John Grisham's "Irony" That Is Not so Ironic

The "ironic" statement is dramatically revealing of the criminal mind.

Posted Apr 17, 2012

"The irony was almost comical. A confessed murderer and serial rapist condemning violent men."  (in John Grisham’s The Confession, p. 217 of the Dell paperback).

What author John Grisham cites as an “irony” actually is not so ironic if one understands the thought processes of criminals. In my publications and speaking engagements, I have emphasized repeatedly that, in my experience and thus far without exception, criminals regard themselves as good people. This is true no matter how horrendous, how numerous, or how outrageous the crimes they commit. As one man stated, “If I thought of myself as evil, I couldn’t live.”

So how does a one-man walking crime wave consider himself a fine human being? When held accountable, a criminal may confess to wrong doing, even acknowledge that he knows punishment is forthcoming, and may even mention that he has caused others to suffer. Nonetheless, to his way of thinking, in his day to day living, and even when he must account to others, such a person does not believe he is truly a bad person.

There are numerous ways in which criminals support both to themselves and others the view that they are good people. Many hold jobs or go to school. Some are “religious,” attending church, a synagogue, or a mosque. There are those who donate to charities or in other ways do good deeds for people who are needy. Many offenders are artistically and musically talented. Some are able to repair things or are excellent craftsmen. And many are sentimental when it comes to helping an injured animal or assisting a handicapped person. All of these are among the features that support their view that they are good human beings.

But the most important component of this self-perception is that they are completely unlike others who do far worse than they. A 16-year-old remarked that anyone who knocks an old person down on the street and steals her purse should be “strung up.” Such a belief did not deter him from breaking into an elderly person’s home while she was still there and making off with some of her most cherished possessions. That was acceptable because he didn’t physically hurt her. 

In Grisham’s novel, the hardcore offender Boyette speaks of “a species of mankind that’s subhuman.” He contends that these are “vicious, crazy men who cannot be helped.” Clearly, Boyette condemns such an individual and regards himself as completely different from that type of person despite having spent most of his life in prison and admitting to the vicious rape and homicide of a young girl.