On Compound Fractals

Barnsley FractalMost of us have at least heard of fractals: a special type of mathematical formula that creates an endlessly repeating pattern. I am no mathematician, but I can grasp the amazing graphics that can result – graphics that have allowed the creation of incredibly realistic computer-generated flora and fauna for use in movies and games. You can look at the larger pattern on the graphic, then zoom in and discover the same pattern on a smaller part. Zoom in again, and see another repetition… and so on.

What does this have to do with our Cause? Well, a federal prisoner I know (I’ll call him “Nathan”) has been working hard on the inside helping to build up a continuing education program there. He’s a math geek, and has been applying this knowledge to some business classes he’s begun to teach. A natural teacher, he gets a real thrill when some bit of knowledge sinks in, the proverbial “light bulb” clicks on, and somebody really gets what he is saying.

Nathan and I were talking about his eventual release – still almost three years away – and how important it was to be moving toward not only that longed-for moment, but day-to-day survival and success thereafter. He has been taking classes himself, some for credit, many a part of the continuing education efforts there, with a special focus on business and economics.

Nathan can tell which inmates have set a goal for themselves and are making plans, and which are just marking time. He tells me those with goals are doing far better inside… Not that prison is ever FUN, Nathan points out, but there are infinite possibilities within that confined space. “Like a compound fractal,” he quipped, referring to living on the compound, and fractals’ endless patterns.

I laughed at the geekiness of it, but the term stuck with me long after our conversation was over.

RSOL struggles to get registered citizens involved in activism on their own behalf. I think one reason for this is their sense of limited possibilities – limited hope. Registration is for life for many. They constantly hear – and believe – “your life is over.”


Your life will never be the same. Many things will be hard. But there ARE possibilities, limited only by your willingness to stand up and take charge of making them happen. Registered Citizens across this country are finding and KEEPING jobs, launching businesses, and some have even begun hiring other registrants! They are stepping forward and speaking out about unconstitutional, expensive, ineffective and harmful laws, and (with the help of a qualified attorney) filing civil rights challenges that will benefit scores of other registrants.

Our Nebraska group posted “A Registered Citizen’s Manifesto” this past year, which I love. Our Maryland support groups have taken it up and repeat it at each meeting. It says in part,

  • I refuse to believe there is nothing I can do. I refuse to whine.
  • I refuse to be silent in the face of state-sanctioned hatred, in the face of laws designed to destroy me and my family….
  • If no one will hire me, I will create my own work….
  • If no one will rent to me, then I will learn how to create my own shelter.
  • If no one will help me, then I will learn to be independent…

RSOL is only the beginning of that magical “fractal” for change. We attempt to set goals in motion that will create change all the way down the line. But building that pattern requires each one of us at least in some small way to take part in the formula.

The result will be something of beauty, something that will last and repeat and change the future for us and for those who come after us.

Brenda Jones, Executive Director

someone outside of NARSOL

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9 Thoughts to “On Compound Fractals”

  1. AvatarDavid

    Thank you for sharing that Brenda!

    I used to think sex offenders were a bad lot…until I became one. Thankfully I never went to prison, but I was facing 5 years until my lawyer took a plea deal. I was arrested in an online sex sting.

    In “treatment” I met other men with the sex offender label who were there for a variety of crimes ranging from “bad” to “what the heck! That’ll make you a sex offender?!”. Everybody, without exception, was sorry for what they did. There were no monsters.

    One thing I realized is that behind every sex crime (or any crime) is a back-story that’s more complex than can be read on the registry. People do bad things, make poor decisions, but that doesn’t make them bad people.

    I’ve struggled with shame since my arrest….weakening, debilitating shame. When I found the RSOL site I was so happy to find that there was a group fighting for SO’s. What I don’t understand is, with millions of Americans affected by the sex offender hysteria, why aren’t more people standing up for themselves? Are we too ashamed?

    I love reading stories of SO’s who are doing good. Life is what you make of it!! Yes, the laws suck. Be strong! Whining and feeling sorry for yourself won’t make it better. Reminds me of a time when I said to one of the men in my group, “I can’t see a light at the end of this tunnel” and he replied, “You make your own light.”

    Here’s a poem by William Ernest Henley that I got turned onto in a book I read about the power of positive thinking:

    “Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.”

  2. FredFred

    I always say we have to speak up. Too many of us are hiding in shame with our heads down and trying not to draw any attention to ourselves. We have been led to believe that we are evil, disgusting excuses for human beings who have no place in society. That is what they want. That is what allows them to easily control us and make money off our ordeal.

    Too many of us also try to downgrade our crime, by saying we were falsely accused, or accidentally clicked a link. Although I am sure that is the case sometimes, more often than not we are just trying to hide our embarrassment.

    I believe it would better serve our cause to come forward and admit our mistakes.
    Its human to make mistakes, but to cover it up makes us appear less honest and untrustworthy, just as many prisoners insist they are innocent. We are not innocent, we did something wrong and now we are taking steps to never let it happen again.

    I honestly believe that a vast majority of the population are sex offenders in one way or another. They just haven’t been caught. Most people have had some kind of inappropriate sexual experience in their lives, mainly during the late teens or early twenties when our hormones are still out of control and we feel invincible.
    Take comfort in knowing we are not part of a vile underworld, but are just human and victims of typical human hypocrisy.

    I believe more people are slowly waking up and realizing that they are guilty of the same things we are being oppressed for. More of them are uniting on our side If you Google “Sex Offender Registry” in the NEWS tab and then read the comments of just about any article listed you will see that there is an overwhelming amount of support for abolishing the registries.

    On a final note in regards to this article here. Our freedom of speech is being stifled in many way. We do not have the ability to freely spread our message online in social media as everyone else does. If the state law doesn’t ban us from using it the website itself will.

    Lets make no mistake, as encouraging as this article tries to be, we ARE an oppressed minority and we do NOT get to enjoy the same freedoms and privileges everyone else gets to enjoy. If we are going to change that we have to do it together and loudly. Hold your head high and say “I made a mistake in my past, but I don’t deserve to be treated as a ‘less than citizen'” Say that and BELIEVE it, then lets work together and get our rights back.

    1. AvatarChris Farr

      Concerning what you said… “…the website itself will.” That happened to me. I am a Georgia RSO. In 2009, close to a year after my release, I had a Facebook account. For several weeks, everything was fine. I used FB as everyone else does, made no violations of TOU. Then one day, I attempted to login as I normally did only to find a login error page. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist was “Your account has been deleted and terminated. You are not welcome here.” I found out later that my account was included in the FB Purge.

  3. AvatarPaul

    This is a relevant post as we head into 2016. The belly of the beast and our own personal shame forces us into exile, rendering us powerless to be our own advocates. The tyranny of the majority forces its will upon not only those who hate us, but ourselves as well. We have to resist that.

    At the same time, I get the sense that we are being told in a subtle way that our “whining” is not helping things. It’s unfortunate the word “whining” was used. I wish it wasn’t characterized that way. Perhaps Nelson Mandela has more strength than most of us do. But the rest of us are human and part of that involves wishing our lives were different than they are. When we express that feeling on these forms, I hope the leaders of RSOL don’t see that as “whining”. In my opinion, as long as we stay constructive and try to find solutions, we should be allowed to kvetch from time to time.

    1. Avatarbrenda

      No, occasional kvetching is understandable. None of us are saints! Whining, in my book, means giving in to self pity and expecting someone else to fix your problems. I think that is the meaning of the original writer, as well.

      I almost daily have moments when I feel overwhelmed and frustrated. But I cannot allow myself to do too much complaining or give in to self pity. There is just too much at stake! So I keep plugging away as best I can, seek advice, try something new, or maybe take a well-earned break.

    2. AvatarPaul

      I appreciate that clarification, Brenda. What you said makes a lot of sense!

  4. AvatarSharon

    I know someone on the sex offender list. There was no victim. He was swept up in an online sting. He is a good man who made one foolish mistake and it it unfair that he has to pay for this one mistake for the rest is of his life. What can I do to help change the laws to allow people like this a second chance?

    1. AvatarDavid

      Hi Sharon,

      I was also arrested in an online sting. You can help change the laws by being vocal about your opinions regarding sex offenders. If a majority of those who object to the current S.O. laws spoke up things would change. Right now there’s a juggernaut of ignorant folks passing wrong-headed laws and feeding the public’s hysteria. To have a rational public discussion seems taboo. Thanks to the media the term “sex offender” shuts people down. There’s so fear and misunderstanding by the general public about sex offenders. I had no idea how bad it is until I got arrested. And the stings? What a cruel scheme by the cops to get federal money. Are stings even legal? Unless someone is actively engaged in law-breaking can the cops encourage people to break the law in order to arrest them? Considering the seriousness of the charges it seems like pure maliciousness to entrap someone into committing a sex crime.

      It’s great to hear you stick up for your friend. I’ve had the support of my entire family and friends and it’s what’s kept me alive. There’s gotta be MILLIONS of people in the USA who want sex offender laws reformed. If more of us spoke up…

      One more thing about this whole mess is that it’s probably difficult for many sex offenders to make a stand for themselves. Besides the “ick” factor, many of us cannot use social media, or even the internet, to help us in our Cause. While on probation it could be suicide to speak out against the laws. Plus there’s so much shame and embarrassment attached to this issue. But public opinion WILL change as more and more people get ensnared in the system.

      Thanks you!

  5. Not a lot of us know that Henry Thoreau spent some time in jail; one day. For not paying his taxes. Taxes back in the 1840’s were collected once per year. Thoreau said he felt he didn’t have to pay for anything the government wasn’t supplying him. As we know, he was living in the woods at the time and did EVERYTHING himself. One day while in town dropping off a pair of shoes to be mended the local tax authorities had him arrested and put in the local jail. “Fine”, said Henry, and he proceeded to make a stand. But some unknown person, (suspected to be a local politician) paid his bail and Henry was released against his desire, because he wanted to use his jailing as a podium for his resistance to government. He made his point, however and after picking up his shoes, he returned to his cabin where he wrote some amazing, and for us, very applicable essays.
    “Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support, are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.”
    He goes on to say. “Unjust laws exist: Shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil…” He went on to explain that if the town had jailed 1000 people for having not paid their taxes, how taxing it would be on the towns coffers, rather, better to make an example of one, to frighten the others into submission.
    And to those of us who have seen (albiet, felt) time “behind the wire”, he aptly writes, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”
    Henry David Thoreau’s treatise on “Resistance To Civil Government” is a good read.

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