Op-Ed by Michael M., May 27, 2018
It’s a perfectly normal, intrinsicly human reaction to having your name and personal information added to the sex offender registry.
You want to become invisible.
You just want to be left alone and allowed to live your life without the constant nagging fear of harrassment, humiliation, and vigilantism. You wish your family, friends, and associates could stop being punished for your crime. You often contemplate life in a cave, somewhere remote, far from the torch-and-pitchfork wielding crowds. I get it. I’ve been there.
Here are five reasons why you need to fight that craving for solitude and anonymity, and three reasons why you should proceed with caution when you do.
- People with friends live longer, healthier, happier, and more productive lives. Over a hundred studies of an aggregate of 308,000 participants who were followed for an average of 7.5 years showed that people with close ties to friends, families, and other social networks increased their odds of survival over specified time periods by close to 50%.
- Networking helps you to accomplish more. It improves your chances of finding a great job that is suited to your skills and temperament. It can assist in your search for a suitable and legal place to live. It may open up opportunities that you never even knew existed. Networking can empower you in a multitude of ways and it is a skill that can easily be learned and practiced. Most importantly, it can help you to feel that you are taking active steps to improve your situation and to fix a broken system.
- Your experience may be the key to helping others in similar circumstances or in a similar frame of mind. It is far too easy to believe that we’ve each been through a completely unique brand of hell that no one else in the world could possibly understand, nor care about. But that isn’t true. There are thousands, perhaps millions of people dealing with the same challenges and feelings, and knowing how you managed to cope with it all may help them through their struggles and can give you a sense of purpose.
- Solitude can be very, very bad for you. Loneliness raises levels of stress hormones and blood pressure. It increases the risk of alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. Loneliness destroys the quality and efficiency of sleep, so that sleep is less restorative, both physically and psychologically. All of this could lead to a former offender becoming a reoffender.
- It can make you more successful. Successful people don’t necessarily consider themselves successful because they’re rich or powerful. Instead, they often talk about relationships, well-being, and societal impact. Christopher Morley once said, “There is only one success, and that is living your life in your own way.” Hopefully, that doesn’t include sleeping in a cave or under a bridge somewhere.
Now that we’ve covered the five reasons why you should throw off your cloak of invisibilty and get to work engaging with the world, let’s consider three reasons for proceeding with caution:
- Connecting with certain people may put you back in jail. If you’re still on probation or some other form of supervised release, it will likely be a violation of the terms of your parole to associate with other known felons without the approval of your parole or probation officer. A lot, of course, depends upon the definition of the word “associate,” but if your experience thus far has taught you anything at all, it should be that the authorities will define it in a way that is the least beneficial to you.
- It could make you an even bigger target than you already are. The proverbial squeaky wheel may get the grease, but in the case of a registered offender emerging from self-imposed obscurity, the consequences may include threats, harrassment, or even physical violence against you or your loved ones. But then again, that threat has always been looming omnipresent for anyone on the registry, “invisible” or not. Having friends, family, and a social network you can depend upon may make this less likely to happen or can mitigate the consequences, if it does. The important thing is to avoid increasing your vulnerability while you are increasing your visibilty and community connections.
- Friends can be fickle. You probably don’t need to be reminded of this if you are a registered offender. You’re well aware of just how quickly friends became former friends when news of your arrest became public. Peer pressure can make some people do crazy things, and throwing you under a bus is an easy choice for someone facing condemnation from their friends and associates. You can’t live in constant fear of this happening, but you shouldn’t be very surprised when it happens, either.
Survival for those on the sex offender registry can be a huge challenge. It’s incredibly tempting to focus solely on simply making it through the day and tackling the tasks that are currently on your plate. The plumbing is leaking. The grass needs mowing. The checking account is overdrawn. You have a polygraph test coming up. It may seem insanely counter-intuitive to take on even more.
You may, in fact, be surviving, but are you thriving?
The key to thriving is to become a part of something bigger than yourself, to feel as though you are making a difference – not only for yourself, but for others. If you’re not willing to get involved, get connected, and advocate for positive, meaningful change, then perhaps you’re part of the problem rather than the solution.
Think about that.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C.S. Lewis