Today I am the introspective introvert on the advent of two birthdays two days apart. Life has changed and not in a good way; though I strive daily, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, to create meaning from chaos. Jacob lived in a chaotic world for several years, and now seeks peace. I lived in a peaceful world thrown into chaos, but also seek peace.
I am trounced some days by despair, hate and fear and others day filled with hope, love, and bravery; a cornucopia of emotions. I worry for Jacob as he does not worry for himself; he is calm with a belief in his future. I see in him sometimes the reason his ex-wife said she behaved in a certain way to elicit a response. He responds too calmly for me sometimes. Worry is the predicament of mothers; his neighbor said recently when we talked that ‘we do a lot for our children’. We feel the pain of their life deeply and are helpless often to do more than just love and believe in them and share hope for the future.
I cannot refrain from reading the stories of so many that face the challenges that Jacob does and perhaps even greater challenges. I think of all those incarcerated people who may one day walk out into an unwelcoming world. There are too few people who are willing to look beyond the labels attached, whether rightly or wrongly. I read every day a story of someone wrongfully convicted and question from where they generated strength and resolve and avoid a life of bitterness and hate. For none of the incarcerated is the stigma more daunting than those labeled sex offenders.
Now that Jacob has been labeled as a sex offender, I learn more about the non-individualized restrictive life that he must live for who knows how long. Restrictive life could be compared to my husband’s story of his house with all its contents burning to the ground. His list of items burned in the fire was months in the making. He would suddenly remember something he wanted to use and then remember it was gone. That is the way it will be with these restrictions when simple things or the way you always did things is no longer an option.
Jacob’s new world is not one I ever thought to investigate, but now it is one to know. There is no choice but to be informed. Jacob is segregated from people he loves and who love him and banned from many activities he shared with friends. I am grateful for their friendship and support. The circumstances were a test of friendship, discernment, love and courage.
Still, their lives go on while Jacob’s life is stalled. He is unable to use the education and skills that he acquired. One man advised him though to ‘think outside the box’ in his job search. His plans to return to school are thwarted for the time being, but I am the perfect example that education can be found anywhere whether on-the-job or self-study. And when the time comes, it is never too late to return to school. There are many non-traditional students in schools now. I was one, and now my daughter is a much younger version of that non-traditional student.
I believe in Jacob’s innocence, but I must investigate more about this world and the rules by which sex offenders live because that is the world he was tossed into. He lives that life while he waits impatiently for months and maybe years to learn if an appeal will be granted. He has been told of other avenues, but of course they all have their price. This is a world about money.
I read about a re-entry program for ex-felons in a northeastern state, perhaps Vermont or New Hampshire, that had a mentoring program that included those convicted of sex offenses. Many states have such programs, but some exclude sex offenders in these programs. Many of these programs have success in bringing the recently released back into relationships with non-offenders.
An article in ViceNews’ Opinion & Analysis section reported that the board which oversees California’s large registry is recommending reducing their overburdened list. In California all offenders must register for life. The article shared findings of a post-doctoral student’s in a study of sex offender registries. Her study showed that large registries actually slightly increased recidivism. This finding does not translate to states that have smaller registries than California. She also suggested that the isolation and perhaps even that severely restrictive life actually left the offender who might wish to re-offend with little to lose because of that very isolation from society.
Sex Offender Spouse
My daughter directed me to an anonymous California wife’s story about her marriage to a registered sex offender. They made deliberate lifestyle choices because of his registration and worry now about the possible changes to passports. This also was a story on ViceNews. Her husband took a plea perhaps without full awareness or realization of the consequences of his decision.
Might he have won in a trial? A trial is always a gamble that the accused hopes will turn out well. Those who take pleas for such charges may fare better in conditions because there is negotiation between attorneys. Those who go to trial risk everything with no absolutely no guarantee and no negotiation of restrictions. Trial or plea? What is an innocent person to do? Sad to say, sometimes money is the deciding factor.
Segregated and Forgotten?
There are of course many in life who are stigmatized by society and segregated because we do not know what to do with them. Eventually their history and story may be lost to all but a few. A podcast on NPR’s Snap Judgment titled No Place Like Home told a story of some of those people. The theme for the show was pariahs.
Neil White was sentenced to a minimum-security prison in Carville, Louisiana. There he found that he was sharing accommodations with people suffering from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). Most had lived in this facility for years. One woman had been a resident for 67 years arriving when she was in 4th grade. She was taken from her parents and never saw them again once she came to this modern-day leper colony. Even when these individuals had the opportunity to leave though, they chose to stay. They had been disconnected from society and reconnected in this prison with others like them.