Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sex Offender Speaker: California Outreach

A few months back I was contacted by a woman writing about sex offenders for her new book. She said she was impressed by the quality and candidness of the blogs she’d read on MonsterMart, and wondered if I would answer some questions. Gladly!

Turns out I was speaking with Dr. Nandi Crosby, author, feminist, former corrections officer, and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at California State University, Chico. Here’s a fascinating article about her life and work. And a link to Dr. Nandi's first book, If My Soul Be Lost.

When Dr. Nandi asked me to be a guest speaker in her classes I was honored and excited to accept. For several years I’ve wanted to begin speaking publicly about my crimes and the label I was given as a result. Dr. Nandi’s invitation was a great opportunity to educate students about the severe consequences sex offenders experience today through sharing my own story, especially how being on the registry has affected my life.

Was I nervous? No doubt. Speaking about any subject for hours would be challenging enough, let alone one as sensitive as sexual offense. Add in the shame that still arises from my childhood incest, as well as the behavior that put me on the registry as an adult, and the prospect of "baring it all" seemed all the more daunting.

At the same time I’ve come to understand how powerfully healing walking through this kind of vulnerability can be, for victim or offender alike. And having been on both ends of the spectrum means I can speak from experience.

Since all that most people ever know about a sex offender is a description of his crimes and a mugshot, I passed out copies of my own public notification poster early on. This led to discussion of how badly communities can react to an offender's presence, what limited information the notice contains, and the confusion that can result from the use of terms that seem violent or threatening to children even when the crimes were not.

The context of each class was slightly different, but in all of them I detailed my crimes, jail sentences, court-ordered treatment, and some of the many problems that came with being classified at the highest level of the registry for life. I also talked about the broader implications of the registry in our society, dispelled some of the pervading myths about sex offenders, and tried to illustrate how emotionally-driven sex offender laws can (and often do) cause more harm than good.

Not all the students were sympathetic. Some directly challenged my opinions, and some asked questions that could not be answered simply. But overall the students seemed eager to learn, their questions were insightful and intelligent, and there were even a few laughs.

Dr. Nandi offered helpful feedback along the way, the most meaningful being that my presentations were so authentic. Equally moving to me were the many handshakes I got from students afterwards, thanks for appearing, and congratulations on my work.

Ultimately, whether students agreed with my perspectives or not, I hope they left with a better understanding of the issues involved, and a greater willingness to think and talk openly about matters that are usually avoided. After this valuable first experience at Chico State I'll be looking for my next opportunity to speak and teach, wherever that may be. University of Paris anyone?