Random thoughts on a variety of subjects
by Sam Redman
I believe that the prison sentence, which was given to the widely publicized cultish religious leader, Wayne Bent, should be set aside or reduced to something more humane and reasonable which relates more appropriately to the gravity of his offense.
If you recall, Bent is the quirky, self-proclaimed Messiah (he claims to be God incarnate), who many years ago established his own peculiar religion, eventually settling with his band of fifty or so followers on a tract of remote acreage in northern New Mexico. Part of his doctrine involved him having sex in some hard to explain “marriage” ritual with a number of his female followers (seven or more, all adults), which, according to him, was all part of God’s plan to signal the beginning of the end of times and become the criteria for salvation (either you believe that his “strange acts” were appropriate or you are doomed, damned to an eternal hell).
Unfortunately for Bent, he made the error of including a couple of underaged girls (14 and 16) in the first stages of his “consummation” sequence (all the women slated as sexual candidates initially did a “lay with God naked” routine, prior to being fully “consummated”), a nice biblical sounding term for having sexual intercourse. And yes, to them, “God” was none other than Wayne Bent, but who now was claiming to having been been infused with the spirit of Michael the Archangel, which made him, according to Wayne, the returning Jesus Christ, the embodiment of “God,” or at the least, God’s son, (yes, admittedly, it is all very, very weird, even according to Bent).
But, he didn’t go “all the way” with those two minor girls. After being advised (warned) by a number of followers, who had deserted his camp in dismay and disgust, he stopped short of having sex with those two underaged girls and defined what happened with them as merely “healing” exercises. But, then those ex-members didn’t stop with just an admonishment, they pursued their campaign with the local police and prosecutors and eventually Bent was charged (after being featured in a BBC aired documentary, where some other very young women (but of legal age) talked about laying naked with Bent and he admitted having sex with three older women in his group, including his own daughter-in-law). Bent was subsequently indicted on four criminal counts, Criminal Sexual Contact of a Minor and contributing to delinquency charges. And after a week long trial in December of 2008, he was convicted and sentenced to 18 years (to serve ten). He is now serving that sentence in a New Mexico prison.
But, my contention is that his sentence was drastically too harsh for the crime (he’s a first time offender and there was only incidental contact with part of the breasts of the two girls) and it doesn’t represent a fair application of punishment which would fit the crime. I don’t defend his actions… I just believe that he is the victim of a system which often punishes unfairly and disproportionately.
It is too easy for a society to steadily return to the regrettable days of eighteenth and later century European standards of cruel and unjust punishment by progressively putting into effect more and more truly draconian measures for punishing criminals. That is what is happening in our culture and Wayne Bent’s sentence and incarceration is a prime example. It’s a horrible and wrongful trend. An example can be seen in the mandatory, without chance of parole, drug sentences for possession with intent to distribute certain substances (for which the offending threshold amounts are ill-defined). Those are beyond any reason and destroy the lives of many first time offenders who deserve punishment, but something far more humane and reasonable.
There is no more parole in the federal system and in the state systems (like where Bent is serving) eligibility for parole is often only after serving many years and admitting (taking responsibility they call it) to a crime for which the prisoner might still be claiming innocence. We have created vast warehouses of otherwise productive human beings who are being trained by real criminals in the ways of evil and made to endure actually unconscionable conditions (don’t think that any prison is anything but a hell hole). While we may find certain crimes repugnant and are repulsed by them, to project our rage and disgust into truly cruel and unusual punishment violates reason and morality. We (our system and our society) have established an unrelenting war against sex offenders (and such an effort is laudable and warranted), but while there are some sex offenders who actually deserve harsh and long term incarceration, we have made the criteria so encompassing (casting such a broad net) that we are sentencing now even minor offenders (like Bent) with the intensity of punishment as is deserved by true child rapers and pornographic exploiters.
What Wayne Bent did to those two girls, while abhorrent, is not the same as rape. It is not the same as what goes on inside of homes with stepfathers and uncles, who begin manipulating and truly physically abusing children at early ages and continue their sordid deeds over periods of many years. But, yet this man was sentenced to 18 years in prison and even though some of that was suspended and reduced to ten years… it could all be enforced with the slightest infraction, unrelated to this situation. But ten years for what he did? It is not and could not be considered a reasonable or a fair sentence.
Yes, he should be restricted from contact with minors… easily accomplished (there are no minors on the remote acreage where his home is located and the restrictions for release could further specify that). Yes, he should be punished by having to be in the probation or parole system (and that is not a pleasant experience) and, yes, he should have to take instruction and receive counseling about what is proper conduct (and the restrictions and requirements of the law), but he doesn’t deserve to be painted with the same brush which rightly should be utilized for those who are actually vile and malicious exploiters and users of children’s bodies. He is simply not on that level.
I support fully Wayne’s release right now and I believe that he should be allowed to serve any remaining sentence (which should be reduced to perhaps three years) from his home (even on house arrest). He is actually being punished for being a pathetic, manipulative person who used (and uses) religion to take advantage of psychologically needy adults, but those offenses, while inappropriate, are unrelated (and irrelevant) to this case.
I strongly believe that our country is now going down a dangerous path, with indignation and subsequent misapplication of vengeance, relative to the level of societal disgust being the motive for punishment rather that what is appropriate to the crime and the likelihood of a repeat offense. Rehabilitation programs are seldom a consideration or an option anymore. It is scary and sad. Wayne Bent is a victim of this mad return to the nineteenth century days of Jean Valjean, where a man could be imprisoned for twenty years for stealing a loaf a bread.
Free Wayne Bent!