I look out my window, and watch the falling leaves, displaying myriads of colors as they spin and dance in the wind on their way to the ground. Somehow, as I get older it forces me to realize just how much this season, in particular, parallels life.
Before long, I can’t help but raise my eyes to the dark and naked branches they have left behind, and wonder, how many times we as people, have pulled away from the security of the here and now and launched joyously out into the unknown?
It is one of the many cycles of life, one repeated uncountable times, particularly as our children grow up and away from us into their own unknown. Some make the transition with flying colors, others stumble, fall, pick themselves up and go on. Others are crippled before they can even begin.
I am a dark, naked and empty branch and my son lays crushed on the earth below me, existing and breathing but unable to move on. But he is only one of many who litter the ground beneath the stark reality of a justice system, which uses laws that are supposed to protect our children, to do nothing but destroy them and those who love them.
My son was recently subjected to a death threat when a neighbor discovered that he was listed on the sex offender registry. What heinous crime had my son committed that our neighbor deemed worthy of death? “Falling in love.”
He was 17, she told him she was 16. At the time he had no reason to doubt her. A short time later he learned a harsh life lesson. They never got beyond kissing or hand holding, but she wrote in her diary that they had made love. When her mother read the entry in her 14-year-old daughter’s diary she quite justifiably became angry. Without talking with either one of them, she called the police and had my son arrested. He spent 45 days in jail awaiting trial.
Had the mother taken her daughter to the doctor, she would have found out that her daughter was simply voicing a private fantasy. The girl begged her mother to stop the proceedings, but the wheels of “justice” were already in motion.
The girl was so distraught about the situation that she constantly sought to contact my son to apologize and beg him not to hate her. She finally convinced her older sister to help her get in touch with him. One day shortly after sentencing and being put on a strict 3-year probation mandating no contact with his “victim,” my son was walking home from the store a block from our house. A car pulled up behind him and he heard a familiar voice beg, “Please stop and talk to me for a minute, we won’t tell anyone, please!”
His only reaction was to break into a full run. He burst through the front door of our home and collapsed into a pale, quivering heap of fear in the middle of the floor. He managed to shakily mumble enough for me to realize what had just happened. I immediately took him to the police station and had them document exactly what had happened. Only with their assurance that he had done the right thing and that everything would be OK, could he finally calm down enough to breathe.
My son was quite shy around girls to begin with and she was his first love. As things stand right now, he may very well never have another. He never finished high school due to his probation rules, and will be required to register twice a year for the rest of his life. He has lost every job he has been able to find, due to his listing on the registry. He can never join the military, or even follow his lifelong dream of a career in music, even though he is a talented singer/songwriter and drummer.
Why not? The laws work this way: His sentence was 3 years’ probation and 25 years on the registry in his state of conviction, Michigan. He couldn’t keep a job in Michigan, he kept losing them because of the registry, resulting in homelessness. Homelessness and joblessness are probation violations, so he was sent to jail for six months. After two more trips to jail for failure to register — resulting in three more months in jail — he came here to South Carolina to live with us. As long as he can keep a roof over his head and registers when required, he will be safe. A third failure to register could send him to prison for a mandatory 5 year sentence. Unfortunately, in our state, sex offender registration is lifetime for everyone.
He cannot pursue his musical career because it costs money (which neither he nor we have), for his instruments and upkeep, advertising, etc. Plus, if you are on the registry you have to go in and report everywhere you are employed. Which means if he had a gig in, say, Seattle, he would have to report the address of his performance, the length of time he will be there, where he would be staying for the duration, etc. This is required for each and every change, notwithstanding the fact that anytime he leaves his home address for more than 3 days, it has to be approved with both the sheriff’s department here and the sheriff’s department at his destination, and either of them are at liberty to deny his request at any time.
I also wanted to mention, that although he does not have a driver’s license, he is required to register OUR car on his registry listing, which makes public, the make, model, color and plates of our car. This may seem trivial to some, but to a vigilante our car becomes a target, regardless of who is driving it.
Those who think the list is “no big deal” need to learn what lifelong ramifications the registry carries, before “the list” becomes a reality for someone you love. Don’t make the mistake of believing “It only happens to other people” or that “bad things only happen to bad people”. People affected by the registry now number in the millions, rich and poor, all races, young children up to the elderly, no one is exempt. If these laws are not changed it is only a matter of time before it becomes far more personal than any of us could dare to dream and believe me, it is a nightmare that you struggle to awake from with every ounce of your being.
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