By Michael Rosenberg . . . I see little in life that looks like a sex offender registry with its incumbent restrictions. School was tough when I didn’t have friends, and life can look a little bleak when I look around now at my limited social experiences. Yet while I have to skip many events that take place within shouting distance of businesses designed with children in mind, my days are not empty.
Sex offender therapy, while a requirement of my probation, is a weekly trip to twelve friends. I have even come to accept changes when they come in the form of suggestions from the group; they say what they feel, and they feel more than most — in part because they have been treated like the worst. Just like me, they come to group to pay their fees and talk about their last week’s thoughts and behaviors. Just like anyone, they desire a community: work; friends; lovers; a sense of joy from time to time. Unlike others, they (and I) suspend ourselves from much of the physical and cyber world because of flawed legislation which supposes that registrants are a) all alike in their likelihood to recidivate, b) innately flawed humans who do not regret their choices c) unworthy of a second look – hence, the registry’s treatment of a class of folks much the way toxic waste is treated.
If you saw my mother and step-father standing there, speaking up on my behalf week after week, fully supporting my good decisions and frowning at my mistakes, you would think twice about keeping me away from the farmer’s market on the weekends simply because on the weekdays people in there do administrative work for the parks department. I still manage to have nice meals with my parents and with friends; I just have to have my veggies picked up for me sometimes.
Few friends I had before I was arrested for a sex offense have stood with me and risked further association with the worst kind of outcast. Those who continue to stick with me exhibit a quietly fierce courage I cannot with certainty say I would possess in their situation.
There is no bravery in lambasting registrants with angry, inaccurate names. It is not a hero who, in assuming the kind of moral superiority that ends with violent words and even violent acts, puts down hundreds of thousands of American citizens who have committed a sex crime. Putting that in words, it doesn’t seem it should need to be said, but it does. It does because in my therapy group, the guys are some of the most caring, sensitive, impressively attuned folks I have run into in a long while, and recently at least two of them have spoken reservedly about feeling like giving up.
I am not trained in interpreting law, but I feel confident in feeling that legislation is supposed to have a purpose, and when this purpose is not achieved, when real harm is being done, those are the types of laws that some of my favorite thinkers speak of when they rail against oppression. A song in particular comes to mind when I think of the madness of following laws that even police officers speak against openly and harshly.
Cutting any group of people off from broad swaths of society creates irrational fears. Like a danger or warning label which few are qualified to read but everyone assumes they understand, the registry engenders a false sense of fear.
I learned something this week in my group therapy. I learned that I am no better than anyone else; I have much to learn about what causes me to fulfill my emotional needs in unhealthy ways. Even after years of therapy, some prison, and lots of alone time, I am surprised to find that people do want to know me; new people at times do want to know more about me, but they first have to overcome the registry.