So here I sit on death row, waiting for the judicial system to complete the tedious process that will likely result in my execution. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can envision the hundreds of people who are likely to gather outside the prison gates on that night. I can see them waving placards, drinking and rejoicing, and I can hear their cheers as my death is finally announced.
Who is Michael Ross? And what could possibly motivate a clearly intelligent individual, a Cornell University graduate, to commit such horrendous crimes?
As you might expect, I have been examined by many psychiatric experts since my arrest in 1984. All of them, including the state' s own expert psychiatric witness, diagnosed me as suffering from a paraphiliac mental disorder called 'sexual sadism,' which, in the experts' words, resulted in my compulsion 'to perpetrate violent sexual activity in a repetitive way.' These experts also agreed that my criminal conduct was the direct result of uncontrollable sexual impulses caused by my mental illness. The state' s only hope of obtaining a conviction was to inflame the jury' s emotions so that they would ignore any evidence of psychological impairment. In my particular case, that was quite easy to do, and the state succeeded in obtaining convictions and multiple death sentences.
What exactly is a paraphiliac mental disorder?
It is very difficult to explain and understand -- especially for the layperson (which, unfortunately for me, describes most jury members). I' m not even sure that I fully understand this disease, and I have been trying to understand what has been going on in my head for a very long time now. Basically, I was plagued by repetitive thoughts, urges, and fantasies of the degradation, rape, and murder of women. These unwanted thoughts filled my mind when I was awake, and they were in my dreams when I slept. Imagine trying to control such urges day by day, hour by hour. Also try to imagine the hatred, loathing, and abhorrence that I developed toward myself when I ultimately failed. The best way to understand this problem is to remember a time when you had a catchy tune stuck in your mind. Even if you like the melody, the constant repetition becomes more than merely annoying. The harder you try to push that melody out of your mind, the louder and more persistent it becomes, driving you almost mad. Now replace that sweet little melody with noxious thoughts of physically and mentally degrading a woman, of raping her and strangling her. Now you can begin to understand what I had running wild in my head. And I think you can begin to understand me when I say that it is not something I wanted.
The urge to hurt women could come over me at any time, at any place. Powerful, sometimes irresistible desires would well up for no apparent reason and with no warning. Even after my arrest -- while I was facing capital charges -- these urges continued. I remember one day being transported back to the county jail from a court appearance just prior to my trial. I was in the back of a sheriff' s van in full restraints -- handcuffs, leg irons, belly chain -- when we passed a young woman walking along the road. I cannot begin to describe the intensity of feeling that enveloped me that day. I wanted . no, I had to get out of that van and go after her. The situation was ludicrous. (And later, back in my cell, I masturbated to a fantasy of what would have happened had I gotten hold of her.)
Even after I was sentenced to death, the urges persisted. One day, after seeing my psychiatrist, I was being escorted, without restraints, back to my cell by a young female correctional officer. When we got to a secluded stairwell, I suddenly felt this overwhelming desire to hurt her. I knew that I had to get out of that stairwell, and I ran out into the hallway. I' ll never forget how she shouted at me and threatened to write a disciplinary report; she didn't have a clue. She never knew how close I came to attacking her, and possibly even killing her.
You would think that being sentenced to death and living in a maximum-security prison would curb such urges, but this illness defies rationality. I eventually found some relief. Almost three years after I came to death row, I started to receive weekly injections of an anti-androgen medication called Depo-Provera. Three years later, after some liver function trouble, I was switched to monthly Depo-Lupron injections, which I still receive. What these drugs did was significantly reduce my body' s natural production of the male sex hormone -- testosterone. For some reason, testosterone affects my mind differently than it does the average male. A few months after I started the treatment, my blood serum testosterone dropped below prepubescent levels. (It' s currently 20; the normal range is 260 to 1,250.) As this happened, nothing less than a miracle occurred. My obsessive thoughts and fantasies began to diminish.
Having those thoughts is a lot like living with an obnoxious roommate. You can' t get away because they' re always there. What the Depo-Lupron does for me is to move that roommate down the hall to his own apartment. The problem is still there, but it' s easier to deal with because it isn' t always intruding into my everyday life. The medication has rendered the 'monster within' impotent and banished him to the back of my mind. And while he can still mock me on occasion, he no longer controls me.
You cannot begin to imagine what a milestone this was in my life. A whole new world opened up to me. I had my mind back -- a clear mind free of malevolent thoughts and urges. It sounds strange for a condemned man to speak of being free on death row, but that is the only word I can think of to describe the transformation I have undergone. That' s not to say all is well. One result of all this was that I was forced to look at myself. I' m not talking the cursory, superficial manner in which most people look at themselves, but rather the painful, unrelenting search into the depths of my soul.
Many prison inmates are able to lie convincingly to themselves, to see themselves as basically good people who are innocent victims of an unfair and uncaring society. Sometimes it is very difficult to see ourselves as we truly are, and much easier to blame others for our actions. For years that is exactly what I did. I was angry at everyone except the person I should have been most angry with -- myself. It took years for that anger to subside and to begin to accept what I had become.
Not only did the Depo-Lupron free my mind, it also allowed my moral judgment to awaken, which gave me back something that I thought I had lost forever -- my humanity. Now that my mind was clear, I began to be aware of things I didn' t like about myself. I realized how weak and afraid I really was, and how I had allowed the monster in my mind to control me. I began to feel the terrible agony and distress that I had caused my victims, their families and friends, my own family. I also began to feel the awesome weight of responsibility for my actions. And finally, I felt the profound sense of guilt that surrounds my soul with dark, tormented clouds of self-hatred and remorse. All of which leaves me with a deep desire to make amends, which, under the present circumstances, seems all but impossible. Yet it is what I yearn for the most: reconciliation with the spirits of my victims, with their families and friends, with myself and my God. If this happens it will be the final -- and undoubtedly most difficult -- part of my transformation. If only science could create a drug to help me with this problem.