“Enough already! You’re all just a bunch of pedophiles and rapists!” barked the C.O. at midnight as he stood in the middle of the day room of the prison that housed me. And sex offenders were almost the exclusive inmates at this prison. “You perverts don’t deserve this cushy life. And any of you pathetic excuses for humans that disagree, can step out of your cube (the area that contained our bunks) and challenge me.” As I heard these wildly outlandish statements, my thought was, “Damn, we (sex offenders) truly are at the bottom of the hierarchy of criminals.” The C.O. was supposed to maintain order and serenity yet was challenging us to a physical confrontation. This was clearly a “challenge” to the logical structure of a functional hierarchy.
A hierarchy is a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority. And it has been widely asserted that the human condition prefers the structure that partners with a reasonable hierarchy. But, when there is a dysfunctional foundation to a hierarchy, eventually it leads to a cluster of contaminates that infect and decimate the community.
In 2013, I was accused of sexual assault. I met with a lawyer and unfolded the details of my case. Afterwards, he said, “This might be difficult for you to understand, but given what you just told me, you would have been better off if you had murdered someone in a bar fight. If you are labeled as a ‘sex offender’ there is no undoing that. It’s utterly debilitating.” I was terrified, and my naivete would not allow me to believe that being accused of murder would have been a better option.
Comments associated with newspaper articles regarding my arrest ranged from, “This guy is dead. If the streets don’t get him, a future cellmate will end him,” to “He’ll never work again; not even ‘Welcome to Walmart’ will be a job afforded to this scumbag,” to “I hope he’s evaporated. Even murderers can be rehabilitated but these rapists are not salvageable.” It was the lowest point of my life.
In 2015, I accepted a plea deal. During the intake at my first prison, the Lieutenant advised me to tell no one that I was a sex offender. I nodded, as a courtesy, but knew full well that fabricating a story was not going to occur. After two days, I was told that I would be moved into protective custody because word had spread that I was a sex offender, and too many other inmates were speaking about “taking a tray to [my] skull.” Knowing that being sent into protective custody would only embolden those that wanted “to take a tray to [my] skull,” I pleaded with the C.O. and ultimately, he allowed me to stay in general population. I embraced anything that provided any modicum of normalcy.
Over the next year, counselors instructed me that I should never inform anyone that I was a sex offender, a gang leader of the Crips who was convicted of triple homicide instructed my cellmate (a “soldier” in that gang) to collect, “ten dollars of commissary every week from that rapist of a ‘cellie’ you have,” and C.O.’s encouraged criminals that were not sex offenders to harass sex offenders, in return for “benefits.“ These blatant instances of downright disregard for the plight of sex offenders provided overwhelming proof that sex offenders were widely skewered by attitudes which were fraught with fear, ignorance and insecurity.
When I was paroled, I was saddled with a litany of conditions just because I was a sex offender. If criminals were nesting dolls, sex offenders would be the final doll in the series; and it would be no larger than an agate marble; however, it would still exude demonstrative splendor and hold great worth.
There is motivation to prove to those that have tried to squash my soul that they were fiercely ineffective. And my desire is to accomplish this while sporting a smile and extending forgiveness. Oscar Wilde said, “always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” As a sex offender, I recognize that I am supposed to simply accept my lot in life and stay on the margins of society. I am not willing to accept that role.
The quandary of a sex offender is not going to change overnight. Philosopher John Stuart Mill stated, “It is not the minds of heretics that are deteriorated most by the ban placed on all inquiry which does not end in the orthodox conclusions. The greatest harm done is to those who are not heretics, and whose whole mental development is cramped, and their reason cowed, by the fear of heresy.” Given that we are silenced and stifled by stipulations, GPS monitors, and a Registry, it is obvious that sex offenders have been cast as “heretics” in a very dysfunctional hierarchy. And undoing a hierarchy that is built upon such scurrilous sentiments is an arduous endeavor. But the realization that each of us has something of grand value to offer should be enough to attack each day with enthusiasm and hope.