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When There's A Sex Offender Next Door
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When There\'s A Sex Offender Next Door

Years ago I befriended my neighbors who had a son in his thirties living at home. Because of a bad economy, it was a common occurrence at the time for older children to return to their parents' homes, so I thought nothing of my neighbors' situation. With time, however, the son was arrested for a sexual offense and sentenced to prison; and so began an" up close and personal" education with regard to sexual offenders and child abuse, not to mention a growing familiarity with life in prison.

I had strong opinions on the subject before I knew about my neighbor, and I have strong opinions now. What has transpired since I realized that I know a sex offender is that my thinking has acquired depth and substance; and I've acquired new faith in my own views, since they're now based on both moral principle and actual experience with an offender.

When I first met my neighbors' son (let's call him Colin) he was working odd jobs with no particular direction in life. There was no reason to believe he was involved with drugs or alcohol, yet he just couldn't seem to find his way. Socially, he was quite likable, and he was especially popular with women. In fact a stream of women flowed through his life, each one of whom he brought home to mom and dad as though the relationship were serious. Mom and dad joked that Colin continually provided them with interesting dinner guests, but seemed nevertheless discouraged that no one seemed to stick.

A few years into my relationship with my neighbors (let's call them Ken and Jillian,) one of Colin's women friends got pregnant, and Colin refused to marry her. Ken and Jillian nevertheless adopted her as their daughter-in-law and were delighted when their grand daughter was born. Colin simply continued dating a series of new women, while the baby grew up bathed in the doting attention of her grand parents.

Ken has passed away, but today the grand daughter herself has had a baby boy, and she, her boyfriend, and the baby live happily with Jillan. Colin is still in prison. However, I've learned that before he went away, he also fathered a son who is now 16, and a little girl with a woman in Minnesota. Jillian doesn't know the Minnesota mom, nor has she ever met her third grandchild. She's a religious person and prays daily for the man she dubs her "wayward son". She deplores his sexual and criminal wrong-doing, at the same time that she appears to be in denial about the seriousness of what he’s done. She feels that he’s paid his dues and the system should ease up on him.

Ken and Jillian have been excellent friends throughout our relationship, and now that Ken is gone, Jillian and I are closer than ever. So I’ve never felt free to ignore or reject Colin, even after I learned that some of his sexual offenses involved teenagers and even little girls. Like many people in prison, he diligently cultivates his outside contacts, so I regularly receive letters from him.

For a few years he was jailed in Minnesota where he sexually abused his girlfriend’s daughter (his baby son’s sister). While there, he was enrolled in what I’ve come to regard as an excellent treatment program for sexual offenders, and his letters were full of what he was learning in treatment.

For the most part, what Colin wrote me about his journey of self discovery was, as they say, too much information. The program insisted that offenders become and remain open about their behavior, including full public disclosure in group sessions. Colin’s never had close friends (apart from his girlfriends) and apparently has no idea that it might be inappropriate to tell me about his sexual history. In fact boundaries are an issue I’ve had to work on constantly with him, whether in letters or on the phone when Colin calls his mom from prison during one of my visits with her, and Jillian asks me to speak with him. I’m about 20 years older than Colin and he sees me as an older sister. He and Jillian are both looking for all the support they can get.

As it turns out, Colin raped a fellow student when he was in high school in Massachusetts, was tried as an adult (he’d just turned 18,) and went to prison for a few years. I met him after he got out and before he was jailed a second time. His crimes are many and hideous. He’s molested at least one elementary school-aged girl, engaged in sexual relations with an unknown number of under aged teens, stockpiled child pornography and, engaged in and videoed sexual acts with minors. When last arrested, he had a huge collection of downloaded and personally created pornography that the police seized as evidence.

On one level, he’s making a sincere effort to understand why he’s obsessed with deviant sexuality, and why he’s offended so variously and abundantly. In Minnesota he did some authentic soul searching under the guidance of the staff in his treatment facility. I believe he’s determined to never engage in such behavior again. On the other hand there are so many ways in which Colin just doesn’t get it. He’s not in denial so much as that he can’t grasp how deviant his thinking is, or how it persistently leads him back to sexual abuse and pedophilia.

Of course concluding that Colin will re-offend if and when he gets out of prison is speculation on my part. However, the research I’ve read holds little hope for people as deeply involved as Colin. What’s more, the relevant areas of psychology and psychiatry seem to have no proven protocol for treatment. But in the end, I’ve made my conclusions based on conversations with Colin, and I’d like to offer two examples of such conversations.

While in treatment in Minnesota, he wrote me that his facilitators were hounding him about the under-aged girls with whom he’d had sexual relations. He seemed perplexed as to why they kept focusing on that. He told me he understood that it was wrong and that he was doing everything the program advised regarding not thinking about under-aged girls as sexual partners. In return I told him what it was like for me as a teen when older men showed sexual interest in me: the desire for special attention from respected grown-ups and the feeling of being flattered, as well as the repulsion, the guilt, the anger and the difficulty in rebuffing them. He came back in a second letter with, “I was just trying to say that these days girls know what they want by the time they’re 15 or 16.” To my understanding, Colin is unable to relate to what it’s really like for his victims, and that’s a huge obstacle to genuine regret.

Colin is serving sentences in both Minnesota and Massachusetts and is currently in MA without treatment, awaiting trial for “civil commitment”. If the court finds him sexually dangerous he will be in prison, or rather committed, for an indefinite period of time and it won’t matter when he’s served out his sentences. He and his lawyer are building their case, which involves interviews with psychiatrists who specialize in pedophilia. One such psychiatrist flunked him, though the doctor was paid by the defense and supposed to be on Colin’s side. Colin thinks he just didn’t understand how hard he, Colin, worked in Minnesota and how much he’s changed. In the course of our phone conversation on this topic, Colin said, “I even laughed with him. I told him the day I raped X, my car had broken down and I had to take the bus. If I hadn’t seen X on the bus and followed her, it might never have happened.” With that, I understood just how quickly he had reverted to dangerous thinking since leaving his treatment program.

So what do I hope for my dear friend’s son? I hope he will stay in prison for the forseeable future. I might have arrived at the same conclusion with regard to someone with Colin’s history before I met him. But I have met him; I like many things about him; I love his family and I care about him. Still, l maintain that society needs to be protected from Colin until and unless something changes drastically. Sadly, I’m not optimistic.


Street Talk

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