Perverted Justice?

Or is a new law that puts sexual predators in long-term psychiatric lock-up really -- and finally -- justice for perverts?

Before he was an adult, Scott Emerson Felix was a sexual predator. Before he was a sexual predator, Felix was a tremendously troubled young man who was institutionalized and who once tried suicide.

The long ruin of his life and the damage he did to others began in earnest, he says, when he was about 9 years old. In truth, though, his problems began the day he was born -- Feb. 12, 1961 -- to parents with a dissolving marriage.

Over the last month-and-a-half, Scott Felix has told me about a childhood and adolescence of considerable neglect. He called his mother "a fast-moving liberal lady" who ran in political circles, sang and worked at Glide Memorial Church, sought mystical enlightenment at the Esalen Institute -- briefly marrying its leader, the poet Michael Murphy -- and dated and lived with more men than she can recall. ("There was always men," his mother says wistfully today. "I was so beautiful then.")

According to Felix, "Her needs always came first."
Meanwhile, he was left to the wild winds of the world. As a child, he was packed off each morning at a Sausalito ferry landing -- alone -- to make the long multistep trip to his elementary school in San Francisco. On the ferry, the needy child ran and got beer for people. He also began to seek solace in the foamy brew.

Felix witnessed his mother being raped, according to court records and interviews with him and his mother. He also says he was beaten by some of her many, many boyfriends, one of whom was associated with the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. He says he witnessed his mother being beaten by her boyfriends, too.

A few weeks ago, he dropped a bombshell on me: He said he was molested by two baby sitters, one a man, one a woman. He told a court-appointed psychiatrist the same thing last year.

He has been a roiling mass of emotional problems for most of his life.
From the hour of his birth until he was 17, when Felix committed his first rape, he was trapped in a chaotic childhood marked with violence and perversity; and, above all, a sense of powerlessness and inability to change his circumstances. It was this sense of impotence, a psychiatrist said later, that led Felix to become a sexual predator, a brute whose only moments of control came when he was raping.

Since he was 17 years old, Scott Felix has been locked up in prisons and jails, with only brief respites on parole. The mastery he sought through rape never came, of course. He merely lost all control over his life, becoming prisoner C30938.

Today, Felix is a 37-year-old adolescent. Emotionally, he is an odd combination of a con-wise criminal and a trembling, needy child. He has been diagnosed with numerous personality disorders.

Felix portrays himself as a man who has sufficiently dealt with his emotional problems; who is sorry as hell for raping and sexually assaulting several women two decades ago; and who is now ready, for the first time in his life, to fold himself peacefully into the rest of humanity, to respect the rights of others. He has told me repeatedly in formal interviews, rambling voice-mail messages, and late-night phone calls that all he wants for himself, now, is a clean and sober life; one that will let him go to Tower of Power shows, walk on the beach, lie on his couch, commanding the television with a remote control, or telephoning Pasquales on Irving for his evening meal. He feels he ought to be allowed to do this. He completed his prison sentence in 1993 and has not committed a sex crime since. He is ready to rebuild the ruins of his life.

The state of California does not want Scott Felix anywhere near the rest of civilized humanity. The state Legislature and the officials who run the penal and mental-health systems say that he's damaged goods, perhaps permanently damaged. They want him off the streets, in a locked psychiatric facility.

State officials say his past is a prologue. They claim he belongs to a special class of dangerous criminals who need to be locked up, even after their prison sentences are completed -- at least for a while, and perhaps forever. These officials are confident that they possess the scientific tools needed to predict that Felix will commit more rapes.

A new law, passed in 1996, allows the state to commit sex offenders to psychiatric institutions after they have finished their prison sentences, and to recommit them for as long as the state deems it proper. Though the law is heading for a challenge before the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legal framework for the law when it ruled on a nearly identical Kansas statute.

Felix is just one of several hundred convicted sex criminals who have been entangled in the Welfare and Institutions Code, Article 4, Sections 6600 through 6609.3, also known as the Sexually Violent Predator Act.

And he's as mad as a hornet about it. "When do I get to close up all the coffins?" he raged over the phone, late one night to me. "When do they stop digging up my graveyard?"

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