Patrick O'Neil's Reviews > Cell 2455, Death Row: A Condemned Man's Own Story

Cell 2455, Death Row by Caryl Chessman
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Jul 11, 08

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Caryl Chessman was a career criminal, condemned to death row for kidnap, and rape. Raised by the state of California, Chessman grew up in juvenile halls, and the California Youth Authority prison system for juvenile offenders. From the beginning it appears Chessman never had a chance. He was condemned years before he was actually sentenced to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin. Disadvantaged, poor, rebellious, and angry at the injustice of the world: his mother paralyzed, his father’s ailing health, his own debilitating health issues as a child. Chessman found himself in crime – thumbing his nose at authority.

In writing Cell 2455, Death Row, Chessman was able to continue thumbing his nose, taunting the criminal justice system with his claims of innocence. Oddly enough it was his insistence of innocence the authorities used against him. Citing it as lack of remorse and successfully thwarting his appeals process. Yet Cell 2455 is not only Chessman’s autobiography where he recounts his youth and the crimes he committed as he progressed in his career as a criminal. It is also his argument as to why he became the person that he did.

His writing, at times boastful tirades, at times insightful reasoning into his criminal evolution, depicted his beliefs and insecurities that shaped his psyche. While it is obvious Chessman was very intelligent, if not brilliant. It is hard to find anything redeeming about him. After prolonged reading his tirades seem self-serving – continually regarding himself the victim – never fully taking responsibility for any of his actions. Rather, just as he sees the injustices done onto him as fate, he regards his own egregious digressions as acts of fate as well.

However, what the reader has to take into consideration is that Chessman was in fact a diagnosed sociopath incapable of accepting his part in anything. His antisocial behavior and lacking sense of moral responsibility or social conscience – are textbook sociopathic traits. Expecting normal human qualities like understanding, compassion or empathy from a man of Chessman’s caliber is futile at best. Further making it a rather difficult proposal for anyone to be sympathetic to his cause.

Yet Chessman ascertains that had he been given half a chance who knows what good he might have accomplished. Unfortunately his argument is overshadowed by his own admissions of giving up on any positive attempts he made in his life as soon as he experienced any obstacles or setbacks. It appears Chessman was his own worst enemy. His anger and self-loathing fueled his need for retribution, lashing out at a society he perceived had wronged him. When in fact his actions and destructive behaviors were the exact reason society implemented laws in the first place.

Ultimately Cell 2455, Death Row is a provocative and interesting read, if for nothing else than to enter Caryl Chessman’s mind.
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