Dehumanization has a natural progression. It starts by defining a whole race or ethnicity by its worst members, say Muslims or sex offenders. It moves on to enforce generally applicable laws and rules that especially hurt a targeted group. Then, as the public at large becomes desensitized by governent-sponsored declarations of doom and gloom, the group can be singled out for hatred and harm. Thus begins the descent, step by step, into a moral abyss.
Back in 1965, Agnes Wilcox, one of the smartest women I’ve ever known, won an essay contest in which she wrote, “Indifference is the web that ensnares even some of our most loyal citizens and allows a mob of gangsters to rule practically every phase of our government. It makes us forget to ask if this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, or the land of the prejudiced and the home of the crooked politician.” Seems a lot like 2019, doesn’t it?
As I face the very distinct possibility of lifetime civil commitment based on what I feel is an unjust law, I recall truisms by two of the most different men in our history. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” Politicians have legally created labels for which there is no clear scientific standards and are using them to confine old men forever.
The public has bought into the idea of civil commitment because, as Adolf Hitler stated, “In the primitive simplicity of their minds, the broad masses are more easily swayed by emotions than by rigorous analysis.” Fear is possibly the strongest emotion we have, but fear and truth aren’t the same.
Things do not happen. They are made to happen. The presence of bad science in a courtroom means fictions. Confinement based on undefined, nonbiologically based abnormality renders civil commitment proceedings de facto punitive measures imposed by the state.
You can deplore the criminal acts that I committed long ago. However, no matter how reprehensible my past criminal behavior was when I was a young man, this country has prided itself on placing constitutional restrictions on the government before an individual’s liberty may be completely restrained, especially at the age of 71.
Civil commitment, in truth, is only further punishment of despised individuals. Civil commitment is a thinly-veiled effort to circumvent a disappointing criminal justice system by keeping those society has been trained to fear locked up long past their completed prison sentences.
The central tenet of our legal system is that we must strive to prevent erroneous decisions, and that goal should apply to all individuals, even those society abhors. I should have the right to stave off physical detention by the state and return to my invalid wife in Indiana.
Sometimes you make your own fate. Sometimes fate makes you. Doing battle in court against virtually insurmountable odds is like trying to climb steps made of sand. But, as Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
If, however, I am not victorious, and the jury sends me away to die in a nuthouse in Farmington, I’ll recall a quote from playwright Oscar Wilde, “The play was a great success, but the audience was a total failure.”
Background: Stan Schell, age 71, is a former sex offender who’s fighting for his own personal freedom against the civil commitment law which needlessly incarcerates low risk elderly men for life after their prison sentences have been completed. Schell’s trial is scheduled to begin on July 15, 2019, in Case No. 11CF-PR00086-01 in Crawford County, Missouri.
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