By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
There is, though, a moment in Thomas' life that I admire over everything else. To me it was, and still is, his final and greatest lesson. It is the manner in which he conducted himself during this last year when he was being prosecuted. He never tried to deny, nor justify his actions of 30 years ago, but took responsibility for them. He faced his destiny with great integrity, an integrity that ultimately would cost him his life.
I had the tragic privilege of being the attorney for John Thomas in his criminal prosecution. In my 20 years of exclusively criminal-defense practice, I have rarely had a client walk into my office and say: "I did this. I am sorry." John Thomas not only acknowledged his wrongdoing of 30 years ago, but appreciated the gravity of his conduct.
Thomas was 71 years of age and had congestive heart failure. Because his health would not withstand the demands of trial, despite important constitutional, legal and factual defenses, John pleaded no contest to the charge of one count of oral copulation with a person under the age of 16, not "child molestation" as mischaracterized in Gabrielle Idlet's article. Moreover, the misconduct occurred under the influence of hallucinogens with his former wife, Rose Idlet, in 1972. Thomas told the sentencing judge, Michael Pastor: "I do not forgive myself" and "I will abide faithfully by all conditions of the judgment you lay down, whatever they may be."
I will never understand how the judge and prosecutor could sentence a 71-year-old man with congestive heart failure (and a statement from his doctor that he could not survive it) to 120 days in jail. John Thomas died on the 18th day. The criminal prosecution was subsequently dismissed, based upon his death during the pendency of the appeal. (This was omitted from your story.)
A luminary of the Beat generation, Thomas lived and wrote in Los Angeles for the past 40 years. He acknowledged to me and others that in his earlier days he was on drugs, his house was in great disarray, and he didn't write for 18 years. He was, in his own words, "committing slow suicide."
Also omitted in the published hate piece is that after 1983, with his marriage to poet Philomene Long, Thomas was, as he would say, "resurrected." For the next 19 years he transformed his former life, feeling regret for his past, and began writing again (over 1,000 poems) and teaching. This was the John Thomas whom Fred Dewey, the director of Beyond Baroque, described as a "generous spirit," for whom "poverty and love were equal teachers in a life of wisdom."
Whatever truth exists in what Gabrielle Idlet has written is secondary to the distortions. She and her sister distributed hate mail and death threats to their father for years before the legal system was corrupted to allow the unconstitutional repeal of the statute of limitations. Their stated wish to see their father's death was finally satisfied, and their thirst for revenge was a primary cause. May they be given the forgiveness that they refused to grant their father.
--Jeffrey J. Douglas
Gabrielle Idlet replies:
I'm not certain what difference Mr. Douglas sees between the criminal charge he uses in his letter and the term I used in my piece. John Thomas had sex with his own daughter, my half-sister, Susan, when she was a teenager.
Susan and I are not hate mongers or death-threat dealers; we were not in fact motivated by a thirst for revenge, as Mr. Douglas puts it. Rather, we were driven by a profound need for justice -- a resolution that is far too rarely experienced by those who have endured child abuse. Perhaps our father apologized to the court, and he may have apologized to Mr. Douglas, but he never did anything of the sort to Susan or to me. Nor did he ever strive to help us in our healing -- with his words or his deeds.
I wrote what I wrote to set the record straight. There simply is no excuse for child abuse. Its prosecution is important not only to its immediate victims, but to our society as a whole. Silence on these matters helps no one.