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.

Epstein Issue Is Common Among Jails But Ignored

There has been so much emphasis in news coverage of Jeffrey Epstein that one would perhaps think that he was the most wanted terrorist on American soil. However, that was not the case. Epstein didn’t decide his criminal conviction. Politics played its part in its decision making. However, the general public chose to weigh in well after the fact because of the politicized connectivity. Now that Epstein has died in the custody of an agency that has a duty to protect communities and provide structure to ensure such tragic events never occur. The fact is that Epstein died at the hands of government officials, which should send a scary chill down the spines of every American – especially when such a high profile individual was recently in the news for allegedly attempting to take his own life.

Perhaps a better question to ask one another is, “should have Jeffrey Epstein with a condition of potential suicide been relocated to a psychiatric facility for assessment and medical self-harm concerns?” Instead, the emphasis of the government and a judge was to keep Mr. Epstein in custody without bail. Naturally, the government side of the case deemed that Mr. Epstein met certain conditions that could place his safety at risk. But today we see that the government was extremely negligent in its duty to the American people.

There will of course by opposition or noise to inject that Epstein got what he deserved. To any human being, the notion of wishing death upon others may be an emotional reaction but is harmful. But it rings similarities to the death of Jeffrey Dahmer while he was imprisoned. It is bad enough that the sex offender registry is a tool to create public shaming on the outside world but its even more disturbing that American culture has instilled that prison life is a world filled with a retributive prisoner on prisoner punishment.

While there may be a blame assessment of Epstein died at the hands of the government, I would inject that the media played a significant part in allowing the Epstein story to become similar to the Princess Diana story where the press ultimately played a role in his death. The recent release of the Epstein report naming celebrity and other high profile names is not only entertainment value but brings additional harm in the allegation game. Nevermind how many people use the famed Nevada bunny ranch for paid sex or hookup apps such as Tinder, Grindr, Chaturbate or the now-defunct personals of BackPages and Craigslist. It will only be a matter of time before these apps catch up with mainstream media and sex scandals now or later. Eventually, this became a war on sexuality and power.

The media has shifted from reporting the news towards a talk show format to discuss how our culture and behaviors should be normalized. The innermost decisions made at home are now outsourcing to media and its commentary. No longer are we a society free of our own choosings or preferences. We are dictated to a degree how to engage with others. The media and society is no longer a culture of forgiveness, redemption, and a format of discussion. Instead, we are indoctrinated into a culture of entertainment where a life that ended, taken, or humiliated somehow becomes a celebrated moment? To me, that is a sick and demented society.

Are the alleged crimes of Epstein wrong? Of course! But society and the media had placed a shaming and entertainment value of this reporting well ahead of the economic and global outlook and survivability of mass murders and global threats. To me, that is more seriously important than a rich person engaging in sexual improprieties.

But finally, I leave with this valuable lessons learned moment. Did anyone come to the defense of Jeffery Epstein? I am not suggesting that Epstein be defended for his actions. Did anyone come to the rescue of Epstein for being listed on a national or state registries? Certainly not. In fact many advocates either remained silent or kept a safe distance not to become consumed with the rhetoric or grouping. But that is where I beg to question if anti-registry advocates are indeed advocates of ridding of the registry when why didn’t they create a momentum that Epstein is no different than any other registrant? Until the registry community learns to tackle the most difficult questions or situations, then all registrants risk being stuck in the mud for a very long time. Registry advocates must begin to take the Epstein moment to discuss how the registry, allegations, the judicial system, politics, and all the touchpoints affect all families and registrants. Do not avoid this topic because that is what the opposition desires. Epstein was a registrant and deserved equal treatment among fellow registrants to bring a cause that harm is always around the corner. Epstein situations happen all the time in the registry community. However, I will assume that there will be a few firings, and this will be swept under the rug just like all the rest.

It is an unfortunate day for our judicial and pretrial systems all across America.

Records Expungement Isn’t Really Expunged

The State of North Carolina recently introduced House Bill 863 that would bar convicted felons from running for the office of Sheriff. It seems like a no-brainer if one only reads the title. However, the fine print in the legislation mandates explicitly and clarifies that even if a conviction is expunged, the individual is still a felon. Why? Because the Governor has not pardoned the felony.

A pardon is a government decision to allow a person to be absolved of guilt for an alleged crime or other legal offense, as if the act never occurred. The pardon may be granted before or after conviction for the crime, depending on the laws of the jurisdiction.

Okay. That seems fair right? Perhaps. However, I would argue that if a conviction has been expunged, then shouldn’t that also indicate that the criminal record is no longer valid? I only bring up this particular issue because if Second Chance laws are passed around the nation to expunge criminal convictions does that imply that criminal records are indeed expunged? According to the North Carolina General Assembly that answer may be a short “no” and a concern for the validity of Second Chance laws across this nation.

A very real distinction exists between an expungement and a pardon. When an expungement is granted, the person whose record is expunged may, for most purposes, treat the event as if it never occurred. A pardon (also called “executive clemency”) does not “erase” the event; rather, it constitutes forgiveness.

A particular question to be addressed is, “why is it the business of the legislature to determine who can or cannot be elected as a citizen?” It isn’t as if the people of North Carolina suddenly rose up in protest to voice a person shouldn’t be able to become Sheriff. After all, the office and duty of Sheriff is an elected position by the people. It is highly unlikely in a YouTube and Twitter world that the most skilled reporter or journalist wouldn’t vet any person seeking a political office. However, the more profound concern is that such laws creeping into policy will eventually make anyone ever convicted of a crime, even if it is erased, unable to seek political office. It seems like a law for the elite rather than for the will of the people.

On July 1, 2010, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 1307 that allowed the voters to decide on an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution (N.C. Const. art. VII, § 2). This amendment was passed by the voters in November 2010, officially amending the North Carolina Constitution (Attachment 1). Until this amendment, there was no constitutional provision prohibiting a convicted felon from being elected or appointed sheriff. This amendment prohibits anyone that has been convicted of a felony from serving as sheriff, which applies to both a sheriff elected or appointed. Also, the individual does not have to be convicted of the felony in North Carolina, rather any conviction, anywhere qualifies.

Personally, I am concerned about the passing of this bill. On the one hand, we have our constitution that allows people to govern and seems to have been working for hundreds of years. On the other hand, we are beginning to micromanage, who is constitutionally protected and applicable for a position that has been around for centuries. Legislatures should be in the business of fixing government for the people rather than breaking it. It appears that the unnecessary micro details are easier to perform than the macro duties we elected them to settle in the first place.

In the common law legal system, an expungement proceeding is a type of lawsuit in which a first time offender of a prior criminal conviction seeks that the records of that earlier process be sealed, making the records unavailable through the state or Federal repositories

Crime Does Pay – if you work for the prosecution

If you think that crime doesn’t pay? Think again. The criminal justice system in America is perhaps the most well-financed institution of government anywhere in the world. In fact, to provide how well funded criminal justice inquiry alone is probably is to reflect on previous Presidential investigations ranging from Watergate to the Bill Clinton affair. There is no expense cap on how much money is spent. But take a moment and try to imagine how prosecutors in courts across America with sometimes unlimited resources don’t try to locate the truth? Instead, it seems to be to find the win. Many cases uncovered over past decades by advocacy organizations or third-party investigators have witnessed an alarming trend that prosecutors, despite evidence that could significantly deteriorate a case or allow an innocent person to be free, insists on plea bargains and continuing the cases all in the name of winning. It makes absolutely no sense. Or does it? Perhaps the art of winning a claim has no repercussions because the way policy and law protect prosecutors and the state.

Prosecutorial immunity is the absolute immunity that prosecutors in the United States have in initiating a prosecution and presenting the state’s case. “Firming up what had long been held as common practice, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 ruled in Imbler v. Pachtman that prosecutors cannot face civil lawsuits for prosecutorial abuses, no matter how severe.” Prosecutors have qualified immunity in other activities such as advising police and speaking to the press.

When the Duke Lacrosse case made headlines all across living rooms, we listened to Nancy Grace of CNN vilify a university rape culture of athletes taking advantage of a poor African American woman by violently raping her over and over. The news was enough to make anyone angry that such alleged activity would take place. However, as the evidence unfolded, there became significant cracks on both the police, the prosecution, and witness, and the overall method in which the case had been investigated from the start. Instantly, the news splashed released from police reports already created the most damaging evidence against the accused where they will be forever known as the “Duke Lacross players accused of rape”. In fact, there was no rape at all! To make matters worse; Nancy Grace never made a formal apology to the team, coach, or university for her brash and unfiltered scorn of something that didn’t happen. Nancy simply moved on to the next big story in her unapologetic manner. However, we do see the same tactics being used over and over each week in the news by prosecutors, police, and the media. The difference is maybe that there was a Lacrosse team whereas most rape or sexual assault cases involve only one on one allegations. Mostly, the team story was scripted. It was a validation of truth by a group of men with the same story backed with evidence, whereas one versus one in other cases does not have such luxuries. Therefore, prosecutors don’t really care if the truth is out there. It becomes an art of only finding a win for the prosecution.

The prosecutor is an administrator of justice, a zealous advocate, and an officer of the court. The prosecutor’s office should exercise sound discretion and independent judgment in the performance of the prosecution function.

There are naturally good people and good prosecutors. But there is a stigma all across America that prosecutors are elected people that need reelection to maintain and keep their jobs. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that we never hear in the media where a prosecutor discover evidence that may set a person free and perhaps convict the false accuser? This never happened in the Duke Lacross case and didn’t seem that it will ever happen in other courtrooms across America. Doing so, by the voices of prosecutors and lawyers would place the judicial system in a tailspin. Perhaps that is what our nation requires? A pursuit of the truth – so help us, God. Justice reforms aren’t about tearing down the judicial system. Reforms are about the discovery of the truth to align the field evenly so that justice for all prevails.

Perhaps another issue regarding justice reforms may begin with how the media reports and could sway the public from a fair trail by disclosing too much information — reigning the press in a bit with regards to public records and judicial matters aren’t silencing the media. Instead, it allows a cooling period so that both sides are protected. Under the current system, the victims are ALWAYS protected while the accused is splattered across airwaves and social media in nanoseconds. We ought to change that system for the sake of justice reforms and perhaps restorative justice.

More than 90 percent of state and federal criminal convictions are the result of guilty pleas, often by people who say they didn’t commit a crime.

Again, the state and prosecution have an unlimited resource of funding at its disposal. Yet we have “backlogs” of DNA testing, cases where plea deals are often 85% or higher of most case settlements, decades later evidence discovered or unearthed in storage rooms long forgotten by police agencies, and advocacy groups without much funding at all uncovering questionable evidence that could have allowed a person to be free. It is disconcerting, especially in a country where parties are required to swear upon a bible or affirm, they are telling the truth before a court. However, this policy is not extended to prosecutors to affirm or swear they are telling the truth. They don’t have to because they will always have immunity. Doesn’t seem right, does it? But it is your system of government. So, what are you going to do about it?

A Little Hope From My Friends

Not all days are our best days. But asking for help is not a weakness. It is perhaps the strongest part of maintaining a positive outlook on life.

People with criminal conviction records eventually will slip into a coma-like mental pattern where opportunities feel hopeless or disconnected from the operational world around them. Many people have spent countless days in jail, prisons, or perhaps at home with a jail-like experience with inabilities to either leave or not having the finances or knowing where the next meal, roof, or opportunity will be before them? I, too, have been in that dark place. There will always be unhelpful opportunists to exclaim “well, you put yourself in that place.” But trying to find the light with so much darkness around can be a steep path to navigate. But the one thing that kept me going was a determination to discover answers. Rather than sulking in sorrow or misery, I had to ask for help first mentally and then spiritually. For some of you, the spirituality method may be a sore subject. I completely get that because I felt abandoned by my own God. However, for the sake of keeping a compass bearing, let’s focus on the mentality part.

1.2 million individuals living with mental illness sit in jail and prison each year

Mental health is nothing to put off thinking that one can “get brave” and handle it. Asking for help for any mental health issue is a challenge because we are embedded by parents, spouses, leaders, friends, and sometimes self-help materials to not let people see the vulnerability within us. We are reminded to keep our tears secreted and masked only to show the strongest side of us. Without hesitation, I say that well-being is the worst piece of advice anyone could ever give! Naturally, our survival instinct triggers us mentally to panic and survive at nearly any cost. But that is the vulnerability we should pack away for a moment and allow others to assist in a healthy direction. That direction begins with contacting local, state, county, social services, churches, LGBT centers, NAACP groups, food banks, creditors, banks, online friends, former contacts, allies and sometimes non-traditional support methods. If it has a phone number, call it! Asking for help is the hardest part because not only do we feel shame on one level we experience shame on another level for asking for help.

Ignoring your pain, masking your weaknesses, and suppressing your emotions won’t make you any better. Remind yourself that asking for help means you’re strong enough to admit you don’t have all the answers. … It means you’re trying to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like humility, fear, and embarrassment, head-on.

People that know me will immediately say that I present resources and contact information to get things started. Yes; Others must do the work, but I can show the doorway by being a support resouce for others – as other have the ability to do so. I have rarely had feedback saying, “they couldn’t help at all?” Instead, I have witnessed successes because providing the door allows others to maintain control without feeling as much shame. But then once the austerity conditions set in the shame switches to frustration, anger, and blame assessments. This is common. But a good plan is to be aware that these feelings are normal. But they are feeling and not a factual part of your life directly. Anger happens to lots of people. So, don’t feel so all alone and isolated. Instead, bring a manta in your life to keep you going. Mine is, “don’t bring me a problem; bring me a solution.” That way, I don’t complain to others or fall into a gap of seeming to blame others. I work out my problem to find various solutions and then attempt to implement them. If I need help, I discuss the solution to determine if that part plan is realistic?

But this piece of advice may be adequate or inadequate depending on where your mental health is with you today. Try to be hopeful. Hope has allowed me to cling on perhaps the worst days of my life. But at least I can be optimistic about something in my life or the optomism in the life of others. Without question, being hopeful and positive require lots of energy. But I would argue that it takes more energy being angry at the world than it does to be happy and optimistic. Therefore, I encourage all to be positive in your day-to-day routine and try to be positive for others.

Attitude is a decision.

Lastly, for those that have an issue with spirituality. If you have a problem with God or a fixed ultra-being, then I highly recommend finding a temporary fix to your religious situation. For example, if you enjoy eating, then perhaps the refrigerator could be your temporary God? That way, the light comes on and goes off each time you open and pay respects to the refrigerator-god! (feel free to play dramatic spritual awaking background music at this moment) Sometimes there may be food, other times not. But if you require a spiritual awakening moment, place your head in the freezer portion for a few minutes – to cool down from being so overwhelmed. But develop something that gives you a spiritual goal until you are comfortable enough to maintain a relationship with whatever religion you choose. Spirituality provides not just comfort, but it provides guidelines and an ethical code to follow, which can help mental health issues. It is somewhat symbiotic but helpful to find balance in life. (and dont worry about the graven images commandment. You have a long way to go at this point!)

Perhaps the original messiah of refrigerators

If you have never experienced jail, prison, house arrest, or confinement. Congratulations! Now take that virtuous life you live being helpful to others returning others towards a good life similar to yours. Help one another and hope for the best!

One more thing. Learn to laugh again and share that laughter!

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