Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Living Beyond the Label Part II: A Level 3’s Housewarming

Never have I felt a greater kinship with the online community of ex-sex offenders than when I wrote about my dream of building my own home (see part one below). The heartfelt messages I received showed me just how important personal dreams and accomplishments are for so many on the registry. For all those who wrote, and anyone struggling to live beyond the label, I wanted to post this special update.

Last September I had the pleasure of welcoming a crowd of guests from near and far—family, friends, craftsmen and many of my neighbors. A housewarming was a great way to bring together the many people involved in my life and creative ambitions over the last 3 years, to show my appreciation with a delicious outdoor feast, and to proudly present the final results.

All the compliments and loving hugs I got that day felt amazing. And the talk about submissions to architectural magazines was especially meaningful to me since I had designed every element myself. But as I told my guests, it was the help I got from local craftsmen that turned my visions into reality. This got me thinking again about how much my relationship with the community had changed since I arrived.

While creative expression has always come naturally to me, expressing my higher self in this community with a sex offender label was not so easy. Every time people reacted badly to my label--and there were plenty of disturbing incidents--it was a challenge not to feel depressed, angry or afraid. For quite some time I felt like getting as far away from this place as possible!

But once I decided to stay I saw that, for better or worse, this was the only local community I had. Was I going to isolate myself because of my label, avoid interactions, and live in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear? I never wanted a hermit’s life. And I sure didn’t want to give my label any more power than it deserved. I wanted to be a good neighbor and friend to the people around me. I wanted to be involved. And the fact was I needed help bringing my plans to fruition.

Eventually I understood that people weren’t reacting to me as I am, or as I could be, but to projections of their own fears. And if I reacted to them in the same ways—with fear, anger and condemnation—then nothing was going to change. How would they know there was more to me than a label if I wasn't willing to show them? Regardless of how I had been treated, or what I imagined people thought of me, I could choose to approach anyone I met with respect, openness and trust. I could be the change I wanted to see.

When Stan and Linda first heard about my label they feared it could cause problems with their rental property next door. But they’ve since told me the passion and dedication I revealed was more important than their doubts. Stan spent countless hours working on my property with his tractor and his engineering expertise. And Linda visited often with encouragement and praise for the progress she saw. Today they treat me with the warmth of an adopted son, and I am invited to all their family gatherings.

Ray had seen my sex offender poster on a visit to the sheriff’s office, and spread this information around town to people who didn’t yet know. But Ray also owned a lumber mill, and was one of Stan’s friends. So I put my fears aside and approached him about materials for my house. It was he who supplied all the old-growth cedar siding that was ideal for my cabin exterior, at a price that would have been double anywhere else.

Deborah was the detective who interrogated me when I first came to the area and was charged with failure to register. Since then she has retired from the Sheriff’s Department and opened a business as a professional seamstress. Today we have a friendship that would have seemed impossible before, and it was Deborah who made the curtains for my closets and the cushion for my living room couch.

Adam is the sheriff’s deputy assigned to make official checks on me. I used to feel resentful when he showed up unannounced. But showing him a grumpy face not only felt unnatural, it seemed unfair to the man forced to carry out this uncomfortable duty. So I began to invite Adam inside, show him my progress, and talk about whatever might come up. When I asked him if attending my housewarming presented a conflict of interest for him considering our “official” roles, he said: “We’re also neighbors.”

Do I still get rejected for my label? Yes. I’ve met people that had great potential as friends, only to watch them vanish from my life when they discovered my label. But by choosing to act out of compassion rather than fear, I just let them go without resentment and move on.

Four hundred years ago, poet John Donne wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself...." Today his words are as meaningful as ever. I need my friends and supporters of the online community who are striving to fulfill their own dreams against the odds. And I also need my local friends and neighbors that bring richness and joy to my daily life.


  1. That house is awesome. Did you build it all yourself? I'd love to live in something like that, but I do not have the money, and am barely scraping by.

  2. Thank you for sharing your BEAUTIFUL home with us, and for sharing your HOPE for the future! Maybe there's hope for MY boy, too, when he's released . . .

    I agree that pics of your home need to be submitted to an architectural magazine. Simply gorgeous!

  3. Thanks SOIssues!

    I designed the house myself, but got lots of help building it. Please don’t let not having money halt your dreams! When I first started I was just like you--no money and barely scraping by. But out of the pain of my unfortunate history and circumstances I developed a powerful willingness to do whatever it took to make my dream happen. I began simply...drawing designs, scrounging materials, and talking to everyone I met about my desires. And the more I did, the more help I got. Believe in yourself, brother, and the Universe will follow!


  4. Thanks Joe's Editor!

    I have no doubt there is hope for your boy. He seems like the kind of man who can transform a tough life lesson into a humble yet tenacious incentive...and that makes all the difference!


  5. Lovely pics. One of my coworkers toured your home recently and sent me the link to this entry. Getting ready to build a small home myself in Jefferson county, almost into Mason. You mentioned difficulty with getting permits etc. Can you tell me who you worked with in the planning office that was especially helpful?
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful home pics!

  6. Thanks 3CountyLaugh!

    I would be pleased to share any information I can to assist your exciting endeavor. Maybe you'd like to tour my place yourself, and we could discuss your plans in detail.


  7. Erik,
    That is one badass house and you've set the bar pretty high for us sex offenders! Are you sure you wouldn't rather be in the proverbial van down by the river ;- )
    Seriously, very inspirational and a manifestation of everything about you that is not "level3" or "sex offender".

  8. Erik,
    What a wonderful house! How it was built is a metaphor for how a community can work. The fact you cultivated the positivity and had the guts to engage people in the community really shows how things can happen for the better when one is not stuck being bitter and resentful (a favorite past time of some of us offenders, I know). I really believe it's more difficult to hate someone you actually know and it is our responsibility in a way to not be stereotypical recluses and actually engage others around us.
    There are times I feel I will end up in the proverbial "van down by the river". You house is a testament to what is possible for many people like me.

  9. Thanks so much, Richard! Your warm, funny and insightful comments were a joy for me to read!
    I hope you'll share your successes with all of us!


  10. Erik,
    Yes I plan on sharing more of my personal success in my blog. Right now I'm just posting practical things to help others in our situation. I'm very excited to be concluding 10 years of probation this July and rebooting my life :- )

  11. Great news, Richard!

    Check out Richard's Blog:


  12. Wow, Erik, your story and your blog are very inspirational. Thank you!!!!