Working as a prison psychiatrist is a lot like tending a garden—mostly watering, sometimes pruning and always planting seeds in patients’ minds.
Despite my best efforts to document and keep files on criminals, the truth is best summed up in an old Spanish proverb—more grows in the garden than the gardener knows he has sown. The fact is I don’t always know the effect my treatment is having on the patient.
Take the case of Ariadne Vasilou, for example.
Ariadne grew up in Cyprus, attended college in France and came to New York in the late nineties. When I met her she was just thirty years old. All my colleagues touted her as a model inmate, but for some unknown reason, she repulsed me.
It may have been her name. Ariadne reminded me of the Greek word Arachne, or spider.
It may have been she kept a tarantula as a pet and it reminded me of her—a patient, noiseless stalker.
But I think most disturbing was her nickname, The Black Widow.
All of Ariadne’s male acquaintances were poisoned with clonidine and subjected to horrific torture—two of them died.
Psychiatrists are supposed to be accustomed to dealing with the unlovely—I thought I was. The lady was breath-takingly beautiful, but the most monstrous woman I ever met.
“Tell me about yourself, Dr. Logan,” she purred, “or might I call you Brent?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. Even though I knew her seductive games, constantly deflecting them was very off-putting.
“You know the rules, Ariadne—no personal disclosures on the therapist’s part.”
“Only on my part?” she smiled and my spine went icy.
“Were you abused as a child?”
“No.” she pouted. “Are you married?”
I wasn’t going to play quid pro quo with her, or engage in a glass bead game—she was quite brilliant and studied at the Sorbonne before emigrating to the USA.
“As I said, Ariadne, we must keep this on a professional basis.”
“Very well—I wouldn’t want to expose your vulnerabilities.”
I tried a different tack. “Why do you hate men?”
“What makes you think I hate men?”
“The fact you drugged and tortured twenty of them—not counting the two you killed.”
“That was unintended—they were weak—had I known, I would never have cultivated them. I despise weakness.”
“Nevertheless, they’re dead. How do you account for the facts?”
“I like men. I like testing their limits—pushing the boundaries, you might say.”
“You tortured your victims.”
My acquaintances—they weren’t victims—they willingly accompanied me home.”
“Do you always hurt the ones you love?”
I glanced at the clock—the session was up. I made little progress in getting her to accept responsibility for her actions, although she was superficially compliant.
As she got to her feet, she said casually, “Are you going to listen to Rachmoninov again tonight?”
I froze. I divulged nothing of my personal life, yet she knew my usual routine. I gave her a bland smile, but said nothing.
“You’re very good at that, you know.”
The guard waiting to accompany her back to her cell paused.
“Good at what?” I asked, curious.
“You’re very good at masking—one of the best, I’ve met.”
Her remark disturbed me. I brooded about it off and on the rest of the day.
I wracked my brain trying to recall a chance remark to a colleague or even a guard she might have overheard, but nothing.
If she were trying to rattle me, she certainly had my attention.