There’s something I don’t understand about Gideon’s story. If the building was empty, weren’t all his problems solved?

“This is where the craziness comes in,” he says.

He explains: Other SRO owners might burn down their buildings for rational reasons. “San Francisco is this little sliver of desirable space, this bubble that wants to develop. The tech companies, the financial companies, people want to live here. And so the right building could be significantly undervalued because of the rent-controlled tenants in it. Clearing out the tenants would be a good way to do it. Not good in an ethical sense. Expedient. So you can get a much higher value for the building.”

That’s the rational reason for committing arson in San Francisco. But he wasn’t being rational. “With me, the lawsuits were 100 percent resolved. The last two people were leaving. The building was going to get bought.”

So why burn it down?

Gideon shrugs. “I had all this shit bothering me for 12, 18 months.” The complete destruction of the building felt like the only solution. “There’s something about having significant pressures and have them go away. I can only theorize. I’m not making excuses. I did a wrong thing. I’m just trying to tell you what goes on mentally. It’s a weird psychology.”

Gideon was jailed for 17 months. He hung around with the other Jewish prisoners. They were popular. Gideon says the non-Jewish inmates would ask their advice on starting businesses or trading currencies.

“It sounds like you had fun in there,” I say.

“My stress levels were actually greatly reduced,” he replies.

“And how has your life been since your release?”