By “Megan” . . . I didn’t know Matt before his offense. He was in the military for 8 years, was deployed to Afghanistan, and saw lots of things. Some of the stuff he still won’t talk about to me or anyone else. He was there during a very active time in the war. Once he got back, he was dealing with PTSD, but no one in the military wanted to help so he began self-medicating with alcohol. To make matters worse, he was in a bad relationship at the time.
A family friend (who was 15 at the time) reached out to Matt and began talking to him on Facebook. Dealing with his PTSD, Matt was drinking to the point of blacking out, and their conversations turned sexual. At one point he had sent her naked pictures of himself and asked her for some. She never sent any. The military found out and convicted him of a felony (Article 120 B, which in the military is basically saying he sexually assaulted her). They never had any physical contact, but nonetheless his lawyer told him to take the plea deal, and he was sentenced to a year in military prison.
Matt had moved up the ranks while in the military, and it all came crashing down. After his time in prison, he was released and subjected to registration in the state he lived in. He had to move in with his mother, his first time living with his family since high school. His depression was so bad he wouldn’t get out of bed for days. He would confine himself to his pitch-black room.
It was around this time that I met Matt. At first I had no idea of his situation. Things weren’t adding up after our first few dates, and eventually I googled him. I will never forget that day. It was difficult to put myself into that situation and decide that I would help him through the next few years, but I could see he wasn’t the monster the laws were making him out to be.
His mom sent him to therapy where he was told he in fact had PTSD. Military was not interested in hearing that or in taking responsibility. We settled into a life where I was working and he stayed home. He was still living a life being depressed, and no one wanted to hire a sex offender. Two years into our relationship, we decided to move to Ohio. He was considered a nonviolent offender in Virginia and we assumed it would be the same in Ohio. The officer he spoke to in Virginia told Matt, whatever you do don’t let them put you on tier three. We both thought that’s easy enough because he never had physical contact with the girl, and tier three is the highest level of offender.
Unfortunately, states don’t want to give you the status you’ll be registered at until you have an address in their state. After moving, Matt was told he would be a tier three offender. We were crushed. How could Ohio believe that someone who basically “sexted” needed to be on the highest tier?
Thankfully I’m proactive and started calling lawyers right away. If it had remained up to Matt, he would have sat in a depressed state for his lifetime of registration. Over a year and $5,000 later, the state finally admitted to wrongfully tiering Matt and lowered him to tier one. During that time, he had flyers sent out to everyone who lived within 1,000 feet of us. We had to walk around wondering who knew and if they might threaten or harm us.
The point of this recall of events is that in this age of technology, this could be anyone. It is so easy for someone’s bad day to turn into years and years of shame and judgement. I know there is not a day that goes by that Matt doesn’t wish he had demanded mental health treatment after returning from Afghanistan. Matt’s entire career and life’s work, his service to our country, was ripped away, and nothing will ever get it back.