Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shame on the media, the public and law enforcement for exploiting the death of Aliahna Lemmon

A young girl who lives in a trailer park teeming with sex offenders - 15, to be exact - goes missing. It's the media's dream come true, law enforcement thinks they've got their suspect all wrapped up, and the public gets another chance at their favorite tirades, about how sex offenders are the scum of the earth, followed closely by ripping another parent to shreds for making a decision that eventually (but unknowingly) led to her child's death. It's the perfect trifecta that skyrockets an isolated incident in an Indiana town to a national tragedy.

As I've mentioned before, I have learned to take comments that people post online with a grain of salt. Although I'm not one of them, many individuals say things they wouldn't dare say in a face-to-face confrontation when protected by the shroud of the internet. Particularly on websites where you are not required to provide your full name, or even your first name, people say things that make me question THEIR sanity and mental stability. It is striking that the majority of public reactions are suggestions of barbaric punishments or uninformed rants that ooze ignorance and hatred.

There have been thousands of articles written about this tragedy, where 9-year-old Aliahna Lemmon was pummeled to death with a brick, then dismembered and frozen. Her killer was a 39-year-old man who had been babysitting Aliahna and her siblings, and someone she had known for quite some time. Her mother had arranged for the babysitter because she was busy caring for her mother, Aliahna's grandmother, who had the flu. They had initially moved to the trailer park because Aliahna's grandfather lived there, and was dying from emphysema.

Child murder is bad enough, and the grisly details of Aliahna's death make this particular case even more shocking. It is a tragedy, any way you look at it, and I for one am thankful for the quick apprehension of her suspected murderer. Her community, and of course her family, are spared the painful and often drawn-out process of locating her body and wondering who is responsible. The conviction process can begin, and the healing can start. That is, if it weren't for the media coverage.

MSNBC coverage of Aliahna's murder <---- this is one of the thousands of articles I referred to earlier, that has chosen to focus on a piece of information that is completely irrelevant to her murder. It is almost as though the media is disappointed that one of the sex offenders wasn't responsible for her murder. What purpose can this type of article possibly serve? It seems bordering on spiteful. A child's gruesome murder wasn't sensational enough, so they grasp at straws attempting to draw out the public outrage for as long as possible. And instead of seeing that for the shameful, selfish tactic that it is, the public's response is to bring out the pitchforks and torches.

Shame on the public. Shame on all of you, blogging and commenting and otherwise spewing your hatred of this poor mother, who has lost a child in a way that most of us, thank God, can only imagine. Shame on you for sinking to a level where it's perfectly okay to wish for death, pain and suffering on an individual who inflicted just that on an innocent little girl. And shame on you for being so weak-minded that you cannot see anything beyond the media's portrayal of anything. It is sad and pathetic that you would claim to care about this girl's innocent little soul in the same breath as you are tainting her memory with hateful garbage.

Most of all, SHAME on law enforcement, legislators, and everyone else who would rather pacify a misinformed public than implement laws that could actually make our communities safer and prevent tragedies such as this. Is everyone truly so cowardly that they will not acknowledge the numerous ways in which existing legislation failed massively at keeping Aliahna alive and safe, or are they just more interested in their image and stature that they won't suggest reform that might upset the uneducated public?

The statistics I have pleaded with people to learn, and have been accused of fabricating, are impossible to ignore in this case. Aliahna knew her killer, as did her mother and siblings. He was not on the sex offender registry. She was beaten to death with a brick on the front stairs leading into her house, in familiar surroundings. The alleged killer himself was a convicted felon, but not of a sex crime. There were fifteen registered sex offenders living in that trailer park, all being actively tracked and monitored by law enforcement. None of them harmed her. The man who confessed to her murder is a convicted felon, who in addition to having a prior record, had an active arrest warrant for physical assault in the state of Florida.

To me, it seems glaringly obvious that Aliahna's death could have been prevented by fact-based delegation of resources. If legislation was appropriately applied to those who are truly at a higher risk to re-offend, it is very likely that this individual would be in jail and unable to kill anyone. Or at the very least, a wanted fugitive would have been caught and jailed, on one of the many occasions law enforcement presumably visited the trailer park to "manage" the sex offenders. Imagine if the time spent tracking and monitoring the 15 registered sex offenders was instead used to track and manage those proven to be more likely to commit another crime. Imagine if there were a public registry for all felonies, particularly violent ones - perhaps Aliahna's mother would have decided not to move to this particular trailer park. Most importantly, perhaps Aliahna would be ALIVE. Perhaps many other children would be ALIVE if their parents and communities were educated on actual facts, instead of hysteria.

Aliahna's murder reminded me of 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera, who was beaten to death earlier this month in Georgia. (Read the story here: MSNBC coverage of Jorelys Rivera). Police were proud to let the public know they were actively interrogating all the known sex offenders in the area. Luckily, the suspect was apprehended rather quickly. It was only quietly revealed that he was a maintenance worker at the apartment complex where Jorelys lived, that he had no prior record whatsoever and was not a sex offender, therefore not on the registry. Oddly, the public's reaction, rather than learning from the experience, was to launch a community-wide effort to let parents know they can search for registered sex offenders in their area. Somehow, the fact that a sex offender resided in Jorelys' building unbeknownst to her mother had taken precedence over the actual facts in the case, even though the offender had nothing to do with her murder.

Everyone claims to care about children, but time after time, facts are ignored. Whenever I point out statistics demonstrating the ineffectiveness of sex crime legislation, I am accused of being a sex offender, being sick, twisted, and in need of mental help. But what can be said for someone who consciously chooses to ignore a proven fact? Until we accept that sex crime legislation has been allowed to turn into an empire of ineffectiveness that fails at keeping us safe, more children will die. Ignore that.

RIP, Aliahna and Jorelys.



Monday, December 19, 2011

I love a sex offender, and I want to cry every day.

I figured since the name of my blog is so (intentionally) attention-grabbing and (hopefully) so surprising to some that they can't help but read, it's time for an entry that doesn't dance around the issue. Although I am proud of my previous entries and they no doubt represent an aspect of what our life is like and how choosing this life has changed the way I look at certain things, they do not begin to touch what goes through my mind and heart each day, nor will what I am about to write; there simply is no way to completely capture the experience in mere words. But this, for whatever reason, is one of those days that I am less able to put reality in the back of my mind long enough to focus on much else.

I will not lie - I am so incredibly angry and vengeful towards Geoff's family, that sometimes it is difficult to even think about. I preach to others about letting go of anger and letting it empower you, which I have managed to do with the man who abused me, as well as others, mostly strangers, who frustrate me with their ignorance, lack of compassion or common sense. But I cannot do it with the people who tortured the person I love. I want to let go, because the anger certainly doesn't feel good, and it sucks the will to even contemplate thinking about something else right out of me.

Because I do not trust these people, I try to loosely keep tabs on them by doing an occasional Google search or looking at their Facebook profiles, although they are private, just to see if anything seems amiss. Last Christmas, Geoff received a package from his mother, the perpetrator of the most severe physical and emotional abuse. He wants absolutely nothing to do with them, and after the life they forced him to live, if you can even call it a life, not to mention the travesty of a trial they created, I do not blame him. He has not attempted to make contact with any member of his family since the day his mother had him arrested, and in fact, legally there is not supposed to be any contact between them. However, this did not stop his mother from sending him a package containing several random artifacts from his childhood, and worst of all, a letter (after obtaining his address from the registry).

I had just arrived at work after a particularly stressful drive, as it was the day before Christmas Eve, traffic was more harried than usual and it was snowing steadily. As I chatted with my co-worker, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. When I picked up, it was Geoff in a state of panic, sitting in his truck in the post office parking lot, holding a box from the woman who still invades his mind, his dreams, and leaves me holding a trembling, sobbing, terrified grown man having a flashback some mornings when he wakes up and thinks he's still trapped in her house. He paraphrased her letter, which among other things, communicated her confusion over why he did not want to speak with them, that she still could not understand why he did what he did, and that she "knew she wasn't always the perfect mother". Hearing his voice and being 24 miles apart made me want to sink to my knees and scream. Geoff still struggles to remember most of his childhood, has revealed most of the worst bits and pieces, all containing his mother, to me over time and is still paralyzed with fear of her to this day, almost ten years after the last time he saw her. I was so filled with rage at this woman for AGAIN hurting the wonderful man who is her son, my boyfriend and the person she ripped apart and threw away, without even seeing him or being anywhere near him.

This was almost a year ago now, and still as I write it my heart beings pounding out of my chest and the combination of tears and absolute fury compound my brain as I contemplate what I would do if I had the opportunity to speak to the woman who somehow was able to look into Geoff's innocent eyes and over and over again, strike him, hurt him, treat him like an animal, just mercilessly try to destroy this wonderful person I cannot imagine ever being without. I want to ask, and I want to understand how she lives with herself knowing the horror she inflicted on a defenseless child, who grew into a defenseless teenager and was her SON, and then threw away. How does she get through the day? I want to ask the judges, the lawyers, the county prosecutor how they could all look the other way, what amount of money it took for them to all pretend this battered, confused 16-year-old standing before them on the charges of sodomy was a monster who deserved to go to jail instead of the terrified, lonely, abandoned child he was? I want to understand how it is possible that every single person in Geoff's life - everyone who was EVER supposed to help him, didn't.

For a long time, I did not know what to do with my anguish in reaction to all the horror that has been inflicted upon Geoff. As he became more able to reveal the long list of people who had mistreated him and what they had done, it created an ever-growing list of individuals I wanted to interrogate and understand how they justified their actions. Not just his family, but his teachers and other adults who could not possibly have missed the signs that he was being severely abused, from elementary school into tenth grade. His few friends, immature teenage boys as they were, could not possibly have been completely clueless. The other inmates who tried to hurt him and kill him, over and over again. The corrections officers who stood there and watched other inmates beat him, and who sometimes joined in. How was it possible that ALL of these people were so able to blindly allow it all to happen?

But the list doesn't end there. His probation officer, and the administrative workers who think he is a piece of shit because all they see is "sex offender". Our neighbors, who, at the urging of police and the news around Halloween, checked the registry for houses to avoid and will no longer engage with us. The politicians and legislators who have created the laws that do nothing to protect and everything to make his life just a little more difficult. The anonymous individuals who I will never know, that see his name and photograph on the registry, mixed in with a sea of others, and assume he is a dangerous predator. The friends we have yet to make who might decide, upon finding out, that they do not want to associate with us. The vigilante who decided to destroy the driver's door on MY 1972 Nova this summer, assuming it was Geoff's, who trespassed on our property while we were not home, inflicted unrepairable, carefully planned damage on a sentimental and monetarily valuable personal belonging, and will never be identified. What other vigilantes are out there and what will they do next? What law will be passed tomorrow that will force us to move, require him to wear a GPS monitor for life, or God knows what else? On most days, the constant worry can be easily ignored because that is what normal means for us. But on others, like today, it is all I can contemplate.

The last time I checked up on Geoff's family, I inadvertently discovered several photographs of them taken over this past summer. His half-sister, his "victim", graduated high school and there were some pre-prom pictures of her, her date, Geoff's mother, and step-father. They were all smiling, standing on the very stone patio that Geoff, as a young teenager, had been forced to build by himself; next to the house that Geoff was forced to re-roof, alone; and in the distance, the stone fireplace that Geoff was forced to build, alone. All around them were blatant reminders of the something terrible they forced upon an innocent person who was also their family member, and yet they smiled as though he had never even existed.

All the people who have hurt Geoff in some way have done one, lone positive thing: they shaped the kind, compassionate, resilient individual I love more than anything in the world. Through all the horror Geoff has endured, he has maintained the ability to function enough to get by even without any visible incentive. He has been forced to find strength from nowhere but within himself, and taught him things that cannot and will not be learned by many people over their lives. He has built himself up from nothing, more than once. There is no doubt in my mind that if it were not for his presence in my life, I would be dead at the hand of my ex-husband. He gave me the strength, the will and the perspective to re-create my life, and he has made me happier than I can ever recall. The gratitude, unquestioning selflessness and innate kindness he shows me is the simplest and strongest love and respect I have ever felt from another person. That is why the mere knowledge that countless strangers who will never meet him, and even some who will, will never see him as anything other than a sexual predator who wants to molest children, is so very painful. But it is a pain I welcome and tolerate, because it means I get to have him in my life.

I have met some incredibly strong, passionate, dedicated individuals in the relatively short time I've been actively promoting legislation reform for sex crime. Although knowing I am not alone in this misunderstood cause and their unwavering support is invaluable to my ability to keep going, it also is saddening that so many people are effected by this - and that their pain and suffering is very rarely acknowledged or considered. It makes me wonder how many families will be destroyed before the rest of the country realizes how detrimental the legislature as well as the public shaming of sex offenders and their loved ones is for our society as a whole. On days where I am not overtaken by overwhelming sadness and outrage at our situation, that is the only fuel I need to trudge on in this extremely difficult fight. So I suppose in a way it is a good thing. But I often wonder why our society needs such an excess of suffering before they realize how wrong something is.

I do not regret my decision to be with Geoff; as corny as it sounds, I have loved him since the day I met him in math class and in the back of my mind I always knew we would be together. I never could have imagined the circumstances, but I have never questioned my love for him - never. As I am winding down this entry, feeling slightly soothed by expressing my anger and sadness, I remember what I sometimes say to Geoff when he is drowning in despair and struggling to understand why things have had to happen this way: we may suffer unlike most others, but because we know that suffering, our love is that much more intense and incredible. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You're all a bunch of heathens

Even though I'm an extremely sensitive person (some might say oversensitive), I learned very quickly when I became involved in reforming sex offender legislation that a thick skin was a requirement. I've surprised even myself in the ways I've learned to respond to stupidity, rudeness, and overall misinformation with articulate, factual responses and just the right amount of passion. The more I learn about how and why the legislation is ineffective, the easier it becomes. Sometimes I allow myself to get sucked in to a futile debate with someone whose only goal is clearly to upset me; other times, the personal attacks strangers spew at me start to hurt just a bit. On those occasions, I have to step away. On every occasion, I remind myself that the truth is on MY side and that's the most important thing. Though I've long since learned that the truth doesn't mean jack to some people, and that the world isn't necessarily based on truth, even now after being exposed to so much ignorance I am genuinely baffled as to why the truth is so often ignored.

"Sometimes the truth hurts" is an overused quip for a reason - it's true. Finding out you've been lied to, intentionally or by omission; discovering a loved one is someone or something much different than you believed; even receiving a grim or ambiguous diagnosis, or the answer to a lifelong question doesn't always result in total clarity and relief. Often, it's the opposite.

A few weeks ago, a fellow RSOL "pal" directed some of us to an article out of Massachusetts, which was nothing unusual. It included a large mug shot of a 24-year-old man, convicted of a sex offense, who had recently been released. Other than providing the name and address of the man's employer, there was no information other than what I've already mentioned. Unfortunately, articles such as this are common; after reading hundreds of them in the past several months, I've noticed that if there aren't enough sex crimes being committed, the media will instead focus on where sex offenders are living, working, and if any of them are not updating their addresses with law enforcement when they should. At first I was confused as to why the article had been brought to our attention at all.

The answer was in the comments. Several other RSOLers had gotten there before me, and were conversing back and forth with a fellow who lived in the area and clearly was not happy that the 24-year-old sex offender was working and living in the vicinity. He spoke of his young children, whom he understandably wanted to protect from potential abuse, and that he didn't feel able to do that with an individual like that around.

Others had presented this man with facts regarding the low recidivism rates for sex offenders, the likelihood of children being abused by someone they know not already on the registry, and the negative aspects of articles such as that one, seemingly printed only to scare concerned parents and make it that much more difficult for the offender to re-integrate back into the community. Links to several government-backed studies were provided, and the information was presented politely. Sadly, as I read on, the man's responses to the statistics indicated that he either did not read them or did not care to.

Because my comrades had already provided the man with compelling evidence that his view was based on a personal fear, not facts, I took it upon myself to look up the 24-year-old sex offender's registry entry. There, I found the information the article did not provide: he was convicted in 2007, which would have made him 17 at the very oldest at the time of conviction, and possibly younger when his crime took place. His victim was listed only as "a person younger than 17".

Having scoured countless registry entries in various states, I know that if the victim was a young child, it will be made painfully clear on the entry. "Person younger than 17" and similarly worded phrases usually refer to teenage "victims" over the age of 15, depending on the state. (I put the word "victim" in quotes because it is maddeningly common for consensual teenage sex to be criminalized and typically, the older teen gets slapped with a lifelong label and in many cases, jail. No, I do not advocate or support violent, forcible or non-consensual teenage sex; however no distinction is made between the two on the registry and it becomes the public's job to assume all offenses were violent.)

I pointed out to the man that the offender was 17 when convicted and the specifics of his actions were not provided; that based ONLY on the information we had, between the article and his registry entry, there was no way for us to accurately judge him or know his precise actions or intentions. I also challenged the man to ask himself what he would do if one of HIS children was accused of a sex offense, if he would support the prosecution of his child as an adult with adult consequences, or if he would see his child for what he was - A CHILD - and recognize the dire need for treatment and a support system. He clearly had not considered that possibility - but ultimately responded that he would likely sever ties with his child if he committed a sex offense.

I guess I am lucky to have grown up in a fantastic family, with awesome parents who supported me during a very dark time in my life, beginning around age 15, and struggled to get me the treatment I desperately needed to eventually understand my behavior and learn to control it. Maybe until my involvement in this movement, I did not appreciate the rarity of such understanding and unconditional love and support. I was unaware of how willing some people are to live in ignorance, as long as it does not inconvenience them or cause them hardship; how some people would rather ignore and abandon their problems, even if those problems are their CHILDREN, if that's the easier thing. But more than anything, I am genuinely shocked at how eager otherwise "normal" people are to eradicate others who are different from them, have made a mistake, or don't share their opinions; even those who simply challenge them. I've begun to feel as though our society, that prides itself on being the most advanced, the most humane and the most successful, is only that way when it is convenient. There are more parallels between the present and some very dark periods in history than most would like to admit.

The comments back and forth in regards to the article out of Massachusetts, while frustrating, were not overtly inflammatory or personal. Although we were unable to change this man's mind, armed with a very obvious truth as we were, the worst thing he did was essentially ignore us. Last week, I commented on an article out of California, where a registered sex offender had been arrested for (and I quote): "annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18". His previous offenses were for indecent exposure, there was no mention of any previous victims of any age, and the action which ultimately led to his re-arrest was an incident in a dollar store where he "followed a 13-year old girl up the aisles" and "attempted to talk to her". When confronted by the girl's mother, he "fled". The article itself was probably a paragraph in total length. The incident had occurred over the summer and the article was printed because he had recently been sentenced.

There were several individuals who had already commented by the time I read the article. The man was accused of being a pedophile, a pervert, and a sick freak. A couple of people commented that they hoped he enjoyed the prison justice he would inevitably experience while incarcerated, that perhaps he would be "crippled" so badly he would be unable to "go out and molest more victims" or maybe he would even be killed. While public disgust with sex offenders and even mentions of "prison justice" is nothing new to me, there was something about the way these individuals were so freely, unabashedly, and even gleefully expressing their hopes this man would experience violence that struck me deeper than these types of comments normally do. It was also frustrating that there were so many accusations of "pedophile", when there was nothing in the article OR on his registry entry that indicated he presently or previously had an attraction to pre-pubescent children (which is the definition of a pedophile).

I called out those wishing violence upon the man, asking them what made them any better than the man they called a "freak". I reminded those that labeled the man a pedophile what the term actually means, and how important it is to understand the difference. I pointed out to those who referred to "other victims" that no other victims existed. I finished my thought by asking people to remember that not all sex offenders are pedophiles and that treating them all as such is detrimental, as it allows the few who are truly dangerous to slip through.

What happened next was an onslaught of personal attacks and wild accusations by those who had been called out, and others who were just reading the article for the first time. I was accused of defending pedophiles, being ignorant, not caring about children, that the man who had been arrested must be my boyfriend, that I don't know the first thing about sexual abuse, and why don't I care about the victims? One man laughingly said that I was like the girl who got beat up by her boyfriend and then defended him; one was an abuse victim calling me "silly", "uninformed", and using God as her excuse for wishing death upon the man. People questioned why I would care about sex offenders, how they were treated and why was someone from New York commenting on an article out of California? They spoke about me as though I weren't reading their comments, saying I clearly had issues and really needed to get some help.

I explained that I wasn't an advocate or supporter of sex crime - that I support effective legislation that actually helps prevent abuse; I stressed the importance of educating yourself on the facts about sex crime and provided several informative links; and I told the man who made light of domestic violence that yes, in fact, I am just like that girl - not because I defend what my abuser did, but because I WAS a victim myself and have turned my experience into an empowering one focusing on the truth and not on hatred or anger. I assured them I had no personal connection with the man, nor had I even heard of him before that day. I was not even saying he was innocent, just attempting to point out that a large group of people were not only making some deplorable judgments about a human being based on very little evidence, but their own behavior and comments were bordering on barbaric. After being cut down by over twenty people who do not know me, what I have been through or why I feel the way I do - not because I did not inform them, but because they did not care to find out - I forced myself to step away from the onslaught and stop engaging.

The experience left me feeling disgusted with our society, scared that there was no hope for our cause, and personally hurting at some of the comments that were made, which is not something that happens often. On one end of the spectrum, I wasn't surprised that things had gotten so out of hand, because that is precisely the reason we have the broad, ineffective legislation we are so diligently fighting. But at the same time, I was scared that lurking just beneath the surface of a seemingly civilized and open minded society - where gay marriage is being legalized and championed; where racial equality has made leaps and bounds in the past several decades; where large corporations and powerful individuals are being challenged and held responsible for their actions - there is actually a torrent of heathens ready to tear down anyone who doesn't agree. All of the things I mentioned were once things that were looked down upon by the majority of society; it hasn't been without excruciating suffering, widespread pain, and countless innocent victims that these issues have finally reached the status of socially acceptable. It's wonderful that we're finally willing to take on these difficult and complex issues, but why must it be at such a cost? I'm not one to suggest dwelling on the negative, but I think we need to look at how we've gotten to the point we're at before touting ourselves as a progressive, open-minded country where everyone is equal and accepted. Why does our society require so much suffering before a cause is taken seriously?

The next time you have an urge to tear someone down, claim you hate someone or laugh at someone's misfortune - and we ALL do this - don't. Instead, challenge yourself to find the truth, the root of your feelings. Find it, accept it, and learn from it. Help others to do the same. Love the truth and let it heal you. Only then will we become a society to be proud of.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Empowered by Victimization

As most of you know, I in no way condone any kind of abuse or violence: domestic, sexual, animal or anything else. I can put words to my experience: terrifying. Futile. Hopeless. Lonely. But they are just words, and the only way I think anyone could truly "get" what I went through is if they were to be in my mind for a few hours. Of course, not only is that impossible but unnecessary, as I think most relatively sane people can agree and understand that experiencing any kind of violence or abuse is awful - even when they disagree on how to deal with it.

It took nearly four years of abuse at the hand of my husband before I was able to leave him. As some of you may already know, my boyfriend, who is a registered sex offender, is the one who effectively enabled me to finally leave. The biggest reason I didn't leave sooner was that I was unable to accept that I was a victim. I knew what he was doing was wrong, I knew it hurt, and the fact that I was terrified of him, even when things were "fine", was present in my mind on some level at all times. But instead of leaving, I retreated into a world where I ignored my gut on a conscious level in order to continue functioning.

It didn't help that the extent of social interaction for me was my job, where I was the sole administrative employee of a construction company. My boss and his wife were both over 50, with children the age of my younger sister, and they were sometimes the only other humans I interacted with on any given day. My family, who has always been my biggest and most reliable support system, lived close by, but I rarely saw  or even spoke with them. I had no friends and no means of finding any, as my life consisted of work and home only. My husband didn't believe in therapy or medication and told me that seeing a therapist would mean I was "keeping secrets from him", so I had little option but to retreat into myself. He effectively isolated me from most of the world, and those that did see me were completely unaware of the truth. I'd become so good at convincing myself that convincing others was effortless.

When I finally reached out to my now-boyfriend at the end of 2009, it awakened feelings in me that had been dormant for years: desire. Love. Safety. Happiness. Freedom! I knew, the first time we embraced each other in over 7 years, that I needed to leave my husband. For three weeks, I struggled to conceive a plan for escape that wouldn't leave me injured or dead. When I tried to get to the door during a fight to avoid his wrath, it only enraged him more, and meant a more violent punishment for me. One of the few times I was able to get to my car and lock the doors before he caught me, he kicked the car door so hard it dented. My plan couldn't leave margin for error.

The day I finally did leave - a very cold Sunday in late November - it was almost completely unplanned. I woke up knowing for sure that I was going to leave that day, even though I didn't know how yet. I pretended to sleep through his incessant sexual advances, which finally stopped after what felt like hours. Around mid-day, I broached the subject of staying with my family for a few days. My sister had recently come home unexpectedly from college and wasn't in a good state emotionally. He was aware of this, and I cited her needing me as my reason for wanting to leave. After several hours of carefully talking him into letting me go, I packed a change of clothes and deodorant, got into my car and left. I spent that night with my boyfriend, in his rented railroad apartment that was actually just a room, on a folded up futon that was terribly uncomfortable. I never went back to our apartment, except for a few months later to get my things.

For the first several months after I left, my husband bombarded me with emails and phone calls. Miraculously, he never found out about my boyfriend - which I guess isn't so strange, considering how honed in on me and how "wonderful" our relationship he was. His communications with me ranged from pleading with me to come back, luring me with promises to enter therapy, accusing me of being cold-hearted, weak and pathetic, and attempting to guilt-trip me by claiming I had abandoned our marriage. And for months, I continued to correspond with him - driven by what, I'm not entirely sure. I knew I wouldn't return to him - I'd known that since the day I reconnected with my boyfriend. Looking back, I believe I was desperately hoping that by responding to him rationally, he'd eventually see that what he had done was wrong and accept why I had left him. Throughout our relationship and even after I had left, he usually refused to acknowledge what he did was wrong - in fact sometimes claiming that I was so awful, people would undoubtedly side with him even if they found out.

My attempts to squeeze out the response I wanted from him were futile. No matter how civil, rational, validating, or angry I got, my words never got through. I was still in the wrong and always would be. One afternoon, I sat in a traffic jam on the Saw Mill Parkway after leaving work, and called my mom to let her know I would be late. Since we weren't moving at all, I began relaying my husband's most recent email, in which he was dangling a particularly heart-wrenching proposal in front of me: our dog, who he had inevitably decided was his and had taken with him when he moved, was dying. She was going into kidney failure and was scheduled to be euthanized the next day. He had asked me to come and I declined, knowing by this time that it was a manipulation on his part and I had no interest in seeing him again, even given the awful circumstances. He responded by tearing me to shreds and claiming I didn't care about our dying dog. I began sobbing as I told all of this to my mother, as leaving the dog with him was the only regret I ever had about leaving.

But something else was happening. As I was talking, and recognizing my emotions - sadness, anger, frustration, confusion - I realized that even though I'd left him physically and was embracing a life without him, I was still feeding his desire by giving him my mind, my emotions and the right to upset me. As cheesy as it sounds, it was at that moment that I realized my only option was to sever ties and move on - truly move on. Otherwise, I would forever be trapped in the cycle of abuse. Maybe not physically, but mentally. My responding to his accusations and even acknowledging his existence was just an indirect way for him to still control some aspect of my mind. When I thought of it that way, I was chilled, but moreso relieved. Now that I knew how to fully escape him, I could begin to heal.

It wasn't easy in the beginning. He did his best to goad me, and when he realized I wasn't responding anymore at all, it was an onslaught of the worst possible things one person can say to another. While my heart still pounded every time I saw his name, and I longed to point out all the ways in which what he said was wrong, I no longer had to. Each deleted email and absence of response gave me a sense of empowerment. My silence was stronger than any words I could have spoken, as that was the only thing he couldn't ridicule, twist around or throw back in my face. The power shifted to me.

Once I had disengaged from him emotionally, I began to look at him as a sick person who needs help. I hate what he did to me, how he treated me and hold him fully accountable for his actions. However, I no longer feel the need to prove that to him or even hope that he understands it. It doesn't effect me or my happiness either way. I'm living the life that I want, free from him and able to discuss my experience with others without fear or shame. I never want to see him again, nor do I trust him or his intentions. However, wishing the best for him and those like him is also the best for me - and the rest of the world. I hope he can go on to live a fulfilling life and overcome his problems. This is not just for him, but for his family, friends and the world around him. Retaliation against him and wishing harm upon him brings me down to his level as well as ensures he will always be on my mind. Letting go and moving on allows me to choose whether or not I want to be a perpetual victim, or a person who has experienced domestic violence, survived, and allowed it to strengthen me and my resolve. 

My advice to those who have experienced abuse, mistreatment, injustice, intolerance or neglect: talk. Vent. Get help. Get healthy. Make a difference. Educate. Forgive.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My hero, your sex offender

Recently I began narrating our story on Youtube, where to significantly summarize, I reveal the graphic details of my boyfriend's upbringing before, leading up to, and after his crime including prison. I am not yet finished with the narration, and the videos are broken up in chronological segments. I received a wonderful response from viewers, but some preferred to be able to read the story rather than listen to it. For them and anyone else who is interested, I am including the text of our story, as well as a link to my Youtube channel, SOSupporter, for anyone who'd like to watch them.

SOSupporter's Youtube Channel


Part One: My Hero, Your Sex Offender
  
The story of my boyfriend, Geoff, and I, on one level is very romantic, and not terribly atypical to the love stories of many other young people. Not exactly high school sweethearts, though we met in high school, we were close friends, but never actually “together”. As we approached junior year, we went our separate ways, and had little contact over the next 7 years. I wound up in a relationship with an older man that turned into a marriage, and after an unhappy four years together, I reconnected with Geoff once I had decided I no longer wanted to be with the man I had married. Quickly, Geoff and I began a relationship, I divorced my husband, and now we own a house together in central New York. It's a cute little story.
A cute little story that's also terribly boring. I commend you if you've made it this far. The way I've portrayed Geoff and I – hardly controversial or even interesting enough for a Lifetime TV movie – is the way I am sure we would be perceived if you were to meet us, get to know us and even become our friend. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Although our love and dedication to each other is as strong and sweet as it possibly could be, the path we have been forced down in an attempt to merely live our lives together has been painful, turbulent, and sometimes terrifying.

My name is Shana Rowan and I am 25 years old. I live with my boyfriend Geoff in central New York. I am also a survivor of domestic violence. Some would probably refer to me as a victim. For nearly four years, I endured horrific physical, emotional and verbal abuse at the hand of a man who played on my nineteen year old insecurities and loneliness, keeping me away from the world and molding me into a timid, empty girl who came to regard his “punishments” as deserved for my naivete, stupidity or disrespectfulness.

By the time I managed to escape, I was a 23 year old zombie whose exhaustion from working sixty hours a week – due to my husband's three year unemployment – stole from me any strength I may have had to even consider that my life was meaningless. I had lost myself what seemed like so long ago and to this day I do not know what it was that finally wore down my wall of denial and awakened my anger, kept in hibernation for much too long. What I do know is that somehow, I knew unwaveringly what I had to do to get out, and found the only person who could reach me where I was. That person was Geoff.

Our relationship as 16-year-olds isn't terribly different than the one we share today, in some aspects. Geoff is a sweet, quiet man who exudes more than he speaks. His emotions, forced down inside of him for most of his life, emanate rather than form words. He radiates when he smiles, when he trembles and when he cries. His love for me is in his timid touch, quiet pride and unquestioning acceptance. My swooning awe at his presence has as much a hold on me now, nearly ten years later, as it did as a sophomore in math class, unable to concentrate on anything but his face.

Geoff is an honorable, kind, genuine person who stops on the side of the road to change flat tires, pull cars out of ditches in snow storms, and thinks it only natural to offer his aid to whomever needs it. He is giving, forgiving and accepting. He is strong and masculine but humble, honestly oblivious of his abilities, and anyone who might appreciate them. He is handsome, funny, and he is my life. He is also a sex offender.

That is what I am here to talk about. I am here to tell you, and anyone else who will listen, how that brand, and society's opinion about what it means, has effected my life and devastated Geoff's. I want to tell the other side of the story, the one that never gets told, about how some offenders wind up in the situation they are in. I believe everyone needs understand how the way they are portrayed by the media, lawmakers and politicians is unjustified and detrimental to everyone.

I will give you the statistics and studies, and educate you on the current legislation that exists for sex crimes. You can do with that what you will. But I will also give you something that statistics and studies and mug shots cannot: the story behind the face, behind the label, behind the crime. I hope you will listen, for the story I have to tell is better than any novel, TV show or movie could come up with and that is because it's real. I promise it will change the way you look at offenders and what you believe they deserve as punishment.

I will be back very soon to begin my story. Please invite anyone you know to watch. Thanks for taking the time to listen to me talk.

Part Two: Childhood and Trial of a Sex Offender

 
Episode 2

First of all, I want to thank all of you for the kind words, encouragement and subscriptions. I didn't expect this kind of response and am so thankful to all of you because without you, my story won't get told.

I'm going to begin by explaining that, up until the moment that I upload this video, I am the only living soul who holds the knowledge of the wreckage that was – and sometimes still is – Geoff's life. The awful things you are about to hear were not revealed chronologically or without extreme anguish. It is only within the very recent years that Geoff's mind has allowed him to remember the majority of his life, and the path from remembering to communicating these memories is excruciating for him. It can take hours for him to reveal one memory, and is almost always ridden with tears, flashbacks, and fits of trembling, at which point I have no choice but to hold him silently and wait. After over two years, I've finally understood enough that I can take the fragmented pieces Geoff provides and fit them together into an ominous, never-ending puzzle.

As I have mentioned before, Geoff and I are both 25 years old. We grew up in the same small town of South Salem, NY, in Westchester county. South Salem is a beautiful place with lots of Revolutionary War history. Our mothers attended the same high school, John Jay, which we then both attended as well. South Salem is different than it used to be – property values, as well as demographics, changed drastically once young, highly educated professionals migrated from Manhattan and other large metropolitan areas searching for something “rural”, but still a convenient commute to the city.

Geoff's birthparents were married only for a few years, and divorced by the time Geoff was five. He remembers few actual events that took place while his parents were married, just that there was a constant feeling of being blamed and that his mother was almost constantly angry. She insisted on having custody of Geoff, and so when she immediately moved in with and married another man, Geoff was expected to adjust, accept and embrace his new life without question.

After a few years of moving around to various rental houses, Geoff's stepfather purchased a large farmhouse with several acres of land, which is uncommon in South Salem and does not come without a large price tag. He owned a successful trucking company in Connecticut and apparently did quite well for himself. He was also a paraplegic who had lost the use of his legs and been in a wheelchair for over 30 years, as a result of his own drunk driving. He was unable to perform most of the heavy labor required at the truckyard and instead concentrated on the paperwork aspect of things.

Geoff doesn't remember the first time that his mother struck him, but once it began, it didn't stop. He was beaten every day – sometimes accused of “doing something wrong” or “being just like his father”, and sometimes for no apparent reason at all. It was rarely explained what it was that he had done wrong or why being like his father was bad, just that it deserved punishment. The other family members were aware of what she was doing – his stepfather, and his half-sister, who his mother had within a year of marrying his stepfather. From what he describes it was regarded as a normal event that warranted no reaction. His stepfather did not participate physically, but often joined his mother in the verbal ridicule and withholding of any kind of affection, or even attention at times.

Geoff's mother didn't just use her hands to hurt him. Additionally, she used whatever was available – anything from a mop handle to a heavy pan or plate. These objects were used to beat him or were thrown at him – hard enough that he still suffers from physical pain in certain parts of his body. As soon as he was strong enough, around age nine or ten, he was forced to maintain the house by himself – everything from roofing, demolishing, simple plumbing and electrical work, but worst of all, chopping and stacking of wood. The farmhouse, which was quite large, had no modern heating and was heated exclusively by woodstoves. It was Geoff's responsibility to make sure there was constantly an over-abundance of fuel, which meant regardless of the season, hours of his day were spent chopping and stacking. If he resisted even slightly, he was forced to sleep outside of the house in a tent, sometimes for weeks at a time. If he was injured while working, he was forbidden from seeking medical treatment. It wasn't uncommon for him to return from a weekend with his father to find the contents of his room thrown out the second story window or simply to have disappeared completely. When Geoff was a teenager and his father bought him dirtbikes and four-wheelers, his mother would sell them when he was at school.

All of the house maintenance, wood chopping, and mechanical work he was forced to perform on the family's vehicles and various machine equipment took up so much of his time that he became a poor student who rarely completed assignments or was functional enough to retain anything that was being taught to him. This enraged his mother, who decided that in addition to house work, he was also going to “help” his stepfather at the truckyard, since his grades were so poor anyway. This meant from the time the schoolbus dropped him off in the afternoon until the early hours of the morning, he was in the truckyard, alone in the dark, loading and unloading pallets of produce. There were some mornings that he slept in the car on the way back from the yard, and was driven directly to the bus stop to go to school.

Geoff's biological father lived nearby, but the custody arrangement allowed him only to see Geoff on every other weekend. His father is the one who taught him mechanics. Unfortunately, he was either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge what was happening to Geoff, and so the cycle continued.

As I've mentioned previously, most of Geoff's life is a blur. There are only a few specific incidents he remembers in detail. At age 13, his mother beat him until he was unconscious and threw him in the back of her car. She drove 50 miles into a nasty neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens, at 3:00 in the morning, opened the car door, and pushed him onto the sidewalk. She told him if he wanted to act like crap, he could live with crap, and drove away. At age 15, he nearly lost a finger chopping wood. His mother refused to take him to the hospital and disconnected the phone so he couldn't call 911. He took the keys to her car and began driving himself to the emergency room. She called the car in stolen, and the police stopped him before he reached the hospital. Afraid of what the punishment would be, he made no indication to the officer that he was injured, and he was returned to their home where he was forced to crudely treat his own wound.

At around age 13, he remembers encounters between himself and his then 7 year old half-sister that went on for about a year. He does not remember how it began, or why. There was no intercourse, and there was no violence; it was mutual touching of genitals and some oral contact. On at least one occasion, their mother became aware of what was going on, but she chose not to stop or report it. Geoff has very blurry memories of his mother directing him to do these things, and possibly demonstrating on him what he was to do. Unfortunately, this is often where his ability to communicate shuts down and his body transforms into a trembling, sobbing mess.

One day, at age 16, Geoff returned home from a weekend at his father's house and his mother instructed him to get in the car. It was then that she drove him to the police station, handed him over to police custody and he was arrested for first degree sodomy (which would later be modified). That night, he went to his mother's house, packed his few belongings in black garbage bags, and proceeded to live the next year and a half of his life with his father in the next town over.
The charges were filed in September of 2003, but Geoff wasn't convicted until March of 2004, right after he turned 18. His father could not afford legal counsel, so for some inexplicable reason, he agreed to let Geoff's mother and stepfather pay for his defense – even though his mother made it very clear, throughout the trial, that she was seeking the worst possible sentence and that she hoped he burned in hell. It was at Geoff's lawyer's “advice” that the trial was moved from town to county court, even though the town judge was about to offer him a deal that would have charged him as a juvenile offender and sentenced him to juvenile offender treatment until he was 18, and then his record would have been expunged.

Instead, his case was dragged out for over a year, and it never went to trial. There were months of testimony and other various delays. It was eventually alleged that the abuse of his half-sister had gone one until he was fifteen, which allowed him to be charged as an adult with a B violent felony. His lawyer rejected numerous offers from the distract attorney – without ever making Geoff aware that they were available - which were lesser than the plea he eventually took, which was 2 to 6 years in state prison, of which he served four in jail and two on parole.

I wish that I could say that is where the abuse and trauma ended for Geoff, but unfortunately, that is far from the case. I feel that the period of his life spent in prison, and the three years since he was released, deserve their own segment so they can truly be appreciated. But now, finally, the world knows what really led up to Geoff's charge and status as a sex offender. Even if some may believe he truly is guilty of a crime, that he really was aware that what he was doing was wrong, there is no denying that he was a child himself – yet he has paid for it with all of the adult life he has ever lived, and missed out on everything a normal teenager is supposed to experience, from learning about the opposite sex to a high school diploma. Even so, despite all of this, he trudges onward in life, being the best that he can be and still managing to make me smile and laugh every day. For this reason, he is my hero.

I hope my words have resonated with you, and that Geoff's story has inspired you. Maybe it has even changed the way you look at sex offenders – if so, I'm so glad. If not, I encourage you to keep watching, because his story is far from over.

Thank you again, everyone, for your time. I will be back soon. Sincerely, Shana.

 Part Three: 18-Year-Old Sex Offender Goes to Jail
 
Hi everyone, sorry I couldn't get back to the camera sooner. Please continue sharing my videos with others so we can get as much awareness out there as possible. Even if you know people who don't agree or have preceonceived notions about who sex offenders are, perhaps seeing the story told from a different perspective will get them on the path to open-mindedness. This one is a little bit longer than the last two, but unfortunately this still the shortest story I can possibly tell without taking away from the gravity of it all.

First, I want to address some concerns that have been brought to my attention about revealing such personal information to such a vast audience. To them I say, I appreciate your concern. However what I am doing is no more personal than what is already out there. Because I love Geoff and share my life and home with him, I virtually have no privacy. I know that the other family members out there who have a loved one on the registry understand, and maybe until now I didn't even consider that those who DON'T live with someone on the registry really don't know how invasive these laws actually are. To those who don't know, let me explain as eloquently as I can what we live with every day:

Our homes, addresses, vehicles, license plate numbers, and a clinical, horrible-sounding charge against our loved one and their photograph is available for anyone so inclined to look up. There is virtually nothing preventing anyone from abusing this information. Because the registry is public, even if an individual takes it upon themselves to re-post personal information about our loved one in a public place, or online, or even if they choose to harm our loved or their personal property, there is no recourse. Even if it is the family members, not the offender, who are being harmed, law enforcement for the most part doesn't care and does nothing to stop the misuse of information. Largely this is because there is NO way to prove that the information was accessed from the registry. Privacy - and in many ways, safety - for an offender and their family simply does not exist. If people want to look, judge, or take things into their own hands, there is absolutely nothing Geoff or I can do about it. Our government, legislators and society have ensured that. That is precisely why I have chosen to take advantage of what is otherwise a very negative circumstance, and use it to our benefit.

Anyway, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I want to continue with the tale of Geoff. I left off in my last video with his trial, which was manipulated entirely by his abusers – his mother and stepfather – and his subsequent sentencing, which was four years in state prison and two years on parole.

From the courtroom, 18-year-old Geoff was transported to Westchester County Jail, where his head was shaved, his clothes were stripped and he spent the next ten days trapped in a concrete cell. He told me quite some time later that it was in that place that he spent the most time seriously contemplating suicide. However, before those plans could come to fruition, he was taken from County to his first state facility, Fishkill.

The first few weeks were terrifying, as one might assume. But for Geoff this was not because he was simply nervous or unfamiliar with his surroundings. In a way – a small way – prison was a sort of relief for Geoff, as he was finally free of the parasites that were his “family” for so many years. Though incarcerated, and handcuffed and shackled on a regular basis, it was more freedom he had ever experienced in his life, just confined to a smaller space. Or so he thought. Quickly, it became obvious that he had not escaped constant, nonsensical abuse and torture – the characters were just different.

Within the first few days, he was picked up and thrown down a flight of stairs by a group of corrections officers (who I will hereon refer to as “COs”), while handcuffed. They laughed at him as he struggled to get up without the use of his hands, and painfully crawled back up the stairs. Days later, another group of COs grabbed his hair, again while handcuffed, and slammed his face into the pavement outside until he was bloody and unconscious. Even today, every time I look at his face, my eye is drawn to the bare patch in his right eyebrow, a scar from seven years ago. In every photograph I have of him, no matter how small, it is visible. A constant reminder of the awfulness that was inflicted on such a timid, sweet, innocent young boy who was mistreated by every person who was ever supposed to help or protect him.

Geoff's eyes are boundless and beautiful. Brimming with a yearning I have never before or since seen in another human being, they burn holes in my soul. So often even now he will not meet my gaze, still afraid, even all these years later, of what he might find if he looks for anything other than hatred and anger. It hurts me still, even though he has revealed so many secrets and reasons for the way that he is, that he can't look me in the eye sometimes. I tip his face up to meet my awed gaze, and when I see his fear turn to happiness, I still shiver. That is why I cannot comprehend how any human being is capable of harming him. It makes holding the knowledge of what has been done to him ever burdening and makes me ache in my heart. But you need to know his story, so I will do my best to continue.

Geoff was shipped from one facility to the next for the equivalent of about half of his sentence. He has said that he believes it was an attempt to keep him from becoming “comfortable” in one place. Though constantly moving around was difficult, he made the best of it. He has told me stories of “bunkies” (aka cellmates) that made him laugh and whose presence made being in jail more bearable, and from the way he describes things, sometimes even enjoyable. He says that he met people who made his past seem easy, and also people who infuriated him with their ignorance or inability to accept responsibility for their crimes. In some facilities, where the COs were kinder, loud farts, flinging of frozen peas, and other forms of boyish humor were enjoyed by the entire wing, allowed to go on even past the mandatory 10:00 “lights out”. These are the COs I wish I could meet, and thank for their mercy and ability to look past incarcerated young men and see the scared, juvenile boys they really were.

He worked hard in jail, too. Not just in the programs sex offenders are forced to complete, but in the kitchen, library, and even in groundskeeping. Though most of his jail “employment” was in the kitchen, a few COs saw in him what I see – a miraculous person with a multitude of talents – and he was granted exclusive rights to tend to the landscaping and even plowing at one of the facilities. Staying in his cell made him go insane, spiral into a world he didn't know how to escape (his mind). So he worked as much as he could. In fact, he worked so many hours that when he received back a time card he had submitted to the processing center in Albany, there was a note written on a Post-It that said, “what are you DOING?” He replied, on his next time card, “as much as I can”...and received back, “Oh.”

One of the few benefits of prison was the opportunity for education – not just in terms of experience, but in actual classes. Geoff has expressed confusion as to why more inmates do not take advantage of what is offered to them in jail, as this is where he was finally given an opportunity he might not have had otherwise – a GED. This didn't come easily, in fact only after constant correspondence with the state about being able to take the test in jail. Even after he passed his GED, he continued with classes. He was already extremely mechanically able, but being able to take Physics greatly added to his ability. He not only retained this information, but filled up several notebooks with calculations, detailed notes and equations. He still refers to these notebooks when designing and fabricating custom truck suspensions, as he does today.

Unfortunately, his violent welcome to the New York State prison system was not the end of the abuse. His entire sentence was dotted with trips to the infirmary, by his calculations, equivalent to about two years. The worst facility, in terms of violence, was Gowanda. Sex offenders and DWIs were housed together. For whatever reason, the majority of the DWI offenders thought their charges were much less significant and grotesque than those of the sex offenders, even though many of them had physically harmed people with their actions. As was the case in most facilities, most COs shared this view and did little to prevent or stop issues between the two groups of inmates. This hostile environment was extremely conducive to violence and fear on the part of the sex offenders.

As anyone who has had a loved one incarcerated for a sex crime can attest, particularly if it is a husband, boyfriend, or significant other – the “therapies” sex offenders are forced to undergo are something like that out of an 1800's sanitarium. The moderators of the sessions despise the offenders and make no attempt at hiding this; and whomever is responsible for the methodology of the “therapy” either lacks any knowledge of basic human psychology, or wants to create a sub-human race composed entirely of asexual, self-loathing, perpetually terrified former sex offenders.

When an offender begins his “treatment”, the first thing he must do is reveal to the group what his crime was. Keep in mind that the moderators have all of this information already. The idea is to humiliate the offender by forcing him to reveal his charge in front of everyone else, so they can then begin the next step, constant degradation and re-assurance that once they get out of jail, everyone will hate them and want to kill them. And the saddest thing, in my opinion, is what Geoff told me when I asked how the programs addressed romantic relationships and what is healthy and what is not. In the eyes of the moderators, there is no such thing as a healthy romantic relationship for a sex offender. Not only will no woman ever want them, or even want to be in their general vicinity, but any romantic interest in a woman – from the mere desire, to an actual physical advance such as hand-holding, a hug, or a kiss – is considered re-offending.

I realize this all sounds like some kind of conspiracy, that it is too over the top or preposterous to be true. I was not there in those sessions, I've never been in jail and I've never been arrested for a sex crime. All I can do is rely on Geoff to tell me what it was like. But even if Geoff interpreted things to be this way, and it wasn't exactly as he says – the undeniable fact is that their therapy failed him. If their goal is to rehabilitate people so they can be contributing, stable members of society, they failed. They took an already unstable, self-loathing, terrified boy with absolutely no coping skills, and made him worse. He already hated himself not only for the acts he committed with his half-sister, but because of how he had been treated his entire life, regardless of where he was or who was in charge. They took someone with unbelievable potential and smashed him to pieces.

Because Geoff's final charges were not the actual events that occurred – particularly the length of time that the abuse had continued – AND none of the abuse he had endured had ever been included in the record – he refused to say to the group what his crime was the way it read on paper. It is hard even now for him to talk about what happened, and I cannot even imagine how difficult it was then. Regardless, he told his story the way it happened, but the moderators refused to accept that. Instead, they decided to force it out of him.

Later in the day of his failed therapy, while he was working in the kitchen with several other inmates – all DWIs – one of the group moderators walked in. As Geoff removed a large tray from the oven, the moderator began reciting his charge outloud for everyone to hear. Before they could finish, another inmate knocked the tray out of his hands and onto his forearms. As his skin blistered away, another inmate punched him in the back of the head, and he fell to the ground. Within seconds, eleven inmates were on top of him, punching, kicking, hitting and doing whatever else they could to hurt him. This is the fight that he says he watched take place, from far above. Outside of his beaten body, watching it waste away. He thought he was dying. He says he can't remember how long it took for them to pull the last inmate off of his back, probably because he was unconscious. It was six weeks in the infirmary after that, but at least for then he was safe.

When he was put back in general population, he quickly learned that fight had opened a door. He suffered broken ribs (being hit in the stomach with a barbel), which he walked around with for two weeks before reporting; a broken jaw, countless beatings and attempted assaults, some of which he was able to stave off. Geoff is a strong man; he can easily take down three other guys without much of a problem. The problem was, there were never just three. Even though he did everything he could to avoid the fights, and even situations that could possibly lead to them, he was denied parole three separate times. Every one of the eleven inmates who had tried to kill him that day in the kitchen was out on parole before he was finally released in March of 2008.

Geoff's father had moved to Texas – over 1,500 miles away – in the middle of Geoff's sentence. With him, he had taken all of his belongings – everything from clothes to thousands of dollars worth of mechanic's tools. So when he walked out of Gowanda the night of his release, and boarded a one-way bus to White Plains, New York, he found himself with the $50.00 they give you on the way out, nothing else. For the next three months, he would live in the homeless shelter in Valhalla, and begin his re-entry into the world.

That is where I will end today's segment because this is when Geoff's life began to change for the better. It still wasn't easy and there is much yet to be told, but I need to stop now. For whatever reason this is the hardest part of Geoff's life for me to deal with and I need to go distract myself with something else now. Thank you again, as usual, for your kind words and support. There is much more to be told, I promise. Sincerely, Shana.