If you have been following this Blog, you know that The Fonteneau Firm is involved in a lawsuit challenging the Alabama Sex Offender Statute. The lawsuit challenges how the law is applied to indigent sex offenders who cannot afford a place to live and therefore cannot be released from jail. Since filing the lawsuit, I have been contacted by several sex offenders and their families who wanted to share their stories. Last night, I received the following letter from a sex offender who is currently awaiting trial for failing to register as a sex offender. I am sharing it with you in the hopes that it will shed some light on how the law affects those who are subject to it.
September 12, 2008
These are my experiences in the Alabama legal system since my initial charge of indecent acts (UCMJ Article 132) in August of 1998. I returned to Pelham, AL in September of 1999 after serving a year and 13 days in Norfolk Naval Brig in Norfolk, VA. I had little understanding as to how much my life had just changed. I moved back in with my parents in the home I lived in before my legal situation changed. I found a job at a local restaurant, made new friends and found a girlfriend and sought only to live a normal life. I had made my mistakes in the past, served my time for them, and moved on. Clean slate, right?
Some time around November of that year, I was shown in no uncertain terms. How much of my life had changed. A detective from the Pelham Police Department arrived at my parents’ house to pick me up and explain to me that I could no longer live at that address, because it was within 1,000 feet (just barely as it turns out; my parents’ home is about 973 feet or so away) from a daycare center. The detective also took this opportunity to inform me that regardless of the relatively lesser nature of my charge, all sex offenders in AL are under the same blanket.
This was the first time I was forced to up root and attempt to make a life elsewhere, but it wasn’t the last. From there, we searched around to find a place to live for me, and the first one that turned up was a Motel in Homewood. We purchased the room for two weeks (my parents took care of the bill, as they’ve continued to do numerous times when situations would put me out of an established residence), and I went job hunting the day after I registered the address.
A little over a week later, I returned from the only job I could acquire in the area (a door-to-door salesperson job, selling meat and fish. I didn’t have a car or a license at the time, so my options for employment were very limited.) to find that my key no longer worked in the lock. I went down to the office, figuring that there was just something wrong with the key. Little did I know that Homewood Police had been there, passing my picture around while I was at work. I was told that I could no longer stay at that Motel. I had to leave the next morning.
My parents and I were at our wits end with regards to where to move me. Finally, we settled on the only option available; relocate out-of-state, to New York. We had discovered that my options were more open in my state of origin, with a better chance to live a normal life. I moved to New York in January of 2000. I found out that due to the nonviolent and non-predatory nature of my charge, it wasn’t necessary for me to register my address, nor was it required for the neighborhood to know where I lived.
Unrelated legal issues and personal matters pressured my return to AL. I had also acted on misinformation in my move back to my parents home. I was under the impression that due to the fact that New York didn’t require me to register, the word had passed on. There was more involved with it, like the lawsuit I knew in effect regarding out-of-state offenders and community notification. In any case, I moved back here in July or August of 2001. It was quickly discovered by the authorities that I had returned, because I was arrested in early December of that year for Failure to Register as well as Residing within 1,000 feet of a daycare.
During the three years of court appearances that followed, I had to move several times due to lack of financial stability, as well as my physical condition hindering my employment opportunities still further. I had been in an accident in New York in September of 2000, resulting in three herniated discs, two in my neck, one in my lower back, two pinched nerves, and constant pain.
Depression was also a constant companion during this time, and I entertained a myriad of negative thoughts regarding not only myself, but my loved ones as well.
Two things happened that stabilized me a bit; I actually found a house in Bessemer that I could afford and the court case finally got dealt down to three years of probation. I registered my new address and went to Columbiana the first of the month to start my probation.
I had no clue that things were about to go sour in a hurry.
I first met my probation officer in the middle of a small group of probationers. We gathered in her office, and she laid down the rules for us first-timers. Then she asked who the sex offenders were. I was the only one to raise my hand. She gave the others a few more words of instruction, then dismissed them. When they were gone, she turned to me — and turned on me. The stern-yet-amicable look on her face turned into malice and hostility in an instant.
She stated plainly that she didn’t like me; I was unredeemable; I belonged in prison; and that she was going to do “everything in my power to violate you.” I was stunned. I told this to my parents, but in reality I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it but stay out of her cross hairs until my probation was transferred to Bessemer.
For some reason, my probation was never transferred. I had to see her the whole time I lived in that little house on Fairfax Avenue, And suddenly, when I’m told the transfer is about to go through, lo and behold, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department stops by my house, one day and tells me I have to move because I am residing within 2000 feet of not one, not two, but three unmarked day cares! After living there for nearly a year!
Please forgive the sarcasm. Even after all this time some of the anger still bleeds through. I’ll try to stick with the facts, but I can’t promise there won’t be emotion.
I did what I was supposed to do, though. I called my PO and let her know the situation. She told me to call her every day with my living quarters until I had something permanent. I finally found an apartment in Homewood, registered it, gave my PO the info, and settled in. I thought it was all settled now.
June 28, 2005, I was in my apartment watching TV, when I heard a knock on the door. I stopped just shy of opening it, and asked who it was. I couldn’t make out the reply, which didn’t surprise me, since I sometimes have difficulty making out sounds. I opened the door, thinking that this may be a case of wrong apartment. Imagine my surprise and terror when I was suddenly grabbed by the throat and thrown to the ground. My first thought was “I’m being robbed again.” I had previously been robbed by gun point in my home in South Bessemer, one reason That is why I wasn’t that upset when I had to move from there. That thought dried up when I felt the handcuffs being applied.
I was told that the arrest was at the request of my PO and that’s all. The apartment manager comes up and promptly tells me that I’m evicted and not to come back. I was taken down to Homewood PD where I waited for my parents to bond me out. The next day, I called my PO. She says that I need to come to her office first thing in the morning. I expected the worst when I walked into her office. Sure enough, she was waiting with her supervisor. In his hands were a pair of cuffs.
“I told you I’d violate you” she said, almost smugly. “ Can you admit now that you need help?”
I spent four months in Shelby County Jail . An attorney got me out, but even then I had to plead guilty to something.
I’ve long since started referring to myself as untouchable. After all, it’s easier to condemn something and cast it away than to embrace someone and help them up.
It’s easy to forget that I’m supposed to have rights. It doesn’t matter that I served my time for my initial charge. The only thing that people see when they look at my record, no matter how much time has passed, is that red “S” on it.
I have actually been tempted to take the sex offender identification card that Jefferson County makes us carry and wear it around my neck on a chain, just to save time. Of course, with Alabama now marking our Driver’s Licenses and license plates, I imagine it won’t be long before our very clothing has a scarlet letter embossed upon it.
At this moment, I am in Jefferson County Jail, for the charge of failing to register, That I was forced into such a predicament, like so many of us in similar circumstances have been, doesn’t matter to those in charge. Mike Hale, and others like him, would like nothing more than to make 809 Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard North our permanent address. He’s perfectly satisfied with housing us in jail. He even stated in a newspaper article that he has no sympathy and that he’s “not going to help get a sex offender a place to live.”
It’s gotten so that I can’t open a blog site like Myspace to express my opinions on issues like faith or music or friendships without it being cancelled, not because I’ve broken some online rule, or because I’ve done something illegal, but because I’m a registered sex offender and I may be up to something sinister! Talk about being convicted without evidence!
Please don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate why the laws and safeguards are there in the first place. There is real danger out there, and it should be protected against, as well as punished when it is found.
My problem is when the laws overcompensate, in order to “err on the side of caution.” An error is still made no matter how well-meaning, and people’s rights are trod upon because of it.”
Jefferson County Jail
September 12, 2008