Let’s Have a Look – Crazy, Criminal or Insane? #Documentary Commentation

Welcome back to my ‘Let’s Have a Look’ series where I talk about random subjects that grab my attention and give me pause. In today’s segment I want to talk about a question posed from a documentary I watched called Crazy, Not Insane.


This doc was created from the writings of forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis who worked on many cases involving serial killers and murderers. Dr. Lewis was a pioneer who began to question the makings of murderers – both notorious and not, stating that people aren’t born evil, but states when physically abused from childhood, those children grow up damaged, either recoiling from the world with their inflictions or taking on multiple personalities summoned by the child to help them endure living the nightmares of abuse. She was one of the first doctors to bring up the diagnosis of multiple personalities killers, diagnosing cases of Multiple Personality Disorder (aka Dissociative Identity Disorder). Dr. Lewis was summoned to many court cases to offer her opinion and diagnosis. She also believes that many killers who were physically abused had been left with integral parts of the brain damaged, which in part contributes to a killer’s motivations. For Dr. Lewis, it was all about the ‘why’ of the crime, more than the crime itself.


Dr. Lewis had taken a lot of flack for her diagnosis of multiple personalities over the years, and in this doc, she indicates – those in question of her work have been touted as heretics who believe the humanity of killers is non relevant.


Dr. Lewis basically states that her intentions when evaluating violent criminals are to assess where the rage stems from – because it always does stem from something, and she states that the criminal system is a one stop shop – prosecute, jail or execute without taking into consideration mental health inclusions. She by no means advocates to free these killers, but mostly speaks up about the decisions of execution. For the multitude of criminals in the system, they are punished for life and/or executed where she feels many of them should have been sent to a mental institution instead of executed.


This is all a very touchy situation as I can well understand that as a doctor of psychiatry that she would wish to get to the root of a convicted killer’s motivations, while at the same time states about the over abundance of criminals in the system where concern is not something that’s recognized in most cases about why someone acts out in violence, but resolve is to punish. This is the stance Dr. Lewis takes. Despite the skepticism of some of the doctor’s analysis of crazed killers, many agree that punishing by death penalty is not always just.



Below is the trailer for the documentary


I suppose the matter in question is that Lewis being called upon to testify in several reknowned serial killer cases with her expertise on such murderers seems confusing because she is asked for her professional opinions on such cases and feels as though her testimonials don’t figure into the punishments, whereby most of these types of trial outcomes never factor in any rehabilitation for these criminals, only punishment. Honestly, this is a toughie because in essence, the criminal justice system works to put murderers away as a justice, yet nobody seems to care about the whys of the criminals. I feel like the situations are double-edged swords, but the bottom line is to take these dangerous people off the streets. Sadly, these types of criminals aren’t usually seeking physciatric help before they kill, and once they kill, it’s understandable the people seek justice. If I put myself in the shoes of the loved ones left behind seeking justice for the murder of their loved ones, I should think that I too would be concentrating on justice, despite my agreeing that these killers obviously are damaged from some incidence.


Comments are open for opinions.





26 thoughts on “Let’s Have a Look – Crazy, Criminal or Insane? #Documentary Commentation

  1. Thanks for a thought-provoking piece, Debby. I’m guessing the majority of murders have had some trauma in their lives. That’s why it’s fascinating to understand why some who have experienced trauma create horrific crimes while others do not. I try to be open to the idea of multiple personalities. It is true that when someone is a pioneer espousing some new theory that they are often first regarded as a quack. It’s understandable that loved ones want justice for their deceased, although I question whether an eye for an eye will indeed provide some level of comfort or satisfaction. I’m sure some try and raise this as a defense to save themselves. It’s not an easy answer for me.


    1. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts Pete. And you’re right, it’s not easy at all, this is what I felt was so controversial and interesting and though it would be fun to hear thoughts. Plus, I watch a lot of crime stories and police procedurals, I’m fascinated with human behavior, studying people and curious about the ‘whys’, what motivates, just like Dr. Lewis. πŸ™‚


  2. I’m fairly sure that there are multiple reasons why some people may be become sociopaths or psychopaths. An abusive childhood is one. There are instances of in utero developmental issues that can cause deficits during the growth years. PTSD is another one. Brain trauma–as occurs in car accidents or IEDs for those in combat could be another. Sadly, there was that one psychologist/psychiatrist named Thomas Szasz who published a book on his theories, “The Myth of Mental Illness,” proclaiming the truth of its title. Of course it’s not true.

    Unfortunately, the practice of medicine–especially psychiatry, is just that–more an art than a science at times. So, people judged criminally insane may never be free again. The rub is that some doctors must convincingly demonstrate that the incarcerated person is no longer a threat to themselves–or others. Parole boards may be difficult to convince that a convicted SANE prisoner has been rehabilitated. Much more so that a person adjudged criminally insane can be released.

    This all got more confusing–and problematic some decades ago when people who were warehoused involuntarily for non-criminal mental illness were released to half way houses. It WAS well-intentioned but not well thought out for providing essential follow-up care. That’s who many of those homeless people are on the streets of cities across the US and probably other countries as well. That’s where groups such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) come in on pushing for better community health care and ensuring that legislation requiring insurance companies pay for mental health treatment nearly as well as physical illness.


  3. This is a tough question, Debby, but my logical reasoning comes to the fore here. It is incredibly difficult to change something that is so badly damaged and, as mentioned above, psychiatry is an art. I know from my own experiences with mental health issues in friends and family, that the chances of a cure are low. Generally symptoms are just controlled with medications and if the medications are stopped, the patient will revert back to previous behaviours. Given the limited resources available and the difficulties mentioned above, I think the money should be spent on helping children in abusive situations so that the damage never occurs in the first place. I think our systems of protection for children, despite all the ‘noise’, are horribly inadequate.


    1. Robbie, you said it so well! Problemed people are often shut up with drugs and meds. Yes, it would be too costly to fix all the broken in the world. Like you said, money should be spent on mental health while they’re younger, to help deal with their wounds and hopefully, try to prevent the heinous crimes of anger. ❀


  4. Fascinating subject, Debby. I’m torn on this, because if it happened to a loved one I would want justice, yet to understand why is equally important. I think we have a long way to go with mental health and people who kill.


  5. Interesting post and documentary, my UB. I could not be the one to play God and make these decisions. I do not agree with ‘an eye for an eye’. Each individual is exactly that, so blanket theories are not practical. I am with you and Toni, justice is a fine line for all concerned in each case. Xxx ❀ ❀


  6. Hi Debby – I enjoy looking at these kind of documentaries – learning something … but appreciating the difficulties of decision making within the justice system – yours, the States’, or ours. I’m not qualified to comment in any way – I’d need to study more, and definitely wouldn’t want to be asked to judge. I haven’t watched it … and probably won’t, due to having other things to do … You’ve some interesting comments – all the best – Hilary


  7. All most interesting, Debs. Like you, I am fascinated – and often appalled – by some people’s behaviour, but do try and understand it if at all possible. In my ‘umble, lay opinion, so much depends on early treatment by parents/guardians. If beaten or abused as a child, who knows what sort of adult I would have grown into? I know two particular people very well, both of whom were abandoned by a parent (one twice!) when young and they have ‘problems.’ Fortunately, they are not violent, but it does, often, have a strong bearing on their adult behaviour and attitude to other people. Conversely, my own husband’s father left the family when he was eight and it has made him VERY strong and a good husband!. As adults, parents should be fully aware (if possible) of how impressionable and vulnerable children are, but we all know that, sadly, life is not so cut and dried!. If only! It must be more ‘comfortable’ to hate when that’s all you were taught! Take care. Hugs x


    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter Joy. I agree, most of these dangerous symptoms stem from mistreatment in childhood. I know the last generation of parents didn’t have all the tools for proper parenting, and many of us who realized we’re coming from dysfunction got out at a young age, sadly, not everyone realizes the toxicity of their situations. Seems your hubby was clever enough at a very young age. Hugs xoxo


  8. This sounds like a fascinating documentary, Debby. I hope it’s shown here. I think I’d like to watch it. I often ask the question: How can people do these things to each other? That they have been damaged and don’t value their own or other’s lives or have respect for the self seems possible. I agree with you that they need to be gotten off the streets to prevent harm to others. But how should they be treated when they are off the streets? That’s the million dollar question.


  9. Many problems in later life stem from childhood abuse or neglect. As Philip Larkin once wrote in that excellent poem… ‘Your mum and dad, they f**k you up, they do not mean to but they do, they fill you with the faults they have then add some extra, just for you’. x


  10. Fascinating, Debby. Having worked in the children’s mental health field, I also don’t believe people are born evil, but that evil behavior is a result of physical and emotional abuse, often beginning when the brain is still forming. Those templates that the world is a dangerous place are established early and hard to change. My brother’s murder makes this an interesting topic for me, because I want justice and incarceration for the murderer, while recognizing that the person didn’t wake up one morning and decide to kill. There’s always a story.


    1. Diana, thanks for sharing your thoughts here and again of the heinous crime of your brother’s murder. You are in the shoes, so I appreciate you sharing your take on this. Yes, it’s a conundrum when we think about the crime and the reasoning. I think these murderers needed help long before they became criminals, and as the scales of justice take place, it’s only fitting they be punished. I am stunned though to hear your brother’s murderer was never found, or not found guilty? Hugs to you xox


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