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ACSOL Conference Oct 1, 2022 

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Kat’s Blog: Death of a Registrant: Two Different Perspectives

The recent heart attack and subsequent death of a registrant who attended a “sex offender” treatment group for the past decade brought about two vastly different perspectives on his passing.

The group counselors were emotional and grief stricken. They expressed their concern about how to break the news to the group. They offered group time or individual time to help any registrant that needed to process feelings of sadness. The counselors emotions stemmed from the notion that this was “someone they had grown to know over the years” and that they could understand what the group must be feeling. They wanted to elicit a sympathetic reaction from the group.

And here is where the disconnect between counselors and registrants comes in.

The counselors couldn’t have been more off base in thinking they knew what the group was feeling.

The registrants attending this “sex offender” treatment group didn’t feel that they knew this person. They only knew his “situation” as they tend to call it. They knew his name, his offense and whatever other information he gave when forced to talk about his issues in group. That is hardly “knowing” someone.

“He seemed like a decent enough guy” was the general consensus of the group. But no one really knew him. How can any registrant know another registrant when fraternization “outside” of the treatment group setting is strictly prohibited.

“Sex offender” treatment groups are a bizarre little microcosm. Registrants are expected to spill their guts about the most stupid, serious, awful, horrific errors they’ve made in their lives to a group of total strangers. These strangers are then supposed to provide the registrant with emotional support on their journey towards rehabilitation. The irony is that you have contact with these people for an hour a week and that contact begins and ends at the door of the group meeting place. These aren’t your friends, you don’t socialize outside of the group, you don’t call or text each other, you don’t know their families and you’ve never been to their homes. These people are only hostages as you are, attending court mandated treatment. You certainly haven’t “grown to know them” over the years.

And death is viewed differently by many registrants who have served prison time.

Deaths of “cellies” either natural or by suicide or homicide is not unknown to them. Prison hardens a person. It has to. It’s the only way you survive. Everyday across this country cellmates die for a variety of reasons. Grieving that might be mistaken as a sign of weakness can’t happen. It’s just another day, another inmate when you’re in prison. Someone else leaving out the front door or back. This is what prison does to people. It changes them. And yet counselors still expect “normal” sympathetic reactions from former inmates once they’re out.

To the counselors, the group’s reaction or non-reaction to the death of “one of their own” may have seemed harsh, cold and uncaring. But this telling comment by the group accurately summed up what they were really feeling.

“At least he doesn’t have to come to this damn group anymore.”

 

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