The test was administered by an old-style cassette recorder that sat on a desk in the front of a large, cinder-block cell. Seated before it was 20-odd inmates at desks of our own, scantrons and stubby pencils before us. We were all dressed in orange jumpsuits, mine a particularly baggy affair, like somebody had sleeved a tent and flung it my way.
“There are times when I just want to smash something,” the cassette blurted in a male voice.
I’m paraphrasing here. It was a long time ago, June or July of 2000, and I had just been transferred from the Maricopa County jail into the Arizona Department of Corrections; sentenced to 2.5-years for felony shoplifting. It was my fifth time being sent to prison, four in Arizona State, and so my fourth time taking this test.
The answers, doled out in the same singsong male voice, were along the lines of:
“A. Yes, I do feel like smashing something.”
“B. Sometimes. I sometimes feel like smashing something.”
“C. No. I never feel that way.”
There were hundreds of these questions, most not so obvious. The voice was relentless, firing demands in rapid succession, for hours. Many of my fellow prisoners pooh-poohed the subject testing—the math and English which are also administered to every incoming inmate—but not this one. Failing this test could get one condemned to a unit for the criminally insane and force-fed meds like Prolixin, Haldol, Thorazine, or Lithium. These are not fun drugs, and psych wards—overrun with gassers and slashers and other such violently disturbed individuals—are not a place to do time.
According to The National Library of Medicine, the MMPI-2 “is the most common psychometric test devised to assess personality traits and psychopathology.” I would say murderers—mass or otherwise—fall into the latter category.
The reason prisoners are forced to take it is obvious—or should be. It’s unwise to cell an inmate with a possibly deranged individual. I was certainly grateful for the testing. It works, is why, and it made it much easier for me to close my eyes at night.
Many would-be police officers are given the MMPI-2 to minimize the hiring of mentally disturbed individuals. Psychopaths shooting at them, however, need take no test to buy assault rifles, handguns, body armor, high-capacity magazines, silencers, kits to convert firearms from semiautomatic to fully automatic and, lately, ghost guns. In this, the rights of murderers and terrorists trump those of first responders. That’s the actual stance of the gun lobby and their republican stooges.
Funny how one never hears police officers whining about having to take the MMPI-2, or politicians throwing themselves on the test-takers to spare our men-in-blue from the unfathomable toil the test imposes. But for Payton S. Gendron, who purchased a firearm legally and used it to hunt down and kill 10 African Americans in a Buffalo supermarket? Or Salvador Ramos, who massacred 19 school children and 2 of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas?
Luckily for them, Republicans are their champions. The sole criterion for purchasing a weapon (not to mention box cars full of ammunition) is to pass a criminal background check, and a watery one at that. Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 in a Florida High School in February of 2018, not only had a well-documented record of mental instability, but police had been called to his house 39 times over a seven-year span, according to CNN. So even overlooking the fact that Cruz is an obvious lunatic who would’ve failed the MMPI-2, how could anybody who has had so many police contacts not have set off a cornucopia of red flags?
If, however, the MMPI had been administered to him, there’s a good chance he’d have been denied. He then would’ve been forced to try to purchase a weapon and ammo illegally, which is not so easily done, especially for a cowardly little weasel like Cruz, as I opined in an essay in The Daily Beast nine years ago.
It’s obvious to all (or damn well should be) that the background checks designed to prevent criminals and/or deeply disturbed individuals from purchasing weapons are pathetically deficient. Almost as deficient as the thoughts and prayers slithering off the pearl-handled tongues of pro-gun politicians. What is decidedly not deficient is the number of weapons in our country and the amount of money the Gun Lobby shells out to purchase Congress by the chamber load. Like the background checks they themselves put in place, however, pro-gun politicians are mere shadows of what they should be. On the surface they appear adequate, even competent, but when you strip away the carefully contrived platitudes, they are near-dead things, their bones bum stocks, their hearts hollow points, their mouths misfires, their deeds spent shell casings, to where the only real reloading left them is spent lying their way to the bank.
Ed. Note: The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a standardized psychometric test of adult personality and psychopathology. Psychologists and other mental health professionals use various versions of the MMPI to help develop treatment plans, assist with differential diagnosis, help answer legal questions (forensic psychology), screen job candidates during the personnel selection process, or as part of a therapeutic assessment procedure. (Wikipedia)
Copyright 2022 Matthew J. Parker
Matthew J. Parker’s first book, a graphic novel, chronicles his transition from prisoner and drug addict to the Ivy League, and his work has also appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Baltimore Sun, Guernica, and The Rumpus. He currently lectures in writing at UC Berkeley.