By Pamela Fitzsimmons
When registered sex offender Thomas Henry Madison of Gresham, Ore., turned up six months ago at a neighborhood meeting protesting a sex offender clinic, he was tossed out.
- He was tossed out because people don't want to hear anything except their opinions.
That protest was in the Inner Southeast Portland enclave of Sellwood/Moreland, and those neighbors succeeded in shutting down the clinic.
Last week, Madison was back at a different neighborhood protest – this one fighting the new location of that same clinic, Whole Systems Counseling. It’s now open in Outer Southeast Portland in a working-class neighborhood. These residents let Madison have his say.
They also made it clear that while they don’t like inheriting Sellwood/Moreland’s problem, they also don’t want to dump it on some other neighborhood. They would like to find a solution.
- Like we've said many times, no matter where they place the treatment facility, someone will start a mob.
Inner and Outer Southeast Portland are flip sides of the same city.
Inner Southeast Portland attracts New York Times restaurant critics. The neighborhoods found in the Inner Southeast, such as Sellwood/Moreland, merit their own walking maps. Sellwood/Moreland is home to antique shops, galleries, pubs, restaurants, a movie theater, a farmer’s market. Reed College nestles along its border.
Outer Southeast Portland attracts snubs and ubiquitous, strip-commercial development found in any American city. The specific neighborhood where Whole Systems Counseling opened includes a trailer court, mobile home park and apartments. The clinic is in Plaza 125, which looks like the typical small-office complex where you would find a dentist, an attorney, an ob/gyn. There’s plenty of parking.
When Whole Systems Counseling was located in Sellwood/Moreland, it was in a nondescript building at 7304 SE Milwaukie Ave. Residents were concerned that the Boys and Girls Club was nearby at 7119 SE Milwaukie, and a Montessori pre-school was at 7126 SE Milwaukie.
But it’s also a lively, well-traveled stretch of Milwaukie Avenue. It brims with people – pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists – all potential witnesses who could discourage criminal activity. These are not just any people, either; they are middle-class and upper middle-class professionals. The kind of people who, if they – or their sons and daughters – were victimized in a violent crime, would receive immediate attention.
By comparison, the new location of Whole Systems Counseling in Outer Southeast Portland looks like the kind of neighborhood where someone might get the idea that they could get away with a crime.
That was the concern of the 50 or so residents who gathered last week in the board room at David Douglas High School, not far from the clinic.
“Is there anyone here who thinks it is OK for a sex offender clinic to be located by kids?” asked Chris Piekarski who led the meeting.
- Not all ex-sex offenders have harmed children. You are just putting them all into one basket.
Madison raised his hand. Many of the men and women in the room had the weary appearance that comes after putting in a day’s work. Madison looked crisp and chipper, like a man going into a job interview. He was one of the few men in the room wearing a tie.
He stood before the residents and told them that he wanted to put out all the facts about sex offenders.
Madison didn’t volunteer that he was a registered sex offender until he was later asked. Instead he delved into studies and statistics.
“Ninety-four percent of brand new sex crimes are committed by people not on the sex offender registry … not the few over here at Whole Systems…,” he said. “More than 90 percent of sex crimes are committed by people in the family.”
Madison eventually led up to this declaration: “It is all of us that commit sex offenses.”
That’s when Piekarski asked him if he was a registered sex offender.
“Yes, I am a registered sex offender,” he said.
There was a brief gasp from the audience, and a woman cried out that she was a victim. Another woman reached out to comfort her, and the audience quickly calmed down. They let Madison continue.
It was only when he veered off into what he really came to talk about – he belongs to a group that wants to do away with sex registration entirely – that the audience turned on him.
“We’ve heard enough of this,” one man shouted, and Madison sat down.
State Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson spoke briefly about HB 3509 (PDF) she has sponsored that would allow counties to govern where sex offender clinics can be located.
It seems like a gesture that probably won’t have much impact if it passes. These clinics are going to be located somewhere.
Members of the audience struggled with what to do. Piekarski pointed out that one of the local TV news shows had portrayed them negatively. The show had focused on the fears of the clinic’s owner, Johneen Manno, who said windows had been shot with a BB gun.
Nobody at the meeting took credit for the vandalism, and Piekarski reminded them not to support that kind of activity.
“It just makes us look like kooks. …. ‘Those people in east Portland are so immature … they are criminals and hooligans.’ … Violence is not acceptable …,” he said.
- Wow, the typical blame others mentality. Some in East Portland may be mature, but so are you, in our opinion.
Finally, one woman rose. It would be great, she said, if they could step up as a group and find a solution for the clinic. She wondered if the clinic had deliberately chosen their neighborhood because there is a large number of residents who don’t speak English.
- Well, if you live in this country, you should speak English, in our opinion. And do you really think that is the reason they moved there? That is just the typical BS to make somebody look racist.
“I hate to say this, but it’s a needed service. … Don’t be a NIMBY…,” she said. “It’s not appropriate for anybody’s back yard.”
She is right, but if it has to be in somebody’s backyard make it a prosperous one.
For too long, violent crime has been borne primarily by the poor and working class. The good people of communities like Sellwood/Moreland seem like the kind of folks who gladly embrace politicians who promote rehabilitation over incarceration. It’s an easy concept to support when felons settle in poor neighborhoods. But wouldn’t they stand a better chance at rehabilitation in a nice neighborhood?
- I don't think it matters if it's a poor or rich neighborhood, as long as the treatment is doing it's job. And again, the fact is, most ex-sex offenders do not re-offend, so the crime in that county would not be due to ex-sex offenders but probably gang bangers, drug dealers and DUI offenders. Do you raise this much hell for crack houses and other places in the neighborhood? We doubt it.
If it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a village of well-educated, broad-minded liberals to watch over and rehabilitate a sex offender.
- No it doesn't "take a village" to raise a child. It takes one responsible adult.
In which case, the people of Sellwood/Moreland and the Inner Southeast should come to the aid of their less fortunate brothers and sisters in the Outer Southeast.
Perhaps the sex offender clinic could relocate near Reed College, considered one of the most intellectual colleges in the U.S. It could be a merger of academic theory, philosophy and hard-core reality. The life of the mind meeting the temptations of the flesh.
As a bonus, the school’s president is John Kroger, former Oregon attorney general and a fan of Jeremy Bentham, the 19th Century philosopher who influenced prison and law reform.
Among other ideas, Bentham believed that public humiliation could be useful in deterring deviant behavior. He might have found sex offender registries and clinics practical crime prevention tools.
- Just because someone believes in something doesn't make it right. Many countries believe in cutting your head off, fingers, or putting you to death for some small crime, doesn't mean it's right.
It would be something for Reed’s intellectuals and Whole Systems’ clients to explore.