Sunday, November 24, 2013

Archie Connett in His Own Words: Part II -- The Trial and Prison

Archie Connett was released from prison on July 1, 1968 after serving 15 years for murdering his three children and attempting to murder his estranged wife. He was released from parole two years later and was a free man. After prison he founded Ex-Offenders Resources, Inc., to influence the ex-offender community to contribute to society. He co-authored at least two books, including "Paroled but Not Free: Ex-offenders Look at What They Need to Make It Outside," which was published in 1973. In the epilogue of this book, Connett describes what happened on December 23, 1952 and his life after that.

This is Archie Connett in his own words and is a continuation of this earlier post.

"After five months, I went to trial. There, after a month-long trial, the jury found me guilty of three counts of murder in the second degree and one count of assault with intent to commit murder.

Archie Connett was convicted of second degree murder and attempted murder and declared sane. Article published on June 3, 1953 in the Oakland Tribune

The judge sentenced me to San Quentin Prison for the maximum sentence he could hand down: three 5-to-life sentences and one 1-to-14-year sentence to run consecutively. This meant 16 years to life. Later these sentences were aggregated by state law to 10-to-life, which meant I became eligible for parole in 3 years and 4 months.

In my first two years at San Quentin, I just put one foot in front of the other. The betting on the Big Yard was that I would commit suicide in the first year. Nights -- after a hard workout in the gym on the top floor of an old building down in the alley -- when I came out on the fire escape and looked five floors down to the pavement, it would have been very easy to have stepped off.

It was not until I was transferred to the California Medical Facility at Vacaville that I began to find myself. There I had five years of individual and group therapy. Therapy that was much like that at Synanon -- hard-driving, uncovering. For months I had diarrhea and difficulty sleeping. But I learned some things.

I learned that quite early my mother communicated to me an unstated proposal that had far-reaching effects on my life: "If you love me, you will do everything I want you to do because everything I want you to do is right and good and perfect; and if you do, I will love you above everyone."

She kept the promise -- as long as she lived. Even after my offense she treated me as though I were a god. In her eyes, I had been perfect: I accommodated to toilet and eating and language training earlier than children usually do. I measured up to her moral and social expectations. I became the all-American boy -- a scholar, an athlete, a school and campus leader. I became a naval officer, a teacher and coach, a devoted husband and father. For thirty-nine years I lived entirely within the law. I fulfilled her expectations and she kept the promise.

Archie Connett's mother, Lefa Marie (Amsberry) Connett/Zeller with her brothers and sisters. She is in the front row, far left.

With no father (my father was beaten to death with a hammer when I was six months old) to rescue me in my most vulnerable years, my obsession (to be loved by everyone as my mother loved me) and my compulsion (to qualify for that love by being perfect) took root.

To feel impelled to measure up to and to please others -- to be always "right and good and perfect" -- in order to feel right about yourself is a terrifying and precarious existence, and when you fail -- catastrophic.

My wife and children were my little world -- the principal people between me and the terrifying threat of isolation, failure and self-doubt. Confronted with this threat, having no real identity, ridden with anxiety, dependent on those close to me for constant assurance of love and affection that would stave off anxiety and give me at least some feeling of self and security, it was imperative that I maintain my little world. I could not let it go, accept an altered version of it, or create another. I had to have it. I wanted, desired it so much that I struggled to obtain it until I drove myself beyond the edge of sanity.

Archie Connett is upper right; his wife, Wynona (Gottlieb) Connett, lower right; his two oldest children Michael and Theresa are to the left

In therapy I learned what had happened to me and why, and what I must do about it. I learned I could not undo or make up for what I had done and that no matter what I had done, no matter what happened to me, I still had the potential to go on living, loving, and creating, and that it was up to me to do so.

NOTE:  Part one may be found here.

NOTE: To read the front page story that was published in the Oakland Tribune the day after the murders on December 24, 1952, click here and here.

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