Four Years and A Feeling of Distance

Today is the fourth anniversary of getting sentenced in court. It was a Friday and like they were there through most of my ordeal, my wife and father accompanied me to the County Building.

I was full of anxiety, fear, hope, nausea, etc. My emotions were pinging far harder than they are pinging today. In fact, I’m barely registering the anniversary today.

This may sound like a strange analogy, but I can’t immediately think of anything else that springs to mind. When 9/11 happened, it was a huge, huge deal. You know what I mean if you were around at the time. It changed so many things in the world in an instant. The following year, every TV network had memorial shows. Then, as time went on, the networks stopped covering the anniversary and left it to cable channels. Eventually, the only cable that seemed to care was History Channel, but even they stopped making new documentaries eventually. Now, we have a world where many people who could remember 9/11 are dead and many who can’t because they were too young. Hard as it is to realize, someone coming out of college now was alive for it, but doesn’t remember it.

My sentencing was a pivotal piece in my legal ordeal and it was the unknown hanging over everything in the two years between arrest and sentencing. I was a healthier version of myself than I’d ever been walking into that court room, but I knew logically, you can’t just let someone who did what I did go free. You have to send some kind of message and the six months that was handed down seemed fair to me. I would have felt lucky with six weeks and totally screwed with six years. I know others still have differing opinions, but as I always mention, none of our opinions matter, just the judge’s, so I’ve learned to accept it. It’s also much easier to accept now that it’s so far in the rearview mirror.

This is the first anniversary of sentencing since completely being rid of the legal system, as I left the probation system in mid-2019.

I hope it’s a sign of progress that I’m moving on from an anniversary day causing deep emotions, and not that I’m somehow becoming cold to the events or what I did to end up in that position. In many respects, I can never just “move on.”

The day makes me a little sad because it reminds me of my wonderful lawyer who died a couple of years ago. He was a class act who never judged me and just wanted to help a guy who clearly made a horrible mistake but was trying to fix himself. His nudging toward rehab and reminding me multiple times it was about getting better, not about pleasing a judge, have stuck with me to this day.

Even if I’m not feeling strong emotions today, I thought it was important to at least mention it, remember it, and pause to check in with myself how I’m feeling over the whole situation against the backdrop of where I am now.

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.

Everything You Wanted To Know About Being On Probation Without Having to Commit a Crime to Find Out

I’ve shared quite a few stories from jail, but once being locked up was done, my experience with the criminal justice system was hardly over. Jail is really just the middle part. At first you have the court system to wind your way through. That took me 22 months. Then, jail was 6 months. The final part, probation, is 36 months in my case. As of this writing, I’m now less than 10 months away from it being done.

When I was in jail, I learned that many inmates took longer sentences so probation would not be part of their lives upon leaving lock-up. I couldn’t understand why they’d make that decision. Isn’t a month in jail and two years of probation a better deal than three months in jail? At least you’re free.

When I first visited my lawyer, he suggested that we pitch a long-term probationary period of like 8 years to the DA and judge, while trying to keep me out of jail completely. That didn’t happen, and looking back now, I’m glad.

The judge, at your sentencing, also creates the terms of your conditional release, better known as probation. There’s the boilerplate stuff, like no committing other crimes, but then they will tailor things to your specific case. For instance, I was not allowed to move home with my family after jail until I passed a polygraph stating I’d never put my hands on a child. I knew I’d pass it with flying colors, but I still had to live with my parents for about three months after I got out while waiting for it to be scheduled. And while I knew I would pass, I was anxiety-ridden over the possibility of a false positive.

I was also forced to join a weekly sex offenders’ support group. Once I was deemed ready, which took about a year, I was moved to a monthly support group. I’ve grown to enjoy the group, so I’ll probably continue when I’m off probation, but as for now, if I don’t attend this group, which costs $40 per session (that’s $160/monthly in the weekly group – a large amount for some of the guys) I can be put back into jail.

That’s really the thing about probation, while it’s not difficult, there are so many strings attached that it’s like a black cloud hanging over my head. The specter of being sent back to jail always looms.

I first had to report every two weeks to the probation officer who handled sex offenses. He was supposed to have 30 people to oversee, but had closer to 80. After proving I was trustworthy over seven or eight months, I was transferred to a different PO that handled every kind of criminal.

POs are allowed to drop by and do a search of your house at any time. My first PO visited once in the beginning and my second PO did the same. I think their caseloads are just so large that they don’t have the time to make visits to people they don’t believe are at a high risk of recidivism.

My PO only sees me at the office once a month now, and most of the time his only question to me is, “Do you need anything from me this month?” and the answer is no. I’m guessing that they can tell that I am the kind of person who made a terrible mistake, follow the rules they provided me and am not going to be any trouble. I couldn’t just say that in the beginning, I had to prove it to them over time.

Most of the people I came in contact with in jail, and in the waiting room of probation, are there for drug violations that happened while they were on probation. They have a true addiction and despite getting nailed for having drugs at some point, the risk of being put back in jail is nothing compared to the demon of addiction, so they use again. Most who violate their probation are nabbed via a dirty urine test.

These are the people who will take a sentence of three months in jail and no probation instead of one month in jail and two years of probation. If they are not on probation, they can’t violate probation. Most have no interest in curbing their habit, or available support to even try, so skipping probation is the safest way to legally return to their habit. Nobody will be testing their urine.

While it was far worse in the beginning, I still get nervous on the days I go to probation. The PO has the right to determine I did something wrong (even if it’s not illegal for the rest of you) and bring me to jail. I haven’t even come close, but knowing that could happen ruins my day.

I did six months in jail and got three years of probation. Knowing what I know now, if I could have done an extra month in jail for those three years, I would have said yes. It would have meant no nerve-wracking polygraphs, no asking for permission when I want to leave the state, no court-mandated support groups, no $10 monthly fee for simply being on probation, no sick feelings when the first Monday of the month rolls around.

I now feel like I’m just playing out the clock, but much like I breathed a sigh of relief the day I left jail, I’m going to exhale just as deeply my last day of probation.