USA TODAY rejects prisoner’s letter because he’s a sex offender

By Phil Wentzel . . . As a former law enforcement professional and now one of the millions of incarcerated adults in the U.S., I can relate very personally to two items I read in the October 22, 2015 USA TODAY. It is encouraging to see that a group of respected law enforcement leaders and prosecutors have formed a coalition calling for an end to mass incarceration. These professionals should be commended for their courage to stand up to the current status quo in the American criminal justice system: lock ’em up and throw away the key. Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Serpas’ piece “Policing The USA” was also a breath of fresh air. These gentlemen are truly forward thinking leaders who deserve support for their bold stance. When people like me…educated professionals with no criminal history whatsoever, who committed a non-violent first offense are sentenced to the same prison terms as repeat violent offenders, people should stand up and demand change. When sentencing is not based on empirical research, but hysteria and a need for vengeance, far too many of us are caught in the dragnet and far too many families and lives are ruined. Despite being a non-violent first time offender, I, and many like me, have been imprisoned in high security penitentiaries at a cost to the taxpayer of over $30,000 PER YEAR, PER INMATE. When so many modern alternatives to incarceration exist, how can anyone justify this? Don’t get me wrong, what I did demands punishment, but the punishment must fit the crime and the individual. The system I once so proudly represented has gone too far and is desperately broken. Bravo to those in this coalition who have true standing to say the U.S. “over-criminalizes,” “over-punishes” and needs LESS incarceration. As Congress and President Obama finally begin to implement some meaningful criminal justice reform, it is important that these changes not just include the most politically “safe” low level drug offenders (oddly, one of the offender groups MOST likely to re-offend), but ALL offenders. Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently introduced the “Justice Is Not For Sale 2015” bill in the Senate. It has not garnered a lot of attention, but it needs to be supported for it’s bold, inclusive and honest reforms, especially the responsible and effective restoration of federal parole. As noted by Messrs. McCarthy and Serpas, and well known by those such as myself, one of the offender types LEAST likely to re-offend and MOST responsive to treatment, having the world’s largest incarceration rate, costing taxpayers over $80 BILLION annually is no longer the answer. We must find financially responsible ways to do better. We must not continue to pass on the unsustainable financial burden of a broken system to the very people we wish to protect the most – our children. These law enforcement officials are definitely on the right track.

someone outside of NARSOL

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23 Thoughts to “USA TODAY rejects prisoner’s letter because he’s a sex offender”

  1. AvatarED

    Dear Phil –
    The insanity continues. I just got out last year – after being sentenced in 2007 to a term of ninety-seven months – which of course is eight years and a month, and by the eighty-five percent rule on good time goes, means that I served seven years. My “crime”? Basic journalistic curiosity. I spent forty years as an actor working with a lot of big stars, even though I never caught the brass ring myself. After watching my star rise for nearly 20 years without really gaining any altitude in the process – I turned to writing and had three novels commercially published in New York City for which I was paid advances of around eight thousand dollars. Following that I wrote produced and directed around two hundred and fifty broadcast cable documentaries that have since aired all over the world. People who’ve spent their lives in the arts and the behavioral sciences have an inordinate interest in the human condition – and behavior of same. That would also include the bizarre extremes of that behavior. We now live in an Orwellian world, but the more things change the more they stay the same. Our circumstances today are no different than those endured by Galileo who tried to speak truth to power and paid the price. He pled guilty too and got off with life in house arrest – which was certainly better than being burned at the stake. Even so, no one today argues he endured rank injustice from well-meaning, but stupid, small-minded men in priestly robes.
    A straight, heterosexual man of ANY age is genetically programmed – and has been for about a million years since the first primate stood upright – to find pubescent and post-pubescent females of great interest. It ensures the survival of the species.
    Menarche in females usually occurs between the ages of eleven and thirteen. Yet any human male more than four or five years older than that is considered “deviant” and illegal if he is found to have a sexual interest or desire for such young women up until his subject of interest reaches the magical age of eighteen. Like the 100 year old George Burns used to say in his standup comedy routine when he was criticized for going out with young girls like Brooke Shields: “I liked young girls when I was 18 – why wouldn’t I like them now!?”
    How crazy has our world gotten where a 20-100 year-old man can have legal sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend – and “eight or more years in prison” if he doesn’t have sex with her, but happens to have a nude photo of her on his cell phone?
    I am old enough to have seen a number of witch hunts come and go in this land, beginning with the unjust and illegal incarceration of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. I also remember the communist witchhunts of the fifties when McCarthyism spread like a plague in the entertainment industry and destroyed careers, lives and fortunes right and left in New York and Hollywood. In its whole history, our country has yet to live up to its founding principles in the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution lies in tatters and is daily trampled under legislative feet in the halls of Congress by pandering politicians whose only thought and interest is hanging on to their cushy jobs and heavy-duty expense accounts. I remember sitting in my cell – at Elkton – and feeling very much like old Cato felt as the Roman Republic devolved into the Roman Empire. The United States has become the new Rome. We are very close to that tipping point now. Demagoguery and the politics of fear are triumphing here in this country yet again for more than the hundredth time in its history. Our nation has forgotten Ben Franklin’s warning – which was not heeded in his own time and still less so today. “A society that is willing to trade civil liberties for security will ultimately retain neither, nor will it deserve to.”

    1. AvatarPaul

      I’d be interested in watching your documentaries, Ed, though I totally respect your right to anonymity. Perhaps I have already watched many of your films since your output is so impressive. 250, wow!

      I agree with MOST of what you said. While biologically speaking most sexologists probably wouldn’t quibble with your assertions, I think that argument turns a lot of people off. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Romeo and Juliet cases are terrible miscarriages of justice, by and large. Zack Anderson is a prime example of that. But when people come to these message boards and see comments suggesting that men find young girls attractive and that’s just the way it is, even from an evolutionary point of view, it may give mislead people that we condone deliberate law breaking. Perhaps I am being too politically correct but I guess I think it is better to argue against the registry as an agent of repression and an Orwellian state of affairs versus the issue of age of consent. But you are certainly entitled to your own personal beliefs.

      I also want to amplify what you said about witch-hunts. They are real and anyone who believes otherwise is living in a different stratosphere from reality. Anyone who doesn’t believe law enforcement can’t do whatever they want and have no consequences should see the Netflix doc, Making of a Murderer.

    2. Avatarrwvnral

      Thank you for your response, Paul. RSOL does not condone sexual activity between adults and children, nor does it condone any sexual activity that would break laws in any state. We do not advocate lowering the age of consent, and we have no affiliation with any group that does condone such activities. This disclaimer is on our home page. But, we allow for latitude in approved comments for the sake of robust discussion and a diversity of opinions.

    3. Avatarjim

      Well its a shame that person has to be concerned about stating facts, rather than advocating a particular policy. Especially when other folks can say and create any kind of law they want and have law enforcement back it up. Get real, so’s have no rights, they have to tell someone where they’re going or go jail. So much for the free country that no longer exists. Its the evolving nation claim, evolving into communists, lol

  2. Avatardavid

    For me, it isn’t so much the laws I take issue with- it’s that the punishment for breaking these laws is WAY too harsh. I’m okay with age of consent being 16 or 18. Gotta draw the line somewhere. I agree with many of the observations made by Phil but I think it’s wiser to fight the insane laws than it is trying to argue the age of consent should be lower.

    It’s disturbing that over 1/4 of sex offenders are juveniles. So….if these kids had sex with someone over the age of consent they would be “victims” but if they did something inappropriate (like many boys do) with another child now THEY become the “offenders”? What a strange place we live in.

    Current technology makes it very easy to commit sex “crimes” these days. Online dating sites, sex stings, child porn. So easy to spend a few minutes on the internet and wind up being punished forever. I imagine many of us wouldn’t be in our current situation if not for the internet.

    With our “victim” culture, and delineation between “victim” and “offender” to the point where a person charged with a sex crime is presumed guilty with no consideration of the role the so-called “victim” may have played, this truly IS a witch hunt. There is a big difference between a poor choice (often made by BOTH people involved) and Rape.

    What is it about crimes where sex is involved that makes so many people lose their marbles? We are at the point where many non-violent, non-predatory sex offenders are going to prison for longer terms than people who killed someone. Like Galen Baughman who did over 9 years for an act that would not have been criminal in Canada.

    Many people might not agree that what Galen did should be legal…but wouldn’t any SANE person agree that the sentence was way too harsh? That’s just(!) the prison sentence. Once they get released they still continue to be punished with the registry.

    Are there any good documentaries out there about sex offender issues? I wish there was something of the caliber of “Making A Murderer” about the state of SO issues in the USA. “Making A Sex Offender” …..?

    1. Avatardavid

      Ooops…I meant to direct my comments about age of consent laws in reply to Ed, not Phil. By the way Ed, I’m happy for your release!

      One other thing…I agree with Ed’s remarks regarding human sexuality. I think any adult man who claims he’s never been attracted to a person under 18 is probably lying.

      The term pedophile is used so frequently now. Any older person who gets caught doing something with a younger person is called a pedophile. While there are real pedophiles on the sex offender registry many people on the registry would not be considered pedophiles by the medical definition of the term. Again, I’m not arguing for lowering the age of consent, just stating what to me seems seems obvious- that it’s perfectly normal to find teenagers attractive. Can’t help but wonder if these laws are a societal response to the recognition (unconscious or not) of these feelings that most of us share?

      I’m so sick of hearing in the media how these sex offender laws are “protecting our children from pedophiles” when the laws don’t do anything of the sort. In fact, our children are WAY more likely to wind up as sex offenders than to be assaulted by a registered person.

    2. AvatarPaul

      David……….There is a documentary called “An Unspoken Law”.

      Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch it yet. Does anyone know how one could order a copy?

      David, much of our response to sex is in our DNA. Augustine was puritanical before there even were puritans. Sex has been a taboo subject ever since a certain serpent tempted an unnamed young woman.

    3. Avatardavid

      Thanks Paul!

      Might be a very good film but it doesn’t look as if it’s gotten much attention. I’d love to watch it tho (I’m interested- obsessed really- with any and all things regarding SO’s).

      If only there was something that caught fire in pop culture regarding SO issues that could shine a light on the insanity of the American Sex Offender Hysteria. It’s certainly an edgy topic. Michael Moore….where are yooouuu?!

    4. AvatarNH Registrant

      There is a very good documentary called “Witch Hunt” which is narrated by Sean Penn. It is about the nonsense that happened in the 80’s in Bakersfield, California where multiple sets of parents were sent to prison for decades and then released when the interview tapes with the children were exposed to be coerced accusations.

  3. AvatarMaestro

    I’m not advocating the age of consent to be reduced or heightened, because one thing we simply love to deny as the human race is that people progress at their own rate. I understand that if a law is broken, especially with intent on not caring in terms of ‘heat of the moment’, then yes, punishment is necessary. HOWEVER…(and not many people like this but too bad)…a CONSENSUAL relationship of an adult and a POST-PUBESCENT teenager is NOT the end of the world and has been going on for centuries.

    Yes, people LOVE to throw around the word “pedophile” because A)They feel good insulting others and B) They don’t know the correct definition. Somehow you’re a “pedophile” if you’re over 18 and dating or just rendevouing with a 16 yr old who is legally able to drive an automobile. Ironic.

    I always and will continue to fall back on the argument (which I hope people will use as ‘food for thought’) of Elvis Presley and Priscilla. Elvis, 24. Priscilla, 14. If Elvis had been charged and arrested, Priscilla would A) Never have become his wife and B) Would have been considered a “victim”. And the prosecutor would say the same thing ALL prosecutors say at these trails/sentencings: “This poor young girl’s life has been forever changed by the sexual assault of Mr. Presley. What he did to her will stay with her for years to come, your Honor”

    The justice system as well as probation and the SO treatment groups we are FORCED to take while on probation will NEVER agree that some teenagers take a liking to older people. They immediately tell the SO that he/she is MINIMIZING the offense and will kick you out of the group meetings which will then lead to a Probation Violation.

    Excuuuuuuuse me but Priscilla Presley is still alive and each year she celebrates Elvis’s birthday. Not once do you see this woman, all these years later, claiming that she was mentally “assaulted” by her sexual experiences with Elvis. I CHALLENGE the D.A.’s and SO Treatment providers as well as those jackasses who do the SO polygraphs on us to go ask Priscilla how messed up she is for being the 14 yr old “victim” of a 24 yr old man that she ended up marrying.

    They won’t do that. It would blow their cover as the deceitful lying scum that they all are and would most likely see a cut in their jobs since they like to call people “victims” yet the treatment providers as well as the probation officers admit that they NEVER spoke to the alleged “victims”. So they just speak FOR them. Even long after the “victim” has become an adult and can speak her themselves.

    I am not advocating lowering the age of consent. But I am advocating lesser punishments when it comes to adult/teen relationships similar to Elvis & Priscilla where there was no “predatory” stalking of random girls and the “victim” is not referred to as a “victim” but seen as someone who actually DID give consent and didn’t go crying about the affair afterwards. Because it’s usually the parents who call the police when they find out about the relationship and go ape sh*t.
    And while the law enforcement agents like to say the “poor child is frightened” it’s usually due to how THEY do the frightening so as to make it appear worse of a situation than it is.

    When I was 15 i sewed my wild oats with a 22 yr old woman who I NEVER said anything about so therefore she was never arrested. And looking back on it, I’d love to go back in time and do it with her again. She was very pretty and had sort of the same facial characteristics as Carly Simon. When ever I hear the song “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart, I think of this woman and smile. She was MY Maggie May and I have no regrets whatsoever.

    Let some buffoon in law enforcement tell me that technically I was a “victim” because I was a minor and I’ll laugh in his face.

    1. AvatarJeremy

      Maestro, please tell me you are not going to keep complaining about the law? When Elvis was 24, it was 1959. America still had some really screwed up laws back then, don’t you think? The Civil Rights Act didn’t get signed into law until 5 years later!

      What I’m trying to say is there have been good laws and there have been screwed up laws in American history and the history of the world, but many times the good laws address a problem that was never addressed before. That doesn’t make it any less of a problem though.

      The sentencing for sex offenses has actually been proven to be quite effective especially when requiring extensive treatment, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

      What is broke, though, is the registration system for people who have served their sentence and their families.

      I hope you seek out more extensive treatment because you do not seem to have any remorse for your crime at all. I’m not suggesting that you change your view on what you think is right or wrong (I met offenders who thought having sex with a 5 year old wasn’t morally wrong), but what I am suggesting is that you admit you knew the law prior to committing your offense regardless of your moral beliefs.

      Having sex with anyone is a privilege, not a right, and if the law says they cannot consent, they cannot legally consent, period. It is up to you to have the self control to avoid breaking the law.

      Obviously, the situation when you were younger has affected your thinking and has caused at least one distortion, so, yes, you are a victim. It took me a long time to realize that situations that may have felt physically good at the time when I was young led me to the path I ended on to be a current registered sex offender.

      Most offenders that I heard continue to talk like you do now (which aren’t many at the end of treatment) end up either reoffending sexually or acting out in other inappropriate ways. Please don’t be one of them and get some help.

    2. AvatarJonathan Dell Merritt

      Actually wheather someones claims to have remorse or not is of no concern to me. My only concern is that the person never reoffends in his or her lifetime and lives out their lives as God intended for them to live. That is the only way they can honor those people that they have harmed and offended.

    3. AvatarJohn

      I disagree with Jeremy’s comment and to me Maestro’s comment makes common sense and hits a very important point. In my opinion, people who act’s like Maestro’s example of Elvis are abundant. I would be willing to bet that nearly all of those individuals (who are not caught) do not think their actions were in anyway criminal (many probably are not even aware of the laws they may be breaking). I would also be willing to bet that their so-called victims never once thought they were a victim in any way (again referring to Maestro’s personal example). Now, think about it- when you can go back one generation and something is perfectly acceptable, and in the current generation it is still extremely common- why should those people convicted of such minor acts tell themselves they are sickos like the gov and treatment givers often want them to feel? Why can’t they make their own judgement of themselves based on their own level headed minds based from their own experiences? Why do we not want to build a support group of like minded and self confident people? After-all, changing peoples attitudes on what is morally right and wrong is what got us into this mess, put another way- some puritanically minded individuals lobbied public fear to exaggerate what is a sexual crime worthy of huge punishment and marginalization. They have done this to the point that the registry blankets a huge range of acts of varying severity. Can’t we start to reverse those thoughts?

      Here is another story to support Maestro’s common sense. I recently rented a room from a nice older lady. A dinner story she randomly told us one night went like this: When she was a teenager she had 3 sisters and there was a peeping tom in the neighborhood. She said that he would get a step ladder and come up to their window and look in and one time she saw him right in the face! She told her dad about it and her dad later caught the fella. Her dad scared the boy and said if he ever does it again he will tell his parents and the boy never did it again. Now here is the kicker, remember the so called victim is the women telling the story. She said and I quote “there was nothing wrong with the boy, he was a young healthy boy, of course he would like to look at us girls. Nothing bad ever came out of the situation it was all in fun.” The point is, some people used to use their own minds, they can put two and two together. They don’t want people to be peeping toms but they understand that boys want to look at girls at the same time. They understand that human nature should not be criminalized but taken and dealt with as a community in the best way possible to reduce harm done to all. In this case her dad took care of the issue. What we should not be doing is extending the list of sex crimes to include more non-violent, non-contact acts that are extremely common among youth already, e.g. romeo & juliet. With the current list of offenses that put you on the registry it is only fair to say we are all sex offenders as Galen Baughman put it so well. In no way am I advocating to commit any such act, I am simply making the point that offenses that many find minor are occurring, in my opinion by the vast majority of youth. There are criminal sexual offenses where the victim never felt like a victim and the offender never felt a bit of guilt. In my opinion, these cases should not be blown out of proportion more than they already have been, the goal of the law should be to protect people from harm.

    4. AvatarDiana

      Pedophilia is before puberty (before 9 years old).

    5. AvatarTeachers Pet

      In the 1980’s, I was 16, my teacher was 36. I was teacher’s pet. She was good looking and I consented to sex. It was great for me as she taught me a lot of things that a girl my age would not have. It was something that benefited me and my future relationships. I don’t see how I was victimized. I never have thought myself a victim or mentioned her name to anyone. I wouldn’t want to see her hurt by our mutual pleasure.

  4. Something is bothering me here. I am the mother of a sex offender, who was convicted of producing porn using his six year old stepdaughter. His crime was the sort that makes the world shudder; not a case of an adult man having casual or committed sex with a young ‘girlfriend’. There seems to be this train of thought that the registry laws arent fair “to some of us”, the “elite” offenders who never touched anyone under 12, certainly. I understand that the law is doubly unfair to those offenders, but I still assert my opinion that ALL of us are worthy of a second chance in society, and that registry laws extend sentences beyond incarceration, and that that in itself is unconstitutional.

    1. Avatardavid

      I hear what you’re saying. While many SO’s committed crimes that hardly seem criminal others HAVE done terrible things. The general public may have a hard time forgiving and having compassion for those convicted of crimes like what your son did. Regardless of how someone might feel about your son’s crime, being on the registry is unjust because it also punishes the families of SO’s. Let the police have access to the registry. Making it public only invites vigilantism. What if one thinks sex offenders deserve to be harassed? I’d argue that vigilantes likely aren’t the brightest, most rational folks in the world and sometimes harm the wrong people. It’s happened.

      I guess in a way I’m an “elite” sex offender; I don’t HAVE a victim. It was a sting. Still, I’m very ashamed of myself and not proud of what led to my arrest. I’ve had to do some soul-searching and take a hard look at how I live. Still…there was NO victim. After attending groups, and meeting men who DID do terrible things, I learned how truly sorry they were for what they did, and how earnest they are to do whatever they have to do to not re-offend. One of the worst offenders I actually began to admire. He would visit and write to other SOs who were still in prison offering them compassion and understanding. As an ex-drunk I know how therapeutic it is to help someone else who suffers from the same affliction you do. This man did what he did because he is a good man. Nobody told him to help those other men. If anything, he had to fight the system and jump thru lots of hoops to contact those inmates.

      My opinion is that once a person serves his sentence he should be given the chance- ENCOURAGED- to reintegrate into society. Not only is that the humane thing to do, it is also in the best interest of society. I’m sure that the prison sentence for your son was a long time. It must be hell.

      As far as the movement to reform sex offender laws: I believe that sex offender law reformation should include ALL offenders. Judging others, the way we have been judged by society, would be hypocrisy.

    2. AvatarPaul

      Amen to that. Certainly some crimes have a more serious impact than others but we are all in the same boat. We all have the same obstacles to face. While this may sound like I am saying urinating in public is the same as rape, I’m not. That’s what sentences are for, to make that distinction. But the registry is unjust to us all. If truly repentant and sorrowful for their actions, I would hope we could forgive anyone who is sincere towards their own rehabilitation and determination to not reoffend. I think most of us are in that category.

      L. Benjamin, we all deserve a second chance. I agree.

    3. AvatarNH Registrant

      A lot of those people who make these laws call themselves Christians at the same time. Talk about hypocrisy!

      In The Bible, Jesus says: “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.” In Christianity, you are told to turn the other cheek, to forgive freely, and to love one another. But, those who seek vengeance and those who profit from the suffering of Registered Citizens are hardly what I would call Christian.

      I am not a Christian myself. But, I can definitely see hypocrisy pretty easily!

    4. AvatarJeremy

      I want to add something to this thread because I, as well, spent time in treatment with other worse offenders. I haven’t heard this “elite” term until today, but I would not consider myself in that category because my crime was child pornography, and not the kind where someone a few years younger than me sent me a naked selfie like so many offenders claim. The bottom line is that any registered SO is not incarcerated, right? So, if they’re not incarcerated, they are running the streets and in our communities. Regardless of people’s fears, when someone is released to society, they are thought to have learned their lesson and are permitted to live among the law-abiding again. Now we all know this isn’t always the case and people want to feel safe. So, when this happens, we as a society should do everything possible to help the offenders not reoffend. The current laws and registration requirements actually have the potential to make it worse! Many of the contributing factors that lead to a sex offense are things like isolation, loneliness, depression, loss of control, etc. By putting us on a registry that anyone can find when searching our name on Google (I encourage everyone to email Homefacts, by the way), it actually causes these same factors to reappear. The point I’m making is that the registry does more to shame us than make the country a better place to live.

    5. AvatarAngela

      How about when is a sex sting operation? When the only child porn is sent by fake victims, AKA undercover officers? The punishment for child molestation attempt is the same with statutory rape even if the defendant didn’t commit any real crime.

  5. AvatarPaula

    I need help understanding why it is a person who touches a child gets in less trouble then one viewing child porn. It makes no sense. I know a man who sexually molested a 8yr old female child, his punishment was 6 years in state prison. I know a perso who was caught downloading child porn and his punishment was 17.6 years federal prison. Child porn laws need to be changed. They are way to harsh. They give you points for using a computer. We all know now a days everyone uses a computer. Points for 600 images when one single image can turn into thousands. These laws are very . Harsh and out dated. This sounds awful to say but what this says is you can touch but you can’t look. I believe it’s all wrong but way to harsh. What can we do to help change these laws. Does anyone ever think the laws will change to help sex offenders?

    1. AvatarPaul

      You may not like it, but here’s a primary reason. The Feds consider each child photographed a victim. So if there are thousands of images, presumably there are thousands of victims (not true with a video, which each fraction of a second counts as several hundred). But I agree that in levels of seriousness, direct contact with a child is much, much worse. But again, I will state that when it comes to the registry, no matter who we are, we all deserve a second chance.

      And again, I have to reiterate that the severity of these laws are all the more disgusting to me in recent light of the fact that we know that the FEDS have taken over CP sites to catch people. We all know that downloading child pornography is a horrible thing to do, let alone running a CP website, except if you’re the FEDS, that is. Apparently the FEDS have no problems violating the same community standards that can put away mere mortals for decades. Think about this for a moment: The same people who call victims to make victim impact statements at sentencing are the same people putting the images of these children out there as “bait” WITHOUT their individual consent. Does that send a chill down your spine? If not, I don’t know what will.

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