While we’ll certainly get to the terms of the plea agreement before we’re through, let’s get right to the heart of the matter. And that point is the Batavia High School student charged with possessing bomb making materials – the one who planned a “day of rage” – was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia.
And let me tell you, having worked with schizophrenics for five years in my twenties, it is one of the most terrifying diseases you could possibly imagine. COVID-19? I’d take having that bleep five times over developing schizophrenia!
It’s absolutely nothing like the multiple personality disorders most people make it out to be, either. It can only be described as a complete mental break from any shared reality which may or may not include hearing voices, hallucinations, delusions, and incredibly disorganized thinking.
If you’ve ever spoken with a schizophrenic enduring a rough psychotic break, it’s something you’ll never forget. They typically appear to be quite lucid and they’re very capable of communicating, but it’s a lot like interacting with a being that just popped in from another dimension. Where’s your common point of reference?
If you truly want to understand this horrific mental illness, I’d highly recommend the 2001 Ron Howard movie, ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ It’s the story of Nobel Prize Winning mathematician John Nash who developed the disease while he was a Princeton graduate student. The scenes of Nash working on an “assignment” from a phantom Pentagon “supervisor” in an abandoned shed are the best depiction of schizophrenia I’ve ever seen anywhere.
Thankfully, Schizophrenia affects just 0.5 percent of the population, but that still adds up to 1.6 million Americans. The symptoms generally evidence themselves in young adulthood, though women do tend to develop it later in life. Only two percent of schizophrenics are violent, and even paranoid schizophrenics can become fully functional with the appropriate anti-psychotic drugs.
But there’s the rub! Though those medications have exponentially improved since the late 80s, their side effects still suck. Then, a greater irony is, when those side effects are minimal, just like most of us do with antibiotics, the second they start seriously improving, they stop taking them.
The NIU shooter was a paranoid schizophrenic who, for reasons we’ll never know, stopped taking his medication. Perhaps it had something to do with the vast stigma mental illness inevitably bestows.
But here’s what really troubles me. Considering the current quality of the average Tri-City denizen, it really shouldn’t surprise me, but I’m beyond stunned at all those good social media Christians who ripped their garments and gnashed their teeth while lamenting that this kid “only” got probation.
Please tell me exactly how he’s culpable here? There is no amount of willpower, no amount of counseling, and certainly no form of “intervention” that could possibly stop this 17-year-old’s brain from betraying him. And the kick in the ass is, schizophrenics don’t realize it when their chemically imbalanced brain is selling them out!
So, insisting he be jailed is just like punishing a Batavia two-year old for their failure to speak fluent Russian. Would you threaten your child with hellfire if they couldn’t lift your SUV? Perhaps a better analogy would be incarcerating you for your failure to follow the most basic Christian tenet, but the truth is, I’m convinced most of you don’t have a capacity for empathy.
And what kills me is, this plea agreement is an excellent one! Jailing this kid would serve no purpose, but he did plead guilty to an adult offense which gives the State some leverage to ensure he takes his medication. That probation sentence also makes it clear he can’t have anything to do with Batavia High School whatsoever.
You know I’m not too fond of this iteration of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office, but I do have to give prosecutor Bridget Sabbia real credit for doing the right thing when it would’ve been so much easier to do the wrong thing.
My hat’s also off to Gary Johnson, a defense attorney I refer more than any other, for how he handled this, but the underlying issue there is, how many similarly affected families could afford Gary?
And please don’t blame the parents! Whatever early symptoms might have reared their ugly heads, given that damning stigma, what reasonable parent would want to admit their son is mentally ill. It’s NOT easy.
In the end, it all comes down to an absolute lack of any real mental health safety net. Can I say that would’ve prevented the NIU tragedy or kept this Batavia student on track? Not with certainty! But I can say with there was absolutely no shot at preventing them without one.
I can also say that, back in 2014, Kane County residents had the opportunity to approve a scant 0.1 percent tax increase that would’ve raised $13 million a year to provide a better life for our mentally ill and their weary parents and caretakers. But you all voted it down by almost two-to-one.
But yet, you’re willing to abandon the mentally ill in state prisons at an annual cost of up to 65 grand per inmate. Silly me, I thought good Christians were supposed to take care of the least of their brothers!
So, here’s my advice to anyone who still believe this kid should go to jail, or to any voter who helped kill that referendum! Start practicing your explanation for that mindset to St. Peter now, because, mark my words, it’s gonna take some serious verbal gymnastics to get you past those pearly gates.