axelAge: 32

Role: Ag worker and best friend

Who’d I’d Cast: Ryan Hurst

Shep was born in Lawrence, Kansas, to Pamela and Albert Healy. Pam was a food scientist who specialized in non-wheat flours, and Albert worked for the Health Department, where he went by Bert.

Shep’s mother was neurotic and overbearing, obsessive to a fault about her family’s health and well-being. His father was meek and submissive and usually bent to his wife’s will to avoid an ear-splitting argument. Bert supposed that he had loved his wife once — before she’d started tracking his bowel movements — but after seven years of marriage, he figured enduring her was enough. Bert often told Pam that he was working late, while he was really blowing off steam at Lucky Strike Lanes.

From the time he could eat solid foods, Pam strictly controlled every aspect of Shep’s diet. Everything he ate was 100 percent organic, as well as gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar-free. Shep never even tasted a Chicken McNugget until he was fifteen years old, and once when he’d sneaked an Oreo at a friend’s birthday party, his mother had made him eat nothing but vegetables for a week.

Shep was an only child, and his after-school pastimes were very restricted. He wasn’t allowed to play video games in case they turned kids into psychos and was only given half an hour of screen time a day. He couldn’t be outside for more than twenty minutes at a time because Pam feared that her son’s pale skin made him especially vulnerable to melanoma.

When Shep was five, he wanted to play peewee football, but his mother thought it was much too dangerous. Instead, she enrolled him in piano lessons, which Shep despised from the start. Bert pleaded with Pam to allow Shep to go out for Little League, and at last she gave in.

Shep’s baseball career was even more short-lived than the piano lessons. His mother’s mollycoddling was obvious to everyone, and Shep was teased mercilessly by the other kids. One day after practice, he burned his forehead with his mother’s curling iron so she would think he’d been sunburned and forbid him from playing anymore. But instead of thinking he’d been out in the sun too long, Pam thought the coach had burned Shep on purpose. She complained about the coach’s medieval methods and wrote nasty letters until he stepped down.

From that summer on, Shep began to buck his mother’s rules. He stole junk food from his dad’s private stash and ate candy under the covers at night. When he was eight, he persuaded his mother to let him stay at home by himself from the time the school bus dropped him off to the time that she got home from work. Shep used those glorious two hours to play computer games and watch TV.

Shep got a job at a grocery store near his school when he was fifteen and mowed for his neighbor, who was a disabled Army vet. Eventually, Shep saved up enough money to buy his own computer, and Pam wasted no time enabling the best anti-porn firewall she could find. Shep began locking himself in his room to “study,” when really he was teaching himself to code and blasting through the family’s firewall.

By this time, he was sneaking enough junk food into the house that he managed to pack on forty-five pounds between his sophomore and junior years of high school. Convinced that Shep had a thyroid problem, Pam dragged him to every doctor in Lawrence until one finally told her that Shep was just eating too much garbage.

The revelation that her son had been binging on junk food right under her roof sent Pam off the deep end. She forced Shep to give up his job at the grocery store and keep his door open when he was at home. This paranoia combined with the weight of the Healys’ heft mortgage meant that Shep was to live at home after high school and attend community college.

Horrified at the thought of spending one more second under his mother’s reign of tyranny, Shep applied for every scholarship he could and earned enough to attend the University of Kansas on a partial scholarship.

Shep majored in computer programming and packed on another seventy-five pounds. He got a job in Albuquerque after graduation, and for a while he was able to avoid his parents except on holidays. He lost some of the college weight and started to gain more confidence in himself.

But five years after Shep graduated, his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Shep started coming home more to help his mother, but every second he was around her drained him of his energy. He started gaining weight again and lost his job.

Shep’s father died a year later. When Shep came home for the funeral, Pamela took one look at her son and burst into tears. She told him that she was completely alone and that she needed him to come live at home for a while to be there for her.

Shep numbly agreed to stop his mother from crying. He had no money and no job prospects anyway, but after they buried his father, Shep had a total meltdown. He broke into the house of the neighbor whose lawn he used to mow and stole the man’s Colt 45. He walked to a park in the dead of night and put the gun in his mouth.

But despite Shep’s misery and complete sense of hopelessness, he couldn’t pull the trigger. Determined not to chicken out on his own suicide, Shep waited until his mother had passed out on the couch in a pill-induced slumber and drove her car to the tallest parking structure he could find.

Shep drove to the very top, got out, and stood at the edge. A police officer saw what Shep was about to do and came up to talk him down. Shep freaked out and pulled out the Colt, in violation of state brandishing laws.

Shep had heard about San Judas and decided to go through the application process. He’d been warned that his attempted suicide would most likely disqualify him, but his psychological tests determined that he posed no real danger to himself or to others.

Going to prison seemed to shake Shep to his senses. In a weird way, he was grateful for his sentence because it gave him two full years away from his mother. When Soren told Shep he was escaping, Shep seriously considered going along with the plan just to put some distance between himself and his mother.

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