On 7 August 2014 I posted a review of the documentary, Lost for Life. It was a movie that I’d discovered by accident, but it looked interesting, and the subject matter – a look at five teen killers and whether they should be forgiven for their homicidal actions – was certainly compelling. I watched the movie and found it both horrific and uplifting in equal measure.
Over time, Lost for Life has become thedullwoodexperiment‘s most viewed post. It’s also the post I’ve had the most feedback about. A lot of that feedback has concerned Jacob Ind (see picture below), whose story makes up the second part of the movie. Along with his brother Charles, Jacob was regularly abused by his mother and stepfather, both physically and emotionally, and he had nursed ideas of killing them for two or three years before they were murdered. His defenders state that his actions were the result of the abuse he’d suffered, but what helps to muddy the waters for anyone paying even the slightest attention to Jacob’s case, is his decision to persuade a classmate, Gabrial Adams to kill his parents for him (and for $2,000 Jacob didn’t have). A loner, Adams botched the job, and Jacob took over from him, successfully shooting and killing Pamela and Kermode Jordan.
In my review, I said that there was “something not quite right about his responses and the moments when he closes his eyes – which happen quite a lot – it’s as if he’s reliving the memories of killing his mother and stepfather”. Having watched the movie again, I still have that same feeling, that Jacob is so divorced from the concepts of personal responsibility and guilt that it’s all a puzzle to him – and one he has no interest in trying to decipher. Looking further into all the surrounding arguments I found a quote made by Jacob after the killings: “I thought that when they were gone, my whole world was going to be better. I thought all the weight was going to be off my shoulders, all the misery would be gone. But it wasn’t, and I said, ‘Man, I screwed up.'” Reading this, it’s not hard to think that Jacob’s only regret is that he didn’t get away with it.
The person I most felt sorry for was Josiah Ivy (see picture below), an abused teenager whose level of disconnection from those around him prompted him to kill two strangers “just to see what it felt like”. Josiah suffered abuse as a child, but where Jacob Ind looks unfazed and unconcerned by his crime, Josiah looks adrift in his own mind, a victim of mental ill health who’ll never quite manage to acclimatise to society (even if by some miracle he’s ever allowed out). Josiah, like Jacob and co-murderers Brian Lee Draper and Torey Adamczik, has an awareness of the magnitude of what he’s done, but it seems so overwhelming to him he doesn’t know how to properly express himself.
Of course, the question of individual responsibility is one the movie tackles throughout, and whether or not the teen killers in question were cognisant of what they were doing at the time. Some commentators argue that teenage minds aren’t as sharply defined in their thinking as an adult’s, but to me that’s a specious argument; everyone learns from an early age that it’s wrong to kill someone, but it’s an awareness that means nothing when placed up against a greater driver: that person’s level of self-interest. Aside from the final story involving ex-gang member Sean Taylor, whose random firing of a gun led to the death of a rival gang member, these are all stories of teens who deliberately set out to kill someone: random strangers, a friend, family members. You could argue that the victims were “convenient”, such was their murderers’ feelings about them at the time, and such was the brutality levelled at them. The question isn’t whether or not we should feel sorry for them – clearly the answer is No – nor is it whether they should be given a second chance as adults. The real question is how can we stop these types of killings from happening again.
Murder in any form is abhorrent, but what Joshua Rofé’s thought-provoking movie also does is to make the viewer doubt whether or not murder is ever so clear-cut. By focusing on three such horrific cases – Taylor’s story acts as a necessary rebuttal to the idea that rehabilitation is a waste of time – the movie broaches the possibility that murder can be understood and forgiven, even murders as heinous as the ones recorded here. This is true, but it’s down to the individual to decide, and is a brave choice to make with such an emotive issue. This is why the participation of Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins and Sharletta Evans is so important: without them (and Taylor) the movie would be unremittingly bleak, and wouldn’t fairly reflect the ways in which the human spirit can overcome the darkness that often blights people’s lives (it’s all about personal empowerment, but that’s a whole different movie).
At this moment in time, Draper, Adamczik, Ind and Ivy are all still in prison, and all still living out their very steep sentences. Ind’s accomplice, Gabrial Adams committed suicide in prison in March 2014, while the families of the victims still struggle to come to terms with what happened to their loved ones, and why. But again, the why is the easy bit: it’s because Draper, Adamczik, Ind and Ivy all wanted to do what they did. For the underlying reasons that drove them to murder, well, those are things we’re never likely to know for definite – but it would be fascinating if we did.