The Urge to Hurt

My name is Michael Ross. I am a condemned man on death row. When
most people think of death row inmates, I’ m the one they think of.
I’m the worst of the worst, a serial killer responsible for the
rape and murder of eight women in three states who has assaulted
several others and stalked and frightened many more. I have never
denied what I did and have fully confessed to my crimes. The only
issue in my case was, and still is, my mental condition. For years
I have been trying to prove that I am suffering from a mental
illness that drove me to rape and kill, and that this mental
illness made me physically unable to control my actions. I have met
with little success.

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

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

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.

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