The Devil's Greatest Trick
By Vince Granata
From issue 21.1 of Fourth Genre and a notable essay in Best American Essays 2020.
I don’t hear the word inmate at the Whiting Forensic Institute. I don’t hear prisoner. The men and women who fill the facility, a maximum-security division of the Connecticut Valley Hospital, are clients.
Clients, like paying customers—the customer is always right.
One of these clients is my little brother, Tim.
When I visit Tim, rules allow for “a brief handshake, kiss, or hug at the beginning and end of your visit.”
When we hug I feel the weight of Tim’s hands on my back. I can smell his shirt, a cotton shroud mildewed with dried sweat. He wears sweatpants with the drawcord cut out because the string is long enough to wrap around a man’s neck.
When we hug he is as close to me as when we were boys wrestling on the sea-green carpet in our basement. During those afternoon bouts, we wielded whatever was available—discarded foam booster seats, deflated exercise balls, a canvas beanbag chair. We pawed at each other like bear cubs, like tumbling tufts of damp fur.
I was 27 when Tim killed our mother. He attacked her while she was sifting through used jewelry on eBay. After he killed her, he sat on our front steps and dialed 911. He held a white Bible in his left hand. He explained what he was wearing to the dispatcher—glasses, white T-shirt, sweatpants—and started walking down Wild Rose Drive. Police found him at the bottom of the hill where we had raced our bikes as kids.
Vince Granata is a nonfiction writer from New Haven, Connecticut. Most of his writing concerns mental health care and his family’s experience of serious mental illness. His writing has recently appeared in Fourth Genre, The Massachusetts Review, Creative Nonfiction, and The Chattahoochee Review, and has been recognized in Best American Essays 2018 and Best American Essays 2020. His memoir, Everything Is Fine, will be published by Atria Books in April, 2021.