By Tony Casson

“Seek to do what is right” Zephaniah 2:3b NLT

“Courage is that virtue which champions the cause of right.” Cicero

Those who choose to serve the public are often confronted with unpleasantness and difficult decisions. Oftentimes those decisions, in order that they be correct ones which benefit society as a whole rather than one small segment of it, must fly in the face of public sentiment.

The issue of child pornography is a highly volatile, emotionally charged one, but where it is the right of parents to be emotional where children are concerned, it is the DUTY of those who serve the public to look beyond the raw emotion and examine the full impact of the decisions they must make regarding how to deal with the issue on all of its complex levels.

The United States Sentencing Commission (U.S.S.C.) is considering changes to the sentencing guidelines relating to many issues. Possession of child pornography is one of them. As distasteful as this whole business is, it has become a plague upon this nation that cannot be ignored. The U.S.S.C. is accepting public comment on this topic. I encourage all who read this to offer their own opinion in the matter, regardless of what that opinion may be. My own letter to them follows so that my opinions, and the basis for them, may be known.

You can visit cautionclick.com for more information and to obtain contact addresses. The deadline is July 23rd.

Here, then, is my letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

I would think that the volume of letters containing arguments both for and against the reduction of sentences for possession of child pornography is formidable. With the following words, I shall try to do my part to help turn the tide in favor of compassion, common sense, and commitment to working towards a sensible approach to dealing with the epidemic that has gripped our nation and threatens to squeeze the very life out of it.

My name is Tony Casson and I am a 58 year old man who has served 28 months in federal prison in Oakdale Louisiana for possession of child pornography. With ‘only’ 23 months remaining, I am considered to be one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Most of the men who occupy space here with me for similar charges have longer -some MUCH longer- sentences to serve.

None are more aware than those who serve on this commission that there is no empirical data or substantive reason to support the length of sentences imposed upon those convicted of the crime of possession of child pornography. The public outcry against men like me is justifiable on a purely emotional level. All of the anger that is directed at those who would sexually abuse and exploit a child and then exacerbate that abuse by making a digital record to forever preserve the pain, humiliation, and horrific loss of innocence is brought to bear on those who would willingly participate in the abuse by viewing and possessing those digital records.

On the surface, this would seem fair. I certainly cannot put any ‘spin’ on child pornography that will make it anything less than the horrible permanent record of innocence stolen and child sexual abuse that it is.

At the same time, it is evident to many that the wholesale incarceration of anyone and everyone who has downloaded images of this abuse is as wrong and misguided as the abuse itself.

The merciless mass jailing of ever-increasing numbers of those who possess child pornography without first affording them ANY opportunity at redemption is inconsistent with what justice should stand for in this great nation of ours. In fact, many on the commission and in the courtrooms of this country realize this. It is now time to send a strong public message to Congress that their insistence on condemning tens of thousands of otherwise hard-working, contributing members of society to destroyed lives, broken families and bleak futures will ultimately create a problem with more disastrous consequences than the problem of possession of child pornography itself.

Many victims of child sexual abuse captured in digital images that circulate on the Internet have been identified by the authorities. They all have names. They are all living, breathing human beings. They have all been severely mistreated and they are ALL deserving of all of the physical, mental, and spiritual help that they require as they struggle to put things back into a perspective that might give them peace and dignity and restore their self-esteem and their ability to trust and live normal, happy lives. They are entitled to see those who perpetuated the abuse and produced the record of it be dealt with severely.

Those whose lives are destroyed by curiosity or an addiction to pornography that leads them down this well-travelled road of looking at images that shouldn’t exist in the first place – those individuals all have names as well. And so do their children, their spouses, their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

Their names are Stanley, who received 25 years for receipt, possession, and distribution of child pornography. The FBI showed up at Stanley’s house looking for a computer that Stanley had bought for his 12 year old grandson. In a misguided attempt to protect his grandson, Stanley laid claim to the computer and all that it contained, thinking that he might get a year or two in prison. His prosecutor said that they were going to ‘make an example’ of Stanley. They ‘stacked’ his charges and sentenced him to 25 years. Stanley is now 61 tears old and has been incarcerated for 7 years. During those 7 years, Stanley has had a quadruple bypass and a stroke. Stanley’s wife has cancer and emphysema and will most likely not survive until the end of Stanley’s sentence. But that’s ok, because it is highly unlikely that Stanley himself will live to the end of it. While Stanley had a few scrapes with the law during his younger, friskier days, he lived a quiet existence for 30 years before this epidemic of indecency invaded his home, destroyed him, took all he had worked a lifetime for and condemned those who love him to live without him.

Their names are also Jason, who is 20 years old and a recent arrival, sentenced to serve 7 years. Jason has been addicted to pornography since he was 13 years old. Back then, they were his peers he was looking at. At 20, it is a crime punishable by 7 years in prison, labeling as a sex offender, and a future destroyed.

Their names are Ken, 29, sentenced to 17 1/2 years because he went to trial and lost and that angers ‘them’. He is a father, a son, a brother, and a business owner.

Their names are Rob, sentenced to 9 years. Rob is 47, a homeowner, a father, an uncle, a brother, and was a long-time employee of an airline.

Their names are Aaron, 32, sentenced to 6 years. He is a very smart man who did a very stupid thing. His daughter is growing up without him but but she loves him and is waiting for Daddy to come home.

Their names are Derek, 29, sentenced to 9 years. His mom passed away recently. They were very close. He is a former member of the Air Force and is a talented artist.

Their names are Rob, 56, a retired naval officer with years of service to his country, doing jobs he can’t even discuss. He was sentenced to 5 years for fragments of images found on unallocated space on his hard drive by NCIS. He is a father, a husband and has given this country more than most of us can imagine.

Their names are also Pete, 62, 15 years; Ben, 28, 9 years; Steve, 68, 7 1/2 years; Michael, Randy, Dave, Jesse, Phillip, Alan, Floyd, and the list goes on and on and on.

What were we thinking? Obviously, we were not thinking at all. We were, for the most part, wrapped up in a cloud of confusion where decency was not allowed to enter and common sense was left outside. We all acted as if we were devoid of the intelligence, the heart, and the morality that God gave us. We were all caught up in something immature, irresponsible, and reprehensible. Our punishments, however, far exceed anything that begins to make sense or contribute to solving this terribly invasive problem that has reached into more households in this country than we can possibly imagine.

Congress must stop making laws that act as an emotional salve and are designed to gain favor and votes. Congress must start looking for answers and those answers do NOT lie within the confines of a razor-wire enclosure. The answers are not in a sex offender registry that hides those who need watching in the midst of those who need God.

Somewhere, the courage to stand up and say, “STOP!” must be found by someone who is truly looking out for the PUBLIC good. This frightening trend of locking away this country’s future must be reversed. At risk of losing votes, Congress must stand up for what is right, not for what is easy. Congress must look for solutions to build a healthier country, not for stepping stones to a brighter political future.

In his book, “Profiles In Courage”, John F. Kennedy wrote, “It may take courage to battle one’s President, one’s party, or the overwhelming sentiment of one’s nation; but these do not compare, it seems to me, to the courage required of the senator defying the angry power of the very constituents who control his future.”

May God Himself guide all of you and give you the courage to address this horrible thing that eats at us and to recognize that incarcerating people, while it may make good business, does not make good sense.

Let us seek, resolution, not retribution. Let us fix something that is broken and not just discard it. Let us save families, not destroy them.

I thank you for your time.

If you publish this letter, as you have so many in the past, there is no need to redact my name. I have made things right with God and He and I know that I am not what some would have society think.

We are not all monsters. Most of us are men who made mistakes.

Anthony E, Casson
91153-004 A-1
Box 5000
Oakdale, La 71463

A Sex Offender Like Me: The New Kid in Town – Part 3

“We spoke of the whites. ‘They’re God’s children, just like us,’ he said. ‘Even if they don’t act very godlike anymore. God tells us straight – we’ve got to love them, no ifs ands or buts about it. Why if we hated them, we’d be sunk down to their level. There’s plenty of us doing just that too’.” – John Howard Griffin     “Black Like Me”

“Don’t say, ‘I will get even with this wrong.’ Wait for the  Lord to handle the matter.” – Proverbs 20:22 NLT

      The ‘hater’ with the tattooed proclamations of love for God and hatred for others returned with another man Alan hadn’t crossed paths with yet, but who was familiar to me and  everyone else in the unit as the loudmouthed leader of the movement to control people’s lives and suppress the rights of anyone with sex-related offenses.

      If Alan was intimidated at all by the physical appearance and demeanor of the first man, the second man’s appearance should have been enough to send his nervous system into sensory overload. To say this man was unpleasant to look at would be an enormous understatement.

      Whereas the first man’s eyes were pale, cold and devoid of any friendliness, the second man’s eyes were the eyes of a ferret … dark little beady spots that darted about as they peered out from a greasy-looking face that was scarred and pockmarked, mercifully covered with a beard that was mostly grey. I say mercifully because the beard helped to cover a small weak chin set in an altogether unattractive countenance and helped to mask the fact that most of his teeth were missing. His hair was very fine, thinning, greasy-looking and usually worn with rubber bands spaced a couple of inches apart up its twelve-inch length, giving it the appearance of a rat tail. Like his beard, his hair was predominately grey. He was only about 5’8″ tall. His lower body was slight of build but his arms showed evidence of a view toward “working out” that only consisted of repeated lifting of heavy objects to bulk up his arms. His stomach was huge, fed by a constant stream of snacks and meals whenever he was observed in the unit. Sometimes it seemed as though his eating was the only thing that prevented the unpleasantness of his nasal backwoods twang from permeating the air of the housing unit.

      He had a rather offensive habit of wearing only shorts, socks and sandals around the unit in the evenings when he was in “relaxed mode.” His status provided him a front row center seat in front of “his”  television and he would sit there, sometimes for hours, staring at the screen, usually munching by spoon or hand from an ever-present bowl of chips or something that had been “cooked,” prison style, in one of our two microwaves.

      The man’s stomach was so large and so round, it appeared to sit in his lap and every square inch of it was covered in tattoos, most of which were more than likely applied during one of his many years in state or federal prison. In fact, every bit of visible skin not hidden by shorts or socks was covered in tattoos.

      In particular, the ink on the stretched skin of his stomach looked like a freakish collage painted in blue on a flesh-colored over-inflated balloon.

      As Alan’s further misfortune would have it, the man was in “relaxed mode” when he was brought to the cell where Alan was waiting apprehensively and he was totally unnerved when he stood facing this grotesque beast.

      Alan was asked again, this time by the “beast”, what his charge was and when he began to offer an explanation, he was immediately told to stop, pack up his meager possessions and leave the cell. He was informed that they would have other arrangements made because he was definitely not welcome in that cell.

      Holding his bedroll and little bag of toiletries, Alan wandered out into the common area. Observing an empty chair near a game table, he sat down to await his fate.

      Unfortunately, there were two things wrong with what he did: it was not his chair and sex offenders were not allowed to sit at the game tables. Alan, of course, had no way of knowing these things at this point so he was probably unaware that his actions were only serving to pump up the overall hostility level and increase the tension which, like the rubber band attached to the propeller on a little balsa wood airplane, was being wound tighter and tighter, approaching the point at which it might break.

      Seeing this, someone who sides with those who hate but is a bit more merciful about it, moved him over near the wall and arranged for him to sit in a chair until some sort of resolution was arrived at.

      Many minutes later, Alan was approached by both the “hater” and the “beast” and told to go see the counselor again. He was given another room assignment across the hall from his first one and down a few doors from where he had been sitting.

      He was met at the door to that cell by its current occupant who made it instantly clear that, “You’re not staying in here!” At that point, he stormed past Alan on his way to the counselor’s office, huffing and puffing, beating his chest and loudly proclaiming that he was not going to have this man pushed off on him.

      Given the size of the unit itself and the dynamics of living in a place where small things are big news, word was rapidly racing through the unit that this latest addition to the “chomo” population was getting a hard time. All the while, I sat quietly oblivious in my cell reading a newspaper. Now I am no one’s mother, father, leader or savior. But I do try to make sure that new people are made aware that they are safe and have people to go to with questions or needs.

      In a way, I failed Alan that day by remaining in my cell. But I just felt that we had progressed to a level of tolerance where it was not necessary to stand on the rail and gawk, adding to the discomfort that newcomers feel. As evidenced by what was transpiring outside my door and down the stairs, I was wrong.

      Once again, Alan was placed in the chair along the wall. Most of the activity swirling around Alan – the angry looks, the cursing and grumbling spoken louder than was necessary, the marching in and out of the counselor’s office – was all for show . . . a lame prison version of “shock and awe.” As it is with gorillas loudly beating their chests and giving their fiercest roar, most of what was transpiring was for show. But to the uninitiated, it can all combine to be tremendously intimidating, demeaning and nerve-wracking.

      The individual who had originally “rescued” Alan attempted to calm him down, told him to just sit in the chair and he would be right back. The knock on my door came a few moments later.

      Well folks, Alan did survive that day and, as most people do has adapted in his own way – a way that works best for him – to life in an environment that just a short time ago was as foreign to him as one could possibly imagine.

      As I have said, most enter this place without any discernable tension. For some, however, like Alan, it can be a frightening experience when you’re the new kid in town.

A Sex Offender Like Me – The New Kid In Town – Part 2

“He wondered why people thought they had to die in order to go to hell” – James Lee Burke “Feast Day of Fools”

“Don’t pick a fight without reason when no one has done you harm” – Proverbs 3:30 NLT

      The air crackled with tension as my foot hit the bottom stair.

      I observed tight unsmiling looks on the faces I could see and noticed several people avert their gazes as I glanced in their direction. The person who had come to get me was waiting near the bottom of the stairs and I looked at him and asked, “Where is he?”

      “Over by the wall,” he responded, using his head as a pointer to indicate the direction in which I should go.

      As I turned and started walking in the direction indicated, I could see the person I was looking for sitting in a chair by the wall about twenty feet away. As I moved toward him, I could see that he was a rather rotund middle aged white male. He had somewhat long thinning salt and pepper hair, a very thick and  well-established beard and moustache, which was also salt and pepper, but both the hair on his head and face leaned more toward salt than pepper. He also wore wire-rimmed glasses.

      In the midst of all that had transpired before my presence was requested, someone had at least had the decency to get the poor man one of the plastic chairs that come with the cells we are issued and he was frozen in that chair up against the wall between two cells.

      He leaned forward slightly, his ankles crossed and tucked beneath him and his hands clasped in front of him, his elbows resting on the arms of the chair. His gaze was straight ahead and down, as if he had seen all he wanted to see. Even from the side, I could see a look on his face and in his eyes that sent my thoughts and emotions hurtling back to April 6th of 2010.

      As clearly as if it had happened the day before, I remembered the full range of my emotions as I made my way up the walk toward my “new home” here in Oakdale.

      At that moment, looking at the frightened man before me, all that I had felt on that day long ago flooded over me as if it had happened just ten minutes earlier. Yet somehow, at the same time, it also seemed as if it had happened so long ago as to have not happened at all.

      But it did happen, of course, and I knew this. The part of me that remembered it with such crystal clarity allowed me to feel the anticipation as I approached the building that day all over again.

      Flashing through my mind as well was the sense of foreboding that built as the faces lining the walk in front of the building loomed larger with each step I took. I could only hope that I didn’t look as frightened as I most definitely was.

      I recalled the inquisitiveness of their eyes turning to a visceral loathing in some as their assessment of me, my crime and my worth as a human being transformed from simple curiosity to a virtual certainty, if only in their minds.

      My perception of the conclusions that were being arrived at was confirmed as I passed by the one I have referred to before who stood like a sentinel near the doorway with his large, tattooed arms crossed over his equally large chest.

      He sniffed the air and spoke three words as I passed: “Smells like one.” Those three words contained all I needed to know about what awaited me inside, a taste of what hell must be like. “Smells like one” … words that, when pulled from the place in my mind where unpleasantness is stored, still had the same chilling effect that they did when they first spilled from the mouth of the man whose self-appointed task it was to be among the first to let me know I was not welcome.

      All of this coursed through my mind and body as I took the few final steps to the person who seemed frozen in fear in front of me.

      I knew that, regardless of how unnerving my own experience had been, it would prove to be sedate compared to what this man was living through.

      After introducing myself and assuring him that he was not alone and everything was going to be alright, he told me his name was Alan.

      The look in his eyes showed a slight sense of relief as I’m sure mine did so many months before when Aaron tapped me on the shoulder and said pretty much the same thing.

      I was anxious to hear what I had missed since I had chosen not to be part of the visual gauntlet newcomers had to walk through.

      Much of the time this had proven to be wise since most of the new arrivals seemed to be entering without incident or unnecessary drama.

      Not so with Alan, as I discovered later after we got him temporarily bunked with another older white male, also a new arrival, although quite vocally not a sex offender like me and, apparently, Alan. Things had gotten a little too heated and expressive this time though and a cooling down period was required. More permanent sleeping arrangements could be made later and he could tell me what  had happened to create such a tense atmosphere.

      “I’ll tell you . . . we don’t want you people. Don’t you understand that?”

      That statement is from “Black Like Me” and the words were spoken by a white plant foreman in Mobile, Alabama in 1959 to a “black” John Howard Griffin. They could just as easily have come from the mouth of the man in the first cell Alan was assigned to that day.

      Upon his arrival, Alan took the bedroll he had been given into the cell he had been told he was to live in. As he began to put his sheet and blanket on the top bunk, the other occupant of the cell entered.

      As bad luck would have it, Alan had been placed in a cell with a man whose tattooed body proclaimed a love of God on the same pasty white flesh on which his hatred of others was evidenced by other artwork that proclaimed his white supremacy.

      He is what is commonly referred to here as a “hater,” and less desirable as roommates than non-whites to him are those with sex related charges.

      When he walked through the door, he instructed Alan to stop what he was doing for a minute. I can only guess at the emotional churning taking place within Alan as he took in the physical appearance of the man who was now challenging Alan to assure him that his charge was “straight.”

      The man’s eyes were pale and displayed not one tiny measure of friendliness or welcome. His shaved head and goatee, combined with the ink on his skin that crept out of the collar and sleeves of his t-shirt, served to flash a warning that this was not a person full of warmth and benevolence.

      To the question asked, about his charge being “straight,” Alan groped with the intended meaning and settled for responding, “I’m not a homosexual, if that’s what you mean.”

      That reply would have been  humorous were it not for the fact that simply not knowing what was implied by the question told the one asking it what he needed to know. He was actually looking for verification that Alan’s charge was a “good” charge – drugs or bank robbery or any other such glamorous event. Not knowing what “straight” meant could only mean that he was a “chomo,” a sex offender like me.

      The man instructed Alan to stop what he was doing and just wait, at which time he walked out of the cell door. Alan was no doubt left wondering how the long stressful day was going to end.

      Alan had begun the day almost eighteen hours earlier in Oklahoma City where he was awakened at 2 a.m. to be processed for travel.

      Oklahoma City is the site of a large Bureau of Prisons facility; a large hub or distribution center. Federal inmates headed to all different parts of the country pass through OKC, usually staying there only a week or two. Some may stay a little longer but usually not much.

      Alan had spent about a week in OKC, arriving there from a CCA facility in Mason, Tennessee. He had spent about three weeks there after being sent there from court following his sentencing. That day’s wake-up call would send him to Oakdale FC!, where he had been “designated” by the BOP to serve at least the beginning of the time given him by the federal judge back in Pulaski County, Arkansas.

      After being awakened, he and the forty others chosen for the trip were moved to a holding area where they were processed out and prepared to board a bus for the journey to Oakdale.

      With wrists in handcuffs, ankles in leg chains and both of these secured to another chain that circled each prisoner’s waist, they were finally loaded onto a prison bus at around 4:30 a.m., each man carrying a bagged meal for the trip which consisted of four slices of bread, two slices of meat, two slices of cheese, a small bag of chips and a drink. This would be their only sustenance until their arrival in Oakdale at around 3:30 p.m.

      When they finally arrived, I imagine that Alan saw pretty much the same thing that I had as the prison came into view, although the glass in the bus windows had wire running through it and there were metal bars bolted to the outside. I, on the other hand, had the unobstructed view of the window of my brother’s car.

      Still, the day he arrived was gloriously sunny and the razor wire along the top of the high chain link fences glittered in a way that was somehow appealing to the eye yet incredibly frightening at the same time.

      All of the hours spent sitting on the hard plastic seats of the bus, still wearing all of those chains, probably made even that sight perversely welcome as the senses perked up with the knowledge that the tedious discomfort of the bus ride was almost at an end.

      Once the bus was securely inside the enclosure built to receive it, the inmates were led off and into the facility where they were unchained and placed in the holding cell.

      Undoubtedly the sensation of movement stayed with Alan and the others and they remained numb and dazed as they were all processed into their strange new community.

      After four more hours of waiting, having been given another bagged meal similar to that given in OKe, having been given a bedroll and a bag of toiletries, Alan and the others were led off toward the housing units. Our unit was first, so Alan and a few others were dropped off here. It was late for new arrivals, the time being around 7: 30 p.m. or so.

      Alan entered the place he was assigned to live tired, dazed and apprehensive. He had not had a stellar day to this point, to say the least, but it was going to have to get considerably worse before it would get better.

. . . . To be continued

A Sex Offender Like Me: The New Kid in Town

“I learned within a few hours that no one was judging me by my qualities as an individual and everyone was judging me by my pigment.” -John Howard Griffin  “Black Like Me”

“God alone, who gave the law, is the judge. He also has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?” –James 4:12 NLT

      To a sex offender like me, simply existing in prison on a daily basis can be unnerving. But for many, nothing compares to the sheer terror of walking through the front door that first day and enduring the unabashed stares from those who have now become their neighbors.

      Large buses carrying new “residents” arrive with some regularity – usually weekly. Some of the passengers on those buses are moving closer to home; some are working their way down from a medium security facility; still others come from county or federal detention lock-ups where they have endured many months under lock and key as they moved  through the long process from their arrest to conviction or plea, on to sentencing and then finally being designated by the bureau of prisons to their ultimate destination.

      When news of a bus hits the compound, the collective antennae of all the various groups in each of the different housing units goes on high alert. They eagerly await the processing of the new arrivals who are soon escorted to their new “homes.” This usually occurs right after the four o’clock stand-up count or immediately after dinner, which means that most inmates are at “home” and can be counted upon to form an eager gauntlet of curious onlookers, anxious to size-up the new neighbors.

      No peeking through the curtains here. No sizing up the new arrivals by the types of possessions carried into the house or the cars parked in the yard. Here it is about the color of his skin, the language he speaks, the tattoos he displays and the charge that brought him here in the first place. It is all about adding numbers to your particular group and, ultimately, weeding out the outcasts – any new sex offenders, like me.

      If you are black, it’s … well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? After it is determined what state you are from, you are welcomed and situated by others from there. A lot of handshaking and hugging as introductions are made; perhaps some laughter and shouting as old acquaintances are rekindled or common threads in a particular city are unraveled; all of it very friendly, all very warm and welcoming.

      The same can be said for those of obvious Latino origin. They are lavished with warmth, friendliness and camaraderie by the Mexicans, Columbians, Puerto Ricans or any other group that may be a subset of the larger Latino community. As far as white faces are concerned, the dynamics are a little different. The desire to categorize is foremost in the minds of those who have proclaimed themselves to be superior. It is of paramount importance to them to cull the “undesirables” from the herd as quickly as possible in order that they can make a big showing of putting down and then ignoring those who are deemed unworthy. Then they can move on to the more pleasant business of giving a welcome and a tour to those who are socially acceptable. This tour includes unabashedly pointing out all of the resident “chomos,” enabling the newcomer to properly hate someone he has never even met. But the process serves its intended purpose: it lets the new people who are accepted into the upper echelons of the prison hierarchy know who not to be seen talking to.

      Most of the time, once the new arrivals have been properly “slotted” and the new sex offenders have been put together with those of their “own kind” and they have been given the “rules,” life evolves into more of a situation wherein they are ignored. For the most part, this means that we are pretty much left alone, provided that we don’t forget our “place.” In and of itself, this is not entirely a bad thing. But sometimes, the silence can be deafening. Sometimes what is not said speaks louder than voices shouted from a mountaintop. Sometimes an averted gaze or a cold shoulder can gnaw at a man’s dignity and self-respect, creating a wound that is every bit as real, every bit as raw and every bit as painful as if it were caused by a physical assault.

      But all of that comes after the crucial beginning; those critical first moments when you have arrived at the place where you will be staying for a while and your stomach is churning, your heart is racing and your mind is literally screaming at you for what you have done that has landed you in the midst of this surreal landscape.

      New arrivals who are white, heavily tattooed and in their mid-thirties to mid-forties are likely to be initially accepted as “okay” by the “Dirty White Boys.” Questions are asked that can further validate a claim that someone is a drug dealer, a methamphetamine “cooker” or maybe even a bank robber. Paperwork will probably be required to back up any of these claims but the initial acceptance will be there and at least that individual will be alright to talk to for the time being.

      On the other hand, older white males without tattoos are pretty much assumed to be “one of them,” and if you are a similarly unadorned younger white male who appears educated or perhaps slightly nerdy, the same net of suspicion is quickly cast over you as well.

      Most of the time, new sex offenders are identified and pulled aside quickly, quietly and without much fuss. They are then reassured by their “own kind” and made to feel safe and allowed to settle into their new “home” with barely a ripple on the waters of prison life.

       Other times, however, this crucial first step can be difficult. For some, it can be embarrassing or even frightening. I’ll tell you about one such experience when I continue relating the plight of “The New Kid in Town.”

A Sex Offender Like Me: Just Like Sticks and Stones

“My revulsion turned to grief that my own people could give the hate stare, could shrivel men’s souls, could deprive humans of rights they unhesitatingly accord their livestock.”   John Howard Griffin –    “Black Like Me”

“Lord, you have heard the vile names they call me.” – Lamentations 3:61A NLT

      I have never been fond of the word “nigger,” but I suppose I never really gave much conscious thought as to what effect calling a person one could have on that person’s dignity either. That is, until I heard the word “chomo” -·used -by someone talking to me.

      Of course, I should have known that just like sticks and stones, names can cut; they can sting; they can bruise and make one bleed; just not in the conventional sense, such as physical objects that are wielded as weapons and used to strike someone and cause pain or physical injury.

      But the hurt is there just the same, perhaps in an even more painful and damaging way. Scars develop but instead of being physical blemishes that become items of curiosity and discussion, these scars mar the beauty and dignity of an individual’s soul. They are ugly and meant to be hidden, viewed only by the bearer and are best left unmentioned and undisturbed for fear that talking about them can somehow reopen the wounds.

      You see, being called “chomo” was not my first exposure to the indignity of hateful names wielded as weapons; names whose sole purpose was to hurt, embarrass, demean and diminish the recipient in order that the one wielding those weapons might somehow make himself appear to be superior.

      When I was in high school, I was the object of such weapons due to the fact that my hair was coarse, wiry and very curly.  One person began a hateful – and hurtful – “game” of singling me and my hair out for attention by calling me names such as “nigger knots, ” “Brillo pad, ” “pubic-head,” and a couple of other insults related to both male and female genitalia; all embarrassing, all hurtful and demeaning and all met with no response on my part which, I suppose, gave the one wielding those weapons the perception of power and superiority he sought. Perhaps he needed that perception to compensate for some feelings of diminished capacity or ability on his part. I don’t know. I never asked him nor did I ever respond to him. But after forty-plus years, I can still feel those words strike me with almost physical brutality. I can still remember his name and I can still see his face – full of meanness and ignorance – as he struck me with those weapons of words.

      In a way I think that injuries caused by those words were more debilitating than those caused by any actual sticks or stones I had ever been struck by. I feel this way because of the clarity with which they are remembered and the degree of hurt, embarrassment and shame that accompanies the memories.

      But all of that is nothing compared to what I, and sex offenders like me, face here in prison and will face in the future as we step outside these walls and attempt to move forward with whatever remains of our lives.

      In our present situation as men serving a physical punishment of “freedom denied” as prescribed by law we, as sex offenders, are reminded on a daily basis of our lack of status in the prison “food chain.” From the selection of tables in the dining hall that tend to identify an individual as “one of them,” to being unofficially but undeniably deprived of the right to work in certain areas or use certain recreational facilities without being confronted and intimidated; from the absence of sex offenders, like me, at the tables in the housing unit set aside for playing cards or engaging in a chess match; to the dictating of where “we” can sit while watching one of the four televisions recently moved out of the enclosed TV rooms (from which we were “banned”) into the common area. All of these things and more cry out to us a silent “chomo” that can be heard loud and clear even when the word is spoken with an averted gaze as opposed to an open mouth.

      It should come as no surprise that every restriction, every rule, every attempt to demean and diminish is prompted by the exact same types of individuals who fomented the hate, anger and violence toward African-Americans in the south in decades past. They exhibit the same white-robed, hooded predilection to press downward on a group, class, creed or race of people for no other reason than to feed the need to overcome their own ignorance by demonstrating self-perceived superiority.

      These weak-minded, loudmouthed individuals who publicly profess to being the true arbiters of law and justice within the confines of the compound cover the whiteness of their own skin with tattoos that reveal the blackness of their hearts. They have taken to preying upon sex offenders because, for the most part, they can spew their venom without fear of reprisal. After all, we are older, nerdier and less accustomed to violent ways than the average inmate.

      The perception of weakness is like the scent of fear to a junkyard dog to those whose need is to beat down another human being for no reason other than to cover up their own ignorance, insignificance and inferiority.

      It would be laughable were it not for the seriousness with which these peddlers of prejudice and hate practice their self-anointed supremacy.

      It would be laughable were it not for the fact that being singled out for hate has an impact on one’s perception of oneself, even when the haters are as insignificant as cockroaches in the grand scheme of things.

      It would be laughable were it not for the fact that words – even those unspoken – can and do hurt, even when we pretend and profess that they don’t.

      Just like sticks and stones.

A Sex Offender Like Me: The Resilience of Hate

“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.”