By Sandy . . . Several decades ago, a boy by the name of Adam Oakey was the bane of the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police department with an extensive juvenile record. As an adult arrested six times on various charges of assault and battery between 1997 and 2007, he was described as the stuff of which nightmares are made.
Hearing him speak now of working to keep young people from heading down the same path, it is no wonder he is being recognized and lauded in the media for turning his life around. Certainly he deserves the recognition and the praise. He is almost being given the status of a folk hero, a status not at all diminished by the slogan “From the streets to the cage to the courtroom.”
In his late thirties, Adam started law school, passed the New Mexico bar exam in 2018, and today has his own law firm. He has proven that he deserved the second – and third and fourth and fifth – chance given to him.
In Kentucky a young man of 22, Guy Hamilton-Smith, was wrestling with demons of his own. In 2006 he was arrested for possession of child pornography. He tells his own story here. Guy was subsequently admitted to the University of Kentucky law school where he did well and graduated in the top third of his class.
However, when the time came for Guy to sit for the bar, he was denied due to his sexual offense conviction and his placement on the Kentucky sexual offense registry. He fought this, going all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court. The Court upheld the decision to deny Guy the right to sit for the bar. The ruling included the statement that he can take the exam when his duty to register expires and he is no long listed; he will be 49 when that occurs.
Guy has become a prominent civil rights advocate and criminal justice analyst, earning fellowships and becoming well known in the advocacy world. He has proven himself to be a skilled writer and public speaker, using the platforms to promote his message wherever possible: Having a chance at redemption and being allowed the opportunities for overcoming past mistakes should be available to everyone who wants them.
In 2003 Kobe Bryant was a shining star on the basketball court. That is the year in which he was accused of sexual assault. Even though criminal charges were brought, they were dropped after the accuser refused to testify but instead brought a civil suit which was settled out of court. Bryant admitted to a sexual encounter with the woman but denied the assault charge. He issued a public apology and continued with his professional athletic career, being recognized as one of basketball’s all-time greats.
When he, along with his young daughter and others, were recently killed in a helicopter crash, accolades for him and his athletic skills poured in from every source. When a Washington Post reporter sent out a series of Tweets regarding his earlier sexual assault charges, she was suspended for a brief period by the Post, and she reported receiving “tens of thousands” of angry replies as well as death threats on Twitter regarding her mentions of Kobe’s past accusation.
In 2017 Luke Heimlich was a rising star on the baseball field. Still at Oregon State University where he, as a pitcher, was leading his team to victory after victory, he was a shoo-in for his choice of professional teams in the upcoming draft.
That is also the year that something he had done as a child came up to haunt him and subsequently destroy his career.
In 2012, Luke was convicted of sexual molestation by inappropriate touching of a younger female relative. Luke was 12 or 13 when it happened, 15 when convicted. He successfully completed a period of probation that included a diversion program and therapy designed specifically for children who have been sexually inappropriate. He was put on Washington’s sexual offense registry, but because that state does not make public the offenders like Luke who are assessed as a very low risk to re-offend, he was doing what benefits society. He was moving forward and building a life as a law-abiding, contributing member.
That all came crashing down around his head in 2017 when his status as a registered sexual offender, always known by the university, was unearthed by a reporter and widely publicized.
Condemnation came from every corner. Comment boards on articles about Luke were filled with diatribes about him. The brave few who dared suggest that he had been a child, that he deserved a second chance, were shouted down with accusations, name calling, and even death threats against those writers.
It was all over. Luke did not play in the play-offs; he was not drafted in 2017 or 2018 by any MLB team. Later in 2018, he was scouted by a team with the Chinese Professional Baseball League. He was signed and then terminated the same day with the league citing zero tolerance for players with criminal records. Today he is playing with a league in Mexico.
Four men, all with criminal misconduct histories. Two managed their difficulties without the specter of public registration hanging over their heads. Today one is a respected, honored attorney. The other, though deceased, lives on in his legacy of athletic prowess and honor.
The other two were not as fortunate. One, a law school graduate as fully qualified in all respects but one as his counterpart, is denied the opportunity to practice the profession for which he dedicated years of his life training. The other, an athlete with every promise of achieving greatness equal to that of his counterpart, is ostracized and shamed, demeaned on every hand, and driven from his native country.
It is wonderful when those who have histories and backgrounds of anti-social, even criminal, behavior are able to overcome their bad beginnings or actions and become persons worthy of praise and honor. It is wonderful that society favors giving them second – and sometimes third and fourth – chances and they take advantage of them and live worthy, productive lives.
It is horrible, and it is a blight on our society, that not all who want that second chance are given it. The denied individuals suffer, but we as a society suffer more.
The loss is incalculable, and as long as we hold on to the blight that is the sexual offense registry and use it as a guideline for bestowing or withholding second chances and opportunities for redemption, the loss will flourish and grow without ceasing, and we will continue to be the worse for it.