We Need to Re-Examine the Sexual Offender Registry

Tomorrow is passport picture day. For most people, that’s only once every 10 years, but for me, it’s twice a year. As a registered sex offender, every time I have my quarterly check-in with the police, I have to bring a passport photo that is sent to the state capital to be posted online with my crime. Thankfully, CVS provides two passport photos, so there is only need to visit twice a year.

I’m not suggesting by this entry that I did not deserve to get punished for what I did. On the contrary, I took my sentencing like a man and do not get into the argument of if I received too much or too little time. The government decreed that six months and six days in county jail was appropriate for the crime of engaging a teenage girl in a sexual manager in an online chatroom, and I did the time.

I have no problem with the probation I was given, three years, despite the fact that both my lawyer and the state suggested I only have two years. I think the judge gave me a lighter jail sentence and longer probation as a trade-off. Whatever, that’s fine. I’ve got about eight months left and aside from signing a piece of paper and having a 30-second conversation once a month, it’s not that bad. I can certainly understand why it’s useful for drug criminals who need to submit to a urine test.

At the end of probation, though, those drug criminals aren’t tested anymore. They have served their time and they are free to live their life. Hopefully, they stay away from the substances that got them there, but as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, they’re free to move along.

Sex crimes are not treated the same. I’m not a law scholar by any means and I know the validity of the sexual offender registry has been tested in several states and always upheld, but I have a problem with serving my sentence, doing my probation time, yet still being on the hook for the rest of my life.

For me, there are two arguments against this.

First, is the fact that I’m not treated like any other criminal. I literally could have been convicted for manslaughter, done my time, and nobody follows me after probation. I could have been nailed selling drugs to teenage girls, but I’m not put on a list for the rest of my life of people who need to be watched. I could beat my wife and kids, do my time, and the law isn’t going to follow me once probation is over.

Something seems askew to me when people can commit crimes with tangible results that are just as bad, or worse, than mine, yet there is no criminal registry for what they have done. Once they are finished with probation, they are left alone.

Second, is the fact that I’m on the same list with violent sexual predators. I’m not suggesting my crime wasn’t heinous and severe. It absolutely was. I took advantage of a young person and who knows if my behavior scarred her for life. What I did was disgusting and wrong.

That said, I never put my hands on a child. I never forced a child to commit a sexual act on me, nor did I commit one on them. No violence, nor threat of violence came with my offense. There were also no threats made against her family, property or anything like that.

I have taken four risk assessment tests and questionnaires designed to determine if I am at a risk of reoffending. On three I ranked the lowest score possible. On the other, I didn’t even rank on the scale. I have taken two polygraphs about my sexual history and have passed both with flying colors.

Yet there I am, on a list next to a guy who repeatedly raped a four-year-old boy. On the other side of me in the list is a guy who raped a 9-year-old girl, did his time, got out of jail and promptly returned to the girl, now 14 and raped her again. I think I have the right to say that compared to me, on a spectrum of sexual offenses, these are violent and depraved criminals who committed acts that are nothing like mine if you’re looking for an even playing field.

In my opinion, I think my being on the same list as these violent predators is like being someone who once bought a bag of pot being next to an international drug smuggler on the same list or someone who stole a lady’s purse being put next to an armed bank robber. Yes, the offenses may officially fall under the same umbrella, but there is a world of difference between the two.

I know there are people out there who probably couldn’t get beyond the third paragraph of this and who think that I should have been put in jail for life. Sexual offenses illicit a strong response in people and its one area where both Democrat and Republican law makers are more than happy to add new laws to the books, even if they make no scientific or historical sense. It feels good to castigate sex offenders.

I’m not looking for pity, I’m looking for equal and appropriate treatment. I’m hoping that you can take whatever opinions you have of sexual offenders and somehow parse them, not putting all of us into the same box. Unfortunately, the registry doesn’t do this yet.

I did a rotten thing, but under our current way of punishing people, I think that I’m being held to a different, higher standard, and I don’t think that’s fair.

Another Story From Jail: The Bathroom Situation

My first entry a month ago about what is what like to go to jail got more hits and likes in the first day than anything I’d ever written about before. I thought it would be a one-off, but I think it’s good to remind people where pornography addiction can lead you if you don’t learn to deal with it. I never thought I’d have to face the reality of a jail bathroom, but that’s one of the many consequences of not taking care of myself the way I should have.

Sure, there was the overarching theme of “Just Survive” as I entered my first day of jail, but if I were to delve into the specifics of the anxiety I wrestled with in the nearly two years my case played out in the legal system, I think more than half of it came from not knowing what the bathroom situation was going to be like.

I’m not a super modest person. I can shower in a room with others. I’d rather not go to the bathroom while others are watching, but I came to peace with knowing I might have to do that. My biggest fear centered on people messing with me when I was in either of those vulnerable positions.

When I got to jail on my first day, despite it being nearly 10:30 a.m., everyone was fast asleep in the “pod” I was in. The room was probably 60 feet long and about 10 feet wide through most of it. I was the 14th man in a room with 7 bunk beds that could comfortably fit half that. At one end, it opened a little where a table and chairs were and at the other end, I noticed that there was a door, presumably to the bathroom. On the handle was a cardboard hanger somebody made that said “Vacant” much like a “Do Not Disturb” hanger you’d see at a hotel better than the one the county was providing me. I quietly hopped off the bed and went to the door. The other side of the hanger said: “In Use”.

I pushed the door open into the bathroom. It was a little bigger than the bathroom in most people’s homes and had a dull gray cement floor. There was one shiny metal toilet attached to a shiny metal sink. In the corner of the room was a single shower stall, separated from the rest of the room with those big plastic/rubber flaps that come over your car at the end of the car wash.

“So, there isn’t any group showering situation,” I said to myself, able to dismiss myriads of prison movie fight scenes from my head, recognizing a huge fear had evaporated.

Later in the day, when one of the inmates wanted to take a shower, he announced loudly he was doing it and asked if anybody needed to use the bathroom. When nobody did, he just flipped the hanger over and went inside. It became the standard protocol for my time there.

Once in a while, we’d get somebody new into our pod who wanted to establish some kind of dominance in the pod. A regular way of doing this was entering the bathroom to pee when someone else was taking a shower. I guess the idea is that they don’t have to respect the wishes of someone who wants to be left alone to shower.

Just a quick aside: Years ago, I sold DVDs and CDs at a call center for parents with defiant children. In training, we learned about Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Basically, it is a condition where If I tell you to do A, you’ll do B. If I think say, “OK, fine, do B” you’ll do A. It doesn’t make any sense, but I saw a lot of people who clearly struggled with this in jail. It’s a real thing. It’s fascinating, but frustrating to be around.

While I kind of sat back and watched things going on around me for two months, after that point, a group of three or four of us who were older (I’d guess the median age was about 29 and I was a decade beyond that) and doing extended stays would put that kind of behavior to an end quickly. While I wasn’t physically imposing compared to these others, I learned quickly to represent that I could, and would have no problem fighting if necessary. I knew they’d have my back if anybody tried anything. In my almost six months there, the worst I saw were two guys take defensive postures with each other.

Most would try to diffuse the situation by just going up to someone and saying, “We don’t do that here. Stay the f out of the bathroom when someone is in there,” and if that didn’t work, I’d usually try to convince them using the kind of manipulation that partially landed me in jail.

“You know, I don’t think anybody in here has a problem with you being gay…” I would start.

“I’m not f’n gay!” the person would always respond.

“Oh, sorry. Well I don’t think that anybody would be upset if you explained that you had some kind of bladder control problem…” I would continue. “They sell adult diapers in the commissary.”

“I don’t have an f’n bladder problem,” they’d shoot back. I knew the other guys had my back as I did this and were enjoying listening from a few feet away.

“Well, I think you need to explain to everyone why you like to bust in when men are naked or going to the bathroom. If you can explain it, it’ll make it easier to deal with, because right now, everybody just thinks you’re gay or need diapers. If you don’t want them to think that, maybe you should stop barging in.”

I had to give this little talk about three times in the six months I was there.

I look back and feel a little bad that I played on their fears and insecurities, but I also try to tell myself that I was not living in a democratic society full of open-minded, kind people who wanted the greater good for all.

While the water in the shower was either drippy and freezing or turbo-charged and scalding, the overall bathroom situation was not as bad as I anticipated. I know that’s not the case at all jails or prisons, and in a way, I think part of my punishment was the anxiety I had to live with in advance of getting to jail.

Looking back, I don’t think that was such a bad thing. There was no pornography and no reason for not taking care of myself that made jail worthwhile. Lesson learned.

 

Are people inherently good or bad?

Neither. People just are. Social norms, acceptable behavior, laws and regulations all change over time. The behavior of someone in Year 317 or 1317 may seem to stand in stark contrast to behavior labeled as acceptable today. Were those people bad and didn’t know better? If we’re so advanced, will people in 500 or 1000 years look at us as immoral cretins?

When I was arrested and charged with possession of underage pornography, I went from a “good” person to “bad” person in the blink of an eye for many people. Nothing else mattered. I wonder if in revising their opinion, they decided I was secretly bad prior or was it just that now they knew a piece of information about me, it eliminated everything I’d accumulated in the good column?

One of the more interesting evolutionary traits of humans (and I’m talking over millions of years, not hundreds) is the increasing need for order, averages and the status quo. We crave to know where to set the bar when it comes to every product, behavior or thought we produce or consume.

People are neither inherently good or inherently bad. People are inherently fearful. They are scared that they will fall outside of their desired norm – and that’s even true of the most alternative anarchist. We go with the crowd, even if that crowd is a minority.

When people are looking through their black and white lenses because shades of gray are scary, I’m reminded of the oft-used phrase, “Hitler loved his dogs.” Can somebody be pure evil if they still love dogs? If the person who is the gold standard of evil has a soft spot for puppies is anybody 100% bad?

Well, no and nobody is 100% good, because again, those are labels that I’m using with my own unique definition. You have your own definition. Hitler existed. His behavior has never been accepted as OK. But what if the Nazis won? There’s a good chance we’d be living in a world that looked back on Hitler through very different eyes and reached a very different conclusion about his place in history.

When I was arrested and convicted for my crime, I know that many people took an eraser to all of the things I had ever done that were seen as good. I raised tens of thousands of dollars for and brought awareness to plenty of local causes. I regularly volunteered my time or donated advertising space in my magazine. I made dozens of filmmakers’ dreams come true with the film festival I ran for three years. I’m not going to run through a list, but I went from being a “good” person in many people’s eyes to a “bad” person because the one act of convincing a teenage girl to masturbate online trumps everything else I’ve ever done.

Should it? It’s not up for me to decide. I accept and live with the punishment I was given. I’ve come to understand what happened and for me, it takes place beyond good and bad. It was more an issue of sick vs. healthy. But I can’t stop people from viewing me as bad.

People are not one-dimensional enough at their core to be inherently anything. Labeling and stereotyping makes things easy. I think it was George Carlin who said something like, “There’s no reason for sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. If you just take a few minutes to get to know somebody, you’ll have legitimate reasons not to like them!”

I want people to like me and I want to feel like I’m contributing something to society. I think I achieved it in my life prior to my arrest. I want to be seen as good. With what I did, that may never happen for a vast majority, even if I find the cure for cancer.

What’s important for my recovery is that I know that I once had the capacity to do things that most people could not. I was very sick when I made the decision to talk to women in online chat rooms. Even most sick people don’t do that. Then I made the decision to urge several to take off their clothes. Even more sick people don’t do that. Then I ignored the fact that there were females who might not have yet reached the age of 18, but continued the behavior. We’re now getting into a small number of sick people…but it’s what I was capable of, sick or not.

Does the fact I have the capacity to sink this low make me inherently bad? I think statistics suggest it makes me inherently rare and someone society correctly punished and has determined tabs should be kept on for a while.

There is no one-word, conditional-for-the-world-we-live-in-at-this-moment label that can apply to anyone. If we are inherently anything, it’s complex.