I have been home for a few days after my trip to Saint Louis for the RSOL (Reform Sex Offender Laws) Conference there this last weekend. I confess, being of sound mind and 48-year-old body, I needed a few days to recover after such a tremendously incredible experience. Once I was home, I totally crashed, and hard. My brain was (and still is) on information overload. Big time.
Words cannot describe the feelings I was having all during and after the conference. If you ever find yourself singled out in a world of inequality and discrimination and then attend an event such as this where you meet 120 or so like-minded souls who are in the same boat, then you'll know just what I am talking about. It is an amazing experience to say the least.
Originally, I planned to drive my van with a group of 4 or 5 people but then a flying box spring that came off a dump truck last week thwarted my plans by smashing in my driver side window, severing the side view mirror from the vehicle and crumpling my left front fender. (Fortunately, my daughter and I survived the incident with only a few minor scratches.)
Plans were changed and I went from driver to passenger in my friend, Lora's, car. Both Lora and her hubby went, and we had a nice drive up, even taking the time out for a short break shopping at Chico's in Springfield. (Lora's hubby was a good sport!) My other friends from Arkansas Time After Time (ATAT) took alternative modes of transportation.
We arrived Friday evening, just in time for the opening of the registration. On the way down to the ground floor, I met my good friend and SOSEN staff member, "Mouse". We put some materials on the resource table they reserved for SOSEN. My Arkansas group set up their ATAT table as well, which was VERY well represented. I was very proud to be an Arkansan!
After the welcome and announcements from RSOL , there was a wonderful organizer's panel discussion on Successful Strategies for State Organization Building that included a question and answer session with the audience, followed by a presentation from the RSOL Admin Team on their new vision for RSOL, which also included a question and answer session.
Once the evening's program was ended, SOSEN staff members and I gathered together in the lounge to have what we called a "sticker party". We had over 200 10-page packets that had been Mary Duval's last work and I had printed and cut up about 1,000 or so stickers to cover up areas where the old P.O. Box and phone numbers needed to be replaced with SOSEN's new address and hotline number. With such great teamwork, we got the job done within a couple of hours. In the morning, we would be able to put the packets out with the rest of the SOSEN materials.
Saturday, Amy Borror, Legislative Liaison for the Ohio Public Defender's Office started off the day with a powerful address on where we are today with Ohio's compliance with SORNA, clearly showing where all the problems lay with the system and why it is so flawed. Following that were a choice of three workshops.
My Arkansas group (ATAT) and I split up so we could take part in the different workshops and I attended the one on Team Development, which was really very good. The workshop gave me lots of useful tools for developing and implementing projects that I can use both with SOSEN and ATAT.
After lunch, there was a beautiful tribute to Mary Duval followed by a welcome to me as the new CEO of SOSEN, for which I gave a short speech. I was incredibly nervous, by hey, years ago I gave a short speech in front of large room full of people including the Arkansas Governor and if I can do THAT, I knew I could do this. After my speech, I also introduced Carl P., of SOSEN Florida, and he gave a short speech as well.
I'd have to say the highlight of the day, though, would have to be the presentation by David Day, Missouri State Representative on Building Relationships with Your Elected Officials, and I'm sure everyone in the audience appreciated his candid approach to all of the political topics that were talked about, and some of things he said were VERY eye-opening.
Saturday afternoon, there were three more workshops and again my Arkansas group and I split up. I took in the one called Building a Coalition - Networking with Like-Minded Organizations. Another great workshop! I have so many ideas now!
After the workshop, I met with one the leaders of the newly formed organization, Women Against Registry. He talked at length with me about the organization, showed me the layout of the directors and illustrated to me how valuable this organization can be because it puts the focus on the families of offenders instead of the offenders themselves. I believe it will be much easier to publicly support, and I am excited about it.
I went to dinner with the ATAT group and after that, attended more the conference before attending a reception between the RSOL coordinators and the SOSEN staff. It was really great to really sit down and talk with each other about connecting the dots and building bridges with each other's organizations. I was so impressed with such a dynamic group, and felt proud to be part of it all. I thoroughly enjoyed myself!
Sunday morning, I attended one more workshop while my friends attended the other two, and finally Tim Russo, the first American with a sexual felony to run for office gave an inspiring talk on "Reclaiming Dignity on the Campaign Trail" and left us all with a serious can-do attitude. It was so refreshing and inspiring to hear Mr. Russo's story, and it was a great way to end the conference.
I understand there will be a DVD available within a couple weeks and I highly recommend purchasing one whether or not you attended the conference. I know I will buy one! Please visit http://www.reformsexoffenderlaws.org/ for more information.
Next year's conference will be in Albuquerque, New Mexico, September 7 - 10. I've already marked my calendar. Be sure to mark yours, too!