Can John Kissel Read?


            I wonder whether John Kissel’s lips move when he reads silently. Indeed,  I wonder whether he reads at all. It certainly appears that his idea of reading for pleasure is reviewing public opinion polls. You see, the Enfield Republican thinks reading books can be dangerous. He either believes that or he is simply a cynical fool.

            The Connecticut state senator is threatening to propose legislation banning true crime or graphically violent books from the state’s prisons. I guess he figures prisoners might get ideas about what to do when they are released by reading the wrong kinds of books.

            If we could just get them to read about Horatio Alger why they’d all become wealthy businessmen, I suppose.

            Connecticut is gripped by Petit fever just now. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against two men accused of a brutal home invasion that resulted in the death of a mother and her two daughters. The man of the house, Dr. William Petit, Jr., was beaten senseless and left for dead. The men accused of the crimes were long-time state prisoners.

            When prosecutors threatened to introduce as evidence at trial a list of the books the men read while they were locked up, the defense asked a judge to prevent the evidence from being offered. The state agreed not to seek to introduce the reading material. Because of a gag order in this case, no one was ever told what books could be so dangerous that the state would seek to offer them as evidence.

            The Associated Press decided to find out, and it submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Department of Corrections to determine just what inmates can get out of prison libraries. To no one’s surprise, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a true crime classic about the murder of a wealthy Kansas farm family in 1959 sits on several shelves. So do books by Ann Rule.

            Petit fever demands that anything remotely similar to the Cheshire home invasion be banned.

            I own a bookstore, and my home contains thousands of books; my law office serves as a satellite library. We’ve got plenty of thrillers in my shop and on my shelves. And yet, somehow, I’ve lived these many decades without once killing someone. I’ve read books about sex offenders, without abusing a child. I have never read a dangerous book, and I read as many as I can.

            But I confess I rarely vote. Were I to develop a taste for masochism, I’d turn to the Marquis de Sade. Spending time with the likes of Kissel cold make me a violent man.

            "There are so many books in the world, and I don't think inmates need to be reading about murder, whether it's fiction or nonfiction," Kissel told a reporter. "One would hate to think that Mr. Hayes read this book for hours and hours and hours and thought about it for days and days and days and hatched his plan for what took place in Cheshire.”

            What would Kissel have prisoners read, political memoirs? On Kissel’s tortured reasoning about the danger or books such reading would simply yield more empty-headed chatterboxes good for nothing but posturing.

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

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