and over and over again!

Elizabeth Conley

” He wants to be a “minister to disadvantaged youth when he gets out you know.” Pretty much like Casey Anthony does! ”

Ox Drover,

Isn’t that fascinating? Who knew that sociopaths were so attracted to ministry? I wonder how many known sociopaths have an ambition to be involved in ministry, and what their motives are. Are they really interested in ministry? Do they follow through? I’m very curious.


Unless they are going for Universal Life Church, most denominations have a process which takes enough years to weed them out. And, bo doubt, for good reason!

Elizabeth Conley

“Unless they are going for Universal Life Church, most denominations have a process which takes enough years to weed them out…”

Most main stream denominations that is. Churches that describe themselves as “independent” or nondenominational, not so much.

It’s given me food for thought. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I’ve encountered 2 cluster Bs “in ministry” within the past 7 years. Hmmm…


Idealism is the thing that kept me “stuck” on Jamie. While I knew him, he let me privy to just enough information to invoke my pity: abandoned by his father and growing up poor, his mother dying in his early 20s and battles with depression (I could relate to that). Funny, it was even after the fact revelations that really got me hooked on his “plight” allowing me to dismiss his cold and heartless actions toward me. No surprise that per Donna’s risk calculator, at the time I was at high risk for sociopathic manipulation.

Still, despite the evidence, my idealism makes my labeling Jamie a “sociopath” very difficult, even though virtually even warning sign, trait or background characteristic indicates such. Thus, my idealism, of course coupled with his nonviolent nature and veneer of English charm, means while I can intellectually believe he is a sociopath, I don’t emotionally feel the same way.

Thankfully, all this does resonate with me intellectually. As I have mentioned in other posts, I understand the various “red flags” of sociopathy and other character disorders and so far I have managed to steer clear of individuals exhibiting such traits.


Donna, thank you so much for this article – that was one of the “uglies” that I had a difficult time accepting about spaths. Very good article, agan thank you.

Ox Drover

Guys, I have known more than one “minister” who was very arrogant and narcissistic and several really nice ministers I have known have also known ministers who are “less than honest”

Though I don’t want to single out any one “mainstream” denomination, look at the Catholic church and that’s pretty main stream and HOW MANY PRIESTS have been convicted of sexual abuse of children under their “ministry” and frankly I think the Catholic church is more interested in protecting their “image” than the children. Other mainstream churches also try to “hush up” charges of molestation, so it isn’t just the Catholic church that is guilty of this. Even the more organized and mainstream churches are LAX in supervision of their ministers once they get in.

Churches are in the business of “forgiving” sinners so if a person “sins” and then says “Oh, I’m so sorry” its right back to the pulpit and the grace of the church. At worst to another pulpit in another town.

My son grew up in Sunday School and can quote the Bible just about verbatam so he could find some church that would have him, especially if he presented himself as a REFORMED criminal! Or other wise, he could cover up his past record. If you can quote scripture well and pontificate well enough, you can find a pulpit somewhere to bilk.

Yea, Casey anthony will make a good minister the way she made a good MOTHER….with just as much sincerity. The Trojan Horse Psychopath went to the small church I have attended for the last almost 20 years, composed of people who have known me for my entire life, and most of whom I am KIN to. And by “publicly repenting” of having violated the law in the past (of course not saying that he had had sex with a 9 yr old, 11 yr old and a 14 yr old) and convinced the minister, my egg donor, and most of the congregation that he was a sincere and repentent person, Praise Jesus!!!!!, and that I was a lying piece of crap out for my egg donor’s money! Even after he and my DIL went to JAIL and their affair came out, the people at the church were willing to SYMPATHIZE with my poor mistreated DIL who had stolen from my egg donor, had an affair with the sex offender, and tried to kill her husband. GO FIGURE!!!!!

When the Trojan Horse psychopath was looking for some landing place when he got out on Parole (they won’t let them out if they can’t find some place for them to go and it was illegal to put him into ahalf way house since he was a sex offender) HE WENT TO “CHRUCH” in prison and convinced the nice do-gooders there that he wanted to go straight and would they please forgive him and it really wasn’t his fault anyway, and would they find him a place to stay? He could even teach their sunday school for little kids between the ages of 9 and 14 —his prefered ages for victims—

Being a minister is a perfect way for psychopaths to secure access to TRUST and money and women. Some of the psychopaths latch on to religion as a great cover, some latch on to politics and some become cops or judges or lawyers. Over all if a psychopath is smart enough and can mask themselves they can work themselves into any number of professions that require good morals, and use that trusted cover to mask what they are really after—money, sex, control, power etc. I don’t think Casey Anthony has enough couth or smarts to pull it off though, even if she were to get off on the murder charge for her daughter.


‘We are not all created equal. We don’t all deserve a chance. We may all be God’s children, but some people have forgotten, and don’t care.’

i don’t know if p/n/s ever felt a connection to being a ‘child of god’ (or however we articulate this idea). i kinda doubt it. but i think the first 2 sentences need to be added to oxy’s ‘list’ (the one that has the false inof about the easter bunny in it).

how absolutely horrifying to never feel this sense of connection. i think they REALLy are fundamentally different than us.

Elizabeth Conley

Ox Drover,

I hear you Oxy. What you’re saying really makes sense. I’m going to have to think about this, and figure out where it fits in my schema. I’d processed parts of it before, but the way you piece together the connections between sociopathy and current trends in typical church behavior really has me thinking.


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