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A unique and artistic worship experience from spoken word poet, Amena Brown. This gripping clip explores the importance of a passionate relationship with God.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books.
I thought to myself, 'Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.'
I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on. As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes
My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, 'Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.
' He looked at me and said, 'Hey thanks!' There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.
I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now.
I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid.
I asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my friends, He said yes.
We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him.
Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again.
I stopped him and said, 'Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!
' He just laughed and handed me half the books.
Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends.. When we were seniors we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown and I was going to Duke.
I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem.
He was going to be a doctor and I was going for business on a football scholarship.
Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak
Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous!
Today was one of those days.
I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, 'Hey, big guy, you'll be great!' He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. ' Thanks,' he said.
As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began 'Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach...but mostly your friends... I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.'
I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. 'Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.'
I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth.
Never underestimate the power of your actions.
With one small gesture you can change a person's life.
For better or for worse. God puts us all in each others lives to impact one another in some way.
Look for Gold in others.
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Susan Closson's response (Oct. 28) to my letter (Oct. 23) was interesting. The pain suffered by sexual abuse victims was not my topic. I would never minimize it, but my letter was about facts and constitutionality.
If legislators and citizens are so concerned with safety, why don't they know that registries and residency restrictions don't prevent crime? Because they haven't done their homework.
A recent Bureau of Justice study found that only 5.3 percent of sex offenders were re-arrested for a new sex offense. The same study found that 93 percent of offenses were committed by people the victim knew. More than half were family members. Even if you double the re-arrest rate this still tells me that registries and residency restrictions are wasteful and ineffective.
It also tells me that hype and fear are defeating logic, reason and truth. I don't think anyone would argue that sexual abuse is good, but don't we need to get it right for everyone involved?
If we blindly endorse these measures without facts, what does that say about our motives? Is it safety, justice, revenge or banishment that we seek? Are offenders only worth the sum of the worst thing they've ever done? Are they throwaway people? Is permanent branding the way to go?
I challenge readers to fact-find. Visit the U.S. Justice Department Web site and read the information. What you find may surprise and educate you.
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This man, IMO, is a hypocrite who is following the band wagon. Jesus taught people to love the weak and thy enemy, yet he is following the band wagon to "look good" to his "people" and helped pass the laws which are punishing thousands of sex offenders and their families and children, which is in the millions. Which God do you worship?
A former Southern Tier pastor, whose efforts contributed to New York lawmakers enacting Megan's Law, has changed denominations and become pastor of a church in Middletown, N.J.
The Rev. Joseph E. Hein (Email), who was leader of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Johnson City when he organized Protecting Our Children in the mid-1990s, said his work with the local advocacy group on behalf of abused children was "one of the most deeply satisfying chapters" of his life.
Hein, local citizens and elected officials played a role in lobbying the Assembly and Senate to enact Megan's Law, which then-Gov. George E. Pataki signed in July 1995. The law requires convicted sex offenders to register with the Division of Criminal Justice Services. The local campaign included a rally with the parents of Megan Kanka -- whose sexual attack in July 1994 was an impetus for the original law enacted in New Jersey -- to Johnson City for a candlelight march.
"I feel good that God put that burden upon me and convinced me that we are called to help others," said Hein, a one-time captain of the Binghamton North baseball team who had a full athletic scholarship at Campbell University, a Division I school in North Carolina.
Hein said he wants to continue ministries for children at his new position at Westminster Presbyterian Church, a 350-member congregation about 45 minutes south of Newark.
Hein was pastor of St. Paul's from 1992 to late 1997. After a leave of absence, Hein switched denominations and was ordained a Presbyterian in October 2004 at Ross Memorial in Binghamton.
Hein said his interest in protecting children was piqued in the early 1990s when he talked with Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen about a case involving a four-time convicted sex offender who was only given a two-year sentence after repeatedly abusing a 15-year-old boy.
Some believe if New York had a sex-offender registry law on the books in the mid-1990s, the slaying of 4-year-old My Ly Nghiem in June 1995 might have been prevented. Police said the girl was raped and murdered by the caretaker at her Binghamton apartment, who was a known child molester.
A month later, Pataki signed Megan's Law at a ceremony in Albany, which Hein attended.
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A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.
"What food might this contain?" the mouse wondered - - - he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.
Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning:
"There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."
The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!" The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but I will be thinking of you."
The mouse turned to the cow and said "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!" The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."
So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap . . . alone.
That very night a sound was heard throughout the house -- like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever.
Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.
But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.
The farmer's wife did not get well; she died.
So many people came for her funeral; the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.
The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.
So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it doesn't concern you, remember ---- when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.
We are all involved in this journey called life.
We must keep an eye out for one another and make an extra effort to encourage one another.
EACH OF US IS A VITAL THREAD IN ANOTHER PERSON'S TAPESTRY; OUR LIVES ARE WOVEN TOGETHER FOR A REASON.
One of the best things to hold onto in this world is a FRIEND!!!
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Not all people in civil commitment are molesters or pedophiles. Get that through your thick skulls! Therapy helps ANYBODY who wants help, regardless of their crime. If they want to become a better citizen, then it will help. Just look at people who were deemed a vegetable? They were given therapy, and some come out of it and go on with normal lives. Did ANY of these people EVER get help after the first crime committed? I am willing to bet they did not. Prison is a business and business is good!!!
They are considered the worst of Virginia's sexual predators, a community of 61 men deemed so dangerous that even after completing their prison sentences, they remain locked up.
A towering, razor-lined fence keeps them in a complex called the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation. Although the facility is classified as a mental institution, it has the look of an isolated prison.
In theory, the state hopes to rehabilitate these career child abusers and rapists so that they can be trusted back on the streets.
But to date, no one has been freed.
The men are confined indefinitely under Virginia's four-year-old civil commitment program, which allows chronic sexual predators to be institutionalized after serving their prison sentences.
Eighteen other states have similar regiments and the U.S. Supreme Court has declared them constitutional - if it can be proved that the molesters are likely to repeat their crimes, and if they are receiving psychological counseling to learn how to control their deviancies.
There is no convincing evidence that therapy changes chronic molesters, particularly pedophiles. Across the nation, only about 5 percent of the 2,700 sex offenders civilly committed since 1990 have been released.
By June, Virginia officials are expecting the population at the Petersburg institution to almost double to 113 sex offenders. The high cost of their therapy will require taxpayers to shell out at least $123,000 a year for each sexual predator - about six times the cost of keeping an inmate in prison.
The program is outgrowing its Petersburg home, once a training center for the mentally retarded. The state plans to close the facility early next year and move operations to a $63 million institution being built in Nottoway County near Burkeville solely to house sexual predators.
It will hold as many as 300 molesters. Legislators say it could be filled in three years.
Some mental health experts and civil libertarians say the facility is little more than a new form of prison to keep sex offenders locked up for life.
"It's a violation of due process," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Virginia chapter. "Once you've served your sentence, you should be released."
"We don't incarcerate people on the fear they'll commit future crimes.... Our concern is that this system becomes a railroad for the state to keep people in prison for as long as it wants."
Several offenders being held in Petersburg are upset that they're still confined.
"I don't feel that it's fair at all that I am being confined after I have already paid a debt to the society that I owed them for the heinous crime that I am fully responsible for committing," James D. Lewis Jr. of Norfolk wrote in a letter this summer to The Virginian-Pilot. "I feel that I am being forced to pay interest on the debt."
Lewis, now 40, was convicted of molesting children well known to him in 1983 and 1988. After serving prison terms, his probation was revoked in 1996 for "making contact with children." He suffers from depression and "psychotic symptoms," according to a psychological assessment conducted prior to his civil commitment.
Supporters of civil commitment offer no consolation to Lewis and his fellow offenders at the center.
"I'd have to assume the chances are slim and none that anyone will leave the program in Virginia," said state Sen. Kenneth Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, vice chairman of the state crime commission.
Since the Virginia program's inception, about 2 percent of sex offenders have been sent to civil commitment after serving their prison time.
"These are the worst of the worst," Stolle said. "From that perspective, I think the risk of releasing them outweighs the concerns about their civil liberties. I don't have a lot of sympathy for them."
The General Assembly passed legislation setting up the program in 1999 but did not authorize the money to finance it until 2003, when lawmakers were goaded into action by the pending prison release of Richard Ausley, a notorious pedophile.
In 1973, Ausley kidnapped 13-year-old Martin Andrews of Portsmouth, raped and beat the youth in the woods for a week, and left him to die chained in a buried box. Andrews was discovered, alive, by hunters.
Thirty years later, Andrews successfully lobbied the state legislature to spend $2.7 million to start the Petersburg center and keep Ausley confined. Ausley, however, was killed in 2004 by his cellmate before he was to be released from prison.
Andrews remains convinced the program is worth the expense.
"These guys can't control themselves," he said in a recent interview. "When you look at what it would cost to track them down again, convict them and execute those who would go on to murder - not to mention helping all their new victims - the cost of the program seems pretty small."
Figuring that prison is a cheaper alternative, the General Assembly last year mandated 25-year minimum sentences for most sex crimes against children younger than 13. Pedophiles convicted a second time of a sex crime face mandatory life sentences.
Toward the end of their sentences, all Virginia sex offenders are evaluated on an actuarial table for their risk of molesting again. The table, called the Static 99, is widely used across the nation and takes into account factors about each felon's record, including the number of convictions for sexual crimes, the sex of the victims, and the offender 's relationship to each victim.
An inmate is considered a candidate for civil confinement if he or she scores 4 or higher on a 12-point scale. A score of 4 means a person who has been released has a 26 percent chance of being arrested for a sexual crime within five years, a 31 percent chance within 10 years, and a 36 percent chance within 15 years.
The next step for civil confinement candidates is a psychiatric examination and a review by a seven-member panel of corrections officials, mental health experts and a lawyer for the state. A recommendation is forwarded to Virginia's attorney general, who then decides whether to pursue a civil commitment case in the Circuit Court where the inmate was last convicted of a sexual offense.
The men who have been sent to the center, mostly pedophiles, have long histories of predatory sexual crimes. They range in age from 23 to 70, and served an average of almost 10 years in prison before being civilly committed. Many blame their crimes on their victims.
For most of them, the likelihood that they would commit more sexual crimes if released is so high that their risk assessment is not fully measured. Any higher than a score of 6 on the Static 99 test and a person's risk of recidivism is no longer measured. A 6 means a released offender has a 39 percent chance of being arrested for a sexual crime within five years, a 45 percent chance within 10 years and a 52 percent chance within 15 years.
The average score of the men at the center is 6.4, according to a Virginian-Pilot review of their psychological assessments.
The review also found:
- About 80 percent of the men are guilty of sexually assaulting children who are 13 or younger - in several cases, as young as 2.
- All but eight of the men are guilty of at least two separate sexual crimes.
- Slightly more than half of the men have at least three convictions.
Among them is Aubrey W. Layne, 40, of Norfolk. At 14, he was hospitalized at the Norfolk Psychiatric Center for molesting a 4-year-old girl. At 20, he was found guilty of fondling a 6-year-old girl. At 29, he forcibly sodomized an 8-year-old Norfolk girl. At 33, he took indecent liberties with an 11-year-old Norfolk boy.
There's Thomas W. Lambert, 52, of Norfolk. At 7, he was committed to Eastern State Hospital after pulling down a girl's pants. At 17, he forced four teenage girls to strip at knife point in the back of a Norfolk sandwich shop. At 20, he was convicted of raping two Norfolk women. At 34, he was sent back to prison for molesting a woman in a Richmond coin laundry.
One of Lambert's rape victims, who asked not to be identified, said recently that she has not emotionally recovered from the attack 32 years ago.
Lambert entered her home on the ruse of needing help repairing his bicycle and forced the woman and her 25-year-old pregnant daughter to disrobe.
"I'm always afraid," the woman said. "I don't go anywhere after dark."
Of Lambert, she said: "I was afraid when I heard they put him in an institution that would declare him fine after a couple of years and let him out. I don't want to see that man ever released."
Behind the center's tall fences, Lambert and the other men bunk in a one-story brick bungalow and live under tight restrictions. Administrators bar the media from entering the facility. Telephone access to the offenders is tightly controlled.
Although the center looks like a penitentiary, it must operate as a rehabilitation institution to legally detain the offenders - who are officially called residents, not inmates - after they have completed their prison sentences. The distinctions often seem blurry.
While prisons are run by the Department of Corrections, the center is controlled by the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.
In their letters, the offenders describe tensions between the security force at the center and its therapists. They complain about high prices at the canteen, bad food and frequent turnover of therapists.
"It is a maximum-security prison disguised as a so-called treatment center," wrote James Jenkins, a resident of the center and former Accomack County electrician with a history of molesting girls.
The offenders say there is no job training or a chance to earn money at the center.
Those conditions will change when the Nottoway County facility opens, said Mario Dennis, the facility's chief psychologist.
Dennis, who specializes in treating sexual deviancies, said offenders have "a much better lifestyle" in civil commitment than in prison. When not in therapy, residents are allowed to roam the yards and common areas. They are not required to wear uniforms, and they have a library with books and appropriate videos. They are allowed to stay up later at night than they could in prison and rise later in the morning.
"There's more freedom here, and more responsibility," Dennis said.
Security at the center is headed by Charles Bise, a former state corrections official who declined several requests for an interview.
The guards, including many who previously worked in prisons, do not carry weapons, said Adam Austin, spokesman for the center.
Dennis said the residents are divided into three groups: mentally retarded; child molesters; and violent and aggressive offenders. They all spend at least 10 hours a week in group therapy, are given homework assignments, and must attend community living meetings with their peers.
"The treatment is not warm and fuzzy," Dennis said. "It's not designed to make the residents feel better. It's designed to have them realize how destructive their behavior has been and learn how to identify the high-risk situations that caused them to offend in the past.
"We never speak in terms of cure; we speak in terms of risk management," Dennis said. "For many of them, deviant sexual desires will continue to exist."
Residents are required to disclose all of their sex crimes - not just the ones that resulted in criminal convictions. Those with hopes of freedom must pass periodic lie detector tests to prove they have been candid.
Some offenders refuse to open up, saying confessions could subject them to new prison sentences because Virginia does not have a statute of limitations on many sexual crimes. Dennis said their fear is misguided because residents are not asked to give the actual names of victims or provide incriminating details about the incidents.
Another device routinely used is the penile plethysmograph, which measures the change in the circumference of the penis while an offender is shown pictures of children, women or men. Some clinicians argue the test can be foiled if subjects avert their eyes from the pictures.
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that test results from using the device cannot be admitted in court without evidence to back up the machine's accuracy. In 2002, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plethysmograph lacks "scientific validity" and is prone to false positives.
Anti depressant drugs, which dampen sexual desires, often are dispensed to residents. Many states, including Virginia, are experimenting with voluntary use of antiandrogens, which block the effects of sex hormones such as testosterone and are used to treat advanced prost ate cancer. The use of antiandrogens has been questioned, however, because they cause weight gain, osteoporosis and breast development.
Drug therapies also raise another concern, While they may produce results when a sex offender is confined, there is no assurance that the molester will continue to take the medications after being released.
A proposal to allow violent sex offenders to avoid civil commitment by volunteering to be surgically castrated has been floating around the General Assembly for two years. It died in committee in 2006 and earlier this year was tabled for additional study.
Even castration, however, does not shield the worst pedophiles from being institutionalized. Jenkins, the former electrician from Accomack County, castrated himself in a jail shower with a shoestring and a razor blade as his civil commitment trial approached in 2004. He still was sent to the behavioral rehabilitation center.
"He feels because he castrated himself, he's not a risk," said Pamela Sargent, a senior assistant attorney general who heads a staff of six lawyers that handle civil commitment cases for the state. "But the fact is, it's very easy to get replacement testosterone in the form of drugs."
Does any therapy really help sex offenders?
Experts disagree. The only reliable deterrent is aging. Few sex offenses are committed by people older than 70.
Dozens of studies in recent decades have compared the recidivism rate of convicted molesters who received psychological counseling and those who did not. A number of reports concluded there were no differences between the two groups, although most found that those who received therapy were slightly less likely to commit new sexual crimes.
R. Karl Hanson, inventor of Static 99 and a senior research officer for Canada's Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said the general conclusion of studies is that about 12 percent of molesters who received treatment were arrested for committing new sex crimes, compared with 17 percent who never received counseling.
But even those figures are misleading, Hanson said, because most sex crimes are not reported and do not result in arrests.
Sargent, the senior assistant attorney general, said those who are forced into civil commitment are already career offenders who are not likely to take to therapy.
"They've spent their lifetimes developing their habits, and it's not easy to change them," she said.
Some psychologists say therapy in civil commitment is compromised if promising residents are never released.
"Release is an actual element of therapy," said Ted Shaw, a forensic psychologist in Gainesville, Fla., who has treated sex offenders since 1982. "If there's no hope for release, you can't have effective therapy."
Several residents of the center, in letters written to The Virginian-Pilot this summer, were pessimistic that they will ever be released.
"There is a palpable sense of hopelessness," wrote Nilo R. Figueroa, 52, who three times has been convicted for sexual battery of boys and a girl whose families were well-known to him. "... I share the dread of the center evolving into a state-sponsored banishment instead of a facility for behavior modification and preparation for societal re-entry."
Although Dennis acknowledged that many of the men may never be released, he said others have made "substantial progress" and one or two may be nearing a point where he might recommend release if their movement was monitored by GPS.
"The goal is, have they learned to manage their risk so they can be safely maintained and employed," Dennis said.
The residents receive annual evaluations assessing their progress in therapy. Once a year for their first five years in the program, they are entitled to a Circuit Court hearing to seek their release. After that, they are offered a hearing every two years.
In late August, Orlando L. Butler had his day in Chesapeake Circuit Court before retired Judge Norman Olitsky. Butler, 47, has been convicted 16 times for an assortment of non sexual offenses such as cocaine possession, drunken driving, concealed weapons possession and robbery. In 2000, he was found guilty of fondling the 9-year-old son of a friend.
Butler entered from a court cell wearing a blue jail uniform. He asked to be released with GPS monitoring.
Dennis testified that Butler, while progressing in therapy, has declined to submit to polygraph tests and was not ready for release.
"Mr. Butler has acknowledged in group therapy that he may have as many as 10 victims," Dennis said. "He has not divulged any details about those individuals and it is difficult to create a therapy plan for him without full disclosure."
After hearing from Dennis and others, Olitsky found "overwhelming evidence that Mr. Butler should remain committed because he does remain a sexually violent predator."
Dennis, on cross-examination, acknowledged he has never recommended anyone for release during the four-year history of Virginia's civil commitment program.
"So it's worse than prison," said Sharon Mason, Butler's attorney, during the hearing.
"There is no light at the end of the tunnel. It all depends on opinion. It's like being placed in limbo for a lifetime."