“I saw only the same quiet, gentle face I knew”

By Mark Thompson . . . My 77-year-old father is a quiet, gentle man, well-respected in the community, so we were all surprised when he was seen open-mouth kissing an 8-year-old in the backyard, in full view of neighbors and the kitchen window.  What would cause him to do a thing like that?  The victim’s parents called the police, who charged him with 1st degree child molestation (later reduced to 2nd degree). He spent 12 months in jail, was required to register as a sex offender, and was under the supervision of the Dept. of Corrections for 3 years.

Mark and his father

Almost immediately, I had a decision to make about how I would react, and I did not find it difficult to offer my support. Years before, I had fallen ill with a late-diagnosed, mysterious, seizure disorder, so a slowly evolving mystery was familiar territory for me. And as I looked at him just before the police arrived to arrest him, I saw only the same quiet, gentle face I knew, so I resolved to do what I could to help what I thought to be a deep, psychological issue.

I’ll tell you that my family did a lot of amateur psychoanalysis and dredging up stories from 70 years ago.  But none of it amounted to sexual abuse.  I was stumped.

The answer came four months later when a forensic sex-offender treatment provider diagnosed him with dementia. I had the privilege of speaking with this expert for 60 minutes, and the explanation seemed plausible.  He said that disinhibition is a common symptom of dementia.  He called it part of the human condition, saying that people with disinhibition lack filters. And while this information was unfamiliar to me, it had the ring of truth.

The next 12 months of hearings, I thought, would reflect this truth, but more surprises were in store.  Based on a letter from his doctor, my dad was further tested by a state competency evaluator who found him sufficiently aware of the charges against him, despite the feeble questions he expressed to me and his lawyer. The evaluation standards set forth 60 years ago in the US Supreme Court case Dusky v. US do not make allowances for dementia. I’ve further read that the percentage of people who are found NGRI (Not-guilty by reason of insanity) is very small.

My father’s lawyer involved me in nearly every meeting, and I was able to remember and answer Dad’s many questions.  He needed help understanding things that you or I would have no problems with.  I thought the lawyer would bring this up with the judge, but instead, he and his boss advised that it would be better not to discuss dementia as a defense or else the judge could come to believe that Dad would have difficulty following release instructions when released from jail.

Common sense would say that a person with a dementia diagnosis would receive care and assistance, and that the community would be safer because of such care-giving.  And that is true.  And I would have no issue with the court monitoring his care and ensuring that he be chaperoned around children. That makes sense.

However, the judge wanted him incarcerated, which was both easy and difficult. He sleeps 12 or 14 hours a day, where he often thrashes and moans.  The jail put him in a separate cell with a bed rail so he wouldn’t fall on the floor, and they allowed him to be released in my custody to take him to his doctor appointments. This was the first occurrence of such leniency in the jail’s 100-year history.  I was allowed to stop for drive-through meals, and the other inmates were jealous.

I lost communication with my dad for a few months while he struggled with how to use the commissary to obtain pen, paper, and envelopes. The phone was easier for him, but he required help from other inmates to use the access code. To allow sharing of access codes was another leniency by the guards.  I had a moment with one of the guards who acknowledged the difficulties my father was having, shook his head, looked at me with sympathy and said, “He’s going to make it.  He’s going to make it.”

When Dad returned from jail, he was banished from church, even the men’s study group, and he could no longer vote, two things that grieved him greatly. He stopped attending Kiwanis for reasons unexplained and settled into quiet solitude, not venturing from the house except for grocery shopping with me.  I love shopping with my Dad.

This is my story, so I won’t say much about how my sister’s family responded other than to say that they see things differently.  I see my sister often, and I keep her informed about Dad’s health, but my brother-in-law gets angry when I bring up the subject of dementia and has said he does not want to speak to a doctor about disinhibition or hear the words, “part of the human condition.” I understand.  It’s a tough idea to wrap your head around rationally because the patient is not behaving rationally.

Court supervision is fine, but incarceration and registration make no sense.  Is that supposed to provide a deterrence or make the public safer?  I don’t think so.  A treatment for Alzheimer’s would be better, and I hear they’re working on a few of those.  My father is enrolled in one such national study.  I don’t know if he’s taking a placebo or not, but in either case, by enrolling him in the COR388 study, I did more to help prevent dementia disinhibition than the court ever did.  All the judge did was talk sternly to my Dad and make him cry. I understand his outrage, but . . . there’s more to it than that.

I did, however, appreciate the support of Dad’s sex offender treatment provider.  With just a little modification, the treatment was largely successful, and I’m grateful to the court for requiring Dad to find and meet with one and very grateful he was a good one. By my own efforts, I don’t think Dad would have come to understand the seriousness of his crime. I’m his son, not his therapist.

I support my Dad and I support NARSOL.  My Dad needs me to help make sense of things, and the world needs NARSOL for the same reason.

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    • #71441 Reply
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      T & S

      Another good example of a classic screwed up justice system, “competency” enough to go through trail but not competent enough to get out of prison & stay out.

      I believe after spending years in jail, that a majority of the people do suffer from mental issues and treatment for this mental problems is the solution, not prison or a stupid list.

      In santa clara county, California, we have a smart Judge, the Honorable Judge Stephen Manley who handles drug & mental health court cases for those who “confess” their crimes. They “can” be then redirected to his Court, for treatment.

      This is the right approach, a step in the right direction.

    • #71463 Reply
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      linda shedlock

      I am so sad for your dad ! He can not help himself and only was doing what his menality was at the time . Punishment for a dementia patient like this is crazy ! I help my brother who has intellectual disabilities and the mind of a 12 year old . He looked at porn . In his mind he didnt know it was wrong . It was on the internet . A 12 year old only knows what you teach them . He wasn’t taught . How can people who have no control of their minds because of disease be held accountable for their actions . As long as they have support and supervision, I feel they should not be held responsible . Good luck to you and hope the future becomes brighter for you and your family

    • #71503 Reply
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      Mp

      Thanks for sharing that story. How wonderful of you to take the time to understand him and what happened. It is not easy. I wish more people would.

    • #71499 Reply
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      Crash

      T & S

      No doubt that there’s a lot of people in custody who do have underlying mental conditions. Guaranteed, a number of those who confess to law enforcement do. Most of them don’t have the severe conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or Alzheimer’s but some are slow, have autism, social anxiety, or something along those lines. From the looks of it, a vast number of men who commit SO crimes involving minors don’t have much going on “upstairs.” If you know what I mean.

      Unfortunately, in the justice system for adults, punishment, not rehabilitation or treatment, is the main focus. At least for the more serious offenses. Lawmakers, prosecutors, and law enforcement have orchestrated the justice system in a way, to run over and wipe out as many SOs as it could. Regardless of whether or not they have mental conditions (whether it is known/documented or unknown both to the individual and others) or not. Also when it comes to serious offenses, prosecutors, among others must assume, or pretend to assume that a defendant is “trying to save” his or herself and evade the punishment that they “deserve.”

      I remember the day a crooked detective had marked me for death, like it was yesterday. He got 32 SO charges on my back for my 1st offense, through a false and manipulated confession, and my signing some survey of his. Even had me charged with a false “solicitation of a minor” charge, over a short convo on a social networking site with a girl, that he and his cohorts had dug up.

      There was a female assistant of his, who sat behind him as he manipulated a confession from me in his car. I was in the passenger seat and he was in the driver’s seat. There was a point when that assistant of his got out of the car, and when she returned, she had shown him my psyche meds that were found by other officers inside the home. She showed him them, “on-the-low,” so as for me not to notice what she was doing. That man basically took that finding and “swept it under the rug.” I was to be marked and brandished as some evil, “perve**” who desired to do harm (sexual, not so much as physical, of course) to minors. The discovery of my psyche meds was only going to damage his cause, or the work that he had set out against me. On the same account I used for that site I had threatened other people with severe bodily harm and/or death because of my condition and past unresolved issues. But could those messages have been used against me? Of course not!

      Later on, at the precinct, as I was left to sit in an interrogation room by myself, I had overheard the detective viciously mock and defame me to other officers, with words such as “Crash is a dumb***!”, “He’s stupid”, “Look, he’s so scared”, “He knows we’re watching him”, “So I asked him…Ares..and he told me yeah.” Words cannot describe how the detective sounded when he spoke those terrible things about the man he had just killed that morning and this grin that he had on his face, as I stood next to him in an elevator. He would eventually manipulate and falsify his report and the prosector himself would have used that report in painting me off as a “smart”, “college-student.” Treatment, rehab, ankle monitor, house arrest, classes etc were completely out of the question for the prosecutor who was assigned to my case, as well a group of prosecutors whom my lawyer had spoken to. They were all hellbent on eating me up and spitting me out.

      People love to talk about serial killers, but lawmakers, prosecutors, law enforcement and others kill off people through the law and criminal justice system. Indirect involvement in something, is still involvement.

    • #71559 Reply
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      Donna M

      I am so sorry for what you and your father are going through. Remain strong, he needs such a loving son to be on his side. Every once in a while I read of an offender being arrested who is older and friends and family step forth to say that this is so unlike the person they have known and loved for years. I often think it must be some form of dementia and wonder why our so called justice system see that if a person is elderly and behaving in a manner different than what others can testify is totally different than any prior behavior, why they can’t imagine that it is not dementia. Good luck to you and your dad and I hope your sister finally sees that he is not necessarily at fault for what happened.

    • #71560 Reply
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      Tim in WI

      @Mark T.
      Thank you for this piece, I sure found hope in it. The person who’s complaint against me had mental health issues. Anyone who’s experienced the difficulties of dealing with life & living with persons with cognitive impairment knows the facts of offense are fraught with frustration and problems of misconception and ignorance. Mens Rea is a necessary foundational principle in justice systems that supports accuracy, efficacy and most importantly validity of gov, but that principle has been severely compromised profiteers, both political and social engineer. In my mind your dad is not a felon nor criminal at all. Clearly he’s just an old man who found himself compelled to open his mouth. His actions were gross \ inappropriate but not with malace. IMO a molehill made mountain for profit. Who benefits from forging felons from those not? Some do!

      DNA EXONERATION proves the point that zero real evidence is needed to produce valid convictions. While you acknowledge the error made by your dad was indeed a fact of behavior, his culpability as a matter of law should not stand absent reas. I cannot speak for you but I’m angry for your dad and not angry at him. He could be my neighbor anyways.

      In real time however our system plods along based on ancient rulings (Dusky )that suffer former errant psychological understandings of human minds based not on modern science but rather on legal tradition. The thing about human psychology consensus is that it too often changes based of where popularity and financial incentives reside. Some deny it is ” science ” at all.
      Thus courts pin their foundation on behavior but without the men’s rea component in sex crimes is like the tail wagging the dog.

    • #71583 Reply
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      Crash

      This was a good post. Hopefully Mark and his family find the answers that they’re looking for. Jail is no place for someone with a serious, degenerative brain condition such as Alzheimer’s. It is really good of Mark to continue to support his father and stay by his side, in his troubling times. Keep up the good work Mark.

    • #71660 Reply
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      Ben

      So they kicked him out of church, eh? I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve visited where the pastor says something to the effect of, “We don’t want ‘perfect’ people here!” Never believe any church that tells you that. Oh, sure, churches will gladly welcome armed robbers, adulterers, car thieves, divorcees, drug dealers, deadbeat parents, etc. But sex offenders? They’ll damage the church’s reputation if we allow them to stay!

      Hypocrisy of the highest order.

    • #71797 Reply
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      Sheri

      Let me please first say I am in no way trying to minimize any crime that’s committed against a child or a innocent victim.

      I would like to tell you What an amazing all tho sad story this is. It just sends me almost over the edge constantly how this “crime” is seen, dealt with, and punished the way it is. And by such narrow AND SMALL minded people that are allowed to be in office and make decisions on something they know nothing about that are proven ineffective and also could negatively effect so many. And they break the law constantly by violating human and civil rights continuously every time this type of offense is done. We too were treated unfairly from the start by everyone involved. They broke so many laws and violated so many rights with my son and he was a juvenile. And when reading what y’all experienced with your Dad’s attorney my heart truly goes out to you. We spent well over ten thousand dollars to our attorney to get extremely misrepresented and negligence on his part every step of the way in court. Which again is against the law!! And again it goes back to the “crime” with an old ancient stigma and a blanket punishment no matter the situation as with your poor Dad or a sick repeated offender. It makes me sick! And It’s so concerning that it’s these people we have running our cities, state, and country. My heart and prayers go out to you and your Dad. Bless you for not turning your back on him. And bless NARSOL for the courage to stand up.

    • #71985 Reply
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      Adam S.

      Sounds like a lot of excuses and justification.

    • #72162 Reply
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      TS Rohnevarg

      In November of 2003, in an article entitled “Judging Michael Jackson, and ourselves (Google it; you shouldn’t have trouble finding it),” nationally syndicated columnist, and papist Christian, Cal Thomas attempted to identify the essence of the vitriol from American society at large (perhaps “at base” would be more accurate) directed at those accused or convicted of sexually-oriented criminal offenses, particularly against minors. He quoted, quite aptly, from English philosopher Roger Scruton who wrote, “The hysteria over pedophilia is indicative of a society that has come to the brink of self-destruction and stands there accusing the void. People reach for their old certainties: words like ‘pervert’ and ‘perversion’ suddenly seem right to them; they look round for the culprit with a view to shaming, humiliating and ostracizing him. And they recognize the vastness of the evil that is around them and within them, an evil they only imperfectly confess to.” In other words, society recognizes, unconsciously if not consciously, that they are steeped, drenched in concupiscence and rightly feel unclean. But the natural man refuses to see himself as bad. To be sure, even murderous Al Capone, when finally arrested (on tax evasion charges no less), commented, “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.” All I ever did was try to help people! And, so, in a society drowning in pornography, unclean men need to find others generally agreed to be even dirtier than themselves that they might see themselves as clean. The louder society condemns the so-called ‘sex offender,’ the more transparent their own licentiousness lives become.

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