I served a little over two years in federal prison for three separate sex offenses. Most of my poor choices were related to viewing child pornography. It was a long-term addiction I suffered through for about 20 years before I was finally taken down by an FBI sting. In a way, it was a huge relief to finally be caught because now I knew this sad part of my life was over. What I didn’t know was how incredibly difficult life was going to be from that point on. I was on active duty with the Air National Guard as an officer and had served close to 30 years in the Air Force, although not all of it was active duty. I threw away a wonderful career and destroyed my family. That was over seven years ago.
As a military veteran I am very thankful for the help I received from the Dept of Veterans Affairs (the VA). I realized close to the end of my halfway house stay that I had no job, no place to live, and really no way to survive. I had heard about initiatives that are in place to end veteran homelessness so I visited the downtown Baltimore VA office that dealt with veteran homelessness and was referred to a shelter in Elkton, MD that allowed registered citizens to reside there. Most of the shelters they could have referred me to don’t allow registered citizens. I also had one family (husband/wife) who stuck with me throughout my incarceration and actually gave me a car and drove it from Colorado to Washington, DC for me! I am forever grateful to them and remain in touch with them today. My wife has also been supportive of me although we will divorce at some point in the near future. It will be on amicable terms. In spite of the pain and suffering that I caused my family, she still provided a great deal of support and I will always be grateful for that. Without these two families, I would have had a much more difficult time trying to make it after prison.
Once I arrived at the shelter in Elkton, I was greeted by a very generous and wonderful man who was the director at the time. He displayed great compassion and treated me with dignity and respect. I felt accepted and relieved. The shelter itself is very old and crammed full with 14 other men, most of whom are military veterans, but not all. The shelter falls under the auspices of a non-profit organization in Cecil County called Meeting Ground, Inc. Meeting Ground also runs a day center and a women’s shelter. I lived in the men’s shelter for 8 months until I was on my feet and could afford to move out on my own.
I spent almost all of my time at the local jobs center where the staff there got to know me very well. It was during this time that it became crystal clear to me that my working life would never be the same again. There would be no more comfortable government jobs with full benefits. I went through a state-sponsored program to become a certified project management professional, but unfortunately, the credential, as valuable as it was, was totally useless to me. It was disheartening. However, because I had shown my determination to get a job, the job center manager approached me one day with an offer as a clerk at a construction company. I gladly accepted the position and started in July of 2015. I worked at that job for 26 months before it dried up. That’s what happens in construction – you work yourself out of a job, at least in the industrial construction sector. I then went to work temporarily for the client at the same job site for almost 5 months. After that I was laid off and then began the same struggle all over from three years before while looking for another job. I thought well it’s been over five years now since my conviction, maybe that will help in my new job search. It did not. I had numerous fantastic job interviews and some wonderful job offers – until they did the background check. Then suddenly I was a pariah – and kicked to the street. Eventually, I contacted the same man I had first met in Elkton, the former director of the men’s shelter, because he had been after me for at least two years to come work for him. He’s my employer today and it has come full circle for me.
In all of this, even back to the beginning of my incarceration, my religious faith has gotten me through all of this. Yes, there have been many people who have helped too, but it is God that I thank every day for what I have today. I no longer have that comfortable, free-spending life I once had, but I am ok. I am living on the outside [of prison], I have a home, I have a car, I have a job, I am in good health and life in Maryland is pretty good for a registered citizen, in my experience. I even have the right to vote here which is a rarity for a felon. There are no residency restrictions here either. Maryland is not where I plan to spend the rest of my life, but for now, this state has been very good to me and I’m getting by ok.
I also became an active board member of Meeting Ground. In 2016, I was approached by the Executive Director and asked to join the board since they wanted a veteran rep. I was glad to join and give back to the organization that helped me so much. I served two years of a three year term and resigned due to irreconcilable differences I had with the board president although this was not related to my criminal status. A year later, I rejoined the board at their invitation and am a member today. Meeting Ground has given me an important purpose and has helped me to become a part of my community.
I went through group therapy sessions every week for 4 ½ years and finally completed that requirement last Fall. I still see my therapist individually once a month but that will eventually come to an end as well. Therapy was incredibly helpful to me and I fully participated. I have a great relationship with my probation officer and he gives me a lot of latitude. I don’t like the fact that I have a 10 year term of supervised release and am only half way through today, but I try not to let it get me down. I still have to take those incredibly invasive polygraph tests occasionally, but have never had a problem getting through them.
I’ve also made a point to maintain my individuality and self-worth. Although I am often seen as conservative, I also hold some liberal views. For instance, if you were to spot me in town, you would notice that I am always barefoot. Everywhere. Some would say that I shouldn’t allow myself to stand out like that because then questions might be raised and then my status might come to light. But I refuse to live my life in fear like that. I hold my head high and am not ashamed of myself as a person. Yes, I am deeply ashamed of the crimes I committed years ago, but those crimes do not define who I am as a person. The board that I am a member of is aware of my status and supports me and they like the fact that I am comfortable living a barefoot lifestyle. My point is that I am seen as a productive member of the board and I am not judged for the crimes I committed in the past nor for how I choose to live my life today. Much of that comes from my own attitude and the way I carry myself. I am confident and I participate. I do not hide.
Both my therapist and probation officer even know that I am a nudist. It’s part of who I am. I have found that it’s best to be completely honest and open with them and anyone I meet, for that matter. Well, I don’t necessarily blurt out things, but I don’t shy away from things either. I even managed to secure permission from them late last summer to attend a one day outing in another state at a nudist campground, which was for adults only. It would not have happened were there minors present. My point is that it is possible to do what you want to do in life. It might take a little more (or a lot more!) effort than before to get there, but it can be done.
So far, life is good. Yes, I could add “all things considered” but why? Life is different for me yes, but the bottom line is that life is good. I have five beautiful children and they are all doing very well. They live in another state as does my wife, but we all get along well for the most part.
There is life after prison, even for a registered citizen. Life is what you make of it. It’s not so easily done depending on where you live and a myriad of other factors, but your attitude is where the positive change starts.