A message to Dawn
This weekend, I attended the annual RSOL (Reform Sex Offender Laws) Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I traveled by car with two other members of ATAT (Arkansas Time After Time).
Now that the conference is over, I find myself reflecting and contemplating from the back seat of the car as we drive back to Arkansas.
Thanks to our movement's vigilante enemies, they drew attention to the conference from law enforcement and media in the city of Albuquerque. At first, there was public concern posed by the media as they tried to explain why we were coming to their city and what we were trying to do. But, as media began to ask questions, they began to understand and they began to help us get our message out there. As a result of this media exposure, we had a last minute surge in attendees of local sex offenders and their families. We are all cheering a huge thank you to our vigliante enemies. They actually did us a huge favor.
As i recall everything that happened this weekend, many things stick out in my mind. Of course, the education I received on how to lobby for changes to the law is what I was hoping for, and my expectations were far exceeded, and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed Norm Pattis' entertaining presentation... But, just as important were the small things that reached far into my soul and touched me on such a deep emotional level.
Many tears were shed and many hugs were given as we all heard story after story of oppression, discrimination, harrassment, vigilantism, etc. During the closing cermony, Derek Logue gave us a preview of a documentay he is currently producing featuring Leslie Blanton and how her loving husband was brutally murdered by someone who was targeting sex offenders. There was not a dry eye in the audience.
Even with all these significant things going on, I continued and still continue to recall dinner Thursday night. For some reason this particular event is the most significant for me. We went to Sadie's, the Mexican restaurant next door, and shared a meal with a woman named Renate and her lovely daughter-in-law, Dawn. Renate had come to the conference, but we learned that Dawn was not attending and that she was just in Albuquerque on vacation. It surprised me when I learned that the sex offender in Renate's life was her son, who is also Dawn's husband. Why wasn't Dawn attending the conference?
She explained that she and her family were just trying to live their lives and she didn't feel that the laws affected her family all that much. She admitted she felt things were going okay in their lives, and she didn't possess the same motivation to fight as her mother-in-law has. Dawn even feels that the registry should exist because she has four children and feels it is important to know who her neighbors are. I can certainly understand that, but...
I love how Derek Logue responded to her, and I am attempting to quote here,
"95% of all new sex crimes are committed by someone who is not on the registry. That makes the registry 95% ineffective in preventing sex crimes. If I gave you a toy to give to your kids that had a 95% failure rate, would you still give it to them?"
Dawn's response was, "Of course not."
We did not see Dawn the next morning, but we did hear from Renate that she was beginning to come around.
As I see it, we have over 700,000 familes on the sex offender registry. And, how many are activating for change? I would guess and say less than 1000 in the whole country. That pretty much means the rest are just complacent and have accepted the fact that in our country of freedom, their rights have been stripped away. Since when is this okay? Human rights are for human beings. Do you cease being a human being once you're labeled a sex offender?
I was once complacent too. I recall quite vividly how my husband and I were accepting of his requirements and restrictions until he was assessed in 2007 and the state raised his level of risk, even though he had committed no new crimes.
I finally realized then that it would not end there. I suddenly inherently knew that if we accepted this new level of diminished rights, the state would continue to increase our punishment until there was nothing left to strip away. I guess you can say I could see the writing on the wall and if I wanted things to ever get back to normal, I was going to have to stand up and speak out; to quote, "do something."
So, my message to Dawn is this: Are you willing to give up more of your rights? Because, I can tell you from first hand experience, if you are complacent about what is happening to you and your family, then you will soon see that what I am saying will come true. We basically have two choices: Accept that you will eventually lose every right you and your family has or you can stop the tide now if you stand up and fight. If you don't refuse to accept further punishment, you will surely suffer for it.
This is the same message I am sending to all the other families out there who are suffering the effects of the registry who want to hide and hope that this will just go away.
The thing is, this will not just go away. Getting our rights restored is going to take years of advocating, and not just by a few, but by thousands. If you are waiting for others to go to bat for you, the other team will win and the game will be over. When the game is over, it will be too late.
I know I've harped on this before, but I absolutely cannot stress the importance of this enough: Get involved! The only way we can win is if we ALL get our message out there, talk to as many people as you can, join your state's RSOL group. Join SOSEN so you talk with and collaborate with other advocates. Find us on facebook. Email, write, or better yet, visit with your state's lawmakers. Testify against/for bills before legislative hearings. Network with other activists. Join or start a support group. Attend meetings or conferences.
In other words, let the tide of advocacy wash over you and take over your life, as it has mine. It is so worth it, trust me, because what we are doing is RIGHT, and we all know it. No matter what you did, you are not your past, and as I've said before, everyone deserves a second chance. We all need each other and we all need to do our part. Don't wait for the rescue boat to come and save you from the flood of injustice, because it may never come...
I hope Dawn doesn't feel that I'm picking on her. The truth is, I am excited for her, because my gut tells me she is about to step across the threshold and go from being complacent to being an advocate. She will soon realize that she MUST do this, maybe not for herself, maybe not for husband, maybe not even for her kids, but she will, I can sense it. It is only a matter of time. My heart goes out to her and her family, just like it does for every registered family on the list. I would not be the least surprised to see Dawn's smiling face at the conference next year.
At least I hope I do...