Man, 73, Is First Victim Of Sterilization Laws To Ask For
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 6, 2003
LODI, CALIFORNIA--Fifty-eight years ago Charlie Follett underwent an operation in Sonoma State Hospital that prevented him from ever having children.
He was just 15.
Now Follett, 73, is the first person in California to come forward to claim that the state had him sterilized against his will, since the governor, attorney general and state senate formally apologized for the practice earlier this year.
Follett is one of 20,000 men and women who were forcibly sterilized under the state's eugenics laws from 1909 to 1970. Thirty U.S. states and two Canadian provinces carried out sterilizations on people considered "undesirable". California was by for the most aggressive, accounting for one-third of all those legally sterilized in North America.
The American eugenics movement was based on the now-disproven notion that a person's behavior was caused primarily by genetics and that most of society's ills could be cured by simply keeping people with mental retardation, mental illness, or criminal histories from having children. Many were sterilized simply because they were black or for behavior such as masturbation, having erotic dreams or "causing trouble" in state institutions.
The state decided this spring to find ways to help those who were victims of the eugenics laws. State officials have not reached out to individual victims, citing confidentiality laws. Most of those forcibly sterilized are believed to have died. Many of those still alive may prefer to forget about that part of their past, officials claim. Follett responded to requests by the state for victims to come forward.
Follett thinks the state's decision to sterilize him and lock him up in an institution for nine years did more to determine what his life would be like than any genetic trait he may have had. After he left the institution, Follett served in the U.S. Army in Korea, but found it difficult to get a job back in the states. He had not been educated beyond the sixth grade level or trained for a job while in the institution.
Follett married but never told his wife why they could not bear children.
"It makes me feel sad, because if this didn't happen, things might have been different," he told the Stockton Record. "I figure they owe me something."
He wants a personal apology, a visit with the governor and some compensation for what he lost.