Yesterday the nearly month-long manhunt for two escaped prisoners in upstate New York came to an end. The story had everything: an improbable escape, a forbidden romance, an inmate’s hidden artistic talents, a botched getaway car. It was something straight out of a movie, a story that captured America’s attention.
And now it’s over. Look, these were two bad guys, convicted murderers serving life sentences. I’m not suggesting that I really wanted to see them free. But I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a little part of me that hoped they wouldn’t get caught. I can’t be the only one.
It doesn’t make any sense. Like I said, these were two serious criminals. Say whatever you want about the prison industrial complex, about our overcrowded jails filled with nonviolent offenders. There isn’t really any debate over whether or not we should be locking up hardened killers. So why did I want them to make it to Canada? Why was I secretly hoping that the police wouldn’t be able to catch up?
Maybe it was the general excitement. When do you ever get to read about an actual escape story? Not only did the prison break generate hours upon hours of media coverage, but it was a steady stream of new, juicy details. Unlike the recent plane crashes or other disaster narratives that seem to hog up the majority of our cable news programming, the prison break plot kept churning out new developments. The love interest, the acquired power tools, the note left behind in the cell taunting the prison administration.
And unlike, say, a new season of a highly anticipated Netflix show, with the escaped convicts, there was no option to binge-watch every episode in a single night. No, this was like an old-school TV-watching session, where the public had no choice but to tune in tomorrow to see if anything new had happened.
And it’s been said a million times already, but it really was like something out of a movie. Which is why I’m thinking that a lot of us had this almost perverse yet automatic inclination to root for the bad guys. Because, if this were a movie, of course you’d be on the bad guys’ side. There’s no way you’d be watching a movie about a prison escape in which the escapees weren’t justified in their attempt at freedom.
That’s got to be it, my mind must have been viewing this situation, unable to reconcile the headlines with my experiences as a consumer of the prison break genre. They had to have been wrongfully accused. Maybe they were just two hardworking guys who found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. The real killers set these two guys up, and maybe the cops and the local judge were in on it. See, that makes more sense to me than everything on the news.
Or maybe the killers were just two regular guys, and they came upon a magic lamp with a genie while they were hiking in the woods. “I wish for us to be famous!” one of the guys carelessly blurted out, not knowing that it was one of those jerk genies, the kind that always twist your words around into making the wish not really anything what you wished for. “Granted!” the genie snapped his fingers and instantly, the two guys found themselves super famous, wanted criminals, on the run in the upstate wilderness, the international subjects of a sprawling manhunt.
How likely are any of these scenarios? I don’t know, pretty unlikely I guess. So why can’t I shut those voices out of my head? Why can’t I just accept what they’re telling me on the news, that these guys were armed and dangerous, that they needed to be brought to justice? I don’t know, and it’s making me a little disturbed, one, because I feel bad that I was secretly rooting for these bad guys, and two, because I’ve realized that, when given the choice between cold hard facts or a wild story fit for the big screen, I’m seemingly hardwired to automatically go for my own fictionalized fantasy. Is this a localized occurrence? In what other areas of my life am I basing my decisions and reactions on sensationalized nonsense?
Again, I have no idea. And at this point in my life, I’m afraid there’s not much to be done about it. My inherent biases seem to be firmly cemented in place. Because even though I know these guys are supposed to be in jail, even though the news is telling me that one of them was shot dead and the other was captured yesterday, in my mind I’m still envisioning the duo tanning on some remote beach in South America, sharing a six-pack and laughing wildly as they stare toward the sky. “We did it!” they’re shouting, euphoric. “We escaped! We’re free!” Roll credits.