By Sandy . . . We are well accustomed to those on sex offender registries making the headlines. A registrant in Washington State named Wes Heyden recently dominated the news cycle for several days in a most unexpected way.
The founder and owner of a popular coffee shop which, under his leadership, expanded to a chain with more to come, came under fire recently when he told the coffee shop employees that they were not allowed to wear shirts or clothing promoting the BLM movement. His official statement was, “No clothing worn (may) include graphics displaying any political, religious or personal biases.”
Employees unhappy with this took to social media in protest, creating a firestorm in which Heyden compared the difficulties he faced as a registrant to those faced by African Americans.
“I can’t vote. I can’t buy a gun. I can’t rent an apartment. I can’t get an SBA loan. I’ve been hated! . . . If I protest anything it’ll be for reformed sex offenders so they can restore their freedoms that should be open to all people. . . . What’s worse, being beat and profiled by cops, which I have over and over again, or living like you don’t deserve to? Being hated by all . . . ”
His statement drew some support and praise for what he had accomplished but also harsh, bitter criticism. One Facebook post encapsulates the reason for the anger: “But this guy on social media compared the consequences of his chosen sex offender life to the hardships that are felt of living as a Black person, saying that he had it just as hard.”
Heydon has now resigned his connection with the chain of coffee shops, turning over his creation to a long-time employee.
The crime for which Heyden was convicted occurred in 1993 when he was 15 years old, a juvenile. As is sometimes the wont of the justice system, he was not tried and convicted until 1996 so that he could be tried as an adult.
In his enumeration of the difficulties he has faced and faces due to his status as a registered sexual offender, Mr. Heyden is not only accurate in what he said, he is also brave for speaking out. The person who referenced his “chosen sex offender life” needs to think about the facts.
Whatever Heyden did, he was 15. The incident was such that one of the charges in connection with it was a misdemeanor. Heyden did not choose a “sex offender life.” He screwed up big time as a teenager 27 years ago. What he chose was to be rehabilitated and to live a law-abiding life as a responsible, contributing member of society. I do not believe that he, and most definitely not I, intended to denigrate the difficulties that African Americans have in dealing with our justice system.
I believe that he, and most definitely I, want the public to understand that another part of our justice system, the post-punishment sex offender registry, is as much a blight on justice and freedom and as much a cause of destruction of American lives as is systemic racism.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.