UNDAUNTED: Making a Murderer, Breaking a Boy

Steve Daunt examines how disability is used and abused in Making a Murderer

It’s all over the place.

I binged on it over two days. That’s ten hours solid TV over just under 24 hours. Show me a bandwagon and I will jump all over it. That or I need to keep up with all the cool, young folk as the shadow of high middle age looms.

Making a Murderer has me in its thrall. It seems that EVERYBODY has watched it and yet I know this piece will need to be ‘spoiler free’ for those curious souls who have block booked the weekend and remembered they have a Netflix subscription.

Trying not to give away any plot lines may be tricky as I want to talk about Brendan Dassey the nephew of Steven Avery who found himself convicted of three crimes.

When we first see Brendan, he is 16. He cannot be described as a normal sixteen-year-old.

At first, you think he is one of those cripplingly shy teenagers whose environment adds to his shyness. The Averys were isolated so you just think Brendan is shy because of this. This quickly changes as Brendan is brought in for some serious interrogation by the two leading detectives. This was not a shy teen. This was a teen with a severe learning disability. There are fleeting references to his ‘fourth grade reading age’. The police interview lasted hours. When you get to see it, you will be shocked.

As a disabled person, I look to the States as the home of some of the robust disability rights legislation in the world. Advocacy is at the heart of that. To see Brendan placed in a situation which exposed him so much was frightening.  I decided to do some digging.

There hasn’t been any survey since 1997 (that says a lot) but the Bureau of Justice Statistics says the ‘vast majority’ of detainees had a disability. One State, Mississippi, estimates 70% of those in youth crime have learning disabilities.

The sad thing is, we know that this could be mirrored in Ireland. Again we have no figures but how many times have we heard campaigners say they can spot a prisoner at the age of six. Specific learning disabilities play a part here. How many prisoners are unable to read?

These were the thoughts rushing through my head as the final credits rolled.  There was a disabled young man isolated for the last 12 years. Remember Kevin’s isolation as you watch the show in the next few days.