Safe Choices 11 – Editorial: Trust me

copyright the Chronicle Feburary 25,  2009

“Trust me, this is for your own good.”

Anybody who hears those words knows that something unpleasant is about to happen. We suspect that George St. Francis, though only about 30 years old, has heard them far, far more often than the average, or “normal” Vermonter.
Mr. St. Francis has been legally evaluated, and found to have “significantly subaverage intellectual function.” That finding was part of a 1996 proceeding that, in essence, took control of his life away from Mr. St. Francis and gave it to the state of Vermont. Deciding that Mr. St. Francis was a threat to the public safety, a potential sex offender, the state put him in a program called Safe Choices and kept him there for years.
In Safe Choices, Mr. St. Francis’ life has been shrouded in secrecy. The state and its agents say the secrecy is necessary to protect his privacy. Maybe it is. Maybe we have no business talking about his intelligence.
But the secrecy also serves to protect the state and its agent, Northeast Kingdom Human Services, from any public scrutiny.
Mr. St. Francis is a stubborn soul, and his efforts to free himself have poked some holes in the shroud. Though them, we have managed a few observations. Safe Choices is enormously expensive to the public. Far more expensive than the prison cells which await “normal” people who are actually convicted of the sort of offenses that Mr. St. Francis might, or might not, commit.
By the accounts of Mr. St. Francis and a witness who, unhappily, spent five years as his companion in Safe Choices, the program’s treatment of George St. Francis was also confining, demeaning, intimidating, and humiliating. According to one sworn court document, a Safe Choices staff member called Mr. St. Francis “Curious George” and “George of the Jungle” and made clucking noises meant as a reference to his supposed sexual feelings toward chickens.
But, we are assured, Mr. St. Francis was in Safe Choices for his own good.
When he tried to get out, to substitute a private guardian for his state guardian, Mr. St. Francis on two occasions couldn’t hire his own lawyer. He wasn’t considered capable of making such a choice. The lawyers supplied for him opposed the motions to end the state guardianships. His lawyers were working for the other side. But it was for his own good.
Mr. St. Francis finally did manage to find his own lawyer, and a woman who knew something about Safe Choices and was willing to serve as his private guardian.
Last week in court it looked like the state was finally ready to give up; to agree to end its guardianship and appoint the private guardian Mr. St. Francis wants.
It seems that, after all these years, Mr. St. Francis will finally get a say in what’s for his own good. — C.B.
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