Monday, April 29, 2013

Cast Away

It sounds so romantic - the castaway, on the deserted island. Living in paradise until their eventual rescue and return to society. Books, movies, and even TV shows have been made on this theme - Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Cast Away, Gilligan's Island, Survivor.

Perfect. Idyllic. Maybe even a little slapstick and fun. Until you realize that "cast away" is just another way of saying "thrown out". Just like the garbage.

In the US, almost 750,000 men, women, and children are modern-day castaways. Commenters on news stories often use the phrase, "dropped on an island somewhere" without realizing that, if you're on the registry, you're already on that island, isolated and alone. Thrown out. Abandoned.

Unlike the romanticized castaways, registrants don't scan the horizon, hoping to see someone, looking for rescue. Although we see others, there's no hope of rescue, because the reality is that our island isn't a tropical paradise - it's a prison in everything but name. Our walls and bars are social and economic isolation, and those patrolling offshore are there to make sure we don't leave our island.

Our only hope is that we'll be "voted off the island", that someday, the laws will change. But that can't happen until politicians stop pandering to the fear they create. Until facts and evidence replace belief and anecdote.

It's time for a "tribal council". Multiply 750,000 by at least 2 loved ones (spouses, parents, children, friends), and suddenly, you've got 2.25 million affected by the registry. That's a conservative estimate - the true number is probably closer to 4 or 5 million. And that, dear readers, is a substantial voting bloc. But only if we're organized. Our voices can't be heard if we don't speak up, and won't be heard unless we speak out. Before we can vote registrants off their islands, we have to vote the politicians out of their ivory towers.

What can you do? Visit USA Fair and learn the truth behind sex offender recidivism and who commits new sex crime. (While you're there, think about joining and supporting their mission.) Use that information to combat the misinformation spread in news stories. Use it to educate your legislator, both at the local and national level. Shine the hard spotlight of truth on those who spread shadows of fear to serve their own self-interest.

Change can happen. But only if you care enough to get involved.

"It is better to light a single candle than curse the darkness."
— W.L. Watkinson, "The Invincible Strategy" 

DISCLAIMER: I am not associated with or paid by USA Fair - although I think their mission is worthwhile and one that I support.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


At the beginning of Les Misérables, published in 1862, prisoner 24601 (Jean Valjean) is released from prison on a lifelong parole. His identity papers brand him as dangerous, and as a result, he has problems gaining employment or housing, finally resorting committing crimes to survive and later assuming a false identity in order to just live his life in peace.

One hundred and fifty years later, the scenario laid out above sounds frighteningly familiar. Residency restrictions and denial of housing. An inability to secure employment. Identity documents that brand the bearer. Further crime, and false identities just to survive. Change Valjean's crime from stealing bread to a sex offense, and his story could be substituted for any of the 750,000 men, women, and children on the registry.


At best, the only thing that's changed is the date on the calendar. In many ways, the situation has gotten far worse. Not only have we as a society failed to learn the lessons of history regarding what doesn't work, we've either forgotten or chosen to ignore the things we've learned about what does.

Valjean, for his part, makes good on his assumed identity and earlier breaking of the conditions of his parole, becoming a force for good in the novel. He is, however, unable to escape his criminal past, despite becoming a productive member of society and a moral guide for others, as he is constantly hunted and hounded by Javert.

How many positive contributions to our society are we missing out on in our zeal to brand, label, and ostracize the sex offender?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Public Shaming

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now, and leave your life of sin."

John 8:3-11 — New International Version (NIV)
•  •  •  •  •

Living on the registry is living with your greatest mistake made public and broadcast for all to see. For some, like myself, it is a public shaming that will last for the rest of our lives.

It's easy to be judgmental and critical of another, when their sins are laid bare for the world to see, while yours are locked away in a closet, hidden in the depths of your past. Your reputation is secure, when the face you present to the world is unsullied. It is the illusion of superiority, because you believe you're not like those others — people are funny like that.

During my time in prison, I attended lots of counseling, not because I was required to, but because I sought to understand why. Something happens when you spend years in therapy — you begin to understand human behavior. Another thing I did was read. A lot. I read everything I could get my hands on, and when I ran out of stuff, I read the NIV Bible, cover to cover, several times. The passage quoted above always intrigued me, because I always wondered: what was Jesus writing in the dirt? Strangely, the Bible never says, even though so much hung in the balance.

In that passage, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into committing heresy, a sin punishable by death, by getting him to denounce the Law of Moses in order to save the life of the woman. They thought they knew what Jesus would do. When the woman is brought before him, Jesus bends over and begins to write in the dirt, rather than answer the question that was put to him. Later, he returns to writing in the dirt, after making the oft-quoted statement, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

The answer to the question of what Jesus was writing in the dirt is simple, really — the first time, he bent and wrote a list of the transgressions punishable by the Law. A list of sins.

The second time, he started writing names next to those sins. The names of those in the crowd.

John records that the crowd began leaving soon after Jesus started writing a second time. It's little wonder. Harsh judgement and criticism of another under a strict and inflexible Law always melts away when one's own transgressions of that same Law are laid bare in public. Faced with evidence of their own faults and sins, the crowd suddenly realized that they were not any better than the woman they accused.

It's easy to cast stones when you feel your position is secure, when you feel superior to another. It's a far different game when the playing field is leveled. Think about this, the next time you judge that sex offender down the street. You don't know their whole story, and the truth is, they're not that much different from you.

The only difference, really, is that their sins have been made public.

For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:23 — New International Version (NIV)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Better Definition

A criticism often leveled at sex offenders is, "You made the choices that put you where you are, why should I feel sorry for you?"

On its face, this seems like a reasonable statement. Had I not done what I did, I wouldn't be subject to the registry, and all the myriad life difficulties that come with it. But this is flawed thinking, little better than the "victim blaming" so recently railed against in the wake of the Steubenville case. It's not right there, and it's not right here. Each of us is the sum of the decisions we make, each of us bears responsibility for our actions or inactions, and daily make choices that lead us to where we are.

Did I deserve to be punished for what I did? Unequivocally, yes. That's what prison is for, and I duly served my time — several long years of contemplation and reflection. When I was released from parole, my parole agent shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and told me to go out and live my life. I'm still waiting to do that.

Almost 26 years after my crime, with nothing worse than a speeding ticket in that time, one has to wonder how long is long enough to be listed on the registry? I have now been out of prison and off parole for twice as long as I was in. Shouldn't that qualify me for some consideration? Shouldn't we define the trustworthiness of an individual by how they have lived their lives every moment since that horrible mistake of judgement?

Lest you think that 16 years of being "monitored" by the registry is responsible for my never having offended again, let me assure you: a yearly visit to register and quarterly compliance check letters to make sure I'm living where I say I'm living isn't "monitoring" — not by a long shot. The big lie that the government wants you to believe is that they're sitting over my shoulder, watching my every move, keeping you safe. That those who live around me have me under their watchful surveillance, having been duly notified to my presence by a website.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If 17 years of law-abiding citizenship doesn't speak volumes about my character, doesn't reflect a lesson learned, and doesn't earn me the right to live my life in relative security, peace, and freedom, then I would submit that the problem isn't me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


It happened to me just the other day: coming out of the store, walking quickly through the chilling drizzle, I came upon a young mother struggling with 3 unruly children and a cart overflowing with groceries. Fighting my first instinct, I approached the woman, and offered my help, as others dashed by in the rain without a second glance. She opened the back of her SUV, and by the time she'd gotten her children loaded and strapped into their various car seats, I had most of her groceries loaded in the back. She flashed a quick smile of gratitude, and offered a few dollars as thanks, which I declined.

Never once did she ask me if I was a Sex Offender.

Every time I go to the store, someone asks me to get something off of the top shelf for them. They never ask if I'm a Sex Offender first. I doubt it even crosses their mind. They simply see someone who can solve their problem: an unreachable item, and someone to get it for them.

I often wonder what would happen if, in response to a request for help, I instead identified myself as a Sex Offender. Would they still accept my retrieving of that unreachable item? Would they let me load their groceries in the rain, so they could tend to their children? Or, would they run screaming?

Of course, I know the answer.

Consider though: I hold certifications in First Aid and CPR. I've been first on scene to various auto accidents, some minor, some with severe injuries and death. I know what it's like to perform chest compressions - those who have done it will understand when I talk about the feeling that classes and training doesn't prepare you for. The utter and complete exhaustion that sets in after just a few minutes of fighting to keep someone alive. It sounds like bragging, but I know that there are people walking around today because I was there to help them. Sadly, there is one person whom I was unable to save - but that is a different story for another time.

If you were choking, or your loved one were having a heart attack, I think that you'd want me or someone like me there to help. And I doubt that you'd take the time to check the online registry or ask if I was a Sex Offender. What you would do is ask me for help.

And if I'm good enough to help save your life, shouldn't I be good enough to live down the street from you? Good enough to hire? Or do I still deserve to be locked away or dropped on an island somewhere to die?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Sins of the Father

This past Easter weekend, the television news was full of Easter Egg hunts, scrambles, and rolls. The screen was full of happy children, gleefully bouncing through the parks and lawns, searching for candy-filled eggs, with their parents laughing, smiling, encouraging, and helping. I'm sure that more than a few pictures were snapped, and many memories were made. These are the happy moments that make up childhood, memories and pictures to last a lifetime.

Sadly, some of those memories and pictures won't include dad - not because dad didn't want to be there, but because he wasn't allowed to be.

Far too often, we focus on the continued punishment and persecution of the sex offender, righteously defending their exclusion from parks and playgrounds where children may be with the oft-repeated mantra of "if it saves one child..." Rarely do we consider that there are children being harmed - innocent children, whose only crime was to be fathered by a sex offender, who don't understand why daddy can't be there, but only that daddy wasn't there, and equate that lack of presence with lack of love.

"If it saves one child...all children deserve a happy childhood full of love and security." Except the child of a sex offender. They don't count.

When advocates for Sex Offender Law reform speak of "collateral damage", this is what they mean. Children whose sex offender parent is absent not from a lack of desire to participate, but because they are legally prevented. Easter egg rolls. Summer days at the beach. A picnic in the park. Visits to the zoo. Trick-or-treat. School plays. School sports. School field trips. Father-daughter dances. Graduation. The things that bind a child to a father, the shared experiences that build a happy, healthy childhood.

And those are just the passive modes of collateral damage. There's also the whispers and rumors. Teasing. Outright bullying and verbal and physical assaults for being the child of a sex offender. The fear that comes with drive-by harassment of their parent by vigilantes. Vandalism of their home or the family car. Being shunned and ostracized at school and in the neighborhood.

"All children deserve a happy childhood full of love and security."

Don't they?