In Her Shell
Friday, January 26, 2007
  People I Know
Two of my colleagues, both of whom just bought houses, were looking online at one of those creepy where-are-the-sex-offenders websites. Not the State one, but one of those we-say-we-are-just-a-bunch-of-concerned-parents-but-really- we-are-only-matches-away-from-a-village-and-a-shitload-of-torches.

Not that I am at all psyched about the prospect of sex offenders in my neighborhood, or anyone's neighborhood. But Megan's Law was one of the first measures I got to vote on when I turned 18, and I voted against it. I do not know what the solution is to this problem. Most of these people are monstrous, yes. It just seems inherently dangerous to keep this kind of public tracking system after anyone has served their time. Not to mention the fact that it apparently doesn't help. I recently read an article* about the ways that Megan's Law makes cops' jobs harder, because it encourages offenders to go underground even more than they normally would.

So my friends were looking at this website. One of them put in her address, and little dots showed up on the map. You click on them, and the registered sex offender's picture, name, and offense(s) show up in a pop-up window. My friend read aloud the name of the offender in her neighborhood.

And I know her. This woman who Endangered the Welfare of a Child was in a writing class that I TAed at a women's prison four years ago. I guess she's out now.

While I was working with the class, I did not look these women up on the State Department of Corrections website. I only knew their crimes if they wrote about them and read their work aloud. I needed it to be that way. But after it was over, I couldn't help myself. I looked up each of them. It was a maximum security unit, so I shouldn't have been surprised: I had taught, among other things, a murderer, a prostitute, several aggravated assaulters. And a child abuser.

That was the hardest one to learn. In class, she had written about the day she and her husband picked out their wedding rings in a jewelry store at the mall. She wasn't a great writer, but she read the story aloud with pride. She used lots of specific detail. It was obviously a happy memory for her.

I don't like that I know this woman, but I don't know the whole story. Many of the women in our class were there because of crimes their boyfriends or husbands committed; the murderer had killed her longtime abuser during a psychotic break. Most of the students in the class had been victims of abuse.

I don't think anyone who hurts children should get a break. I appreciate that the legal system is trying to be there for victims in a way that it was not there for many of my students in the prison. But for this to be necessary, clearly something is wrong on the sentencing end. I do not believe that the ends justify the means of this law, and maybe I have just read 1984 too many times but it seems about as effective as a wet Band-Aid and as sophisticated as a match and a bundle of sticks.

But I don't like that I know this woman. I really, really don't like that I know her.

*Although I couldn't track down this exact article, here is a similar one from California, and one from NJ, about the problems with Megan's Law enforcement.
Another product of the Austin Sarat school of there are no easy answers.

I had a student a few years ago that everyone said was a total thug. I had never had a problem with him and refused to listen to the stories about him because I didn't want them to color my view of him. He was a pain some of the time, but mostly a pretty nice kid. This year he attacked rival gang members with a baseball bat in the fast food place across the street from school, was expelled and I beleive is doing jail time.

I'm not sure what my point is, maybe that there are a lot of not nice people out there, but that we do better if we don't know that about them.
Thanks for the empathy, Lu. Last year after I wrote about two of my students being gang raped, I found out that I had one of the accused rapists in my class. It is a real struggle as teachers and human beings to wrestle with that: sometimes you have to help people whom you find to be... what? Dangerous? Morally repugnant? When Sister Helen Prejean met with the Dead Man Walking he was already safely behind bars.
Mark Salzman has a GREAT memoir about teaching writing to kids in maximum security Juvenile Detention. True Notebooks. . .check it out. . .
Re: the sex offender and police etc - GO SEE LITTLE CHILDREN. It's creepy, brilliant and Kate Winslet is amazing in it. So is Jackie Earl Haley.
The anonymous above is me _ SNIX :)
Megan: Thanks for the recommendation; I will check it out.

Snix: I have read the book and thought it was great, and now the movie is on my list! Thanks.
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