It Was One Year Ago Today...
"This Now Defines You"
And now for the conclusion of this series...
Remember this one? "This is the song that never ends, it goes on and on my friends! Some people started singing it not knowing what it was and they'll continue singing it forever just because..." A silly song with poignant message for us today.
On April 2, 2014, thanks to the help of many friends, a fine attorney, a thoughtful Ware County, GA judge and lots and lots of prayers, my probation was terminated 3 years early. After 7 years I was free to travel, free to be around my friend's children and free of monthly visits to a probation officer. There was much celebration and joy and I wrote here of Crossing Bridges and beginning a new phase of my life. And much of that has happened. Let me be very clear before I start whining today- life after probation is MUCH, MUCH better than life on probation. But as you know from my banishment from Disney World, my lifetime ban from Facebook and a few other things I have mentioned over the past few days, convicted sex offenders may be released...but they are never really free. Once the legal system starts singing their song, you are forever trapped. It is truly The Song That Never Ends.
You know by now that my name will remain on The List for another 24 years- unless the law changes and it becomes even longer. "Shorter" and "more reasonable" are not words you hear used a lot when it comes to sex offenders. But you probably do not know what that means. It means that every 6 months I must go to the other side of the county to register so they can be certain all of the information about me on the SO website is correct- especially my address. It means that if I move, they have to approve it. It also means that if they are signed up for the app my neighbors would receive immediate notice that a SO was moving in. If someone new moves in with me, they have to approve it. If we buy a new car I have 48 hours to report it to them- in person- or like the other things listed here it is a third degree felony. I can travel out of state, but if I am gone more than 5 days I must turn in an itinerary - in person- no more than 48 hours before leaving town. It means that there is a special code on my driver's license so that any police officer who stops me for anything will know right away that I am a SO. It means I am still banned from entering schools, even just to drop off lunch for a friend. It means that while I can get a passport and travel or take cruises, there are many countries that will not allow me in once I get there. It means that the local sheriff's department will do the occasional "drop-in" just to make sure I still live where they think I live. And judging by my experiences with WDW and Facebook it means that any company that wants to can decide not to do business with me at their whim. It is the song that never ends.
Please understand- this is a mess of my own making. I committed a crime defined as a sex offense by the laws of the state of Georgia. No one made me do it, no one caused me to do it, and I have no one to blame but myself. Having said that, I also acknowledge that for the past three days I have written about what is wrong with the system. It is broken, and the only thing that ever seems to happen to change it is they add more laws and more restrictions. So it's time to put up or shut up. What would I do if the put me in charge? Here we go:
- Education & Prayer. Most offenses are not the headline grabbing "man grabs child off of bus" sort of things. A detective told me once that the vast majority of sex offenses are not committed against strangers, but against young women and men with whom the SO builds a relationship and spends time grooming. The potential victims are often easily manipulated because the adults in their lives who should be giving them love and attention- parents, grandparents, teachers, youth pastors and more- fail. These young people are often out there looking for adults who will make them feel special, unaware of the dangers. Their need for attention makes them easy marks for adults who twist the word "relationship" to meet their own sexual deviances. We need to educate one another on the need to offer tangible, real and meaningful attention to the young people in our lives. We need to know what they are doing, who they are talking to and what their issues might be. And we need to pray prayers of protection over our children and prayers of wisdom for the adults in their lives. I unfortunately know this to be true- evil is out there looking for children. We must be vigilant.
- Shorten the List. Not everything currently called a sex offense deserves that title. We need to change the list of offenses so that everyone who is labeled is someone who deserves it. Not to beat a dead horse, but getting drunk and peeing in a parking lot should NOT be a sex offense. And there are others as well.
- Levels. The remaining crimes need to classified according to severity and be broken into different levels. There are different levels for murder, different levels for robbery, different levels for rape and different levels for assault- but all SOs are exactly alike? Levels would allow for more rational responses by the public and a better concept of "let the punishment fit the crime" for the offenders. Plus they would offer more public protection. If a Level 4 SO moves in next door, you know to be very afraid. Their level indicates the crime. And such crimes could also come with tougher mandatory sentences because you don't have to lump everyone under one law. Lawmakers KNOW this needs to be done. They are just afraid to do it.
- Real Help. Make sex offender therapy something that helps rehabilitate SOs and gives them hope, rather than beats them down. Currently there are guys who enter the program having made a terrible mistake, but after hearing over and over again what monsters they are come out believing it. The come out worse than they went in. This HAS to change. A little encouragement could help SOs hang on to family and friends as well as their faith.
- Appeals. If the offense was your first and only offense, if you completed your sentence without incident, if your former PO recommends it and if you have the support of family and friends there should be some sort of appeals process to get your name off The List in less than 25 years. Yes- that's selfish. But I believe it is also right. There needs to be a place where the song ends.