07 January 2013

Compassion for the Wrong Doer

I have been grappling whether to post this and usually when I find myself in a similar situation something backfires, but I feel this needs to be said.  Due to the emotive subject, I ask that the whole post be read.

On New Year's Day the body of an old man was found.  the sad this is that he had actually died alone a new days prior to his body being discovered - yet no one had noticed or indeed cared.  He was 64 years of age and whilst I did not know him or had ever met him, I knew he was not liked.  In fact he was hated and often vilified for an act he allegedly undertook in the late 1980s.  I say "allegedly" because despite being convicted, he pleaded his innocence, blaming someone else.  As I wasn't there, I am only repeating what has been reported.  In this country, when one is found guilty of a crime, they are punished, and this old man served 14 years in prison where he was bashed to the extend that he suffered permanently facial and hearing disabilities.  Some say justifiably so.

After serving the alloted time of punishment set down by the law of this country, and considering he had been described as being as "model prisoner", this man was given back his freedom in 2004.  Unfortunately a year later he was back before the Courts on similar charges, however, due to the fact that it could not be proven "beyond reasonable doubt" (which is the law in this country) that he had actually reoffended as there was also another convicted child sexual abuser at the house at the same time, he was given another opportunity to freedom (rightly or wrongly).

From that point he was constantly harassed, victimised, and threatened  - not only by the media but also by the public.  Some say justifiably so.  This was despite him stating that he believed that he was no longer a "threat to the community" and if it pleased the general populace, he would even undergo chemical castration if deemed a safe and effective procedure.  This did not occur.

This old man is Dennis Ferguson, described as a "vile creature with a long record of assaults on women and children that culminated in the kidnap and rape of two young boys and a girl" (News.com.au)

Ferguson's former counsellor Dr Wendell Rosevear (who works with both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse) had stated that Ferguson had been constantly working to address his behaviour by undertaking counselling on a regular basis.  Ferguson was reported as being aware of what he had done and honest about the dimensions of his own life, both victimisation and perpetration.  Rosevear indicated that this honesty was the biggest predictor of someone's resolution. Ferguson also had a circle of people assisting him to integrate back into society in a positive manner which was important for his attempt to change his life. (ABCnews.com.au)

So why am I writing about Dennis Ferguson, the man we all apparently hated and whose death we will "not be shedding a tear" over?  This probably is why.  Without taking anything way from the horrendousness of his crimes against young children (of which he was convicted of molesting three), nor lessening the pain of his victims, I am somewhat saddened by the lack of compassion shown (not to mention appalled with images of  a person leaving a coffin on Ferguson's doorstep in one media report).  After all, this man served his gaol sentence as directed by the Court as his punishment. Some may say that he never "truly" shown compassion to his victims (how could this be done?).  Regardless of whether this is the case, is it justifible to demonstrate "an eye for an eye" mentality?

In highly emotive situations such as this a poem comes to mind.  This poem I have often posted and referred to on my blog, as when I first read it, it really struck a cord with me.  That poem is Call Me by My True Names by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

I do not know the reasons behind why Dennis Ferguson did the things he did. It has been recorded that he was himself a victim of sexual abuse (by his mother's partner after his parents divorced), and this abuse latest for some seven year even after Ferguson was declared a "neglected child" and placed into a State home.  Maybe, therefore, he was therefore only acting in a manner that he knew.  Who knows - I surely do not.  All I do know is that he served 14 years as punishment for his crime as deemed by the laws of this country.  At the time of his death, according to Ferguson's own former counsellor, he was attempting his best to integrate back into society - which is what prisoners, upon release, are encouraged to do.

Maybe if I had children, I would view his death differently - I do not know.  All I do know is that his death and the public's relation to it is raised a number of questions for me about our society. 

Firstly, the lack of compassion shown to someone like Ferguson who had undertaken his punishment and was attempting to rebuild whatever is left of his life as is directed by the laws of this country.  According the 2011 census, 61.1% of Australians classify themselves as "Christian" - yet I have struggled to find anything that could be described "Christian compassion" shown towards Ferguson (especially on social media) when his death was announced? 

"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

Secondly, why do we (as a society) condemn someone like Ferguson yet hero worship the likes of convicted murderers, Mark "Chopper" Reed and Carl Williams.  With respect to the latter, a whole series of television programmes have spun off from the Melbourne "gangland" killings.  Is it because Ferguson, due to his disabilities (he was also born "legally blind") looks "repulsive" and therefore is not deemed "bankable"?

Thich Nhat Hanh's poem is about NOT judging a person for their crime, but rather seeing what got them to that point.  If we put ourselves in the shoes of Ferguson (or any other "wrong doer"), and lived their life, experienced what they experienced, you may very well end up like them also.

Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us of the practice of deep empathy for those we have trouble understanding, regardless of our faith, spiritual/religious persuasion.  Empathy, along with compassion, costs nothing, nor, most importantly, does it take away anything from the victim of the "wrong doer".

Compassion is not only a Buddhist "thing" - it is actually found in most, if not all, belief systems.  Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if instead of treating everything with "an eye for an eye", we actually treated all living beings with compassion.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.


  1. i am having this issue currently.. its just a whole lot more personal *coughs* and thats all i am going to say about that..

    however i have long wished that our legal and prison systems were not based on what amounts to revenge, as apposed to justice. to me the justice is more about the whys and whyfors, as you said how did this person get to this point and make this wrong decision. putting people in prision for making idiot decisions with out addressing the why and forhows just distances the said person from feeling responsible for what they have done, not to mention the anger and revenge that they feel because of unjust treatment...

    but then so to does it become detrimental for the person who had done their time and is now wanting to be a contributing member of society to do so . how that society treats him, especially when it comes to people such as Mr Ferguson have done, does pretty much nothing towards helping him to want to be abetter person. like you said, the compassion ingored in favour of revenge, often violent revenge like actions.

    it comes down to, i believe, scapegoating, which i also believe was taught to us by successive governments and media pointing the finger at a scapegoat.

    but then defining crime is also problematic..

    what it all boils down to is that the system is wrong.. and i don't know how to fix it, but i do know that i can be a critical thinker, and be a compassionate person..thus i don't beleive everything my govt or media tell me..

    err.. there you go rambling.. on mondays


  2. Thanks for sharing your Monday ramblings. :)