Tales from Jail

Blind Sacrifice

A review of Blind Sacrifice by Susan Gabori

Published on October 1, 2000

Blind Sacrifice
Susan Gabori

J. Gordon Shillingford

Susan Gabori’s Blind Sacrifice relies on the simplest of presentations: eight murderers chronicle their personal histories, with little authorial intrusion save the most sparing of introductions. The result of lengthy interviews, these stories cut a swathe across our social fabric. Their tellers are French and English, male and female, straight and gay, of various ethnic origins. With a keen eye for revealing disturbing commonalities amongst disparate lives, Gabori moulds her material into an insightful, often alarming treatise on violence, repentance, and rehabilitation.

Gabori’s literary approach is obviously influenced by her experience as a documentarian. She has directed for the NFB, and her previous written works include In Search of Paradise, a multi-generational portrait of the experience of immigration, and A Good Enough Life, an account of the experiences of the terminally ill. Given our current Survivor-fueled mania for ‘reality,’ Gabori’s ‘true stories’ run the risk of appearing opportunistic, particularly in light of her current subject. Few events, after all, possess such power to incite public fervour (and fascination) as do murders. Yet in a society transfixed by the minutiae of crime, its attendant imagery and salacious detail, Gabori succeeds in stripping the subject of much of its sensationalism.

In many ways, these are stories we do not wish to hear – stories of murders that do not occur in isolation, and of murderers who are not simply ‘bad.’ They tell of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, of the ravages of drugs and alcohol, the deprivation of culture, and the struggle for sexual identity in an unaccepting environment. Each successive tale lends further weight to the axiom that violence begets violence, and the eloquence and thoughtfulness with which they are relayed are at once impressive and disturbing. There is, after all, something inherently discomforting in the idea of forefronting the murderer, not the murdered. More disturbing still is the idea of liking these people; of being charmed by a musically-inclined mob soldier with a penchant for William Somerset Maugham.

As the author is quick to point out, however, her subjects are not intended to represent murderers as a whole. Rather, Gabori has sought a more elusive subject: the murderer who has committed himself to self-examination, and ultimately to change. In almost every case, prison has provided the means of this catharsis. “Had I not done what I did, not gone to prison, I would not be the person I am today,” states Louis. This sentiment, echoed throughout the book, is at the crux of Blind Sacrifice’s ability to unnerve and unsettle. For as admirable as its subjects are in their effort to tackle and overcome lives of extreme rage and violence, the idea that the taking of another life is the necessary agent of this struggle is essentially abhorrent, as is the idea that prison has provided these people their first real experience of community and support.

In her preface, Gabori states that she created Blind Sacrifice to provide insight into the means by which people uncover “routes to freedom” when “squeezed into a tight corner with no obvious means of exit.” She set out, she asserts, not to posit a critique of prisons or the judicial system, but rather “to explore the human side of crime.” In the process, she hopes to provide universal insight into coping with desperation. And while the author succeeds admirably in showing us the “human face,” the result is more disturbing than her original uplifting intent. Blind Sacrifice has more to teach us about our treatment of criminals – moreover, our creation of criminals – than about our own individual trials. In this, Gabori’s stated objective sells her own work short. mRb

Melissa Scowcroft is a writer and researcher working primarily in film and multimedia.



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