‘Once upon a time’ is a good beginning for a children’s story, or maybe for a poem, but this is neither of those. This is about me. This is my story. But who am I? Well, let’s just say I am, or perhaps more appropriately, I was a regular citizen. I was, like so many other regular citizens, marching along in cadence to the rhythms of life. In many ways, I was no different than anyone else in the sphere of my existence. I dated and got married, I volunteered at Vacation Bible School, I worked part-time and full-time jobs, I kept my house clean and I kept my nose clean, I spent time enjoying the company of my kids and my grandkids, and I did so many more fulfilling and yet run-of-the-mill daily activities. Life was full, the flowers were blooming, and I was blissfully unaware that anything would, or should change. My husband and I never gave the world’s business more than a passing glance. He, like a lot of males I know, didn’t watch the news because it was too depressing (I bet you’ve heard that before). And, I have to be honest and admit that there were times I agreed with his philosophy. The news had become monotonous. Daily thefts, murders, abductions, assaults, car wrecks and more. It all became so mundane. We were numb to the news of the day because it was the news of every day. But when the TV screen flashed an unflattering picture of a person they called a sex offender, well, then we took notice; we cringe in disgust. We knew just what they did, what they thought, what their propensities were, and we knew they would commit more crimes if given the chance. They were ‘one of them; the worst of the worst.’ We had no tolerance for this lot. In hindsight, that statement makes it sound like we actually did have tolerance for all other types of crimes and oddly enough, maybe in a strange way, we did. Ignorance is bliss isn’t it?
The younger of my sons graduated from high school and was off pursuing his dream of becoming a U.S. Marine; to serve his country and see the world. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California. On a Monday, after not hearing from him all weekend, his girlfriend called him at his job on the base and was told he no longer worked there. She called my older son and informed him of her concern. He made several calls to the base before finally getting ahold of his brother’s counselor who agreed to put him on the phone. I was added onto the call at this time and the first words I heard from my youngest son were ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Then, I heard the words that are forever burned into my memory. He said he had been arrested for possession of child pornography. At that moment, my world came to a sudden crashing halt. I was instantly paralyzed and completely confused as I fell to my knees.
Obviously, I would never have chosen this path for myself or for my son. He was so proud to be a Marine. I had heard my son’s stories about his time in the Marine’s. I once heard his Drill Sergeant proclaim that my son had pushed his comrades up the hill, at the crucible to help them through the stress of the moment, pass and graduate from boot camp. Honestly, I saw greatness in my son’s future.
But I had to face a new reality. Now, my son was one of ‘them’ and so was I. My family members are outcasts, pariahs, a part of the ‘others.’ Once upon a time I thought I had a clear understanding of good and bad; right and wrong; redemption and condemnation. Unfortunately, I have realized that it was not so. The reaction of Joe Q. Public to any type of sex offense in any corner of America ranges from indignation to outright violent persecution. They typically feel that the offender should be put away in prison, or worse, and any family member or friend who doesn’t erase the perpetrator from their life, well, they should be castigated.
Those who allow embarrassment and shame to control their actions are allowing society to define them. I learned this the hard way. I learned this by making this mistake. I know it’s not easy to overcome the stigma that hovers like a dark cloud, but it can be done. If you stop for a moment and watch those who are judging, you might find it quite interesting. For instance, one time my son and grandson were with me when I went to my job. A friend of mine knew about my son’s offense because I had told her. But, that day, when she walked by us, she was staring hard at him, unaware that I was watching her. She was locked in on him as if she was seeing a strange creature from another land; or perhaps, as if she was seeing a registrant for the first time. What she expected, I cannot begin to guess. On another occasion, my husband’s daughter-in-law was looking at some pictures and as she turned away, she caught a glimpse of my son’s picture and stared at it for a long moment. If you could have seen the look on her face, you might conclude, like I did, that she seemed so self-righteous. That struck me as amazing and troubling at the same time.
In my life, I have reconciled that while I used to be one of you, one of the masses, one of the self-righteous, one who passes judgment without facts; now I am one of them, the scorned, the judged, the unworthy. And if that is how society has chosen to treat me, I can live with it. But that doesn’t mean I am complacent. As one of ‘them’, I have met some incredible men, women and juveniles who, might have faltered, but are still worthwhile human beings. I have met advocates and activists and people willing to help change the world one conversation at a time. I have spent joyful time with family and friends who see too much fundamental unfairness in this world and are working to change it. All the folks that I meet these days, all the ‘others’, they’re all good people.