The Dream Goes Forward
RSOL's fourth annual conference, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico September 7-9 is over, but it will not be forgotten.
It was magnificent. It began in turmoil and ended in triumph. Media headlines started with " 'Locals remain concerned over reform sex offender conference," segued to "Sex offender conference aims to change laws," and ended with "Conference to Reform the Sex Offender Registry Ends Without Incident." Our imminent arrival in their city had the mayor's office so agitated that the police department was required to have a "town hall meeting" to warn concerned residents. The number of residents who were concerned enough to show up was either three or four.
The post conference press release summarized it well:
" 'From good to better to stupendous!' That was Lloyd Swartz, president of New Mexico’s Reform Sex Offender Law’s affiliate, describing the national organization’s fourth annual 3-day conference that closed Sunday at the Ramada Conference Center in Albuquerque.
"RSOL’s Executive Director Brenda Jones opened the official meeting by emphasizing the RSOL Vision—'Sexual offense laws that are based on equal justice and respect for the dignity of all people; protection from – and reversal of – retroactively applied restrictions resulting from public registration; and viable, effective policies that will protect our communities'—as well as action statements and beliefs that set the tone and the focus for activities in the upcoming year." continue reading
Perspective from a new Executive Director
This year's National Conference brought RSOL to a whole new level, and I found myself in the middle of quite a storm! It was both exhilarating and humbling.
This was our first year to seriously publicize the conference, and our on line enemies seized the opportunity to discredit us, accusing us of an evil "hidden agenda" and of seeking "softer" punishments for sex offenders. We continued to display our REAL agenda clearly on our website and conference materials, and eventually local media got our message right.
We live in a world of 30-second sound-bites. If we're lucky, we might get 10 seconds of "air time" out of a 5 minute interview, so during that 5 minutes we have to hit our key points again and again, no matter what we're asked.
I have pushed hard since becoming Executive Director to draft and approve Vision, Mission, and Beliefs statements for RSOL; they made my job as spokesperson for RSOL so much easier at the conference -- especially as this was my "baptism by fire" into the wacky world of media interviews. During each interview, I felt myself gaining confidence in our message, honing it to convey an accurate and understandable message to people who generally have NO CLUE of what we're talking about.
Case in point: Our Vision originally said that we want to "reverse retroactively-applied punishment" for sexual offenders. You and I know that we are talking about retroactively-applied registry restrictions and other changes. You and I also know (I hope) that public registration is, technically and legally, not considered punishment, even though most people talk about it as such. And we know the very broad brush applied to put people on the registry. The media (and most of the public) does NOT know these things. So they assumed our phrase meant we wanted to change the sentences of child molesters and serial rapists and make things easier for them.
Um... I sure don't think so! But how to say what we REALLY MEAN in such a way that the ignorant can at least avoid the worst misunderstandings? Five minute interview, 5-second sound bite, remember? I began saying "retroactively applied restrictions."
What humbled me was the collective and individual knowledge assembled in that conference space. So many professionals with great information were willing to come share their knowledge with us in hope of change. So many fellow advocates who know so much more than I do in so many areas have placed their trust in me to lead RSOL forward.
I have learned many things since I first dived into this cause in December of 2009, but I think the most important one is that the best leaders must, of necessity, make themselves dispensable. The cause is greater than any of us, and we must pull together to share our strengths and protect our weaknesses. I have a little plaque on my desk (yes, I have a day job) that says "Teamwork is the Collective Talents of Many Individuals." I saw the beginnings of that teamwork at our conference and continue to see it in the workings of our new Admin Team. Let's keep the momentum going!
Humor from the Conference
This original cartoon was submitted by Carla of Arkansas; an incarcerated pen-pal/friend designed it for her in honor of our time in New Mexico. Thank you, Carla, and thank you Carla's friend.
The Rest of the Story
Almost everybody knows about the town hall meeting held in Albuquerque, at the directive of the mayor's office, in order for concerned citizens to hear from the police department what to expect with a sex offender conference coming to town. Almost everybody knows that Cmdr. Rowe, the APD officer who conducted the meeting, was respectful and very fair in assuring the few who attended that no problems were anticipated. Almost everybody knows how very few actual citizens of Albuquerque were at the meeting.
This is what everybody doesn't know. One of the women who was at the meeting showed up at the conference site on Friday. She stood around in the check-in area, visibly agitated, disturbed, and angry. One of our members approached her and asked if she could help. The flood of emotions poured out. Our member took her into an empty room and listened. This woman is the mother of a teenager who had been forcibly raped a few months previously. She had just come from a court hearing. The idea of a conference where people promoted the rights of those who sexually offend had her almost over the edge. Our member listened; three others talked and listened to her, including one of our presenters. As one of the members told her during the time that she was persuaded to stay and listen and talk, we were probably the last thing she needed to encounter at that point in time. But there we were. And there she was. She came angry and hurt and bitter and vengeful. After several hours, she left, still hurting, still dazed and somewhat bitter, but not so angry and not so vengeful.
She is a lesson to us all. So many of us are bitter and angry because nobody else "gets it." No one uninvolved with our issues and the realities of our lives can even come close to understanding what it is like. We need to remember that we are not the only ones in pain; we are not the only ones to whom life has dealt a horrible blow that has left us reeling.
To Kill a Mockingbird
will always be one of my very favorite books, largely because the character Atticus Finch, the father in the novel, is such a positive role model in the lives of his children and in his community. Narrated by his young daughter Scout, the reader hears over and over, when Scout loses patience with people, the advice given her by her father to "crawl inside" the other person's skin and "walk around in it." Scout learns that you can never really know what another person feels and thinks unless you can stand in his place and "be in his skin." This is what we so often wish those we know could do; we must remember that empathy and compassion must flow both ways and that we too must be open to opportunities to get into another person's skin and understand how that person feels.
Heard Here and There at the Conference
"The conference is more than a meeting to learn; it’s a lot more than that. It's a place to talk with others and have your faith restored."
"I am so sick and tired of politicians who are cowards."
~Sen. Cisco McSorley; NM legislator, speaker at conference~
"I totally enjoyed the conference....Thank you RSOL Administration for keeping us together and giving us the opportunity to unite and learn.
~Georgina S; SD~
"Creating conditions where a person is unable to ever outrun his past makes a mockery of our claims of rehabilitation."
~Norm Pattis; attorney, presenter at conference~
"We were pleased see old friends and meet new ones. Many of the keynote speakers and breakout workshops were incredible and very informative."
~Donna and Dennis; MO~
"The opening ceremony was cool and allowed me to feel the flavor of New Mexico....Most enjoyable and informative conference yet."
~Mary Sue; TX~
Beyond the Label – Gary Blanton, Jr.
A Once Fallen Production
On June 2, 2012, a man used the sex offender registry to choose his targets, killing two people and targeting a third. The media reported this man “killed two child rapists.” The public heralded this man as a “hero,” and this killer was denied bail out of fears he would flee from justice with the help of his supporters. The media largely ignored the victims in this case because they carried the stigma of “Registered Sex Offender.”
This documentary, Beyond the Label, looks past the headlines to give you the untold story of one of the victims in this case, Gary Blanton, Jr. Convicted of a consensual act between two teens, Blanton lived a decade on the sex offender registry. Blanton would later meet his wife, Leslie, get married, and work to support his family in spite of the difficulties posed by his label.
Beyond the Label gives the full story the media refuses to give, showing Gary Blanton, Jr. as more than just a label. Beyond the Label tells the story of Gary Blanton, Jr. as a human being, a husband, and a father to two young children, as told by those who knew him most. Beyond the Label also looks at the aftermath of a horrific crime – a widow working overtime to raise two children too young to fully understand the concept of death. She faces harassment from neighbors and supporters from her husband’s killer.
Does a person deserve to be murdered in cold blood simply because of a label? When you look beyond the label and see a man, can you still justify premeditated murder? After watching this film, the answer should be no.
~by Derek Logue~
From Our States
Arkansas is gearing up for the Jan. 2013 legislative session. We are working on getting more members involved and educated about what needs to do be done: letter writing, sending emails, or making phone calls. We also need those who will meet with their legislators, work on their campaigns, or write letters to them before the start of the year. Our main goal right now is getting our name out to them before the committee starts meeting. One thing we learned at the Conference is that if we can stop a bill from going to committee, then that is a win. We will start a letter campaign in late October and continue into December.
ATAT now has a new web-site up and running. We have been working on this for about 2 months. I hope everyone will check it out.
Illinois Voices is excited to announce the launch of our totally revamped website, as well as new opportunities that will allow each of our supporters to get involved with Illinois Voices in a way that fits their interests, skills, and availability. While the address remains the same (www.ilvoices.com
), and some areas are still being worked on, the look and content of the website have been completely updated. The look is more streamlined and the content more concise and complete.
To enhance our ongoing mission of reducing sexual abuse through effective legislation, Illinois Voices is expanding its mission in an effort to reduce sexual abuse through compassionate support for registered sex offenders. We will continue to fight ineffective legislation, and we will continue to put pressure on our legislators to pass laws that are based on empirical research. In addition, we are launching new support efforts to assist registered sex offenders who are seeking housing, employment, general services, or who have general questions about the sex offender registration act. In order to make this happen, we are seeking volunteers from amongst our supporters who are willing to serve on various committees.
As supporters continue to help by sending out letters to those on the registry, as of early September, our contact list is now at 550 (with approximately another 100 being signed up as this digest is being sent out). Thank you to all of those who have joined a committee, made donations, and helped by sending out (and paying for) letters to those on the registry. The more help we get, the more we accomplish!
Indiana RSOL has been really busy working on presenting at the AWA interim study committee meetings. We were blasted by emails and phone calls when the costs of implementing AWA was established in our presentation to the committee. Many reporters and state officials wanted INRSOL’s statistics to review. We gave them our Power Point Presentation with pleasure!
~continued from previous column~
INRSOL is also gearing up for a collaborative effort with W.A.R. to present at the Indiana Criminal Justice Association’s annual conference which will be held October 3-5. We are also in the process of creating a board of electors and acquiring our not-for-profit status.
INRSOL has also assisted in working with DOC officials to find temporary and permanent housing for individuals who are being released from incarceration. Visit our website and see our changes! It has been a busy month for INRSOL and its leaders!
All energy recently has been focused on the conference. Now we can get back to normal. Our next state-wide meeting is on September 29.
Missouri had four people attend the New Mexico conference. We now prepare for our interim hearing which will take place in October. This will be a joint committee hearing and we are hopeful for reform in the upcoming General Assembly Session. At the moment, all of our energy is focused on contacting legislators and giving them valuable information regarding risk assessment and recidivism.
The Oregon legislature has begun, and we are waiting for the next work-group meeting on expanding the public access to the sex offender lists. Oregon currently has a very small percentage on its SO list on-line, about 800 of a total of 1800, and we want to keep it from expanding any more. Yes, there is pressure to do so, but we want to keep our voice out there advocating for limits and reason.
Several members in our group are also working very hard to distribute Oregon Voices pamphlets and to offer support to others who need it.
We are working on getting a group like ours started in Washington. One of our members is very proactive in seeing that this will succeed.
The South Dakota High Prison Population Study Group is still meeting; the results of the study should be available soon as Dakota RSOL continues to grow in numbers.
I totally enjoyed the warm, festive, informative, and networking conference that went so smoothly. Thank you to New Mexico RSOL for hosting such a successful conference. I really enjoyed seeing the seasoned faces and meeting several new advocates who share the same compassion for change. And what a closing; I was so impressed with the Senator's speech which just seemed to echo and strengthen our cause.