John Hinckley, who shot President Reagan, is applying for more privileges to spend more time away from the mental hospital where he current lives. (source: NPR)
During his trial in 1982, Hinckley was declared not guilty by reason of insanity. Many people were not pleased and although this verdict was rare back then, many states reacted by making the bar even higher or abolishing the “insanity defense” altogether.
In my own ignorance, I thought that being declared insane meant a person was always insane. Untreatable. Locked away. I hadn’t realized Hinckley was visiting his mother down the road in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The current terms of Hinckley’s sentence are:
Hinckley [can] to visit his mother for a dozen visits of ten days at a time, rather than six, spend more time outside of the hospital, and even have a driver’s license. Hinckley [is] required to carry a GPS-enabled cell phone to track him whenever he was outside of his parent’s home, and he [is] forbidden to speak to the news media. (source: Wikipedia)
These are more privileges than he had a decade ago. His doctors feel his depression and psychosis have been stable for more than 5 years.
I believe mental illness is an illness, which is mostly out of a person’s control – particularly because it often includes not realizing one is sick. Many people in the throes of their illness do things that, when on medication or with appropriate supports, they not do otherwise. Mental illness is common and often treatable.
I also believe that we serve the time we are supposed to serve. Our justice system, whether correctional or mental intuitions, is supposed to rehabilitate people, not remove them from society indefinitely.
However, there is a line we cross — a point where it does not matter what illness we suffer from, we are a threat and there is no way to prove that we will not threaten again. We put sexual predators in that category because even when they get out, they are placed on a list for life. Mass murders are included. Even alcoholics and addicts pay for their illnesses with jail time.
Does shooting a president count?
Perhaps, the question is: Are the consequences worth it? Of course, we are safer individually if Hinckley stays separated from us. But are we safer as a society? When we chose to believe that people are irredeemable, we all suffer from lack of faith and hope. Are we losing vital members of our society because we believe they cannot get better or their better is not enough? Can’t an alcoholic get sober? A depressive get happy? Plenty of people do not only get better but make other people’s lives better.
By not believing in change, we are trapping ourselves in our mistakes rather than our potentials.
But then again, most people do not shoot someone even at their sickest. Are they lucky? Or is that line drawn across their heart? Can John Hinckley contribute to society even if he is capable of shooting the president?
Our country must be decide whether some of us are our actions or our illnesses and if we are to suffer the consequences of our brain chemistry even once we are better.
John Hinckley is a place to start.