I come here today after more than a year of absence to give you an update on our family situation. As you may or may not know, I had to step away from my advocacy work due to financial strains and stress to my health and my family. My financial situation is better, but only marginally so at this point, and may not last as we just got word that my hubby's 14 year old truck is on it's last legs. It seems there is some problem with that thing that resembles a metal plate of spaghetti under the hood that makes the truck GO and consumes that nasty smelling stuff we pay an ungodly amount of money every week to feed it with. I know nothing of automobile engines and plan to keep it that way, but the repair that is needed is far more costly than what the truck is worth. So, for now, we are limping along without a clue as to what to do when it finally expels it's last CO-2 emission and dies. We wonder when that will be? We cannot afford any car payments at this time, not even a small one. We've cut back on all our bills, trimmed to the finest hair, corners cut until they're rounded, and yet we continue to struggle every day just to keep a roof over our head.
I know, it's not your problem, and I didn't mean to lay all that out on you. Lord knows, if you're here reading this, then it is quite likely you are in the same pickle or at least in a similar one. But, this post isn't meant to depress you, rather it's meant to give you hope. Something we all need, right?
Some time ago, more than a year ago, I posted a video on YouTube where I was explaining to my young daughter how Arkansas was trying to pass a law to eliminate a sex offender's ability to petition for removal from the sex offender registry after 15 years. (The video has since been removed from my channel). Her reaction to learning that her daddy might never be able to get off the registry was heartbreaking. Fortunately, the law did NOT pass, and we were free to pursue the petition.
Still, we had to wait until we scraped enough money together to hire a lawyer, and we finally did, in May of this year. We filed the petition and a few weeks later were informed we had a court date on August 1. Our lawyer set to work putting together a solid case for our success. We gave her a list of five witnesses to testify on my hubby's behalf. One: my BFF from NY, a university professor who suffered significant childhood sexual abuse. Two: a family friend who is a very successful business person who also works with the US Marshalls interviewing sex offenders during compliance checks. Three: My father in law, who is an ordained minister who happens to know his son very well. Four: My hubby himself. Five: Me.
My BFF flew in from NY the day before the hearing, God bless her for that! Friday, August 1, 1:30 pm came and we all, dressed as nicely and professionally as possible, stepped into the court room.
Some 15 minutes later the judge entered. At first I didn't even know he was the judge. His hair was not combed, and he had a ruddy and tired looking complexion. He sat at his bench, literally holding up his face with his hand the entire time. Some of the time, he appeared to be sleeping.
Our lawyer did her thing, and did it well. Everything was going well, really well, Hubby was on the stand and she asked him several questions. Then, the prosecuting attorney had just a few questions for him, and that was it.
The last witness was the family friend who works with the US Marshalls. When both lawyers were through questioning him, to our great surprise, the judge had a question of his own.
It seems the judge was having trouble with something my husband had said when he was on the stand, and wanted someone else to clarify it for him.
The troubling statement my husband had made was in response to the question, according to the court transcript:
"As far as having your daughter's friends over to the house, has that been an issue?"
To which he had responded, "I usually leave. It's not court mandated or anything, that's my decision. I don't want to put myself in that position."
Frankly, I can admit, when my hubby said that, I literally winced inside. As an advocate, I have had to learn the hard way that when speaking, one needs to be absolutely clear about what they mean. I knew what he meant. Our lawyer knew what he meant. Even the prosecuting attorney knew what he had meant. But, I knew that statement could be taken the wrong way.
Still, when the judge asked our final witness about my hubby's statement, he very eloquently explained that he completely understood that my hubby needed to protect himself from a false allegation.
The judge seemed satisfied with the witness's answer and the hearing proceeded.
Our lawyer made her closing statements, citing other offenders with more severe crimes who had been successfully removed from the registry, and then it was time for the judge to decide.
I was sure we had this in the bag.
Only, we didn't.
Apparently, the judge was still not satisfied with my hubby's statement and the explanation provided by the final witness. He said he took the statement to mean that my hubby "still has urges and needs to remove himself to avoid re-offending". Why he didn't just ask my husband to clarify what he meant while he was still on the stand is completely mind-boggling to me, although not surprising. Why should the judge do any sex offender any favors at all? It was pretty apparent that the judge despised my husband and anyone like him.
Thankfully, the judge did NOT rule against us, however. He asked for a new assessment that he could use to render his decision.
We left the court room with the wind knocked out of our sails, but at least it wasn't over.
In the weeks that followed, we learned that a new assessment would not necessarily provide the judge with the answers he sought. All an assessment is for is to determine an offender's level classification. It would not have been very useful to us as a means to determine his likelihood to re-offend, really.
Our lawyer was able to get the case re-opened and to bring my hubby back on the stand and to bring in another witness with the ACIC (Arkansas Crime Information Center) who could give their opinion on the statement in question.
Yesterday was our second court hearing, before the same judge in the same court room.
This time the judge was on time, his hair was combed and he appeared alert.
Our lawyer put my hubby back on the stand. She asked him, "Do you leave the house when your daughter has friends over because you are afraid you will re-offend?"
He replied, "No."
She asked him why he leaves the house.
He replied, "I leave the house because I want to avoid any false accusations."
The prosecuting attorney asked him why he was worried about false accusations. He responded that, "it happens every day."
Then our lawyer asked him if he had ever been falsely accused. He responded that he has not.
The witness with the ACIC was put on the stand next and was asked for her professional opinion about the original statement. She explained that either way, whether he leaves because he is avoiding accusations or because he is avoiding re-offending, she perceives that to be a positive thing. She felt that if an offender removes himself from tempting situations, then it shows that the offender is attempting to remain offense-free and that is, according to her, a good thing.
Then, the closing statements were made, and again our lawyer cited the same cases she originally cited at the first hearing, and read over the law that states if the offender shows proof by a preponderance of evidence that he has not sexually offended in 15 years and is not a threat to society, that the court shall grant the petition for removal from the registry and all obligations to register as a sex offender.
The prosecuting attorney made his statement, citing only that my hubby's assessment from 2007 is an old assessment and indicated he felt a new assessment should still be made.
The judge then proceeded to express his opinions about this law, saying it was bad law, that offenders should pay the consequences for their actions, blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda.
Yeah, like the last 18 years has been a cake walk for my husband. Believe you me, he will never touch another underage person, and wouldn't with a 100 foot pole. No way in aych-ee-double-hockey-sticks would he ever, ever do that again.
In the end, the judge very reluctantly granted the petition because he had no other choice but to do so. He simply could not find a valid reason to deny the petition.
So, within a few weeks, after all the red tape, i's dotted and t's crossed, my husband will get his registry listing removed and he will not need to report to the sheriff's department on January 1, or ever again. He will be free to live his life. He will be free to travel--even to Florida--where every registered offender who steps foot in the state MUST register to be on the Florida state registry forever, which will be great because he has never met most of my family members who live there. We will be free to move anywhere we want, should we ever decide to move. Getting a new job will still be difficult since so many potential employers run background checks and he will still have a criminal record. But, many things will change for the better.
The best thing? Not having to live in fear any more that our daughter will ever be bullied for having her daddy's photo up at the local community center or in her schools. We've been very, very fortunate. She is in the 7th grade, and so far so good, and now, just as she begins to enter high school next year, she will not have to worry about this one thing and can just be a normal teenager with normal problems in a normal life. This is the biggest relief of all. After all, she is the reason we did this. She is the reason I became an advocate. Everything I've done, all of it, writing the book and everything, everything was for her. Not for him. Not for me. Not for anyone but her.
Now that the dark cloud of the registry looming over us for the last 18 years is finally beginning to break away, clear blue skies can finally be seen. I feel like the Lorax returning to his once beautiful land now made beautiful again.
It feels wonderful.
So, here's my message to you: Don't give up, don't lose hope. If we can reach our goal, so can you. It won't be easy, and it might take a very long time, but you must remain vigilant and keep moving forward. I hope pray that things get better for each and every one of you living under the dark cloud as we have for so long. Just.... keep the faith.