The Fear Doesn’t Stop.

When one thinks of prison they think of a violent place where criminals are locked away. The truth about most prisons is that they are relatively the same as the real world. You have individuals who are prone to violence; you have individuals who are very meek. You have individuals who have substance abuse problems; you have individuals who strive to be healthy. You have individuals who are extremely intelligent; you have individuals that couldn’t find their way out of a wet paper bag.

Prison populations are as heterogeneous as the general public. The major difference is that everyone in prison is there because of a crime. Not all are guilty; unfortunately our system of justice is not without its flaws, and some innocent people do go to prison. But, the general population of a prison is made up of persons guilty of committing a crime. Most prisoners are not separated based on the crime they have committed and you have murders, burglars, rapists, child molesters, car thieves, and drug dealers living together in often overcrowded, and very close quarters.

As a sex offender in prison there is the constant fear that you will be ostracized, harassed, beaten, or even killed while in prison. You live every day looking over your shoulder; appraising those around you for their dangerousness to your personal safety. Some offenders will go weeks without showering, out of fear they will be attacked while they are at their most vulnerable. Some choose to live a life of constant isolation in a protective custody unit so they feel protected.

Most sexual offenders will not take the protective custody route. They tend to keep to themselves, but eventually find others who do not judge them so harshly and they make friends. They learn to live with the fear that is always in the back of their mind. Like all other offender types they make a choice to learn from the prison experience or to become bitterer at a system they consider to be unfair. Some seek treatment or education so that upon release they are a better person than the one who stepped into prison; while others try to fight the system any way they can, even at the expense of improving their own lives.

Release from prison comes, as it will for the majority of individuals who go there. Supervision brings on a new set of fears. Will they get revoked for something silly? Can they get a job with their criminal background? Will their families forgive them for screwing up their lives? For registered offenders, there is the additional fear that someone may take it upon themselves to seek revenge for their crime even when that person was not involved. Along with those fears is the fear that they will continue to be judged a bad person even after they have paid their debt and proven they can be a contributing, law abiding citizen.

Even after release from their sentence the fear continues to haunt them. News stories about vigilantes killing registered offenders concern them because they could be next. Evil comments from an uneducated population about how all sex offenders should be put to death regardless of the seriousness of their crime. Legislatures passing laws that continually intrudes on their ability to be a contributing member of society. Fear their children, wives, and other family members will share in their fate of being ostracized, harassed, denied assistance, possibly killed, and pushed farther to the fringes of society. Fear they will forget to go register and be sent back to prison where the whole cycle will start anew.

Once a person as served their time, as proscribed by the word of law, they should be afforded the same right as any other criminal to slowly fade back into anonymity. They should be afforded the same rights to be able to obtain gainful employment; they should be afforded the same right to live a private life that every other citizen is able to live if they so choose. They should not be forced to live in constant fear.

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