tv After Words with Sue Klebold CSPAN April 25, 2016 12:00am-1:01am EDT
criminal history of job applications and there are many schools and colleges around the country that require people to add their status and then create all kinds of restrictions against them and who -- we are not serving anyone well by doing this. not to mention the parole system is such that the recidivism rates are not so revealing. you'd think someone committed a new crime when in fact people are going back to prison for violating parole which is often so restricted and so illogical to not allow people again to become productive citizens and rebuild their lives. >> host: barbara has been our guest professor of english at john jay college criminal justice and the author of this book "incarceration nation a journey to justice, prisons around the world." world." thank you. >> guest: thank you. >> this weekend on "after words," the mother of one of the
columbine shooters discusses the junction between violence and mental illness in conversation with the ceo of the national alliance on mental illness. >> host: in 1999 cover your son dylan and eric harris took the lives of 12 students and one teacher in high school and then their own and 24 others were wounded. a devastated those families that affected the whole nation. i think one of the questions people have is why did you decide to buy this book now, 17 years later? >> guest: well, probably because it took me that many years to try to understand it and feel that i was ready to write a book. there was much learning that had to go on the in my part and
healing and i think it just took that long. >> host: it is a very powerful book. it covers such a range of emotions, grief and anger and fear. can you talk about those emotions it was very progression? it seemed as you learn more, things changed for you. can you talk about that? >> guest: there's always a progression after a loss of any kind. the progression that i am most aware of looking at it from the distance of time was in the beginning i was feeling a victim of the tragedy. i was bewildered, i didn't understand what happened or why. i couldn't make sense of any of it. i was humiliated, i was grief stricken. i was terrified. and as time went by and i begin tbeganto understand a little bit
how he died, a little bit about his own suicide, i became more of a survivor. i identified with other survivors of lots of tragedies werwas suicide or murder suicid, and i became a little more active, a little more interested in all of our welfare together. i began volunteering into trying to raise funds to form mental health and prevent suicide and then as time went by moore, i think i became an advocate, he became somebody that was determined to try to make a difference to write some of the wrongs, to choose funds to try to make it possible for brain research to occur, for support programs to occur. so there was a progression and i'm sure i'm still in it. >> host: one of the things you talk about in the book and people want to know is how could
you not know and then over time you come to say there were some warning signs had you known what you know now you would have picked up. can you talk about what you knew then and what you came to know? >> guest: unfortunately, i had no idea that dylan was suffering that he was having suicidal thoughts and that he was even cutting himself. he wrote about that in a journal entry that i read only long after his death. dylan did have some trouble in his junior year of high school. he stole something from a parked van. he was assigned to a juvenile diversion program and at that point i was baffled. i couldn't understand why he had done terrible things. and i remember asking the counselor does this mean something, does this mean he
needs help, does he need counseling, and at that time nobody seemed to think that he did. he was given an assessment which was the only tool they had at that time to use. he was asked to check off his own feelings about himself and he checked off nothing about feeling suicidal. the only thing he checked off as he needed a jo job and have financial concerns so we spoke with him and we had the support program in place. he promised us he would get his life on track and that he did and that is what was so confounding about all this is because he continued to go to school committee had a job, he applied the four colleges and was accepted and over the next 14 months of his life he did demonstrate to us that he was doing okay and doing well and
there were times he was moody and he spent time in his room but he continued to function during that time and he had friends in heated activities and we have n had no idea of the lef suffering and this disorientation and filter through which he was seeing the world and we were not aware of that until long after his death. >> host: what are some of those warning signs to do with the tow other families and parents to be to think about? >> guest: i think one of the main things to look for is a change in behavior, when someone suddenly does something that seems very out of character and that is exactly what happened but at the time. it was significant because he
was part of the team and experimenting and things that wd be fine that's one thing i would say to people is suddenly if you have a child that gets in trouble. those are warning signs that something could be wrong and we have to do a much better job certainly i wish i had done a better job of asking more questions and listen without judgment and listen without trying to fix things but listen to try to understand what he was feeling. >> host: if they know the difference between a typical teen behavior and what needs to be looked into more carefully. >> guest: that is the conundrum. it can often be the same
behavior as one might have if depressed. sleeping patterns changed eating habits change, behaviors that change. it's difficult sometimes to tell and that's why we cannot operate under the delusion that everything was fine because we have a child with a theme of antitrust. we believe in their goodness. we believe in their health and their ability to make good decisions and i think that all of us have to be aware that someone we love may be struggling with life and death thoughts and they are working hard to hide things from us and that will change the way we interact. >> host: that is a question people have is why did he do this and i know you talk about in the book the theory is that
the media and others that i'm interested in what are your thoughts on that question? >> guest: the likelihood that someone you love any child you have will take part in a school shooting, the chances of that happening are one in millions so this isn't an everyday occurrence. this isn't something every parent should be concerned about is his or her child will become a school shooter. the more interesting is how many have thoughts of suicide and self harm. and if we look at a murder suicide such as the columbine tragedy, murder suicide is a small subset of suicide reality that will result in the killing of someone else. so, my recommendation is that we focus very much on trying to understand suicide into trying
to prevent suicides of these things don't erupt into a terrible tragedy. you did ask why this happened and in the book i think i talk about the more effective question to ask is how does this happen, what is the recognition that one deteriorates into this as a medical model. if we look at suicide and considered tthe site andconsidek as we would heart disease or diabetes, we know that there are many factors involved. there's biological factors that should someone might have a tendency to think or act or eat or live in a certain way. there's environmental factors that could be the school culture or the national culture and
especially with suicide or triggering factors and things that occur in one's life such as bullying or a rest that can impact the risk that what is happening. so my answer is what happened is a rare set of circumstances that overlapped perfectly if you want to look at it in a diagram of interlocking circles where everything came into play. his own ability and wish to die in the pain he was in. they are the horrible perfect storm.
>> host: you call it brain health and to say he was experiencing depression. talking of something that concerns me that advocates for those affected by mental illness and that is the stigma. you see here that you do not need to imply that his brain health issues made him capable of the atrocities he would eventually enact into to do so would insult the hundreds of millions of people around the world living with depression and you talk about this stigma meaning they d did not pursue te help they desperately need and you go want to talk about some of that researcher on the violence and mental illness but it's a very small risk. you talk about doctor jeffrey
swanson and his research. can you talk about that research tdocument in the book and why it was important to point out that this link isn't generally accepted that h you would be violent in fact the general rule is that people are not violent and 4% of people with mental illness as a risk factor in the 4% of instances. can you talk a little bit about that? >> guest: i'm glad you asked that, sure. certainly. this is one of the most difficult things in writing this book is i didn't want to make it any more difficult than it already is for anyone struggling with a mental health issue. there is certainly enough stigma and fear and i didn't want in any way to make anyone assume that someone who is even feeling
suicidal is necessarily a risk to other people because it isn't true. they are a risk to themselves and we are talking about a small percentage of someone who is suicidal and might then go on and kill other people. i feel there is a delicate balance in the discussion in this was one of the most difficult things in writing this book because i believe someone struggling with a mental illness is at the greatest risk to him or herself and knowing that someone is having thoughts where they are in pain and wish to die and they want the pain to stop this doesn't necessarily make them dangerous to other people that when all obut when all of i mentioned before are happening in such a unusual way than they
can become a risk to other people but that isn't the case, that isn't what happened most of the time and what i would love to see i think in the mental health community is almost a fear of having this conversation of when does violence against one cell phone against others play a role when someone is ill, when someone's brain isn't working properly and they don't have the tools for self-governance? what is that place where violence becomes a reasonable option and i wanted to raise the discussion simply because i feel that too many people do harm themselves when they are feeling bad and suffering and they are in distress and we have to find a way to help people and also the college that sometimes suffering does lead to a.
to try to have the conversation to understand what is happening to. it's a situation where somebody dies. >> host: you talk abou about and about how the media talked about this story and it was a story into something that was newsworthy but you also say that there is a way to talk about this responsibly. can you talk a little bit about that and why that was such an important point to raise in your book? >> guest: the media plays a huge role inadvertently and perpetuating violence. i think that even with the
reports on the suicides that don't involve the death of other people, there are protocols that schools can follow so they don't increase contagions and i believe we need to have a much clearer standard on how to report on violent incidences as well with as much care as we have put into some of the research on how to present to the suicides. when columbine happened, it was a world phenomenon and one of the reasons that it was perceived to be a phenomenon was that it was the beginning of 2 24/7 news coverage so people were bombarded with images running from the school can images of dylan and eric wearing their clothing that they wore the surveillance tapes showing guns, showing their names from their faces. there was a fight to release the
basement tapes to let people observe how they plan to end what they said if the experts i talked to indicated to me, and certainly i support this and believe it but this is very dangerous when we have disenfranchised youth that are observing these events it's something that makes them want to do this more in one of the things that makes people tend to forget about columbine is that it was a copycat situation. dylan and eric referred to this event in their own communications with each other. i think these images, talking abouabout then it's irresponsibn
the part of the media. >> host: the book is about your journey and reflecting on it. can you talk about that journey into your reflections and what you learned, the lessons he learned over the time yo you wee writing it as you said in the beginning it took you 17 years to kind of process what had happened. talk a little bit about what you learned and what you want people to know that you learned from the journey that you have been on. >> guest: this is going to sound fragmented but they are joined. one of the things i learned is that love is not enough to protect someone that theme of from illness and that may be a mental illness or gray no less and i think that i always believe in my heart that you
could love someone's bad thoughts. that is one of the lessons i took away and that is we have to do more than just love someone and be there for them. for the good skilled technicians but know how to help in different situations. someone may be working hard to wear a mask to hide what he's thinking and feeling. always be aware of that becausee it will change the way you
interact. i think things i learned about myself perhaps more than anything else, i learned the nature of a tragedy that is complex such as this one it was very hard to just focus on pure grief for the loss of my son and that is one of the things i had to work on very hard in therapy is don't focus on your humiliation, don't focus on your fear of being sued by all these families, don't focus on your life changing coming tlife-chand as you knew it. i work in all of this is to find your way back to the grief for the individual who did such a terrible thing. if other individuals have lost due to suicide and murder
suicide the important thing to remember is the way they died is not who they were. >> guest: you talk about a lot of the mail you've got, the boxes and boxes of mail and you talk about how it helped you have letters from people who had a loved one who died by suicide coming to your point about getting the support and hearing their stories seemed to help you. and i know that where i work we have support groups and education classes led by other families and to the people who have mental illness and that helps people. can you talk about why that was particularly helpful to you? >> guest: after something like this happens, you feel no one else can understand what you are going through.
i felt i had gone through a looking glass and i was living in a different world right was on one planet and everybody else was on a different planet and when i spoke with people who lost children to suicide or had loved ones who were incarcerated and it was somehow very comforting for me to know that i wasn't the only one trying to sort this out, but that other people have experienced these things and to see that they were going on with their lives, but they were productive human beings, they haven't let this destroy them, it was heartening to see that that was possible and that maybe someday i would have a life that' that would fee a normal life again, whatever that means. >> host: and you talked about how you could give back by listening. can you talk a little bit more about us and hel that and how -d
that people when they move to being able to help someone else and to listen thad to listen toe and it can help heal them. can you talk about how that affected you? >> guest: that was to be an important marker in my own healing because in the beginning, after a traumatic loss, we have a need to talk about it. we all do. it's like that old problem where the old man wants to talk about what he experienced and tell everybody. i think by retelling our stories and talking about what you're experiencing and feeling it takes the sting out of it and allows us to desensitize a little bit and get used to hearing the story and used to being in the hearing that and knowing it is our lives and that's what we need to live with. when we get to replace that we are able to listen to someone else and not feel the need to interject how we are feeling
more tfeeling orto see if that i know how you feel, when that is gone, that is a marker that we have come a long way in our own healing. and i was so filled with joy when i foun found i that i've go a place where i no longer needed to talk about my loss and story but i was able to listen to someone else because i think when you give someone the opportunity to talk and tell their story and you listen and support and you don't judge, i think that is the greatest gift we can give to another person. >> host: and you talk in the book about how you wish you had listened more to some of the things that were going on with his perfectionism and some of the other characteristics. can you talk about that and what you wish you had listened to and what you think was important to have her? >> guest: in one of my interviews i did speak with
someone who gave me a question that she recommended. he was a psychiatrist and he said here's something i think every parent of a moody teenager should ask them and i wish i had this question to ask when he was living. it is this tell me something about yourself that no one understands that causes you pain and then listen for the answer. don't try to talk them out of it or say yes it's because you are a teenager, these are tough years. just listen. and when they've completed answering the question then say tell me more about that. and i share that with everybody i can because i think it's a perfect example of an open-ended question. it's a way to ask something and give someone aopportunity to speak and hear what they have to
say and listen without judgment and experience empathy without trying to jump out what to do about it. >> host: you said as you talk about these things you are not excusing what your son did at columbine. if you want to talk about that and your feelings about the tragedy? >> guest: i didn't want anyone anywhere to think that i was simply concluding dylan was depressed, therefore he became a murder, because that's ridiculous, it's untrue. i cannot ever fully explain how dylan could get into a place where he would willingly consider killing people or in this case blowing up an entire school. no matter how hard i try to understand and put all these
factors together and interlocking circles, but is still a question that's very hard for me to understand and accept. and there's no way i can justify this. yes, he experienced a toxic culture at the school in the yes he had an influential friend. everything takes us closer to understanding but i don't think i will ever fully understand how it could happen and that's why i so earnestly wanted to donate funds from the book to research and to support programs and prevention programs because i think that we have many answers we need to find. >> host: you mentioned your son's friend, and some believe that it was the dynamic between the two of them that contributed to the tragedy.
what are your thoughts on that? >> guest: i believe that is true in highly likely. i had quite a few experts i talked with added support and substantiated belief. and i believe that for whatever reasons i may not understand in my lifetime, there was a chemistry between them. there was an interdependent somehow he was going t willing o along with a plan to blow up the school and kill people if they don't know what it was that made him so able to do that, but i believe the impact of the friendship was a significant causal factor. >> host: have you spoken to his parents at all? have they talked about the book with you at all? >> guest: when i get asked questions about the harris
family or my own, i usually try to back off from that question a little bit because individuals who lose family members in murder suicide from what i've met, most often don't want to be in the limelight. they don't want to be recogniz recognized. they don't want to be talked about. it's too difficult for them to even accept what they did come thaveto face what they did, to e reminded over and over again so i'm going to protect the privacy of individuals have been associated with this and simply say that yes i have been in contact with them from time to time. ..
>> >> who do you have any words then she'll have to live with the aftermath? >> guest: what happened in the tragedy was like up double in the water and the circles cup whitening how effective people so some of dylan's friends did experience very difficult times. i know one of them did require hospitalization.
yes it was terribly difficult for his friends and in many ways they were experiencing what we were, complete disbelief unable to put the pieces together and i would say each individual each processes in a different way. each and everyone of us bills would never construct a kid to go on living. >> host: you talk about looking for someone to play a more that feeling. and of how you came to understand is the victim was
difficult for you you could work through that? >> i don't think deliverer work through a completely. >> guest: it is difficult as you did beings to be rejected iran judge and criticized. looking at the example of road rage where our acre takes over. and i think it will ever be comfortable but i didn't understand people need to feel anchor from the early reporting of the tragedy
into still believe in this day for whatever the reason that the parents were publicly blamed a and held accountable. and what was the second half of your question? >> host: you answer that. about not working through that. >> guest: i will say when people do horrible things all of us want to believe such a thing could never happen to us. that the other person or the of their purses family are different from our own. this is to deal with the fear and the trauma.
i understand how makes people feel bad that our family was evil. or i was neglectful. did you feel like something like that could happen to them. >> host: and talk about how those were not true you want to talk about your family life when dylan was growing up? >> guest:. certainly every family has imperfections. we did have struggles i always believed was a good mother i love my children dealer -- julie i was a teacher so i was thrilled with his brilliant mind. he was precocious and playful and loving.
into to do what was in the best interest of our children. and i used every moment that i could find to teach goodness as we would want to be treated. i honestly don't believe the environment of the family was a causal factor for his being involved in the tragedy. to said really wish i would have done this might therapist would remind me you did that. you said that. en to forgive myself what dylan had experienced. >> talking about how he was
a perfectionist and got upset when they did go the way he expected. to feedback this was important can you talk about how that affected you later with the tragedy of? >> yes. and dylan was a gifted child ended a gifted program he had a very significant capability to stick with something until it was completed. there was frustration around that. he was playing the keyboard in his room so he would get impatient and frustrated that would not quit and that was what i treasured most about him.
so when he became an adolescent and had trouble in school and things were not coming quite so easily easily, i saw that as a good thing as a lesson in life to loosen up a little bit you cannot always make it be the way you want to be. if he was unhappy with the particular incident i didn't see this as a negative experience but something that indicated he was growing to become an adult we have to go to those negative experiences to richer. >> as time went on you saw signs that you thought were troubling looking back as his growth as an adolescent can you talked about how you change your views as what you should have concerned
with? the back i mentioned earlier one of the things that was an indicator in his senior he had a spell of trouble during that time he got in trouble at school for hacking into the schools computers -- computer system in being arrested for stealing something and scratching a locker. those of the three things that occurred. a was concerned and wanted to know should he see a counselor or was it just me but there were no other indicators something was strongly on this. so we took his word for it and he promised he would do better and he did. that is shocking how hard he worked to get his life contract to get to a good
college. at the end of his life within a few weeks of his death we went to school conference because the teacher indicated his grades were slipping in english and in calculus. at that time the math teacher said he is sleeping in class but it was a morning class and we knew how busy he was he was accepted to the university of detroit. we thought it was senior -itis white 12 are expected to college and then they said he wrote a disturbing paper what does this mean should we be concerned? he said alaska school counselor if there is a problem he will get back.
i never saw the paper is slipped my mind because i did not see it as a civic and issued after my one dash his death it was very dark and disturbing but at that time, bind it had never happened and they didn't look at the issue of a violent paper as something that was indicative of the possibility of a real deterioration. those are some of their regrets that i have. and that is why i have come forth. if you have anything that is a concern never assume it is just teenage gangs to could be serious -- teen-age banks to. >> host: and you tell people to talk about early intervention.
if you talk about those barriers to get mental health treatment you talk about the counselor that did not follow up and other barriers out there. there are all kinds of barriers ted within all the different systems with the criminal-justice system being arrested at a greater risk of suicide we were not aware that. with a significant point of counseling if you take a kid like dylan who gets in trouble that is a dangerous time for that family and that child. there are barriers there.
or the threat assessment teams. there was a school discipline issue let's take a closer look. councilors cannot council very often they're there to work from schedules and college entrance not there to serve the psychological needs so that is of barrier. in that they don't want to get help leno more individuals than i can count with those issues of mental health addiction and through their own perception and what that means refusing is to get help.
>> you mention in the criminal justice system and their assistants to you and the trauma that some of those in counter. talk about those that you encountered on that topic. >> my experience with law enforcement is very unusual. i cannot draw any blanket conclusions. the tragedy happened. everyone was out of their comfort so nobody knew what was happening. the situation was a s.w.a.t. team a bomb squad a detective it was the all out bulletin for people to come
help from the police perspective it was a nightmare for them. but if you fast-forward 17 years there is a greater recognition and that anyone with law enforcement of who will intervene in this situation should be trained. and with that trading. that i recommend in with those individuals and professions and we will begin to understand more how the mind functions of.
>> and we will talk about the community and how that affects people. >> one of the peculiar things of this perspective was we were isolated. we were those that were perceived to be collaborators of not perpetrators. to be cut off from the post columbine how the community responded. living in the world of isolation and fear being close to family and friends.
so that trauma is something i cannot even begin to comprehend everytime i walked into a river was afraid to be associated with the tragedy and it exists today still and that why it was so difficult to decide to publish the book i continue to be people that were in the school at the time or where a teacher died. and the trauma lives on they are still experiencing ptsd. some people sustained injuries that continue to limit their life or cause them great pain or expense or hard chip -- partnership
it is hard to even comprehend. >> host: talk about yourself and your own journey and where you are now in light of what you experienced of what you have gone through. where are you today? talk about where you are now >> guest: i tend to believe that dylan was there that day and died that day because of the pathology and because of that pathology he was a victim of the tragedy just as all the others. and i believe it is true for eric. people find it very difficult to hear agent they feel like making an excuse for my son but it is my have come to believe after all of the research i have done.
i believe when we lose a child in particular it is a difficult kind of grief and a think mom really ever gets over it but i have found my own construct something that made him very ill and vulnerable contributed to his death justice if he had cancer or a heart condition or a genetic disorder and that is the way i process that something happened to my a son and because of the illness would never was happening in his mind he died in before he died he killed. i try to live with that and learn from back one of the
major things is that i have almost no judgment. i don't judge other people i have a belief system that horrible things happen to many of us. our work is to continue to love them and love ourselves civic you have gone on to do advocacy of grade health wide you use that term? >> guest: one of the experts that i interviewed use the term grain health i thought it was very wise. little-used of word mental-health for most
people with the general public people don't understand what that means or the range of thoughts a and behavior's and perceptions that can occur because of that. would you think of mental illness it is an intangible interest that people have said if you look of a brave malfunction if somebody begins to have persistent thoughts of suicide it is more likely than not has to do with the help put of serotonin in the ability receptors to receive the serotonin and process it. i believe it helps people to understand if to think of our thoughts to be in control of us something is
going wrong physiologically. it is not a character flaw or not because the year not a good person. in the brain dysfunction better describes what is occurring. >> we talk about a public health crisis when it comes to suicide and to give statistics less people tend to focus on other conditions but can you talk more why that was important in how you want people to look at those issues? >> one of the things that i learned is the rarity of the
double murder-suicide mass shooting is a very rare incident the chances of that happening but the chances that someone we love baby feeling suicidal or make a plan of how they would like to die because i believe they don't want to die that make the pain stopped. suicide is the second leading cause of death for you if. the number of high-school kids that have thought about suicide or have done something to harm their bodies or a 1.had a plan the numbers are astounding there are significant problems and i believe we have to start putting money into research with a suicide prevention
with the second leading cause of death. i generally don't get into a topic of gun safety but in colorado 76% of how does one recognize when they're at risk? and to limit access to firearms and those are a risk to harm themselves. in to be aware that if we do not get treatment or engage in a correction. >> host: i know that is
the main reason why you decided to speak out and speaking with many families to you want to talk about the response to the book and what you have heard from people now that it has been published? >> guest: many people have been upset people don't want to relive the tragedy one more time. but for the most part the feedback has been positive. and one of the things that has occurred and is very gratifying that they think before writing the book that i appreciate deeply and said every parent of a teenager should read the book that
they will not lose a child and not just write it off. the fact that they're reading and talking about it and that is my hope to accomplish. >> host: we appreciate the time and energy of conversations how people should be talking with a teenager and asking those questions what is causing you pain to get these issues because of the risk. it is really important and we appreciate the time and energy to put yourself out there with the writing of this book.
son people always find difficulties to hear about these topics but is there a thing we haven't covered the you want to make sure people know of your journey or your message? >> the only thing i will add is that much research needs to be done in support and i encourage people to support mental-health organizations suicide prevention and research organizations because there is so much we still need to know to make us feel safer to have more fulfilling and productive lives. is one step but helping the nonprofits is something all of us can do. >> host: thanks for spending time with me today.