Monday, September 28, 2009



An article brings the story of a treated and released sex-offender, and thereby hangs a tale.

East Palo Alto is situated on the San Francisco Peninsula, not quite halfway up between that great city and bosky Los Gatos.

There arrives one Donald Robinson, recently released. He was convicted of raping two women in 1976 and a 19 year-old female in 1984. He was sentenced to 21 years, but in 1998 – eligible for parole – he was classified as a sexually violent predator and instead was committed involuntarily to a state mental hospital. He successfully completed 11 years of treatment there, after which the State, having had to look over more than a thousand properties, placed him in an apartment. He is one of only 15 sex-offenders to successfully complete the civil commitment course in that State.

By the workings of history, he arrived in town the day after one Philip Garrido was discovered to have kept a sex-slave on his property for 18 years, despite full compliance with the letter of the applicable sex-offense laws. Robinson is now arthritic in both knees, balding, needs glasses, and has a heart condition. He is 57.

The State had to pay for the apartment search; it has to pay for his apartment ($3,500 per month) and it cost the State around $185,000 per year for the civil commitment, or well over a million dollars for the 11 years. He will be monitored for the rest of his life, also at State expense, which will include satellite tracking devices, random drug and polygraph tests, and will require permission to drive an auto or even walk through the neighborhood.

If memory serves, his ‘house arrest’ is far more stringent – and costly – than that imposed upon a certain Professor Doctor Khan, a Pakistani nuclear expert who was discovered a few years ago to have sold nuclear secrets and how-to lessons to anybody who would pay him (and has since, again if I recall correctly, been pardoned by his government, and is again free to attend dinner parties and professional conferences on the weighty matters within his realm of expertise).

A couple of points come to mind.

The article observes that Robinson’s case “underscores just how hard it is for the government to move sex-offenders back into society”. Of course, it is the government – State and national – that first went to such great lengths to whip up public opinion with its gravely inaccurate certification of all sex offenders as incorrigible and uncontrollable recidivists whose lives are defined solely – like the Biblical lion – by “going about seeking whom they might devour”.

Certainly his crimes – presuming he was accurately identified as the perpetrator – are repugnant. Although I can’t help but thinking that his victims did not lose their lives, as opposed to – say – a certain former companion of the late Senator Kennedy forty Biblical years ago. Nor, if – may God prevent it – Professor Doctor Khan’s former business enterprises bear their poisonous fruit, will all those victims remain alive.

But Mr. Robinson is hardly in a position to be going out and about in pursuit of prey. And the State experts are convinced that he poses no great threat as to future re-offending. And Mr. Robinson himself says he has mastered himself and harbors no desires in that direction.

He has accepted responsibility and worked to repair himself in ways that the other two far more illustrious personages mentioned here never have. Surely the State would not have put its authority and prestige at such great risk if it and its experts judged otherwise.

The mayor of East Palo Alto did the local police one better: while the officers distributed fliers around the neighborhood, the mayor had every resident in the phone book alerted. And not just as to the ‘notification information’; all residents were notified of a protest rally to be held in front of Robinson’s house, led – wait for it – by the mayor himself. Whose office, it seems, is also supporting a regime of daily picketing outside the house.

The article further observes that this case illustrates “the difficult balancing act between community safety and the rights of ex-offenders to live in peace and resume a normal life”.

I don’t think that quite gets to the heart of the problem.

On the left side of the equation the key is not “community safety”; nobody knows what this man will do – which may well wind up consisting of living out what’s left of his life in peace and quiet, perhaps even productively (a big perhaps, I agree, given the hurdles he faces). Rather the key on that side of the equation is ‘community feelings’: folks are all worked up, stoked up, and this is in large part a result of the government’s own actions in creating the ‘incorrigible monster sex offender’ in the first place and then certifying and broadcasting its creation over the length and breadth of the land.

Clearly, this is not what the pious Chief Justice envisioned in the Portiz case. That citizens would not only rise up against the ex-offender but would be led by their public officials is something that the Poritz majority pooh-poohed as a disrespectful slur upon civic maturity.

Of course, the lone dissenting Justice – Justice Stein – observed* acutely that it would be fatuous to assume that people would not become dangerously stoked over the presence of a ‘sex offender’ as that mythical beast was defined by the State. He quoted James Madison and John Marshall and appealed to the common sense awareness that folks can do some nasty things when they are riled up, especially if they believe – and on the authority of the State and the federal government! – that they are righteously riled up.

And here We are fifteen years later. Would anyone care to bet that the apartment is not going to experience a devastating fire before too long? And that if a charred corpse is carried out in a body-bag afterwards, that there won’t be a ripple of applause at the very least?

This is the sort of thing that happens when you toy with the awesome primitiveness in all of Us, in all human beings, if they are pushed or prodded long enough in a certain way, in a certain direction. Civic maturity is not a naturally occurring human capacity; it is – like democracy itself – a verrry hard-won and fragile achievement, so wonderful in the volatile human spirit that it can rightly be described a gift of God.

On the right-hand side of the equation, there is Mr. Robinson’s current civic and moral competence. “It’s hard to blame the community for a natural reaction to a horrific sex crime”, says one experienced psychologist; “We’re trying to integrate this person into being a law-abiding citizen again – on the other hand, we’re treating him likes he’s going to be a predator forever”.

Just so.

In the first place, Mr. Robinson may very well already be a law-abiding citizen “again”, having learned the hard way and by walking the long way around , just what it means to abide by the law. It is hardly inconceivable that someone might come back from years in prison (and highly-focused therapy for a decade on top of that) actually possessed of a deeper sense of what it means to be law-abiding than those who were merely ‘born’ law-abiding and have never committed (or at least been held to account for) a crime.

This is a point very few care to think about: that prison might actually work, in the crucible of a particular prisoner’s soul, to refine him beyond anything possible in a less-rigorous, more ‘normal’ environment. Who can say? Surely this is the Protestant insight into Baptism: that only those who come to it through their own adult struggles – as opposed to simply being baptized as an infant – are truly experienced in the ways of God and grace. I’m jus’ sayin’.

In the second place, it is precisely the ‘certification’ of the State in the sex-offender ‘science’ that there is no such thing as an ex-offender or an ex-predator. Indeed, it is precisely that ‘finding’ that has justified the whole scheme from the get-go. And that is what folks have been ‘taught’ by their State and federal governments.

Which, in the third place, puts genuinely committed therapists in a terrible bind: they have to support a ‘returnee’s’ (if I may) self-awareness as a former offender and as having the competence to live an offense-free life from here on out, while at the same time trying to demonstrate to the ‘returnee’ that folks are legitimately – or at least understandably – stoked up against him.

None of this was not a clear possibility – and I would say probability – fifteen and more years ago as all the sex-offense laws started to mushroom up.

And it is only getting worse.

The mayor, on top of everything else, asserts that “a sexually violent predator doesn’t belong here, with old people and families”. This is on the same level with the Georgia legislator who, confronted with the ruinous and draconian complexity of his State’s sex-offender laws, opined neatly that he would hope that that very draconian complexity would sorta induce a sex-offender to decide that he should move somewhere else (which, of course, would mean some other State). It’s not a stretch to figure that a lot of legislators in just about every State are thinking the same thing – and so you can see where all of this has to go. We have created not only a permanent second-class of citizen – if not also a permanent class of enemies-of-the-people – but also a class that cannot live anywhere, let alone conduct a normal life.

Where, after all, can you find a city or town that does not include some “old people and families”?

What has happened to Us?

The Communist revolution created such classes, but then thoughtfully provided a residence in the Gulag, followed – if the individual had the bad luck to survive that sentence – by a shadow life on the margins of society, tracked by the secret police and available for any arrest they might need a warm body for.

Nor would his family escape.

This is not the American way. It is precisely what the Framers sought to eradicate when they built their unique Constitutional vision of government and society.

And that vision rests on a tremendous respect – an indispensable and fundamental respect – for the dignity of the human individual and the individual Citizen. That dignity is “inalienable”, endowed by the Creator and not within the authority of any government to withdraw.

And given that human beings are so deeply prone (not to overtly discuss Original Sinfulness) to failing their own best potentials, than there is a built-in risk to that dignity and liberty of the individual: that some will from time to time use it improperly – even awefully, or all will to greater or lesser extent.

But neither the government nor the citizenry were empowered to withdraw that dignity. To allow otherwise was to start the slide back to the serfdom of the Old World, its aristocracies and chattels and peasants, its brute rule by the whims of self-designated ‘pure’ elites and mobs.

From a Constitutional point of view, the insidious embrace of the withdrawing-of-dignity, no matter under what guise and no matter for what erstwhile good intentions, has precipitated a dark regression that proclaims to anyone with the courage to see that the Founding Constitutional vision is failing here.

That danger – of truly ‘world-historical’ proportions – must command Our attention.


*See my Post “Doe v. Poritz: Justice Stein’s Dissent”, September 5, 2009, on this site.

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