“Thomas” is one of roughly 3,500 parolees (according to January numbers) who have to wear a GPS device around the ankle. He's asked that nothing be included in this story that might identify him to his parole officer—such as his age, where he lives or why he recently did prison time.
Many years ago, barely out of his teens, Thomas was charged with a misdemeanor for a victimless crime that wasn't considered a sexual offense until Jessica's Law made it so. It doesn't matter that the incident happened long before the law was passed. Because Thomas recently got out of prison, he's considered a newly released sex offender. He's not required to have his photo up on the state's public registry of sex offenders—he's categorized as a “low-risk” offender—but he must register his name and address with police.
Sex offenders who can afford it have to pay some of the cost of their GPS device, but Thomas doesn't have a job. He's in poor health, but he can't access most public-assistance programs because of his sex-offender status. Until recently, he was living on the street, barred from entering any of the city's homeless shelters. To charge up the GPS device, every day he had to go to a friend's place. If the device goes dead, it could count as a parole violation.
“The only thing it's costing me is mental stress and pain,” he said. His ankle's swelled up, and he has difficulty walking. He's terrified that someone will spot the device. “There's people out there who take the law into their own hands,” he said.
Shortly after John Hartley, the District 3 City Council candidate, pleaded no contest to lewd conduct in public, Thomas gave me a call. He didn't get it—why is it that he's considered a sex offender and Hartley's offense isn't on the list?
Right now, someone's helping Thomas pay his bills, but he's not sure how long that will last. He has children of his own, and he generally supports stronger penalties for sex offenders. He just doesn't get why a misdemeanor crime is going to follow him around for the rest of his life.
“I wouldn't think my crime warrants a GPS,” he said. “It's spread out too far. Low-level offenses shouldn't be put in that category.”