It’s disconcerting to realize your hometown has a penchant for producing psychopaths. Timothy McVeigh grew up just a few miles from my family’s farm. Ditto Joyce Carol Oates—who has created numerous fictional psychopaths—and recent Clinton Correctional Facility escapee Richard Matt.
The last time New York had a prisoner on the lam—the hapless Ralph “Bucky” Phillips—ended disastrously, with a cop and a civilian both dead and two other cops seriously injured. Like Phillips, Matt is an escape artist, but he has a far deeper streak of nastiness. His felonious career began at age 13 and included robbery, assault and rape. He was in Clinton for torturing a 76-year-old businessman for twenty-four hours, until he finally snapped the old man’s neck, dismembered his corpse, and threw the pieces in the Niagara River.
While police investigated that murder, Matt fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution. There, he stabbed a man to death while trying to rob him. He never stood trial. Instead, the Mexican government shipped him back to the US without waiting for extradition. Apparently, he was too difficult to handle.
With Bucky Phillips in mind, I worry for all the cops (and innocent civilians) involved. The media, however, noted another side to Matt, as evidenced by his artwork. “There’s some humanity in him,” his former prison mate John Mulligan told CNYCentral.com. “There’s a dark side. Sure, there’s a dark side. That’s what the public is portraying. But there’s also a very human side to Richard Matt.
“He’s definitely talented and his life is wasted because I don’t think he’ll ever be released, especially not now,” he said. “Wasted talent is the worst. What he could have become if he didn’t take the route that he did.”
I’m glad that Matt found release in drawing and painting, but I wouldn’t call his work “stunning,” as ABC did, or call him a “gifted artist,” as the Daily Mail did. His work is, in fact, mundane. Many people who yearn to be artists find satisfaction in meticulously copying newspaper photos, but that’s a very low level of artistic expression. Art requires a leap from the mechanical to the spiritual. The first step is learning to draw from life.
It’s possible Matt just escaped to do some plein air work.
I believe in the potential for restoration for every human soul, but this guy scares me too much to concentrate on his redemption. I pray that he and his partner are captured and returned to prison without any more innocent lives being wasted (especially since I have painter friends who work those woods near Saranac). Then if he wants to go on drawing celebrities in solitary confinement, more power to him.
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