BOOK: Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell
AUTHOR: Gitta Sereny
December 1968, England: Mary Bell is tried and convicted of the murder of two small boys - at the tender age of eleven years old.
What possesses one child to kill another? Who is to blame for this ever increasing phenomenon? And what is the appropriate course of legal action to take in these instances? These are just some of the hard hitting questions explored in Sereny's thought provoking text. Sereny sits down with Mary Bell twenty-seven years after her conviction; and over the course of many months learns her story of childhood abuse at the hands of her mother, the two acts of violence that would change lives forever and the twelve years she would spend incarcerated in a variety of facilities. Regardless of personal convictions, Mary Bell's story forces the reader to take a hard look at the inadequacies of the juvenile justice system in both England and the United States.
For me, the single most striking aspect of "Cries Unheard" is the unflinching honesty in which Mary Bell presents her story; along with her complete unwillingness to make excuses for her actions or garner sympathy from the public. She takes full accountability for the deaths of the two young boys and seeks only to provide a look inside a system that seems to be failing. Her account provides fascinating evidence into the state of mind of those who commit violent acts at a young age. Bell's story demonstrates how the court system and it's proceedings are beyond comprehension for an eleven year old child, suggests changes that might be instituted to everyone's benefit and, finally, provides the reader with a story of a most unlikely personal redemption.
Today, Mary Bell is a free woman in a loving and stable relationship with a man who knows and accepts her past. She is an alarmingly proficient mother to a child who is by all accounts well adjusted and thriving; which is particularly incredible given the complete lack of mothering she was shown and the fact that she spent the vast majority of her formative years in institutions. Her child is a ward of the state with Mary retaining full physical and legal custody. Under the current law, the child's name is not allowed to be released and her protection is of utmost importance to Mary and to the state. After moving and changing identities to escape the unrelenting media following she receives, Mary Bell has put roots down in her town and refuses to be run out. Her resilience is inspiring and her story - while difficult to believe and digest at times - is inspiring to say the least.
"Cries Unheard" gets my will keep you thinking into the wee hours of the morning and gets my whole-hearted recommendation.