Page 3 of 5
According to Topalli, most criminals aren't losers. The losers end up dead or in prison. The majority of the guys Topalli talks to are "successful" criminals. They don't merely act; they think. They might spend weeks exacting a plan for revenge. They have a philosophy about what they do. They have skills.
"Part of that expertise is developing a mind-set to commit crime without hesitation, without fear," Topalli says. "That takes time to develop. And then, just like with any other skill, you get better and better and better and better at it, until you could do it with your eyes closed."
The first rule Topalli lays down when he comes face-to-face with a carjacker, burglar, robber, or drug dealer: Don't talk about a rape or murder. If you do, you'll be turned in.
The rules that follow apply to Topalli himself:
Do not judge. You'll immediately lose trust and respect.
Do not act overly impressed. They'll know you're faking it.
Do not ask a bunch of dumb-ass questions about street slang. You'll interrupt the flow. And when you're sitting down with a hardened criminal, it's all about the flow.
"Oil." "Boy." "Beats." "Spokes." "Humbug." "Flossing it." If Topalli were to digress every time an unknown word came up, he'd never get to the important stuff. Slang changes so quickly that when Topalli goes a few months without doing an interview, his language becomes dated. "They'll say, 'Oh, you're nerdy, man. You don't know what you're talking about anymore,'" Topalli says. "I had a research assistant who said 'weed,' and they started laughing their heads off. They said, 'We don't call it "weed" no more. It's called "green" now.'"
The side effects of talking so often with so many criminals are obvious -- and sometimes comical. After he first started interviewing offenders, Topalli went home to see his family for Thanksgiving. "I was at the table," he recalls, "and I said something to my mother like, 'Pass the fucking butter.'"
Both of Topalli's parents are immigrants. Before they met, his father was placed in an Albanian work camp, jailed along with the rest of his family because they defied the country's Communist-run government. He and one of Topalli's uncles escaped Albania, crossing a field of landmines and surviving for days in the mountains. Topalli's father spent a month in a Greek prison before eventually reaching Turkey, where he met his future wife. The couple later would move to Boston, where Topalli, who is now 40, was born and raised.
"My father came from a country that had a lot of violence," he says. "That was a big theme in our family. My father didn't like it when stronger people picked on weaker people. It was very much ingrained in us that fairness was a very important thing, and protecting weaker people was an important thing."
His father's experiences fueled Topalli's fascination with what motivates people to turn to violence. In 1998, after he earned a Ph.D. in experimental social psychology at Tulane, Topalli left New Orleans to do two years of post-doctoral work with Richard Wright at the University of Missouri. Wright was one of a handful of researchers who had popularized the relatively new phenomenon of "street research." He had walked dark alleys with drug dealers, visited crime scenes with burglars, and interviewed men with gunshot wounds so fresh that an offender's blood once spilled across the interview table. Wright was well-connected to St. Louis's underworld -- and well-versed in the code of the street.
He remembers Topalli as particularly suited to the gritty discipline. He says that even now, six years later, some of the offenders whom Topalli interviewed in St. Louis bring up his name. "They're always asking how their man Volkan is," Wright recalls. "The criminals really liked him, which is saying something. They don't like everybody. It's hard to fit in with them sometimes."
One of Topalli's most memorable interviews in St. Louis was with a serial carjacker called "Goldie." The 22-year-old had been stealing cars for eight years and had recently jacked a Cadillac Fleetwood. He told Topalli that he'd staked out a particular corner for the crime. When it went down, it went down badly.
"I'm sitting at this stoplight," Goldie said. "And I know how long that red light is. That's the longest red light around. It was a wild night, boy, and I wasn't even high, either, so I was feeling everything."
"So you get the gun," Topalli asked. "Then what happens?"
"Put it to his chin. Told him what he gonna do. But I ain't shoot him in his head. Put it on his thigh. Boom. Shot his leg. He got to screaming and shit-hollering, like a motherfucker gonna hear him or something. Cars just steady drive past and shit. I opened up the door. Forced his ass on up out of there, right? He laying on the ground hollering for help and shit. Ran over his feet or whatever."
"Cobb, a mammoth county that suffers both from an inferiority complex and an inflated ego..."…
i'm still waiting to hear from the 30-year-old norcross man with a blotchy, red face…
My kid goes to a public elementary school with over 90% free lunch. You know…
Wow. What could be worse than being harassed by a stalker? Perhaps adding to the…