Exploring the reasons people do the things they do is one of the main factors that led Orange County author Mark O’Connell into writing about the workings of the criminal mind.
In “Criminal Minds in Real Time,” O’Connell draws from his 25 years experience as an adult probation officer serving Orange and Greene counties to explore the line that exists between “criminal behavior and the disciplined life.”
On Thursday, Jan. 26, O’Connell will bring that on-going exploration to the Culpeper County Library for a program which will begin at 6 p.m.
The event is free and open to the public.
During 2016, O’Connell published two books through Tate Publishing, based in Mustang, Oklahoma.
O’Connell was one of many local authors who participated in last year’s Author Extravaganza at the Culpeper Library, after which he said Librarian Susan Keller invited him to return and talk about his works.
O’Connell’s second book is entitled “Justice Denied.” It’s a crime novel based upon the true story of a trio of unsolved murders which occurred in Virginia during the mid-2000s.
For “Criminal Minds,” O’Connell said he drew upon presentencing reports he prepared for the Orange and Greene counties’ court systems throughout his years as a probation officer.
In the book’s introduction, O’Connell writes, “I decided to write the stories of many of our offenders with the hope that the reader will understand that sometimes only a thin line separates those who obey the law and those that do not.”
O’Connell said he changed the names of the individuals whose stories were used in the book.
“For presentencing reports, you’re talking about all manner of crimes,” O’Connell said. “I took what I thought were the most outlandish, preposterous or unusual things that people said. It’s called ‘In Real Time’ because these are real stories taken in real time.”
O’Connell said psychology tells us that individual’s personalities and character traits are mostly established during the first three to four years of their lives.
Most of us are fortunate to have stable and/or responsible influences during these most important formative years, he said.
But what happens if an individual does not?
“For all of us there are several pivotal points in our childhoods that make the difference,” O’Connell said. “I’d hear these stories and think about the saying ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ It keeps you humble and reminds you not to ever think that you’re better than anyone else.”
O’Connell says he doesn’t pretend to be an authority on these matters and noted that many of his colleagues in the criminal justice field could easily proffer similar insights.
“No one has all the answers; there are so many things that come into play,” O’Connell said. “But what I’ve found is there is usually something amiss or dysfunctional in those early years.”
O’Connell said he is in production on his third book—this one a historic look at the 1971 Virginia high school football championship game between T.C Williams of Alexandria and Andrew Lewis High School of Salem, a game that was the basis for the film “Remember the Titans.”
“I went to that game when I was 14 years old,” O’Connell said. “They played at Victory Stadium in Roanoke—on a bright sunny day in December.”
O’Connell noted that the movie took some creative license with the facts, a major one being that Andrew Lewis High School—O’Connell’s eventual alma mater—was changed to TC Williams’ rival school, George C. Marshall from Fairfax, for the movie’s championship contest.
O’Connell said he is grateful for the supportive home life he had as a youngster growing up in Salem in southwestern Virginia, and particularly for the invaluable lessons he learned from his parents and grandparents during his formative years.
“We can thank the people in our lives who helped keep us on the straight and narrow,” he said. “Without those people, you never know what you could end up doing.”
O’Connell’s books will be available for purchase and autographing during the Jan. 26 presentation at the Culpeper library in Southgate Shopping Center.
“Criminal Minds in Real Time” sells for $12.99, and “Justice Denied” sells for $10.99.
Both are also available online from Tate Publishing and Amazon.com.