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I will die without ever having done anything good

Note from Amy: The following is an excerpt from the beginning of my book, Diary of a Predator: A Memoir.

I can’t remember much about when I was real young except fear and shame and lack of courage.
—Brent Brents

This is the story of one of America’s most notorious sexual criminals, Brent Brents, from his childhood of horrific abuse to his adulthood on the streets of Denver, where he stalked, raped, and tortured multiple victims before police captured him in February 2005.

Brent pleaded guilty to eighty criminal charges, including sexual assault, kidnapping, and attempted murder, and in July 2005 received the largest sentence in Colorado history: 1,509 years.

At the time I started working on Brent’s case, I was a Denver Post criminal justice reporter, cynical and driven. I’ve often said this is
the tale of two predators—one a criminal, the other a journalist—for don’t we as journalists often prey upon people for their story? So this is also the account of my own awakening.

The year before his case erupted, I coauthored an all-consuming investigative series about sexual assault and domestic violence in the
military called “Betrayal in the Ranks.” Fellow Post staffer Miles Moffeit and I invested every fiber of our beings into those stories to honor the amazing women who counted on us to be their voice, leaving behind our families, our friends, and our health in the process. The series prompted investigations and spurred congressional reforms, but left me empty and exhausted. It took me months to truly care about journalism again, and then the Brents case caught my attention.

The prospect of writing about sexual crime from the perspective of the perpetrator, not the survivor, revived my interest.
He was the most predatory criminal I’d ever encountered, and I hoped that through him, I would perhaps understand all the faceless
men who had assaulted the hundreds of survivors whose stories I’ve told and carried all these years, like a heavy bag of so many broken hearts.

I scrutinized him as I would a bug under a microscope—indeed, that’s what I told him. Yet my curiosity was never tinged with
hate, a reaction that I soon learned to my surprise would alienate me from just about everyone I knew, especially those in my
own newsroom. There’s no such thing as objectivity in journalism.

Still, I was pumped by the amazing opportunity: Criminals on the scale of Brents rarely cooperate with efforts to pick their brain.
Coincidentally, it was my lack of contempt that prompted Brents to continue to call and write me. As one former FBI profiler told me,
“You did one thing right from the very beginning, and that’s why he talked to you: You never judged him.”

Instead, I began to judge myself.
I did not expect what would happen—that by probing Brents for the story of how he was made, I would uncover parts of myself in
the process. His case affected me in ways I could not have predicted, for it illuminated my growing disillusionment with the callous media of which I was a part. Those effects continue to this day, as does the correspondence between us that began shortly after his capture and included him sending me his journal, a meticulous record of his crimes and his history. I have been able to verify his accounts by corroborating the details through interviews with officials and witnesses, as well as court records and criminal and medical reports.

Because of the unprecedented access he allowed me, this book is more than simply the true story of the crimes Brents committed.
It is also the rare story of the psyche of the sociopathic man revealed and the impact it had on the journalist covering the case. Through Brents, I realized truths about the human condition and our assumptions of evil—that it is not assigned, but constructed. I also discovered I could no longer continue to be the reporter I once had been, forsaking myself and my family to pursue a story.

Throughout the book, I make use of excerpts from his journal, our letters, and interviews, in addition to the extensive research I conducted as a reporter. Anything attributed to Brents journal is exactly as he wrote it, including punctuation and spelling.

With his history and “jacket”—the notoriety of his crimes that accompanies him to prison—Brents expects to eventually be killed
by other inmates. “My biggest fear,” he wrote me, “is that I will die without ever having done anything good.”

His experience of the world is violent, calculating, pathetic, and wrenching—but it is still the same world in which we all live. It is
Brents’ hope, and mine, that by presenting his life in unflinching fashion, we will learn something from it.

November 2010
To the reader:
As you read this book, you may find yourself experiencing
a wide range of emotions. But I ask of you only to keep an
open mind.
You may very well find yourself full of opinion towards
myself and the author. No matter how you feel about me
or my actions—hate me, be wary of my sincerity if you
choose—please, if you are a parent, planning on being a
parent or are someone who is responsible for the wellbeing
of children: Treat them with dignity, respect and love. Be
good role models. Teach them empathy, compassion and
integrity. Regardless of your financial, emotional and
physical situations, show them how to overcome and achieve.
Be loving and attentive. Listen to them, hear them, spend
time with them and nurture them. Most of all, give them
your heart forever so that they will become good people.
—B. Brents

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Writing Diary of a Predator: A Memoir

Part one: During all my years as a working journalist, my favorite part of the process was sitting down at my desk with a stack of notebooks beside me and a blank computer screen in front of me. I loved it for the Rubik’s cube-like challenge of putting all the details neatly into place, even though this usually happened under the constraints of a ticking deadline clock and sometimes with an editor literally breathing down my neck, demanding, “How close are you?”

I never had writer’s block, ever. I never missed a deadline. Since I usually wrote the lead to the story in my head while driving back to the newsroom, and the lead is the hardest part, the rest of it would fall into place like a row of obedient dominoes.

And then I decided to write a book, and found to be true what a friend of mine predicted, “Writing that book is going to kick your ass.”

The volume of the material was overwhelming: The court file alone was more than 500 pages. I had dozens of filled notebooks, stacks of documents I’d copied from Brents’ case file at the public defender’s office, transcripts of police interviews and copies of police reports.

I also had hundreds of pages of letters and journal entries from Brents, and he continued to write, sending letters every week. They filled a filing cabinet, and when that overflowed, I bought another.

The idea of the book soon loomed like the proverbial elephant in the living room, only this elephant was a hulking, smelly woolly mammoth with sharp spikes for tusks. I wanted nothing to do with it.

I told myself that I was too busy to try to start writing the book, that the material was so complex that it couldn’t be tackled in between juggling a family and a full-time job.

I told myself I needed time to get over the crushing blow of having a major, albeit controversial, publisher interested in it only to be fired the very week we were supposed to meet, swiftly followed by the crushing blow of my first literary agent simply disappearing on me.

And all those things were true. But what I really needed in order to be able to write that book was to slowly come to the realization that this wasn’t going to be simply a true-crime book; that in order to tell the story properly I had to do it fully. That meant opening a vein and revealing parts of myself that were deeply personal, as well as stepping back from my beloved craft and writing about the dark side of journalism itself.

Coming up: Writing Diary of a Predator: A Memoir, part two.

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Here’s an Excerpt from the Book Diary of a Predator: A Memoir

I read this at the book signing held at The Book Cellar in Louisville, so I thought it only fair to share it with the rest of you.

And for those who have emailed me and said they’d like to know more about the process of writing this book–please know I will get to that this week in a series of posts. Writing this book was a formidable, complicated task that I put off for years until suddenly I knew it was time. And then it flowed. But more on that later. Here’s the excerpt. Thanks for visiting.


From Diary of a Predator: A Memoir

He sat on top of a brick wall that bordered a downtown Denver parking lot and waited.

It was a perfect vantage point—high enough to give him a bird’s eye view of every direction and yet shielded by the shadows of nearby buildings to prevent any glint of streetlight reflecting off his wire-rimmed glasses. As a hunter of humans, he knew the importance of those things.

Ever the patient wolf, he flexed his thick forearms while he waited for a sheep to appear. And then he saw her and had instant recognition. He knew he had seen her before—he never forgot a face—and it only took him a moment to remember where: first on TV months ago, talking about some story dealing with rape in the military, and then later on the Denver Post elevator. A reporter. He’d still been in prison when those military rape stories ran, and watched her on the news. She was sharp and earnest, and had a fierce energy to her that had caught his attention. She reminded him of that social worker he once knew, the modern-day crusader. She also had long brown hair, like Teresa.

Now she was within his sights, and he sized her up: Wearing a dark suit, she was tall and athletic-looking, but he had brute strength
and the element of surprise. And it would be so easy—just a hop off the wall and a few quick strides, and he could cut her off before she
reached her car. No one was around to hear if she tried to scream.

Just then, she passed under a street light, and through the curtain of her long, straight brown hair, he caught a glimpse of her face. She looked so . . . sad. Heavily burdened, as if any moment, she would dissolve into tears. He sat rooted as she unlocked her car and got inside and then did something unexpected: laying her cell phone on the dash, she pulled out a pen from behind her right ear, tucked her hair back in its place, closed her eyes, and just sat there.

Minutes passed, and he stared, feeling unable to move. He found himself scanning the street, not wanting anyone to disturb her. Then
she sighed deeply, started the Jeep’s engine, and drove away.

Still seated on the wall, the man stared after the car. He would see her again.

He’d make a point of it.

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A Heartening Response to the Initial Book Reading of “Diary of a Predator: A Memoir”

I’m a journalist, so cynicism comes a little too easy.

book signing

The first book signing for Diary of a Predator: A Memoir, held at the Book Cellar in Louisville, Colo.

And I have to admit I was nervous about how “Diary of a Predator: A Memoir” would be received. It’s not just a true crime book; it’s a dual memoir about a serial rapist and my time as a journalist covering his case, and the life-changing effects that had on me. It’s not your everyday kind of memoir.

To say that I reveal personal details in this book is an understatement. But I felt I needed to reveal my history for this story, in addition to the journalistic process, so that the reader would have context as to the impact this case had on my life.

In other words, full disclosure. And that, especially for a journalist who is used to telling other people’s stories and never her own, left me feeling a bit exposed, like I had somehow pulled my heart out of my chest and laid it on the table.

Signing a book at the book reading

Signing a book at the first book reading for "Diary of a Predator: A Memoir"

But it wasn’t my heart, it was my book, and the folks who came to the very first book reading at the Book Cellar in Louisville, Colo. on October 7 proved to me that they not only understood it but welcomed it. I felt supported and gratified beyond description.

Diary of a Predator A Memoir book signing

I give Ellen a hug at the book signing.

There were lots of people I wrote about in the book who showed up, among them, Ellen, whose amazing story is featured in Diary of a Predator: A Memoir.

Meeting someone like her, and continuing to know her,  inspires me. And the fact that she and the others came to listen and support the book warms me, and gives me hope.

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