Friday, January 13, 2006

Let Andrea Yates Be the Very Best Andrea Yates She Can Be

One of our New Year's resolutions was to stop taking these silly Houston Chronicle columnists too seriously, but we couldn't restrain our self after reading Friday's offering from Rick Casey.

Casey's topic was Andrea Yates and the locale to which she should be dispatched after the charges that she killed her five kids are resolved (her capital murder conviction was overturned by a state appeals court last year, you'll recall). Because there's no question that Yates did the crime (we'll call it that, if that's OK), the paramount issue, according to Casey, is where she should do her time---either in the psychiatric ward of a state prison or, as Casey would prefer, in a maximum-security state psychiatric hospital, if she's found not guilty by reason of insanity in a retrial or the state allows her to so plead (meaning it will have been determined that she did not know right from wrong when she committed the, er, crime---promotion of said notion being the real agenda of Casey's column).

Either way, as Casey correctly suggests, it's unlikely Yates will ever be returned to what we call the free world, since it would take a judge's order to spring her from the mental health system and only a certifiably insane judge would risk the public wrath that would assuredly follow her release (one good reason to keep electing judges).

So what's the difference? Why should Yates be sent to a mental hospital instead of stuck in the penal system? For the answer he wants, Casey turns to the head of prison system's branch that deals with insane convicts, who observes: "In the mental health system, the focus is on maximizing the person's potential. [Emphasis added] In the criminal justice system it's on public safety."

We'll concede that poor Andrea Yates is unlikely to pose any threat to the public, and that there may be a good reason or reasons to pack her off her to a psychiatric hospital. But the opportunity to "maximize her potential" isn't one of them (old-fashioned mercy would suffice as a reason, we suppose). We certainly wouldn't deny the possibility that humans can change and transform themselves, but we'd draw the line at the state enabling that transformation for a person who killed her five children, even if voices in her head were commanding her to do it.

Perhaps that's mean. Perhaps it would be possible for Andrea Yates, with lots of love and attention, with a goodly serving of newfound self-esteem, with morning tai chi sessions and afternoons with Dr. Phil videos, and, most importantly, with a finely calibrated regimen of pharmaceuticals (we'd suggest it include whatever medication that Lea Fastow lady was/is on---that looked to be some powerfully good shit) to maximize her potential, to somehow set aside the nagging fact that she killed her kids and live a most fulfilling and productive life in psychiatric confinement. Perhaps she could write a book (perhaps Rick Casey could be co-author!) and be temporarily furloughed to be interviewed on Oprah, or to make a blockbuster-ratings appearance being chatted up by Diane Sawyer from the inside.

After all, when you're maximizing your potential, the sky's the limit.

Deeper inside Friday's newspaper we found yet another commentator making yet another pleading on behalf of yet another special class of victim (and Andrea Yates is in a class almost by herself---it's just her and that lady who threw her kids in Buffalo Bayou many years back). This one marked the debut by a columnizer who goes under the name of Memo, or MeMo, as the Chronicle spells it, which, for the benefit of our three or four English-speaking readers, is the diminutive for the Spanish name Guillermo (that's William to you).

Anyway, this Guillermo pretended to whip herself into a lather over the fact that female firefighter Beda Kent had to take the Houston Fire Department's exam for promotion to captain just 12 hours after giving birth to a daughter. We were moved by this column to read the paper's page 1 story on the firefighter mom, and a most strange story it was: a conventional "yeah but" lead immediately followed by three longish paragraphs of opinion from a law prof---including two of nothing but direct quotation---that the state law making all prospective captains take the exam at the same time very well may discriminate against a "protected group." It's not until the very last paragraph of the story that the supposed aggrieved representative of this protected group is quoted directly, and at that late point a "clearly annoyed" Kent is brought on stage to say that it would have been nice if the department would have provided her a proctor so she could have stayed with her baby while taking the exam at the same time as her brother and sister firefighters.

Even though Kent isn't willing to play the role in which Guillermo would cast her, the columnizer weirdly calls on "mote-and beam bloggers" and right-wing pontificators Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, as well as the mayor and firefighters union, to join her in her outrage (although, as it usually does with smug and too-comfortable commentators, the "outrage" here sounds entirely feigned). Apparently the mote and/or beam in Guillermo's eye so obscured her vision that she couldn't closely read her own paper's front-page story, wherein it's clearly stated that state law dictated Kent's circumstance. Once the eye problem clears up, maybe for her next writing assignment the columnist could find out the names of her state rep and senator and dash off angry letters to them (or better yet, try to figure out the relations between local lawmakers and the city's uniformed-employee groups---that'd keep anybody busy for the next decade).

In the meantime, we applaud soon-to-be Capt. Kent and the way she maximized her potential, without whining or playing the victim. We hope she one day takes her generous HFD retirement and enters local politics. We see her as a future mayor of Houston, either right before or just after the Vince Young administration (seriously!).

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