Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mother's final gift

I got on my bicycle yesterday and rode thirty miles to the small town where I spent a large part of my childhood. Since I'm moving away from Alabama permanently I figured this would be my final opportunity to see my old home. That was not my only reason for going.

My mother recently passed away. Before she died, we had talked about writing a book together, sharing our experiences of adjusting to life in small town Alabama. Mom was from Canada so she stood out like a sore thumb. However, she made many friends in that small town over the years. There were a lot of memories that went to the grave with her. After all, I was only five when we left big city Baltimore for rural Alabama. I saw this as a final opportunity to summon long lost memories of the distant past.

I have struggled with my faith over the past few months, but a couple of events that occurred during this trip led me to believe someone was watching over me. Perhaps it was my mother's spirit. I felt it once before right after mom had died, a firm hand pressing against my leg in the middle of the night, like someone trying to wake me up from my slumber.

My first sign came as I took a detour off the main highway to visit my aunt's old house. My step-aunt is still alive-- she has Parkinson's and lives in a nursing home. The house was being renovated and sits abandoned. Next door was my other step-aunt and uncle's house. They died years ago. The two houses sat empty, but still looked like it did when I was a child. On the other side of my aunt's old house was a new house, built barely a year ago in what used to be a wooded area I played in and picked muscadine grapes. A man in a silver Rio was pulling out of the driveway of the new house.

I flagged this man down and asked him if anyone was currently staying in the house. He seemed a bit wary at first until I explained my relation with the woman who used to live in the house. I introduced myself and told him about my mother and my book. Coincidentally, he was heading to Decatur via Moulton so he would pass right by where I needed to go, and he offered to take me to my destination. After two long hours of bike riding, I was a little sore, so I accepted the lift.

Along the way, he asked me if I believed in God. I told him I was struggling because of recent events, including losing my mother. He asked me if I believe in angels. I told him since I was Catholic I believe in guardian angels. I also believe angels can take the form of regular people. He responded "You never know. I could be an angel in disguise for all you know." He dropped me off at my first destination, just up the street from the home I lived in for a quarter of my life. The guy was illiterate and could not remember his address but he drew me a map to his residence. He drew a very familiar map, a corner of two intersections that was very familiar to me. He lived just across the street from my first home after we moved to Alabama! Call it what you want-- a coincidence, divine intervention, a sign-- but I want to believe there was a reason for this meeting.

I visited many places I remember from my childhood-- both houses we lived in, the old pizza parlor where mom used to work (it is now a seafood restaurant), the car lot where my step-dad worked (abandoned but still standing), and a few of our favorite places to stop in town, some of which still stood.

My first house was abandoned years ago and it is set to be torn down. I went next door, and it turns out the same people have lived there for over 30 years, and they remembered me. They invited me inside and listened to my story. I found my second coincidence when they mentioned their son, who went to school with me, lives in Cincinnati, my home of seven years. Thankfully, on top of showing me hospitality, they were also the people keeping tabs on my old house. I was allowed the chance to enter my old house.

My old house was in shambles. However, I was still able to find my old room, and the great oak tree still beckoned to the open window. When I was a child, I tamed a squirrel who lived in the big oak tree, and he'd come in through the window and cuddle up next to me. A flood of memories returned, and for the first time in weeks, I felt peace.

I spent the day stopping at place after place and reliving the memories of my childhood. My third "sign" came when I stopped by the house I lived in for 8 years. There is a small wooded area near the house I lived in, and in those woods is a stream. My brother and I played in that stream. We even had a favorite spot we called "Sacred Rock." It was a large round sandstone rock that resembled an altar, hence the name. I had broken off a piece of that rock and placed it in a small plastic bag. The bag fell out of my pocket in the driveway of my old house. I didn't notice until I was a mile down the road that I lost it. I returned to my house to retrieve it when it dawned on me-- I forgot to scatter some of mom's remains here. I believe again this happened for a reason.

I returned just moments ago to write this entry. I'm tired and chances are I will be sore. After all, I spent roughly 16 hours and rode about 100 miles on a bicycle. However, I wouldn't have traded this trip for the world. I was able to fulfill a promise and a desire. I left a part of mom in the place that changed her life as well as mine.

I have a feeling mom knew her time was coming, and she left me this project. I have thought about why she left this to me. Now I see this project for what it was. This was mom's final gift to me. This gift is the one thing no one can ever take away from me-- not Brandi, not the criminal justice system, not the trolls, and not even a hateful, spiteful society. Mom wanted me to find the good memories and hold fast to them. For so many years, I've only looked at the negative aspects of my life-- after all, I'm still a registered individual, and the justice system and society are not kind on people with my label. However, when I rested last night, it was filled with the happier moments. Mom wanted to remind me of those moments. She knew I would figure out what to do with that gift. She knew I would not let this book die with her.

Somehow I think she's still watching over me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Starting over and hope

When all else was lost, I still had hope. Throughout my life there have been short peaks and deep valleys. Prison was the darkest valley in my life, and yet, I had hope. There was hope I could overcome the label and live a normal life. There was hope my ex-wife would find peace in her heart and there was hope someday we'd reconcile. There was hope for something better.

In my previous article, I likened Brandi to my relationship with society. Today solidified that. Love so easily turns to hate.Life as a sex offender can be that way. In April 2005, life was as good as I could make it under the circumstances. I was dating a beautiful young lady, I had a job and money in the bank, and my own place. It was just over a year removed from being homeless. I was "beating the odds." I may not have been making a six figure income and driving a Jag, but I was happy. It all changed the day I received the notice the state of Ohio was changing my classification. It was followed by notice my approved sleeping room was too close to a school and I had to move. My girlfriend left me fearing my status change. Though I fought so hard, I lost all I worked to achieve.

I was homeless again, though only temporary, as I had found a new apartment and would wait two months for the apartment to finish renovations. I was starting over again, but I had hope that I would rebuild. It was that time, in 2006, that my dream to reconcile with Brandi was fulfilled. That glimmer of hope was just that -- a glimmer. In early 2007, we broke up. I turned my anguish and despair into my book "Once Fallen." I thrust my frustrations into my activism.

In 2008 Brandi and I reconciled a third time, and recently, we broke up a third time. I cataloged my despair on this blog; I questioned whether I have ever accomplished anything in the past decade. It is hard to see someone I loved more than life itself sees me as an enemy. In the blink of an eyes, the love turned to hate. The one who had been there in my darkest hours of life has abandoned me and created a new darkest hour in my life. I've lost it all over again.

When I had nothing, I had hope. Hope is a hard thing to maintain in times of darkness. There was plenty of darkness and despair this week. It is hard to accept the contempt of someone I loved so deeply but I have no choice. I struggled to search for hope. It is not easy to find it alone, or even with new friends. Without hope, however, what else is there?

I know this storm will pass, like the storms I faced in the past. If I have nothing else, I have hope. I had nothing in prison but hope. Each starting over is a chance for something new.

I'm starting over again, as before. This time, hope is not coming easy. It has become harder to grasp each time. I must have hope, because without it, I have nothing.

Monday, December 13, 2010



For fifteen long years, Brandi has been a part of my life, for better or for worse. In many ways, my relationship with Brandi and my life as a sex offender is similar -- tumultuous, filled with mistakes, and periods of both hope and utter despair.

I met Brandi March 8, 1996 at Northwest-Shoals Community College. It was love at first sight, and she was my first true love. We had a whirlwind romance and married on May 31, 1996. It was a happy time in my life, long before my days of the registry. Like most young couples (I was 19, she was 17), we had our share of struggles and disagreements. It was a somewhat amicable split after three years of marriage (though the last year was in separation).

Hindsight is 20/20. I never knew what I lost until she was gone. I fell into a deep depression and it was the factors related to that depression which led to my terrible mistake. I had sexual contact with an underage girl. I was arrested and charged with sexual abuse. When I sat alone in that jail cell and no one else was there, she was my only supporter. It was her faith in me that first led me on the path of redemption.

We drifted apart in time. Time marched on. I still thought of Brandi often, and even held hope we would get back together. Then, through a chance encounter at a Renaissance Fair we were together again. It lasted three months and ended fairly badly. It became a prevailing theme over the years. We ebb and we flow. We have good times together, but eventually things turn sour. We love each other, we hate each other. We've been together twice since then, and now we are apart again.

My relationship with society also ebbs and flows. I worked for two years to drag myself out of homelessness. I bothered nobody, kept to myself, and slowly built a life for myself. Things were looking up for a while. Then one day, my status was changed and I was forced into homelessness again. I found a new house and successfully fought to keep it. I experienced death threats. It was followed by the opportunity to establish myself as an online advocate. And as fate... and Brandi... would have it, I returned to the place where my journey began.

Throughout my two journeys, I have struggled to overcome two labels. Society judges me because I am a sex offender. Brandi judges me because I am a man.

Society says all sex offenders will re-offend. Brandi says all men cheat on and beat on their wives. Society says sex offenders can never change. Brandi says men can never change. Society says if a sex offender did it once he will do it again. Brandi says if a man does wrong once he will do it again. Brandi is filled with hatred of men, and society is filled with hatred of sex offenders.

Society believes in myths that hinder growth. So does Brandi. Not only does it hinder growth, it hinders relationships. Brandi, at 32, is no different from Brandi at 17. In her personal life there is no growth. Society, despite proof to the contrary, cannot be swayed from their deeply held myths. There is no growth in our knowledge of preventing sex crimes since Megan's law was passed in 1996.

Is it another coincidence my two journeys originated from events that occurred in 1996? Maybe it wasn't a coincidence after all. Both journeys are immortalized in my book, "Once Fallen." I would love to see the light at the end of this journey. Unfortunately, at this point my journey has lead me into a valley rather than a peak. I can only walk the valley until the peak returns. Time marches on. My journey now leads me elsewhere, and it is time to say goodbye to this forlorn past forever.

My journey with Brandi did not have a happy ending, but my journey to overcome the sex offender label does not have to share the same fate.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

There IS hope to be removed from the sex offender registry

One of the most frequent questions I receive is, "Can a person ever be removed from the registry?" The answer is yes, though it is difficult. There is one way to be removed from the registry if you are guilty-- obtain a pardon.

DELTONA -- A Deltona man listed as a sexual predator for eight years won a pardon this week after he told the governor's clemency panel he has received therapy, and the designation has kept him from finding steady work.

********, 49, must now petition the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to have his name and photograph removed from a state website listing sexual offenders and predators, said Jane Tillman, a spokeswoman for the Executive Clemency Board.  The board -- Gov. Charlie Crist and three members of the Cabinet -- granted **** a pardon Thursday. **** was among 81 cases heard.

Even in Florida, the state seen as the worst in the USA, it is possible to obtain a pardon. Even if society and the law labels you a sexual predator, you can obtain a pardon. Even if you are standing before someone like Charlie Crist, a pandering politician who has used sex offenders to garner votes, you can obtain a pardon.

There IS hope. Simply type in "Pardons" and the name of the state of your conviction, and you can learn how to obtain a pardon.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

DO NOT buy these toys to protect our precious Predator Panic!

Every year there are lists of warnings for the year's worst toys, but I'm sure this year, there is hoopla over a pair of innocent children's toys. The irony is, people criticizing these toys are asking the manufacturers, "What were they thinking?" We know exactly what critics are thinking, and it is quite perverted."VIDEO GIRL BARBIE"

Barbie has always been the subject of many controversies over the years, from claims she promotes anorexia and sexuality to the fight over her "decision" to dump Ken and be single. No controversy is more asinine than the recent news story that "Video Girl Barbie" can be used for... wait for it... Production of Child Pornography! In fact, the FBI actually created a press release just to warn parents that Barbie could be a mule for child pornography pictures. "If we pair the doll with someone familiar to the child, a babysitter or a friend, then you have something that is fairly dangerous at play," stated forensic psychologist Dr. N.G. Berrill. The justification is sexual predators could potentially take hidden video of kids using this toy.

There are a few problems with this line of logic. First, the same argument could be made for video cameras in general, including webcams and cell phone cameras. Second, the camera cannot be run in secret. Video Girl Barbie is not a spy camera that can be run by remote control. Third, are we supposed to believe giving this toy to a little girl will compel her to take off her clothes and pose for Barbie? Somehow I find that hard to believe. Perhaps people assumed this toy is as complex as cameras costing hundreds of dollars, with delayed recording functions. However, I doubt this toy, even at $50 MRP, is that complex.

What's next? Maybe we'll have "Voyeur Barbie" complete with trenchcoat, puppy, and the Barbie Malibu Resty Van, with a "Kidnapping Ken" doll sold separately.


Who would have guessed a vibrating broomstick would cause such a fuss? Reports abound online that the Harry Potter vibrating broomstick was causing a lot of "problems." Consumers were reporting their children were becoming "addicted" to the toy, playing with it "for hours."

Apparently the toy was pulled off the shelves within weeks of its 2008 release. No word on whether these toys were ever sold in Alabama, where sex toys like vibrators have been banned for years.

All this reminds me of the "Jelly Bracelet Sex Game" hoopla of the early 2000s (and supposedly making a comeback). While undoubtedly there are a small number of individuals who misuse a product, the amount of fear-mongering we devote to isolated incidents have been staggering. It is nothing new; after all, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the Dungeons and Dragons board game in the 1980s. The main difference is these days, we fear sex more than murder.

The bottom line-- at what point do we draw the line between genuine concern and witch hunting? Does a few isolated incidents equate to an "epidemic?" Many Americans seem to think so. Why stop there? Lets ban bicycles. They vibrate between a kid's legs when you ride them, and don't forget about roving bands of "smegglers."

So, this holiday season, watch out for Pedobear Santas bringing sackfuls of bicycles, Harry Potter vibrators, and Video Voyeur Barbies. Or, you can simply ignore the fear-mongers and just enjoy the holidays.