Sex offender Syndrome. Like a dormant virus it emerges, infecting everyone. All it takes to spread is the utterance of those two simple words "sex" and "offender." Suddenly anger bubbles forth from even the most peaceful person. Hatred breaks through the lips. A disease fueled by fear. Fear from those who have been affected by one in their past, fear for those loved ones that could be affected in the future, fear that any "sex offender" could be "the One." This fear causes them to lash out, as people in fear often do.
I have witnessed the violence towards sex offenders first hand. In county jail, they have a specific pod for sex offenders. They have to be separated from the general population for fear of violence and the lawsuits that would follow. The funny thing about this sex offender pod (which housed men accused of rape, indecent exposure, child pornography, and so on) is that they would themselves discriminate against other sex offenders. When someone new arrived that they didn't approve of, they would threaten him. If he continued to stay (which never happened), he would have been beaten. The reason the men on this pod took this course of action against others going through what they themselves were going through (guilty or not) was to save face with the neighboring pods. They tried to hide themselves among the wolves.
In jail, as well as prison, all sex offenders are referred to as "chomos." A chomo is a child molester. They do not nitpick crimes. If you were drunk and urinated on the side of a building, you are a child molester; if you were on the computer and ran into some unpleasant material, you are a child molester; if you committed bestiality, you are a child molester. All sex offenders are child molesters, weirdos, maggots, vermin, and trash. They are the lowest possible form of life in prison. Yet I find it amusing that the most unaccepted group is the most accepting in prison life.
In the prison chow hall, blacks sit with blacks, whites with whites, Indians with Indians, and Mexicans with Mexicans. The most welcoming table in the chow hall happens to be the one with the worst stigma: the sex offender table. Acceptance is usually where it ends, however. Sex offenders, though many in number, tend not to stand up for each other as much as the races do for each other. Like roaches, they scurry away from the slightest hint of danger. Fear has taken hold of their hears the same as it has for those who prey on them.
I am a nonviolent sex offender. To put it simply, I screwed up while using Torrents (a form of file sharing). I was not as careful as I should have been and now here I sit writing about the worst part of my life. The day I was arrested, I, too, fell victim to SOS. I thought there had been some mistake. I stood silently as they handcuffed me, watching the tears roll from my mother's eyes. I felt shame as heavy as the burden of Atlas. At that moment, I felt like I was going to die. In the police car I considered biting my tongue open, but that proved to be too painful. I would bide my time.
The officers took me into town to process me at the station I was stripped of all my clothing and given a paper outfit that I broke out of in embarrassing ways. Luckily I was alone in the cell. I would have been able to sneak a razor in if I had thought ahead. But not thinking ahead is what got me there in the first place. I felt no sorrow, no remorse; I only awaited death.
They took me from the police department back towards my home; this confused me. We made a right turn before the left turn that would have taken me to my place. Instead I ended up at a maximum security jail within walking distance of my home. I later learned it had been there for several years and I never knew it. Again, inside I had to strip down for the guard. This time I was given some boxers, an orange shirt, and orange pants. No socks, no shoes, just old overused broken flip-flops for my feet. I carried my thin mattress and blanket through cold hallways and locked doors. I had arrived at the sex offender pod where I was immediately questioned by the inmates. I got their approval. I was not threatened. I was not told to leave. It didn't matter. I was just waiting for the right moment, looking for the right tool, and it would be over. That night I sat on my bed, on my cold metal slab, like a dead man awoke, staring oblivion in the eye and not blinking. I did not sleep, just contemplated my fate.
I spent eleven months in that frozen hell. When I finally left, it felt like its own form of freedom; I was shackled and chained, but free. I was lucky enough to end up at a minimum security prison without a fence. A prison that fed us almost adult portions of food. I was nearly starved in jail. I may have suffered malnutrition, muscle atrophy, and my mind may have shrunk some. I was getting dumber the longer I stayed. To be in prison was a sad blessing.
Like jail, prison has those affected by SOS. I was again questioned. I was again lucky. I was happy just to be able to step outside, to read, to eat, to have contact visits. (No more talking through the glass!)
Still I was and am looked down upon. I've been close to fighting with so many people bound by the chains of fear, but I simply throw my pride to the floor. Pride is a useless thing in prison. For the most part I am left alone and that's the way I prefer it. The whole experience has left me with a distrust in people I didn't have before, a paranoia of the slights from my family, that thought that they may have an implied meaning behind some of what they say. Of course, I have a complete mistrust in our justice system that seems to be more of a "just us" system.
It is not only my belief, but that of many others, that the politicians make the laws to make it seem like they have dome more than they really have to make society safer. This allows police officers to arrest more people who would otherwise be no harm to anyone and this makes it seem as if the police are keeping citizens safer than they actually are. This, of course, lets the lawyers pretend to care about your case to get their paycheck while they set up a plea deal with a district attorney for you to sign your life away. The DA gets to look like he's keeping people safe by putting the "bad guys" away, the judge gets to sweep you under the rug like so many other discarded souls, and, finally, the prisons get paid to babysit a bunch of irresponsible adults. Essentially, the justice system has become a business, trading on human flesh.
I have asked a question to many people in prison, "If you could sign a waiver to receive a whipping to replace the amount of time you have left, would you?" The answer is always "yes!" It would be so much easier to take your momentary punishment and get back to being a productive member of society than to become a burden on everyone. When an animal wrongs another animal, there is some sort of physical punishment. They scratch; they snap. They do not, however, send the offending animal to "time-out." Prison is cruel and unusual punishment, a form of mental torture that follows us back into society.
I find myself having nightmares more and more lately. Everyday is another day closer to a suffocating freedom. I am free, in these dreams, on the outside and everything is good. Then I have a crushing realization, I have either not paid my court costs or I have not registered in time. My nightmare is to come back to prison over something simple, something stupid. This is considered "short timer's syndrome," an irrational fear of leaving captivity. I also have a fear of those with SOS on the outside. The people that I will call neighbor, the people I will work beside, the people I want to call friend, all afraid of me.
I didn't die in prison. And though I have my fear, I will persevere as I have all my life. I have spit in the face of depression, swum against the tide of poverty, and stared Death in the face. I will leave this monster factory and I will march against the fears of society. I will do as I have always done, survive.