The Psychopath Machine by Steve Smith

The Psychopath Machine

A Story of Resistance and Survival
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this debut memoir, a Canadian man tells of his ordeal as the subject of radical psychological experimentation, and of how he subsequently put his life back together.

Smith writes that his 1968 arrest for car theft at the age of 18, even though the charges were later dropped, “began my trip into hell, which was to last eight months and haunt me the rest of my life.” He was sent to Oak Ridge, a forensic mental health facility in Midland, Ontario, where he says that a doctor told him he was a “psychopath” and subjected him to treatment that included large doses of hallucinogens and other drugs, sleep deprivation, and being handcuffed to fellow inmates (“rapists and killers determined to convince me I was insane”). After his release, the author went through many ups and downs, sometimes flush with cash, sometimes homeless. He was involved in various crimes, including recruiting girls into prostitution: “I have no excuse or explanation, only that I was young and didn’t know any better,” he says. Stealing cigarettes sent him to Burwash Correctional Centre, where he did well and learned new skills, but an escape attempt landed him back in Oak Ridge and then in Kingston Penitentiary. Upon his release, Smith reunited with his brother, partied a lot, and traveled through Mexico and Central America, having many adventures. He also pursued a class-action lawsuit against the Oak Ridge doctor, not to his entire satisfaction. The author eventually married and began a successful plastic fabrication business. After a somewhat confusing opening section—in which the author tells of meeting Peter Woodcock but doesn’t explain who he is for readers unfamiliar with the Canadian serial killer—Smith writes very expressively about his own confusion, despair, and anger. The book sheds light on therapeutic practices considered cutting-edge in their time, but which now seem barbaric. Many details here have appeared in other sources, but Smith’s description of Woodcock’s secret “Brotherhood” organization, and his own subsequent involvement with it, is difficult to verify. The author has a good eye for telling details, though, including heartbreaking ones, as in his description of girls on the “Indian bus” in public school who would throw notes out the window saying “HELP ME.” He makes his tangled story readable and absorbing.

A good contribution to the history of psychiatric malpractice, as well as an engrossing personal memoir.

Pub Date: July 21st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4602-8783-5
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: FriesenPress
Program: Kirkus Indie
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