Confessing Under Torture

How do I write a confession when I don't know how to write?
How do I write a confession when I don’t know how to write?

I was tortured. I confessed to everything.  I write this account unsure I have enough courage to publish. For one thing, the odds seem good I actually did the shameful things I confessed.

Shame is a powerful motivator. It drives a person to hide, to cover-up, to deny, to forget. It can induce a form of stress psychologists call cognitive dissonance. The chasm between what a person thinks he is and what his tormentors tell him he is becomes too wide. The personality begins to unravel.

fear 2
N-no.  M-my eye doesn’t itch.

Fear, on the other hand, drives a person to act, to survive, to do whatever it takes to reach safety. Or it can induce a state of paralysis. Either way, fear intensifies cognitive dissonance to a level where the accused becomes intolerant of it. Dissonance becomes painful. The sufferer must find release. One way is to confess—confess and be compliant.

I'm sorry regret anguishThis dynamic works well when a person believes they’ve done wrong, and not very well when they don’t. Inducing fear to intensify shame is one thing torturers do. When managed skillfully, guilty people confess their crimes. The innocent don’t.

It’s why torture works. Confessing reduces shame through the cathartic admission of guilt. And it offers the hope of freeing the confessor from further physical discomfort. If torture is not overly arduous, an accused person has a chance to resist with enough vigor to establish their innocence.

crazy man 2
“You stole my contacts,” Wild-Man said.

I’m not going to detail what the authorities did to get me to write a four-page signed confession. But the gist is, they threw a psychotic arrestee into my cell. The first thing he did was pick up my shoes and hurl them against the wall. (The authorities had told me to tie them together to use as a pillow.)

Wild-Man accused me of stealing his contact lenses. I looked him in the eyes and told him as smoothly as I could, it was good he came to my area, because now we could look for his contact lenses together. We spent the next twenty-five minutes on our hands and knees searching every square inch of my tiny cell.

confession legal pad
When the authorities realized I had taken control of Wild-Man, they came into the cell and led him away. After a few minutes passed, a uniformed woman brought me a legal pad and asked me to write my confession. Unsure of what was coming next I sat on the cold floor and started to write. Forty-five minutes later on page three I began spilling my guts; I confessed to everything I thought they thought I did.

one girls confession

Many unnerving things happened to me after I “confessed.” As I struggled to sleep, the authorities slammed a heavy steel door again and again to keep me awake. They pumped bone chilling cold air into my cell. It made me shake and induced an arthritic pain from which I suffer to this day. After a night of no sleep they served me a breakfast of curdled milk and soggy hamburger.

Eventually they released me. I learned then that the city newspaper had published parts of my confession on its editorial page.

bad puppy dog regret shame anguish
I was doing OK, until they fed me bad hamburger.

I decided to fully cooperate with the various authorities who handled me during the following months. After my plea of guilty, authorities sentenced me to probation and community service.

I worked hard. Case workers reported I was remorseful and repentant. They added, I was cooperative and helpful. At the end of my community service the authorities expunged my crime from public records. The judge set aside my guilty plea. My torturers assured me that my anonymity would be protected as long as I remained the model citizen that I always was before my arrest.

Best of all, they will confirm that I have not committed even a single crime since. Their modification of my behavior has been a complete success.

Billy Lee