Blaming It All On “Addiction”

Yesterday Ariel Castro was sentenced to more than 1000 years in prison for the kidnapping, rape, and years of torture of three women in Cleveland.

Michelle Knight, who was held captive by Castro for 11 years, read an emotional statement at the hearing.  She said she had spent 11 years in hell, and now Castro’s hell would be just beginning.  She also vowed not to let her terrible experience define her, or affect who she is, and instead to live on despite the ordeal.  Those are noble, life-affirming sentiments from someone who has had to endure the unendurable.

Castro also spoke.  He blamed his behavior on an “addiction” to sex and porn that made him “impulsive.”  He said he was not a “monster” or a “violent predator,” but just a “normal person” whose addiction made him not understand that what he was doing is wrong.  “I’m a happy person inside,” he said.

Castro later said he was “truly sorry” for his acts, but of course that “apology” rings awfully hollow.  It’s obvious that Castro has rationalized away taking responsibility for his heinous acts, blaming a phony “addiction” rather than accepting blame himself.

One thousand years is a long time, but mere physical incarceration is not the same as experiencing true moral guilt for your criminal conduct.  Castro obviously doesn’t, and that makes even a 1,000-year sentence seem inadequate.  It’s a sad day for our society when a man who kidnapped and enslaved three women, raped them repeatedly, beat them until they miscarried, and kept them in chains, can deny his obvious status as a “violent predator” and publicly claim to be a “normal person” who is “happy inside.”

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A Story With No Good Answers

In Cleveland Heights, county workers have put an eight-year-old boy who weighs more than 200 pounds into foster care after concluding that the boy’s mother isn’t doing enough to control his weight.  The boy isn’t suffering from any medical conditions other than sleep apnea, but he is considered at risk of weight-related diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.  It’s the first time anyone in Ohio can recall a child being taken from his home purely because of a weight issue.

Childhood obesity is a problem in America — but when should the state intervene to deal with individual cases?  County workers say the boy’s weight is due to his environment and his mother’s failure to follow doctor’s orders; they consider the boy’s condition to be just another form of medical neglect.  The mother, and her lawyer, say the county overreached because the boy is in no immediate danger and the mother has been trying to control his weight.  They note that the boy is on the honor roll and participates in school activities, and add that removing a child from his home and family and putting him foster care can cause its own harms.

This case is an example of what can happen when less-than-perfect parenting and an activist government intersect.  I’m not in favor of officious government workers deciding what’s best for us, but I also question how an attentive parent could let a weight issue become so extreme.  If you conclude that the county acted correctly in this instance, where do you draw the line?  Could it have acted even sooner — when, say, the boy first tipped the scales at 175 pounds?  And if you think the county acted improperly, is there any point at which it should intervene short of the child developing medical problems that clearly are weight-related?

While we wrestle with these abstract issues of individual responsibility and government intrusion, however, I think of the kid at the center of this story.  It’s hard to envision an eight-year-old boy who weighs more than 200 pounds, and it’s even harder to imagine that boy having any kind of normal childhood — particularly now that he’s become the focal point of a much larger tug of war.