I planned on making a response in the comments to Kae in Winchester, Kentucky. It seems, instead, that “promoting” what I want to say to a full-fledged post would be a better idea as others from Winchester have left comments as well, and addressing them all in one fell swoop would serve a better purpose.
If you’ve been reading this website over the past two weeks you know that I’ve been following a story out of Kentucky. William Poole, an eleventh-grader at George Rogers Clark High School was arrested for making a terrorist threat against his high school on the basis of a journal his grandparents turned over to the police. Poole claimed that his journal contained a short story he wrote for one of his classes, a story about zombies taking over a high school. Last week Poole was arraigned, and for the first time parts of his journal were made public.
The news articles on Poole’s arraignment, like the one in the Winchester Sun, are not favorable. Poole did himself no favors by lying about the contents of his writings as they contain no whiff of the zombies he said they did. Icarus hints darkly at an explusion from another school in Poole’s past.
Freedom times security is a constant.
That’s one of Niven’s Laws, as in Larry Niven, science-fiction writer, author of Ringworld and a whole lot else besides, and one of my inspirations as a writer. Ring Around the Sky owes a great deal to Niven.
Freedom times security is a constant. To be more free, you trade off security. To be more secure, you trade off freedom. It seems to me that in the post-9/11 world in general, in the post-Columbine world for schools in particular, that Americans are now too willing to trade their freedoms away believing it makes them more secure. Poole has been vilified for his private thoughts.
Believe it or not, I feel a connection, an interest if you will, in this story. I lived ten months in Kentucky, nearly two decades ago, in Barbourville, the town mentioned in the stories on Poole’s arraignment, the town where his confederate offering money, guns, and ammunition in a letter comes from. I did not like living in Barbourville. It was a small town, a dirty town, a poor town. It was a socially stratified town. The gap between rich and poor wasn’t just a gap–it was a chasm. I would not willingly go back to Barbourville today. What kept me sane those ten months was my imagination. I wrote disturbing things. I wrote stories about the Soviet Union taking over the town, based loosely on the ABC mini-series Amerika. I filled notebooks with drawings of cannons and howitzers and mushroom clouds. I made gunpowder as a science experiment. Had someone looked at the things I was doing, I might well have been in the same boat at William Poole is today. I would never say that I was a disciplinary problem–I actually kept my nose clean–but had someone come down hard on the things that interested me and kept me sane I could so easily have become a kid lost.
I don’t know what Poole wrote. I’m judging this case long-distance–I have only the quotes in the news articles on the arraignment to go by. What I take away from those quotes, though, is a certainty that, however disturbing and anti-social Poole’s writings may be, they do not constitute a plan for a school take-over. If the writings are a plan, why are the consistently referred to as “stories”? Unless it’s news, “story” says fiction. If the writings are a plan, why do they consist of narrative? Again, unless it’s news, “narrative” says fiction. If the writings are a plan, why did the teacher admonish Poole not to bring them to school again when if they were a plan the teacher should have been the one to alert the police rather than Poole’s grandparents? Poole is certainly guilty of poor judgment in what he wrote. Based on the limited evidence made public, unless the police have some information they haven’t revealed I harbor reasonable doubts that Poole is guilty of any more than that.
Lynn in Winchester, I do understand your concern. I am not defending Poole reflexively out of a sense of liberal outrage. Instead, I think I have raised some valid questions on the reasoning behind Poole’s arrest and whether the evidence justifies the arrest. There are, as you note, some unnerving coincidences. I don’t know what to make of this kid in Barbourville, the one with the money, the guns, and the ammo. I don’t know what to make of the dates in the writings.
Kae in Winchester, I apologize for the term “Kentucky Zombies.” I wasn’t using the construction to refer to anyone in Kentucky, but rather was referring to Poole’s claim that his writings were about Dawn of the Dead-like zombies, hence “Zombies in Kentucky.”
Kae, Shaina, Lynn, the three of you are on site. You live in Winchester. You know that community. I don’t. You have real concerns that I may understand at best in the abstract. You might be sitting at your computer thinking, “This guy doesn’t get it.” Maybe I don’t. What I do get is that this story is troubling from many perspectives. Poole has many problems. Does he need help? Did the police overreact? Is Poole a kid who fell through the cracks? As the story develops answers will emerge, and I’ve little doubt I will still be troubled. The evidence I see is all suggestive, not conclusive. It’s like we have a number of data points, but how does one draw a line between them? Is a straight line? Is a parabola, or a third-power equation? Or should the dots even be connected to being with? I will be watching this story. I want to know.