by Mike Powers
As I’ve written each one of the essays you’ve read so far, it’s been my goal to present as much relevant and interesting material as possible, but always with the goal of change in mind. Nothing can be done, unless the people with proper authority in our great state can get this information, and then have the courage to act on it. And I do mean courage, because, it will be a long, hard battle, and it will appear to the political base in Texas that the reformer has become the enemy, and a friend to all those people who should be “locked up and the key thrown away”. It will not be easy to help the voters see that, in the long run, they benefit much more greatly from an effective, well-run prison system than any offender.
In this installment, I’d like to get a littte more personal, and tell you why I’m in here and the effect that has, generally, on my life in prison. For most prisoners, the crime they committed to get incarcerated doesn’t necessarily have much of an effect on the way their life behind bars is spent, unless they are a axe-wielding serial killer or something. However, there is a group of crimes, that for all kinds of reasons, changes the way you will do your time for every prisoner, and that is sex crimes.
I am a sex offender, and my victim was an adolescent. Believe me when I say that, in prison, there are no shades of gray in regards to this crime. It doesn’t really matter if your victim was an adult, a teen, or a baby. It doesn’t matter if that victim was the same sex as you, or the opposite sex. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you were completely innocent of the crime in the first place and got accused by the outraged spouse when you told her you were leaving her because you couldn’t stand her hair color any more. (Yes, that’s a real case that happened to one of the people I gave legal aid to here in prison.) The fact is, if you come to the TDCJ, you come with a scarlet letter near-literally branded on your forehead, and the way you do time will be different from how a drug-dealer or a drunk-driver who killed a family of six will do his time.
Some of these differences are familiar to you, because your’ve probably seen more than one or two episodes of “Law and Order: SVU”, and old Elliot would always throw that out there during interrogation, “You think those gang-bangers down in Rikers are going to give you a blue ribbon when they hear you were messing with the schoolgirls in pigtails? Huh? Do you, punk?” And of course, the perp would break down in tears and tell all. So, there is inherently some stigma that comes with the crime, that is that you can expect to get beat up or punked out (basically, prison lingo for becoming someone’s sex-slave.) if you come down as an S.O.
Let me say up front that, whether by fortune or providence, I’ve rarely been exposed to this type of treatment, and I’ve never personally experienced it, and for that, I am extremely grateful to God. I believe He has protected me. But, let me ask you a question. Can you see the problem with punking someone out because they’re an S.O.? Let me give you a hint. Forcing someone to have sex with you is a __________ crime. (Fill in the blank.) Yes, intelligent reader. That’s right. It’s a sex crime. We call it rape. So, this drug-dealer or whatever, who’s walking around all the time saying all kinds of terrible things about those nasty sex offenders, and punks someone out because he’s been locked up for that, well, guess what, now HE’s become a sex-offender himself. See how that doesn’t make much sense. And maybe some of you are thinking, “I don’t give a crap if they shove a broom stick up that guy’s back door.” Well, you should, and let me tell you why.
First, go through your sexual fantasy list. You might want to double-check that every single one of those little fancies is a legal activity, because it’s been my experience that just about every human being out there who qualifies to check the “male” box on the birth certificate has at least one or two wild fantsies that just might land him in jail if it ever actually came true. But, if you’re that guy that doesn’t, I sincerely say, well done. You’re not out of the woods either, though. Have you noticed how many men in Texas have been let out of prison lately after doing five, ten, fifteen years, because they finally got around to testing that DNA in the rape kit, and it didn’t match up! These men were just like you, and their live’s were ruined by false accusation or mistaken identity. What I ask you to consider is, what if it was you?
In my own case, I knew immediately after my crime that: 1) what I did was wrong, wrong, wrong, and 2) I never, ever, wanted to be in that situation again. The result of that thinking was this thought, “If I go turn myself in to the police, maybe I can get help with some of these crazy urges while at the same time sparing the victim of my crime as much embarassment and pain as possible.” Boy, was I ever wrong.
As my case progressed through the preliminary hearings, I came to find out that, despite the fact that I went and told the police, in detail, everything I’d done to my victim, they still subjected him to a rape kit and examination. That is exactly the kind of additional horror I’d attempted to spare him when I confessed. Now, I’M not allowed to feel outraged by this, because I was the sex offender, so maybe one of you out there in the reading audience can help me out here and get angry about this. That’s like victimizing the kid all over again. Anyway, it made me angry and sad. It also magnified my own culpability, because like it or not, he wouldn’t even have been in that situation in the first place if it wasn’t for me. It was a double-whammy.
So much for all that part of the thought. Maybe at least I could get some help. Well, friend, that didn’t go so good either. Here’s the deal, the TDCJ does have sex offender treatment programs (SOTP), but in order to go to one, you have to be voted to get parole, and you have to be at what should be the end of your time in prison to go. To me, this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Knowing that this person is going to be locked away for X number of years in a tightly-fit community of men who haven’t had sex in Y number of years, the TDCJ is going to withhold what SHOULD be the most important information this man could ever get in his life, and is especially important in the very environment he’s locked up in. See, one general impression of prison that is mostly true is that the prisoner does have time to sit around and think. Now, if you have a man who is an S.O., and he’s locked away for who knows what kind of perversion, and you don’t give him any other train of thought or program to battle these urges and fantasies, what you’re doing is creating a thought-machine full of the worst thoughts he can entertain- MORE fantasies, WORSE fantasies.
That is the LAST thing the public wants, isn’t it? I mean, short of giving every S.O. the needle, which is what a lot of folks out there say they want to happen, wouldn’t it be great if the S.O. could get some help while he’s here and maybe, just maybe, get out with a healthy libido and a good respect for lawful sexual conduct? Why is that NOT part of the system? Why is the TDCJ wasting all those years of confinement- and actually worse than wasting because those urges don’t get better with no therapy, they get worse? It’s only logical to me that the best interest of society would be served if the sex offender entered treatment immediately upon incarceration, and remained there until he either successfully completed the program or was discharged from prison. That idea that sex offenders have a 100% recidivism rate is nothing but a big, fat lie. Over and over again, it has been shown that the chance of an S.O. coming back to prison after successfully completing a program falls as much as 75%, and that is a hell of a lot better than the recidivism rate of other, non-sex related crimes where 66% of offenders will come back to prison for another crime.
Now that I’ve looked at that briefly, let me give you some idea of the way being an S.0. effects my day-to-day life in here. In county jail, awaiting transfer to the TDCJ, and once in prison, I am segregated with other S.0.s. No matter what ideas you have in your head, this group of prisoners is pretty much indistinguishable from the others. There’s some that look like bikers, some that look like gang-bangers, businessmen, old, young, all walks of life. In other words, the average S.O. looks a lot like you.
Along with murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, any sex crime is a “3g” offense. This means it falls under a list of crimes provided under paragraph 3(g) of section 42.18 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and it comes with some really fun prizes for the contestant. Among them, regardless of how much of your sentence is completed “on paper” (good time plus work time plus flat time), you are not eligible for parole until you serve at least 50% flat time of your sentence. For me, this meant that when I was sentenced to15 years I would not be eligible for my first parole review until 7½ years were completed. When I came up after 7½ years, I had nearly 20 years done “on paper”, having never lost any good time or work time. Nevertheless, I was given a three-year set off.
Another institutional disadvantage of being an S.O. is that you are excluded from a wide-range of educational and job opportunities. Some of these make sense, at least in a way that, although I might personally disagree with, I can understand it. For instance, you can’t go to truck-driving school or become a truck driver if you’re an S.O. Since these opportunities require a great deal of interaction with and movement about the freeworld community, I under stand this, although I still beiieve if you’ve demonstrated character in all your other dealings while in prison, there should be some sort of mechanism to allow this. However, some exclusions don’t make any sense at all. According to the rules, you can’t be a presser. In other words, the TDCJ thinks you shouldn’t be allowed to iron clothes if you’re an S.O. Also, you’re not supposed to work in the ODR. Nope. You can prepare INMATE’S food if you’re an S.0., but you can’t fix an OFFICER’s plate. That’s the kind of crap that relly pisses me off.
An S.O. is not eligible for the highest level of trustee assignments either. He can’t work outside the fence with the horses, the dogs, or the community squads. Inside the fence, he is not eligible to work as a clerk. I’ve known of exceptions made for certain offenders inside the fence, but they are limited.
By far and away, though, the most aggravating disparity between S.O.s and other offenders is the fact that visitation priveleges are sharply curtailed. Even if an S.O.’s crime does not involve children, he can not have contact visitation with his own kids if they’re under 17 years of age. He’ll have to talk to them through a phone and a window. Moreover, since he can’t advance to full trustee status, he’ll never earn the privelege of contact visitation with non-family members. Keep in mind that visitation is public and supervised by two correctional officers at all times. Nothing lewd could possibly take place unless they outright allow it.
Certainly, there are obstacles enough for the man charged with a sex crime without him being denied badly needed treatment, educational opportunities, job skills, and positive interaction with his family.