Shortly before California's sex-offender registry went public, a reporter and cameraman ambushed “Mike” (he asked that his real name not be disclosed) outside his apartment.
“Sir, would you like to comment on your conviction for molesting a child? Are you a threat to the community? Do you realize that there's a daycare center around the corner?” he recalled.
“You know—Fox News, chasing sex offenders. I didn't say anything; I just got in my car and drove off. Sure enough, they had a 10-minute piece where they had me and two other guys, you know, living amongst you.”
Nine years ago, Mike was convicted of molesting a 7-year-old girl, one of his son's friends.
“I had a lot of problems in my life—bad marriage and drinking and porn addiction,” he admits. “I was just a mess, and it just mucked up my thinking to the point where this somehow became an acceptable thing to do. I mean, you've talked yourself into it, rationalized it, even though I know it's wrong.”
The personal problems don't excuse what he did, he said. “It's really hard to believe that I did it. I mean, I know that I did it, and I'll always accept the responsibility for it.”
A judge gave him probation; if he'd been arrested today, he'd be subject to a mandatory three-year sentence under Jessica's Law. The judge and prosecutor took into account that Mike had never been in trouble before, took responsibility for his actions and, in terms of child molestation, it was a relatively minor incident. His wife divorced him (though they remain close), he had to move out of his house and he's since had to explain to his son, now 14, what happened—why he couldn't take him to the community pool, for instance (a term of his probation) and, more recently, why he's had a tough time finding a job. In 2004, the company Mike was working for—one that kept him on, even though his supervisors knew what happened—moved out of state. Most of his co-workers went to work in the defense industry, but with a felony on his record, he couldn't get security clearance. A software engineer, he's gotten by since then with contract work, but every time a company wants to bring him on full-time, they do a background check.
“The background authorization form—that's become the bane of my existence,” he said.
It's been several months since he's been able to get work, and he's just scraping by financially. He's signed up with temp agencies, but they always want to know why someone with his education and job experience wants to work a $10-an-hour job.
Shortly after the sex-offender registry went public, someone in his condo complex made up fliers with his photo and apartment number and hung them throughout the building and stuffed them into mail slots. His first reaction was shame and guilt, he said, “but now I've got so much anger. I feel sorry for the next person who comes up to my door… because I'm going to be snapping pictures of him, telling him I'm going to be calling the police.
“They just can't crucify people quick enough,” he said. “So you put all the sex offenders in this group—so now all the evil people are over here and, whew, boy, now the rest of us are safe.”
He's written a letter he wants to send to state lawmakers. He doesn't want it to be anonymous, but he's not mustered the courage to sign his name.
“[There is] a large population of people who want very much to lead healthy, productive, law-abiding lives,” the letter says, “but find it impossible to do so, due to society's unfair characterization of every registered sex offender has a high-risk sexual predator waiting to attack their children.”
“Do I deserve it?” Mike asks. “I don't know. I'm not saying I do. People commit crimes and need to be punished, and I'm not saying that it's—.” He hesitates for a moment.
“I don't know—I don't know what the answer is.”