The secret of working with violent people is knowing when to end an interview. Then again, in certain situations that is not an option. Occasionally, in spite of what seem to be adequate precautions, I find myself alone in the company of a very dangerous person. For example, several years ago I was locked n a room with Theodore Bundy. I had not planned it that way.
The very best setting for interviewing a potentially violent prisoner is one where guards can see everything and hear nothing. Indeed, when I began my interview with Mr. Bundy, that was the setup. He and I were locked inside a room adjoining the administrative area of the Florida State Penitentiary at Starke. One side of the room, the side with the door through which we entered, had a large pane of soundproof glass that looked like a picture window; the other three walls were solid concrete. A guard was posted just outside the glass where we could see him and he could see but not hear us. he stood in a common area, surrounded by two or three administrative offices and another glassed-in interview room. The doors to the office were open, and I could see people inside, working behind their desks. I was perfectly safe. Every so often someone came into the common area to fill a mug from a coffee urn, which was always full and hot.
The room, small to begin with, was further cramped by the presence of a rectangular wooden table that filled almost the entire space. Mr. Bundy and I sat across from each other, our chairs pushed up against opposite walls. He had taken the chair nearest the door and had managed to angle his seat so that he could keep an eye on me and also keep track of the guard's movements beyond the glass. I was obliged to take the one remaining chair jammed up against the far wall of the cubicle. I would have felt trapped were it not for my clear view of the guard and his clear view of me. There was nothing to worry about. I relaxed and focused my attention entirely on Mr. Bundy and the task at hand. Once an interview is under way, I am oblivious to my surroundings.
We had been talking since nine o'clock and, in spite of the deliberately fat-filled, death row breakfast that I try to consume in order to keep going for hours, my stomach had started to rumble. This tendency of my gastrointestinal tract to make its needs known has been an embarrassment since high school. I looked at my watch. It was a little after twelve noon. Time for a candy break. (Jonathan and I have learned the folly of leaving prisons in order to get lunch. It can take hours to get back inside.) I turned from Mr. Bundy, on whom my attention had been riveted, and tried to catch the eye of the guard to unlock the cubicle so that I could get to a candy machine. The guard was gone. Not only was he gone, but everyone else who worked in the surrounding offices had also disappeared. They had all gone to lunch. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was alone, locked in a soundproof room with a man who had murdered more than two dozen women. I was not happy.
I turned my attention back to Mr. Bundy. "You were saying?" To this day, I do not recall much of what he was saying; I do remember trying to remain calm and appear attentive. If Mr. Bundy knew the guard had left, he kept the knowledge to himself.... Only one of Mr. Bundy's statements during that period of time remains with me: "The man sitting before you never killed anyone." During a previous interview with him, Theodore Bundy had described to me in detail several of the murders he had committed. I made a clinical decision: I chose not to point out the discrepancy between our two interviews. Alone in a room with a serial killer is neither the time nor the place to quibble about inconsistencies.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Guilty by Reason of Insanity by Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D.. . Excerpted by permission of Ivy Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.