By PAT PRATT
A registered St. Francois County sex offender is disgusted because 10 years after his release from prison, he still can not find a job.
At a recent job fair, his status prohibited him from even entering the building to apply for work since a high school across the street was in session.
His story mirrors that of others listed on the Missouri Sex Offender Registry for life.
It begs to answer the question, “Do all offenders belong in the same box?”
The registry has served a purpose and likely spared many potential victims from suffering at the hands of a sexual predator, but some people want to limit the time spent on it based on the crime. Registrants currently run the gamut from child rapists to people who urinated in public.
The Missouri legislature posed the question in 2012 in the form of House Bill 1700.
The bill would have created a tiered system of registry adherence based on the offense, similar to systems in some other states. The legislation passed in the House, but died in the Senate due to a lack of a vote.
More recently, House Bill 301, which would have taken many juvenile offenders off the list and established a re-entry program for some offenders, passed in both the House and Senate. Then Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill in August.
Granted anonymity due to a fear of backlash to his wife and family, and given the pseudonym “John,” a man convicted of second-degree statutory rape in October of 2000 recently detailed his road from prison guard to prisoner to parolee to husband and father.
The prelude to John’s crime took place in a local bar. He was 23 years old at the time. He met a girl, who he says told him she was 19 years old. The girl was actually 16 years and 11 months old, one month shy of the age of consent according to John. He and the girl had consensual sex twice, this confirmed by both his and the victim’s testimony.
“She looked older than that (19) really,” John said. “Yeah, we did, a couple times. We went back to where I was staying at, did our thing, got up and left and I didn’t hear anything for eight months.”
Eight months passed before police investigated. Reports in the court file indicated the victim’s mother became concerned there were inappropriate activities taking place. The victim, while being interviewed by police, admitted the incidents but said there was no force involved. John at first denied there had been any sexual activity, but after being confronted with the victim’s statements admitted what occurred.
John took a plea agreement and pled guilty. After two St. Francois County judges excused themselves from the case, Circuit Court Judge Dennis Kehm of Jefferson County sentenced him to two concurrent seven-year terms in prison.
Released after 3.5 years and fulfilling the requirements of his parole another 3.5 years later without a single violation, John looked forward to returning to a home he paid off prior to his incarceration.
He did not know at the time that a law that sex offenders not live within 1,000 feet of a park would force him to sell that home.
“My daughter died in 2000 and we had a settlement and I had bought a trailer. They came and told me I had 30 days to move, and I owned it you know. So I get moved into a new place and my p.o. (probation officer) comes out to see what it is. She says, ‘Oh, you’re going to get a kick out of this. Well turns out you didn’t have to sell your place after all because it (the 1,000 foot requirement) went into effect after you already did your time.’ Well, to her it was funny. To me it wasn’t, because I lost a lot of money by selling it so fast,” John said.
He continued to stay out of trouble. He got married shortly after his release and helped raise his wife’s son.
“The worst thing is people hear it, and they only hear one part and they draw conclusions. They look you up and want to see what the whole story is. Everyone’s opinion is that if you’re on that list you did the ultimate bad thing. They say, ‘Oh my god. You’re a cho-mo.’ But if I was a child molester my son would not have been allowed to live with me and the kid has lived with me for nine years.”
John can not find housing, can not go to a park, and can not find a job due to his status as a sex offender. He had a job until a neighbor called and complained to the company about his felony. He suffered a heart attack in 2005, forcing him to go on disability although he wanted to work. Doctors found him fit to work last year and now he is trying to gain employment, but to no avail.
“The only place I feel accepted around people who know what I went to prison for is my church. That’s it. That’s the only place I can go where I’m not judged. My biggest disability is my felony. When they ask you to explain your felony and you do, they say it’s not going to affect your chance of getting a job, but that’s bull. The thing is they can discriminate against me because I have no rights,” John said.
Despite what he calls discrimination, he tries to stay positive.
“I know that God can do anything. I know he will put me where I need to be. He will open the door when it needs to be open. I know that.”
“It’s very hard to be patient. And it’s very hard to not get angry when people discriminate against me. I’ve had people that knew me before I went to prison, then they find out I was in prison and found out what it was for, and it’s just like flipping a switch. They don’t want anything to do with me,” John said.
Given the chance to go back in time, John says he would have done things differently. Removal from the registry would require John to hire an attorney to petition the courts, but that costs money and money is hard to come by when you can not find work.
“I absolutely would have asked for ID,” John says.
The Missouri Sex Offender Registry, created in 1990, holds more than 13,000 profiles at this time. It is meant to help keep people safe from violent offenders, but at the same time there are people on the registry that some argue do not pose a threat to society.