Monday, April 1, 2013

My 10 year anniversary, of sorts...

Happy anniversary to me! No, I'm not referring to my ex-wife Brandi ( personally I'd love to forget she ever existed). Ten years (and 75 pounds) ago, on April 1, 2003, I was released from prison and moved to Cincinnati to begin a new life. I did not know what to expect. I had not lived in a big city since my family moved from Baltimore in 1982, when I was only five years old. However, my greatest fear was how to live my life on "The List."

My first taste of freedom was my 16 hour bus ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Cincinnati, Ohio. I hardly had any time to settle in before it was time to go register as a "sex offender." I was sitting at the Hamilton County Sheriff's office waiting to be processed. People were walking all over the place, heading the court, visiting inmates, getting fingerprints and police reports, and (thankfully) ignoring my presence. 

Do you remember your first time? I do. As tough as an individual I am, standing in that hallway awaiting my registration was a very nerve-racking experience. 

After nearly half an hour, I was finally called to the back. At some point while the registrar was typing in my information into their database, he received a phone call from one sounded like a "concerned citizen" who received a notification that a registrant was moving into the neighborhood. The woman was speaking so loud and frantically that despite sitting a fair distance away from the phone, I can hear every word the woman was saying.

The thing that got my attention the most was the response from the officer. First, he informed the woman that he had a legal right to live wherever he chose (at the time Ohio did not have a residency restriction law), and that they all have to live somewhere. A follow-up comment really caught my attention-- the officer stated that there was only one perfect person that ever existed and he was hung on a cross.

I have been registering for 10 years now. I know a lot of other individuals have had bad experiences while registering. I have been fortunate to have experienced relatively few problems while registering. The officers I see at the registry office would much rather be doing something else. They know this registry is a fruitless endeavor, and at times they have encourage me to fight back against the laws.

Being an advocate wasn't my first choice, but after 10 years of experience in a number of difficulties related to the laws, at times I see it as my only choice. I have not had as many difficulties his other individuals on the registry, but I have experienced my share of social ostracism, discrimination, and legal battles. I was originally classified as a "sexually oriented offender" and had the state not reclassified me arbitrarily, today would've been the day that I would've been removed from the list.

Perhaps there is a reason beyond my understanding why I am still on the list. I feel it is my calling in life to fight this injustice. We are on the unpopular side of the issue. It is very easy to pass laws against people on the registry because 10 years ago our movement practically did not exist. I did not discover any advocacy groups or activists in general until April 2004. 

Things are so much different now, it seems like a lifetime ago since that day the prison gates opened and I walked out into the "free" world. But the free world is not really free. Many laws have passed over the years to remind me of that fact. Registration laws that change arbitrarily, residency restrictions, typing "criminal sex offender" on my ID card in Scarlet letters, and the consistent denial of support services and employment. Because I have experienced all these things, I fight. I fight because these laws are wrong. I fight because these laws harmed me.

I have lasted 10 years on the outside. Depending on how you look at my story, you might say I have beaten the odds. One of the individuals in my group therapy classes in prison predicted I would be back in prison in three years, because the odds are against me. Victim industry advocates teach society that people like me are sent back to prison at alarming rates. A number of vigilante groups have attacked me, slandered me, and have claimed many times that my rearrest was imminent. Ten years later, I have proven every one of them wrong.

I have seen a lot of changes in the past 10 years. There was a time when there was practically no discussion about the collateral consequences of passing these laws. Over time, activists like myself have chipped the seemingly invincible armor of the victim industry, and we have made great strides over the years to make our voices heard and impact the laws that affect us. While there is much room for improvement, each small victory keeps the small glimmer of hope I keep in my heart alive. My hope began the day I sat in the registry office and listened to the words of the person assigned to punch my information into the online registry. That hope has continued over the years the actions of my fellow activists, from Mary Duval to Tom Madison to Jan Kruska and others who helped form a foundation upon which we can build a stronger network of reform advocates, to those of us who are continuing the fight today. Each time one of us appears in the news, speaks before a legislative committee, recruiting new activists, or even feels the comment boards with rational discussions about the dangers of these laws, my hope continues the grow.

The past 10 years have been a long, tiring journey, but it has given me hope for the next 10 years. 

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, oncefallen. I like the way you describe your anniversary...not as ten years on the registry, but more as ten years beating the registry and the naysayers. Gives hope to anyone who knows the registry waits for our loved one--and for us, too.