Catcher Gone Awry,

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From an August 2020 parole hearing for Mark David Chapman, who was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison in 1981 for killing John Lennon. Chapman was denied parole.

commissioner joseph crangle: After the shooting, sir, did you feel relieved, like you had accomplished what you set out to do?

mark chapman: No, that I did not feel. The opposite happened.

crangle: You didn’t flee. You just stood there, and then I know that the doorman took care of the gun, and you just sat there and then opened up The Catcher in the Rye and started reading? I don’t know how you could have been reading during that moment of such chaos, where an unbelievable man is lying there about thirty feet from you, dead by your actions.

chapman: Yes.

crangle: Is there a connection with this book in your life?

chapman: I identified with that character’s isolation, loneliness. I got very wrapped up in that book.

crangle: One of the reasons I’m asking is because, as you know, we have your sentencing minutes, okay? Bear with me here. At sentencing, your attorney spoke, and then you had an opportunity to speak. You asked permission from the court to read a passage of The Catcher in the Rye. The particular passage that you picked was the following: “Anyway, I keep picturing all of these little kids playing some game in the big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids and nobody is around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff. I mean, if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye.” Enlighten us. I don’t understand why you chose that passage, and why did you do that at sentencing?

chapman: Well, I think psychologically I look back at it now—and I haven’t heard or read that for years—this guy wants to save the world. In my twisted way at that time, in my thinking, I’m not thinking that what I did was good, but I’m thinking, you know, maybe there’s something I can do now that’s important, and this is my heart. This was my horrible, evil self. Just a way to try to make up for it and trying to say I’m not really a bad person. That’s the best explanation that I can give.

crangle: That moment there, the description, a person is saving a little kid from falling off a cliff, right, in the field of the rye?

chapman: The author is playing in that passage—this guy, he’s a confused youth and he’s looking for meaning and he has a little sister and he’s saying the heck with school, heck with society, the heck with money. What’s the important thing here, what do I do? I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but that’s what I come away with. He wants to do something above and beyond real life. I’m thinking, Here’s this horrible crime. I really at that point can’t deal with it, so I make some type of—a totally impractical way of saying this is who I want to be. I want to be someone helpful and that’s a messiah complex. You’re going to save people and be bigger than life—really you’re running away from what’s going on inside of you, so you have to create an alternate world to explain why your life is a commonplace, day-to-day, meal-to-meal type of life. That’s the best that I can explain it.

crangle: Okay.

chapman: I don’t read the book anymore.