From behind the podium on a small stage in Fox Hall at Eckerd College, David Kaczynski spoke on Monday night. He is executive director of New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He is also the Unabomber’s brother. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, take it.
Part of his talk is about his opposition to the death penalty (and as somebody who is also opposed to it, that’s the reason I went to see him). But in the other part, he talks a lot about his brother.
Be warned: there’s no way what I write will do it justice.
But when Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, was arrested, I was 10. All I remember is the police artist’s sketch of the suspect and the footage of Ted’s arrest. Back then, I didn’t know how many bombings there were. I didn’t know he had been hunted since 1978. I didn’t know how many people his bombs had killed and injured. I only knew a “monster” had been caught.
David only knew a brother. So when his wife brought it up — “Please don’t be angry with me for saying this,” she said. “But do you think your brother might be the Unabomber?” — it seemed unfathomable. But the couple put two and two together. With their hunch, David and his wife approached the FBI.
The guy whose bombs killed three and injured more than 20 is the kid who grew up without friends. He’s the genius who finished high school at 15 and went right to Harvard. He is the big brother who created a low handle on the screen door so three-year-old David, otherwise too short to work the door, could get into the house from the backyard.
While they were kids, David asked his parents why his brother had no friends. Why his brother was different. Everyone’s different, they told him. And no matter what, his mom added, “Never abandon your brother.”
You can tell when you hear David speak that he hasn’t.
He gives reasons for his opposition to the death penalty: The fallibility of the people who pick who gets executed means innocent people get executed. The disparity in who gets the death penalty (It’s not the worst of the worst criminals; it’s the people with the worst legal representation, he said.). The extraordinary cost. The fact that a lot of people on death row have been diagnosed with severe mental illnesses (mental illnesses that were present at the time of the crime) — people who need help and don’t get it on death row.
He explains the reality of his brother’s mental illness (schizophrenia). The shock and trauma of suspecting and finding out the Unabomber is his brother.
He restores the humanity that has been robbed of a man, not a monster, named Ted.
I found it all deeply moving.