Some family and associates were sure that Dr. Phil would “demolish” me. And one or two even voiced their concerns that Phil might upset me to a point of throttling the ever-popular daytime talk show host with my bare hands. Briefly, I somewhat believed them and I allowed the horror show of naysayers to rent space in my already over-taxed head. I’d nearly given up hope or the will to even try for the show.
Ultimately, I rallied and inched my way out to Hollywood with one or two hoops to jump through blindly. There were certainly tense moments. Like when I had to scramble hysterically to get a number of releases signed. These included the ones for my treatment program, psychiatrist, and, dreadfully, biological father. None but my dear psychiatrist came along without an infuriating struggle. In the midst of this symphony of dysfunction, I was obliged to do one of the most relevant true crime podcasts today, True Crime Garage, feeling pretty hopeless throughout the interview as I thought Dr. Phil was slipping away. I may have made a couple of provocative statements on Garage without meditating on them very much first. But I got through it and the listener commentary makes for quite an interesting read. God help us…
The key focus for Dr. Phil, besides The Shawcross Letters, would be some kind of conflict I was having inter-personally. At first, I almost dropped the ball, as when one of the producers called I was half asleep and couldn’t think of any conflicts I was having. This in itself is an amazing lapse as I’m in conflict with virtually everybody I know or have known! Literally, two seconds after I hung up, momentarily feeling hopelessly dejected, it was like I was pulled out of bed by an invisible collection of hands and I had a sudden, total clarity. I immediately got back in touch with the producer, a genuinely lovely and accommodating woman, and we settled on the conflict and hopeful resolution revolving around my father and sister. There was LOTS of bad blood there. Figuratively and literally.
It was tense for me right until I was actually sitting next to Phil on stage. Then, surprisingly, I was calm and focused. I quickly realized that I was handling him similarly to the way I’ve addressed various judges I’d stood before in a number of courtrooms: respectfully, politely, and with a certain degree of caution. Words can cause a lot of problems. Take it from a writer and someone who has had to take a crash-and-burn course in legalese. Even though with Phil I was quite a bit more forthcoming. The faint voice was just urging me to act civilized.
Phil turned out to be dignified and respectful in return, thankfully. There were a couple of comical moments. One of them eliciting a shocked gasp from someone in the audience and, based on the same revelation from me, when the unexpectedly human host muttered during a commercial break, “Jesus Christ…” Good times indeed, but never for the faint of heart.
Everyone from the show were incredible with my sister, Jennifer, and her children, too. As there would’ve been no one to mind the kids due to stubbornness and other unnecessary factors, they flew the gang out and had a nanny there for when Jen was on stage with me during the second segment. It was a truly wonderful time and my first Hollywood adventure is way up on the list of best-evers. Right up there with unexpectedly winning bail out of the Nashua Street Jail from the state itself via the Massachusetts Bail Fund.
Also, Arthur Shawcross’s daughter, Maggie, made a surprise appearance. It was a surprise to me at least. Apparently, the show had been hiding her under tight security. I had no problems with Maggie and we ended up keeping in touch. Jack Blake’s sister, who also made a guest appearance via Skype, was understandably more complicated to deal with. Jack was one of Arthur’s first victims, which even for myself is unspeakable. But overall, the group session was, perhaps, more civil than anyone expected.
Though, this is still all a work in progress…
“When God died, the world went berserk.”
Writing The Shawcross Letters ended up being more of a therapeutic undertaking than anything else. The more I wrote, the more I felt that I was neutralizing my personal gremlins. The book almost didn’t happen as I wasn’t totally sure that I wanted my usually very private demons to be thrust in such a raw and unfettered fashion into the world’s all-seeing eye. But it all coalesced nicely. Despite a few interruptions. Such as jails and mental hospitals (yes, plural). All of which actually afforded me time to reflect and start earnestly putting the pieces of my life and the book together.
It was a fortuitous situation of one thing leading to another. For anyone interested, I was clean and sober for the duration of the writing. Being on probation for two years ended up working in my favor. Although I violated probation once, it was prior to settling down and getting serious about the process throughout the six months that were mercifully added by the East Boston court instead of serving time in Suffolk County House of Correction. Letting me languish in a grim and grimy cage any further wouldn’t have been productive. Plus, ordered into a five-day-a-week program with three mandatory urinalyses a week, reported to probation, I did take it seriously. Other clients in the intensive outpatient program were screwing up constantly. One girl, a recovery friend, was trying to beat the system with urine that didn’t belong to her, in the traditional sense, and she ended up spilling it all over herself in front of the woman obliged to watch her urinate into a cup. She was kicked out and I rarely heard from her again. That was always happening. Making recovery friends is like making friends in a war zone: be prepared to lose them with zero notice. They either overdose or go to jail. In my own case, I was closing in on a technical violation just because I couldn’t pee in front of another man glowering over me like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. As usual, however, my psychiatrist stepped in and gave me a letter making it official that I suffered from paruresis, or “shy bladder”. From then on, the watchers had to let me use the bathroom alone. But I always stayed on the straight and narrow. I wanted the book to be written with a sober mind.
That said, The Shawcross Letters is a work which I’m deeply proud of. It allows for honest firsthand insight into a pair of strange and aberrant minds. In the end, I chose my writing over murder. I think everyone can appreciate that much.