“Prejudices are rarely overcome by argument; not founded in reason, they cannot be destroyed by logic.” – Tryon Edwards
“For they hated knowledge and chose not to fear God” – Proverbs 1:29 NLT
What, or who, we hate seems to change with the times.
Perhaps some of the change comes with laws that are written.
It could even be said that some of our hate is directed by the media.
One thing is certain; one thing remains constant: our ability to hate never diminishes and it appears that it will never die.
To the extent that the human capacity for love can be awe-inspiring so, too, can the human capacity for hate be discouraging and repulsive.
Just as the need to be kind and compassionate can spread warmth throughout our being, the need of some to loathe and despise other human beings can spread the chill of darkness over our hearts.
To witness the effects of hate as a bystander can be troubling to the sensibilities of any decent human being. But to experience that hate as its target – as its victim – can strip a person of his or her dignity and change that individual in ways one would never think possible.
John Howard Griffin said it best in his classic book “Black Like Me” when he wrote, “I had seen them before from the high altitude of one who could look down and pity. Now I belonged here and the view was different.” The book itself was a chillingly glorious discovery I stumbled across as I explored new things in my quest to define who I really am and what I am capable of being. I have, in my time in prison so far, experienced an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding of God, life, humanity and many other things that my immaturity, self-pity and need for self-indulgence prevented me from discovering for much of my life.
Now that I am awakening to the world around me, I find that there is an array of beauty, wonder and mystery around me.
But there is also much to be found in the way of ugliness, despair and man’s general inhumanity to man.
As I read a recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine, I found myself completely intrigued by an article on the 50th anniversary of “Black Like Me.” I was fascinated enough to ask that the book be sent to me and I remember the amused looks that were directed my way as the officer held it up to read the recipient’s name. Those close enough could read the title. I really wasn’t sure what to expect but I soon knew I had not wasted my money.
In some ways, the book was a document of its time when African Americans were referred to as Negroes. But a more powerful book I don’t think I have ever read and it was made even more powerful by the fact that, as I read it, it quickly dawned on me that by substituting the words “sex offender” for “Negro” in many sentences, this book could almost be about a man who suddenly found himself despised as less than a man for mistakes he had made rather than for the color of his skin which is, of course, the central message of the book that every American should read.
The inner discomfort that I felt as I tried to be Mr. Griffin while reading his account of temporarily passing for black was amplified and rendered more real when I realized that they were the same feelings I get from being one who carries the label of “sex offender” – or worse – in a world inhabited by those who feel superior because their crime is more “honorable” or socially acceptable than mine and those of others like me.
Mr. Griffin also wrote, “I learned a strange thing – that in a jumble of unintelligible talk, the word ‘nigger’ leaps out with electric clarity. You always hear it and it always stings.”
In prison, if you have been convicted of a sex offense, to many you are no longer a man; you are no longer a person worthy of respect or the same treatment as the other men. No, you are a sub-class much as the “Negro” was treated as a sub-class in the segregated south of the 1950s. And just as the word “nigger” was always heard and always stung in John Howard Griffin’s world, so too does the word “chomo” always jump out with “electric clarity” and it always stings as well.
“Chomo” is short for “child molester” and that is the generic label for any sex-related offense, regardless of the true nature of that offense. To illustrate just how ugly this word is, an individual who is active in the chapel here and considers himself to be a “good Christian” was overheard explaining what a “chomo” was to someone who was unfamiliar with the term.
He very matter-of-factly stated, “They are child molesters who like to have sex with three-year-old boys.”
Yes it does sting and this is what we struggle to overcome while paying part of the price society has imposed on us. This is the easy part, actually, because society holds the same perception, the same prejudices and exhibits the same hateful loathing and ignorance as do inmates and many on the prison staffs.
Thus does our sentence continue to be served even after we are released back into society.
You see, as politicians have sought platforms on which to stand, causes to which they can attach their names and emotions that can be played upon and parlayed into votes, a new and very rapidly growing group has sprung up and provided a socially acceptable target at which society can hurl its prejudice, hate, disdain, loathing and moral outrage.
Welcome to “A Sex Offender Like Me,” a new multi-part series in which I will try to show you life in prison, and in the “free world,” from the perspective of one of the people everyone loves to hate.
Without a doubt mistakes were made by all who are in here.
But just as we all know in our hearts that the vast majority of African-Americans are average, everyday people and not the animals and the sub-class of humans that the segregationists of Mr. Griffin’s day would have had everyone believe, the majority of sex offenders, like me, are not the monstrous predators that today’s frenzied paranoia, driven by the media and publicity hungry politicians, would have you all perceive us to be.
As this series progresses, I will attempt to change perceptions and offer alternative methods of dealing with the problem of this rapidly growing new class of criminals.
I may or may not be successful but time will tell.
For now, I will end this first installment with more words I found in “Black Like Me.” They were spoken at Radcliffe College in 1960 by Justice Curtis Bok of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court:
“I am annoyed by those who love mankind but are cruel and discourteous to people.”