We Have A Choice

Every election cycle may see the creation of a legislative bill aimed directly at people on the sex offender registry. Regardless of what the bill is titled, there will always be an argument without supporting facts or evidence the bill “will keep children safe”. 

It has been only a month into a new political cycle. We are once again witnessing a national legislative agenda filled with residency restrictions, senior assisted living, exclusionary benefit schemes, parental rights, and other bills directly aimed at people on the sex offender registry. 

However, only a few short months ago, we heard manifestos of politicians exclaim criminal justice reforms and a return to compassion for human life. However, the same elected people that we count on to make that change and live up to their word are often the very people that alienate their agenda, returning to fear-laced propaganda and divorcing rational thought. 

If you were to take any of the current sex offense bills and remove the title “sex offender” and replace it with African-American, Jewish, Gay or Lesbian, or Latino, there would certainly be an outcry of discrimination. But that is what politicians do when creating law. The United States has been down that road before with Jim Crow-styled laws and loud politicized rhetoric that always seems to mention protections without any supporting facts or evidence. The truth is that historically once such laws if and when have been rescinded, there are years of apologies, compensation programs, and reeducation policies to heal all the decades of wrongdoing to ordinary human beings. 

It is all a more incredible lesson of what Nazi soldiers said after the war about witnessing atrocities and the rounding up of human beings they were told to treat as criminals. In their defense, Nazi soldiers would say, “I had no choice” or “it was my duty”. Nazi leaders would tout, “this is the protection of the fatherland”. Similar arguments are continually argued about the U.S. Civil War reconstruction era, the Hopewell Native American treaty, the Civil Rights Selma to Montgomery marches, to the Stonewall riots. However, the lesson learned moments are striking similarities that lawmakers and people haven’t learned much from history and continue to spew rhetoric to incite fear without data or evidence citing it is for America’s safety. 

As Americans, we ought to be striving for opportunities to educate and facilitate best practices towards confronting our worst fears by creating a fair policy for all. Instead, we continue to live in a world guided by Jim Crow laws with a McCarthy-styled methodology that everyone could be an offender or sympathizer. We shouldn’t want to live in a nation where fear drives us? 

Our leaders have a moral obligation to do the right thing for all people. While politicians lay claim to following a spiritual path, they too often stray, leaving behind moral thought and embracing corruption by saying, “I had no choice”. Thus history ultimately repeats itself, causing morality to be stuck in the mud. 

Perhaps the best medicine for our history is to become stewards of what is right and fair for all. But such action requires people to become active voices in pushing back. Never assume that others are doing the work for you. While people sat idly by and witnessed Nazi atrocities, civil, gay, or Muslim rights being egregiously violated, what are you doing to back up the voices that represent your concerns? Pick up the phone and call your legislative representative to voice your opposition to a bill. Invest in memberships to organizations that support your cause. Show up in person to your legislature, allowing your lawmakers to see advocacy no longer afraid. 

Dr. Judith Levine researched in 2016, African Americans account for 22 percent of publicly listed registered sex offenders nationally; they make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population. However, that number is staggeringly growing by the day. During this period of Black History Month, we ought to take a moment to reflect on how far we may have come but how far we have to go. We have a moral duty to get things right moving forward.

Reflection of 2019

Looking back in 2019, I must say that it was a pleasant and prosperous year. Often we misplace gratitude by substituting an adverse event as if it defined the entire year. Clearly, that is not the experience I encountered.

In February, I was able to speak and interview with Mary Sue Molnar of Texas Voices about her work and advocacy affecting registrants. She is an amazing woman and champion for registrants all over America. Speaking with her was indeed a privilege and helped spark a transformation about if my doctoral research was in the direction I really wanted to pursue. A week later, I was able to interview Dr. Alissa Ackerman, Sex Crimes Expert, and Social Justice Advocate that focuses on restorative justice. I often don’t discuss my personal life of those that have an impact on “the type of person I wish to immolate.” However, Dr. Ackerman embodies everything I wish I could possibly be in critical thinking. She has no idea how much her TEDx Talk changed not only my perspective of restorative justice but helped improve not only my Ph.D. direction but lit a fire within me to learn and advocate her message.

In March, I interviewed Dr. Will Mingus, Editor-in-Chief of Lifetimes Magazine. His awe-inspiring message of positivity helps lift many from a dark place in the world towards the light. If you are not a subscriber of the Lifetimes Magazine, you should subscribe today. Naturally, speaking with Dr. Nick Dubin made me feel like I had connected with a friend and ally that I had not seen in decades. His passion and insight about autism opened new doors for me to become inclusive in advocacy. Though we have never met in person, his story and personal connections that felt similar to mine presented a warm-fuzzy feeling that we all have a purpose, message, and similarities.

I also had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids. I absolutely loved listening to her story and how she, with an unafraid approach, tackles fear to identify the facts left to question why we were fearful in the first place?

April I spoke with Rachel Barkow of New York University. Dr. Barkow thoroughly researched criminal justice reforms that can make the most staunchly close-minded individual changing his/her tune towards better reforms starting in the courtrooms all across America. Listening to Dr. Barkow is easy to understand lectures with easy to follow guidelines that are fair and balanced for both sides of an issue.

May I met Paul Dubbeling and began lobbying efforts with North Carolinians for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NCRSOL). I spoke to both chambers of the North Carolina legislature to halt Senate Bill 199. For the first time in nearly a decade, registrants of the sex offender registry were able to appear in person at the legislative building without reprisal or fear of arrest. Later during the month, I was able to interview and speak with David Lee Garlock. His story touched my heart. While we have never met, he too feels like a long-lost brother. We often collaborate via social media, and I am deeply impressed with his vision of inclusiveness despite all that he has endured. He is an amazing young man.

Of course, the NARSOL National Conference in Houston, Texas, was a highlight I will never forget. Meeting so many beautiful people from all over the nation is a memory I cherish each and every day. I met others with fantastic stories and talents that I began to rethink where I could best serve registrant advocacy on the national level.

In June/July, I pressured the state legislature to remove language that would be challenged in court. However, the state budget took the spotlight. Quietly the bill was stripped down to barely nothing at all. Victory, no matter how small or insignificant, was transforming into a triumph for registrants.

In August, I met with Senators Tillis, Burr, Kaine, Rubio, and others at Congress to discuss how to reign in sexual offense reforms. I was assured by all senators and representatives that no new legislation would be introduced. Amazingly, they kept their word. I was fortunate to speak with Sen. Lauren Book (FL-D) in a cordial conversation about how the sex offender registry harm families. It was the first step in perhaps the right direction of diplomacy through dialog. Hopefully, there will me more upcoming conversations.

In October/November, I began NCRSOL partnerships with the NAACP, The NC Justice Center, Second Chance Alliance, and the Latino League to engage our message about the registry and the impacts it has on families.

In 2019 I was elevated to the NCRSOL Board of Directors and appointed as Executive Director. I am proud to say that NCRSOL has not only the best staff but is the most effective team that genuinely cares about registrants, families, and allies.

I purchased a new car, which was highly overdue. I managed to change Ph.D. programs and switch universities, providing me an opportunity to focus on my desire to focus more on collateral consequences. There are so many people that I could mention that such gratitude for having the ability to connect with them all demonstrates that advocacy is not an isolated job. There are plenty of resources to effectively work as a team and build wonderful friendships and opportunities.

Overall, 2019 has been an incredible year for me. Despite the minor setbacks by a few unsavory characters, I and the bigger message of inclusiveness was supported by people that genuinely care about others and took risks to protect not only me but others with a firm understanding of the bigger picture. A lessons learned moment is that we must be mindful and distant of those with an agenda filled with hate and a self-serving agenda. I pray for those individuals that they seek a betterment of life for themselves.

2020 has so much more to offer. Despite registry setbacks for many, I am optimistic that change is around the corner. This upcoming decade is geared towards criminal justice reforms for all. Not just a few.

The ACLU is Not Our Friend

Since the beginning of President Trump’s tenure, there has been rhetoric about immigration, and violent sex offenders turned loose from prisons. Leading the way is, supposedly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). But the ACLU has habitually missed significant steps forward in fighting for the rights of those impacted by the sex offender registry. Instead, the ACLU failed to identify the inaccuracies, injustices, and misinformation about sex offender registries. Instead the ACLU focused upon people that are not American citizens and have direct diplomatic relations with their respective nations to highlight an obvious problem. Registrants have no constituencies what so ever. While I think it is essential to protect all people, the American based (ACLU) focused on non-Americans to grow its membership internationally, alienating sex offenders, families, allies, and most of all the common American citizen.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The ACLU has had since the 2006 federal passage to a nationally based sex offender registry has failed to become involved in the sex offender registry issues. Anyone that performs a web search where the ACLU has become a defender of registry issues may be in for quite a surprise. The ACLU has made no real effort to fight for the rights of registrants and their families. However, when a case such as Packingham v. North Carolina or the recent Michigan Doe vSnyder, the national ACLU will take credit for something it didn’t really have an initial substantial interest or follow-up after the fact. The ACLU habitually misses civil justice by quickly touting a win in the courtroom but failing to apply that win to the public for immediate use. It is deeply saddening and an injustice to all of those impacted by the sex offender registry that the ACLU has done nothing to enforce the rulings after the fact or to become involved in complex registry issues. The lack of representation by a nationally known organization somewhat renames the ACLU to the “Abandoned Civil Liberties Union.”

Sure, there can be a supporting argument that Michigan ACLU did a marvelous job in protections of those impacted and punished by sex offender registries. However, it is safe to say that the national ACLU didn’t lend the Michigan chapter much support. Instead, I foresee the ACLU with an agenda to further other registries without taking into consideration that “all registries do harm” approach. Therefore, I am a skeptic of the ACLU because the organization fails to embrace the sex offense conversation and the collateral consequences associated with registries.

Over the past year, I and many others have reached out to form partnerships, memberships, and request guidance or assistance for blatant human rights violations of registered sex offenders particularly in North Carolina or the national level. Such developments surround the Alabama Castration law, registrants in North Carolina unable to attend religious services, and the Georgia Halloween issue that quickly spread into North Carolina that still goes unanswered and unchallenged. Each and every time, I received a reply that “the ACLU is unable to provide assistance at this time.” My question to the ACLU is, “when is an approrpiate time?” Thos on the sex offender registry have endured ex post facto policies and inhumane liberties for decades. Yet the ACLU rushes to the #MeToo movement alienating simple Americans because they are not as cash rich as the Hollywood machine to capitalize a money gravy train. When the ACLU fails to address the complexities of sex offender registry issues presents a harsh reality to the sex offender community that the ACLU has given its stance about sex offender registry rights by completly ignoring them and will continue to ignore them.

But one thing is for sure, the ACLU and its chapters are quick to send out a mass mailing or email to beg for our money. It presents an appearance that the ACLU has migrated from grassroots to become a cash-for-rights agency, or it appears to be the reality for most registrants.

People listed on the sex registry, not on probation or monitored, are banned from religious services, banned from public spaces, banned from picking up or dropping off their children from school or daycare, banned from attending church, banned from visiting a state fair, banned from Facebook or other social medial platforms, cannot vacation or commercial properties in Florida or other states without registering within so many hours or the threat of jail. Yet, the ACLU remains invisible to sex offender registrants. The harsh reality is that at least those detained in an immigration holding center have more freedoms and representations than a person affected by the sex offender registry because they may do all those things mentioned once released. Immigrants are not living under a bridge, homeless, jobless, have a sex offender stamp printed on their driver’s license or passport, can receive health care, and assistance for legal advice. Registrants do not have these basic needs and equal access to these rights as Americans.

Civil rights begin right here on our doorsteps. Our nation relies upon effective leadership and organizations to advocate our concerns. But the ACLU with its ennoormous tax-free breaks and agenda on the backs of hard working Americans has gone to the wayside in the name of big donors and publicity of the easy tasks. The ACLU has become an agency center-stage to politicize its agenda by involving itself in the center of the #MeToo movement. Doing so presents a one-sided advocacy that rather than a focus on liberty and justice for all which implies both sides. Clearly the ACLU doesnt seem to care about liberty and justice unless it is profitable for them and allows easy access in giving the ACLU sole recognition value for hard work done by grass-roots advocates. The nearly 1 million registrants and their families have been significantly let down by the ACLU.

The purpose of “Me Too”, as initially voiced by Tarana Burke as well as those who later adopted the tactic, is to empower women through empathy and strength in numbers, especially young and vulnerable women, by visibly demonstrating how many women have survived sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.

The ACLU has had nearly a decade to identify through various high profile federal cases grass-roots organizations to help benefit their primary cause and mission statement. Organizations such as NARSOL, ACSOL, WAR, and other state-affiliated organizations seek a relationship with the ACLU. But perhaps the ACLU is too ashamed to deal with real problems or association? With almost a million registrants, there doesn’t seem to be a blip on the radar screen that the ACLU is an ally the registry community can rely upon or trust. Civil liberties don’t take sides. It is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country. This is where the ACLU has failed us and will continue to do so until the registry community hold them accountable for for abandoning registrants. Registrants are not seeking to overturn convictions. Registrants are simply asking for liberty to be preserved after incarseration or sentencing once completed.

We must immediately stop any contributions to the ACLU financially and socially until it returns towards its grassroots of defending liberty and civility for all citizens. Registrants can no longer depend on the ACLU name to support unjust causes – unless, of course, you have a significant cash reserve to present to them. The ACLU must stop acting like a social club with a velvet rope among the very supporters of liberty. Perhaps it is time to close the good ole boys club and support real causes that affect real people?

Eventually, the ACLU will become ensnared into the registry somehow. I certainly do not wish that upon anyone. However, for the lack of ACLU representation amongst us it will perhaps take years of trust building to return towards a civil and educative conversation. The ACLU has abandoned those impacted by the sex offender registry and should be ashamed to call itself an national organization that “defends and preserves the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country. ” A friend would not abandon another brother.

Neighbors Cancel Halloween… but it’s a good thing.

I live in a neighborhood that, for the most part, that is pretty quiet. Many of the people that once lived here have left or passed away. Over the past decade, lots of Hispanics and Latinos have become a significant part of my community. I did my part by welcoming all of them. This year my neighborhood has given me the ultimate present. My neighbors are not participating in “Halloween candy handouts” to anyone. One of my dearest neighbors, Jessie (an immigrant from Mexico), his wife, and two teenage boys, have been very supportive of me being on the registry. They let me know that all the neighbors decided to not allow trick or treating in our neighborhood. In fact, today, when a deputy came to do a home visit, my phone rang from three other Hispanic neighbors to let me know a deputy had come to my door for a unannounced compliance check when I wasn’t at home. All of my neighborhood thinks the registry is a bad idea overall and naturally do not trust police because they too have been profiled and labeled by others for the langauge they speak. But to take matters to another level, my neighbors won’t allow Halloween because it would exclude me because of phone apps available from the NC Attorney General that direct parents to avoid particular addresses of registrants. So, in turn, they have kicked out the long standing tradition citing, “if one is excluded, then everyone is excluded.” This is an awesome gift from my 38+ neighbors and homes!

To demonstrate how committed my neighbors are, the public school notified parents a few months ago that the bus stop directly in front of my home was to be relocated elsewhere because I was on the registry. Parents, knowingly aware of my registry status, refused to relocate their children to another stop, citing safety concerns of high-speed traffic which was true. They all pushed back to the school system where the bus stop remains in front of my house claiming they the school had no right to interfear in community affairs. One neighbor said, “the bus driver doesnt have to do anything but pick up and drop off my children. If the bus driver has a problem with it, then get another bus driver!” By the way, all the kids wave at me randomly in the morning when walking to the bus stop. Isn’t this they way communities should be for all? I am not the guy on the sex registry. I am a human treated like any another human that so happens to be on the sex registry for something with an adult almost a decade ago. Amazingly, not one parent was in opposition to moving the school bus stop and dropoff back to my house. It demonstrates that not everyone is consumed with the fear selling tactics of government telling others who and how you may interact with others.

Additionally, most Latino and Hispanic cultures think that Halloween intrudes upon a sacred holiday to honor the dead called “All Souls Day.” So our neighbors will be cooking some rather exciting dishes to celebrate. Of course, I am invited to take part in the festivities. Such demonstrations of good faith and neighborly friendships are how communities should be for all. It is a shame that the rest of the nation cannot follow the examples of others that not only risked their lives to settle in a new country but also protect a fellow American to rid of social stigma. Perhaps Latinos and Hispanics understand the consequences of the registry better than the average American? At least that is my understanding. But having neighbors like this shows that there is hope that we may look after one another despite having a language, cultural, or other barriers that seems so far apart but really arent.

I should make a bumper sticker for my car that reads, “¡Mis vecinos son mejores que tus vecinos!” which translates to “My neighbors are better than your neighbors!”

Freedom with an Asterisk

Those that were convicted of a sex offense in North Carolina and not serving a day in the walls of a prison suddenly became prisoners in their own homes. Instead of the infractions of too many stamps, unauthorized cigarettes, or yelling profanities at staff while incarcerated shifts to being set free but unable to live where you want, unable to secure employment, cannot attend church, and unable to access the internet under the consequence of bring imprisoned for just a hint of being accused.

When people leave prison, the first initial desires are to order a steak, or watch a movie, go on a trip, or finally reach out to family, friends, and other support mechanisms to share the joy of being released. However, registrants experience a much different circumstance. They are not permitted to access the internet, go to Disney or any theme park, make a call on SnapChat, share a joyful event on Facebook, or display a happy face on Instagram. Registrants are also under the threat of being rearrested and feloniously charged with going to a movie, mall, McDonald’s, the beach, or accessing the internet because of state laws and restrictions.

Perhaps those of the registry do not have any luxuries of support by family or friends. The most they can do with their new freedoms are to dream about going to a museum, going back to school, the discovery of workshop therapy to overcome anxiety or stress. Instead, those same registrants that dream of such activities are again prohibited from accessing any of those abilities under the threat of arrest and prison.

Politicians that tout justice reforms and lowering prison populations are the same people that created this fiasco of freedoms. For every two laws that are overturned, it is politicians and community leaders without facts, data, or supportive evidence that create fifteen new laws and provisions restricting more freedoms. Leaders lay claim about teamwork, inclusiveness, and equality for all; however, they use the word “but” to wedge a blanketed liability policy to protect themselves from the scrutiny of appearing weak.

Religious leaders that exclaim the love and joy of God with an all-forgiving sermon of “all are welcome” and “this congregation welcomes sinners” suddenly interjects an asterisk of exclusion of sex offenders. Ministers now have other gods before them by allowing the challenge of the state to dictate how they should seat their congregations. Insurance companies dictate to religious institutions policy provisions that clearly state sex offenders must be excluded because the property has Sunday school or daycare during services. The church is no longer autonomous but a follower of man, not God. Ironic, and institution that is supposed to teach about confronting fear is the very place that fails to address and face its fears and learn or embrace trust and forgiveness.

But I am pleased not to have Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, be a sucker of Disney memorabilia, attend church, listen to politicians, participate in overpriced movies, visit museums or be a part of the fake agenda laced internet. Perhaps I should thank lawmakers for allowing me to see the light on my own rather than the peddling of their darkness. Sure, I would like to have unlimited choices as others. But perhaps this lesson is that not only am I excluded from the adulterated scheme and fraud of religious, economic, and social freedoms. But I am a product that because of the registry, there is no such thing as freedom in America – only the illusion of such qualities with and convenience and hidden asterisk. It is all these collective institutions that promote freedom, all while excluding free choices based upon its intnerally laced liability scheme of fraud and misleading information.

I embrace these restrictions because I can now see the real mission of politics, leadership, and how influential products guide us towards their way of thinking rather than the free will and openness of genuine choice and liberty. Maybe I should begin some self-imposed disconnects to bring clarity around me? I lived without much of these luxuries before either they were invented or available. Perhaps dialing the clock back isn’t such a bad idea after all. Let me take away before “they” take it away, and I have to ween myself off of other pacifiers.

But I would like to have the freedom to walk in any park – which is still against the law in North Carolina. Choices can be a bitch sometimes.