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Topics - TheHappyMisogynist

1
Main / The Best Interest of the Court
Jan 25, 2009, 06:15 PM
A very wise man, I think it was me, once said, "If you want something screwed up, let the government do it.  If you want something totally destroyed, give it to the lawyers."

Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was me.

In most cases this little tidbit of reality doesn't much matter.  After all, even when some shyster figures out a way to extort millions from McDonalds because a binging fat-body couldn't keep his fingers off the happy meals, it doesn't really alter the course of the average persons day.  Those who want to eat that stuff won't mind the extra nickel per hundredweight of lipids such frivolity costs them.

It's a different matter when it comes to families and children.

It is in one way ironic that we put troubled families into the hands of lawyers; the one profession certain to turn any manageable conflict into a war zone.  One the other hand, a wise man once said if you want something destroyed....

Courtrooms, the only places on the planet other than congress where cockroaches aren't afraid of the light, have become the demolition derby for families in trouble.  They are shooting galleries, where children and fathers are driven past women and lawyers like pop-up targets.  The fathers have lawyers, too.  They are the ones standing out of the line of fire urging their clients to fight till the legal bills are maxed out.

This is not just a scenario endemic to divorce.  It is not just the best we can do with a system that means well.  It is a bad system that does bad things for all the wrong reasons.  The most common of reasons being money. 

There is no profit for lawyers in amicable divorces.  They don't generate much more than filing fees and court costs. And parents that share parenting and expenses after the divorce are pretty useless as well. They keep their kids intact, but the legal profession gets zilch.

So the family law system, owned and operated by attorneys, has evolved into an adversarial theater of the damned, where turpitude and mendaciousness are considered good breeding; where children and fathers are sold out as a matter of routine.

Court officials are quick to tell anyone interested that they act in "the best interest of the children."  They even practice saying it with lofty idealism. 

Don't buy it.  The courts are about two things.  Money and winning, in that order.  They even have it rigged so that we usually know the winner before the gavel ever hits the wood.  The only real mystery is the length of the fight and the final bill.

Children?  Their best interest is the first thing to go.  That is what happens when you turn them into property and use them as bargaining chips along with houses, cars and bank accounts.

It is clear that it would be in the best interest of the child to maintain close, loving contact with both parents regardless of the marriages collapse; to let the parenting continue even as the marriage ends.  Courts could make that the default objective if they were interested. Instead what usually happens is a restraining order, almost always on Daddy.  The courts rubber stamp them without proof or corroboration.

In one legal maneuver, the court, supposedly acting in the best interest of the child, suddenly and completely severs that child's connection with one it its parents.  For children, especially young ones, this can affect them emotionally as though the parent had died. 

It is all part of the strategy to win; the best interest of the case, as it were.  Last one to file a restraining order is a rotten egg. Since women file the great majority of divorces, and the courts are biased heavily toward them, the statistical probability is that part of the proceedings will involve Daddy being vilified and removed from the home with no proof at all that he has done anything to deserve it.

That strategy is critical to gaining actual custody of the children at the end of the proceedings.  The children are worth a sizable cut of Daddy's future income.  And as his income grows, so will the checks.  Mommy knows it, too.  In many modern circles, the firstborn in a marriage is now called "the insurance policy."  It might seem clear that it was women, not men, that coined that little cutie, though my money is on the lawyers.

Best interest of the child?  Sure.

If it stopped there, it would only be a minor catastrophe, corrected once the divorce was final and feuding parents had time to grieve and move on. 

The legal system has remedies for that unprofitable direction, though.

Let's be really clear about what child custody means.  It translates quite literally to ownership.  It isn't just the ability to control when and where Dad and children see each other  and how much he will pay Mom for the privilege of doing so.  Managing conservators have the unilateral power to undermine visitation and the father-child bond with impunity.  The courts give it to them.

They have the daily opportunity, and quite frequently the desire, to assassinate the character of the absent father; to twist the child's memory and perceptions to fit with those of the embittered mother.

Over time, fathers go from being Daddy to being a visitor to being estranged to being a memory, and probably not a good one.  It's not uncommon. If you are over six or seven you know people to which this, or something like it, has happened.

And the next time you hear someone bemoan that Dad doesn't even try to spend time with the kids since the divorce, consider what he might be dealing with when he does.

Sara Jane: "Daddy, did you beat mommy up?"

Dad: "No, sweetie, I never did anything like that!"

Sara Jane: "Mommy said you did and that is why you had to leave."

Dad: "Well, honey, I never did."

Sara Jane: "Daddy?"

Dad: "Yes, sweetie?"

Sara Jane: "Are you going to beat me up, too?"

He can't fight this.  He doesn't have enough time with her to give that kind of corrective balance to his daughters life.  The courts have made sure of it.  The ex knows it and uses it.

It is easy to tell Dad that he just needs to man up and rough it through seeing the minds of his children poisoned with lies and hatred against him.  But of course, if we do that then we are no more really concerned with the best interest of the child than the courts or some of the mothers.  For in the conversation you just read, it is the child who suffers most.  She is being condemned to a worldview of men and fathers that will stain each and every relationship she has for the rest of her life. 

Mommy may be a lost cause, but she shouldn't be.

Restructuring a family is a delicate and difficult matter.  But it will remain much more difficult than is necessary until we restructure the corrupt, arrogant and destructive family courts that currently have the responsibility for doing so.

There is no panacea.  But we should start by removing incentives for people to steal children and family assets and make off with them.  False allegations in family court to obtain restraining orders should result in prison terms.  And judges should be removed from the bench for severing a parent-child relationships without a proven reason.

It's child abuse, pure and simple.

If these measures were taken and joint custody were the preferred, enforced objectives of the courts, they would actually be acting in the best interest of the children.

The divorce rate would drop like the Dow Jones.






2
At sixteen, Ricky Blackman was fairly typical of teen-age boys. He loved sports, especially basketball and football, and played them well enough to have realistic hopes for a scholarship. He liked socializing and hanging out with his friends. And girls-- of course there were always the girls.

His Middle American upbringing produced unsurprising ambitions. He dreamed of serving his country in the Navy after school and ultimately of a career in law enforcement. He was, by all accounts, a healthy and well adjusted young man.

Skip ahead three years and you'll find Ricky and his life have changed radically. He takes private instruction in web design because he isn't welcome on a campus. He no longer trusts the law he once wanted to serve, and when in the presence of young women he panics and withdraws. In fact, his life, once so full of promise and hope, is now little more than a daily struggle to survive, and a challenge to even find reasons for doing so.

While the way that Ricky sees the world around him differs greatly from his younger days, it is nothing compared to the way the world around him now sees Ricky. He has become the ultimate pariah and outcast. He is, at least in the eyes of most, pernicious persona non grata; human refuse hardly worthy of life itself.

It all started before his seventeenth birthday. Ricky was at a local hang out for teens and met a girl there. Amanda was from his area, said she was fifteen years old and they seemed to have much in common. They began seeing each other and eventually had sex on two occasions.

The encounters would undo the rest of his life.

Like many young people trying to impress someone they like who is older, Amanda lied to Ricky about her age. She later told Ricky's mother, Mary Duval, that she was only fourteen and pled with her not to let Ricky know. Mary promptly told her son of the confession and he cut off the romance immediately. They found out later that she still wasn't being entirely honest.

The police became involved with Amanda sometime later as a runaway and discovered her prior ties with Ricky during questioning. She admitted the sexual relationship to the police. She also admitted that she had lied to Ricky about her age. After evaluating the situation, Amanda's parents weren't interested in pressing charges and the police weren't interested in making an arrest. Or so it seemed until the Dallas County Iowa District Attorneys office got wind of the case.

Shortly after Ricky turned seventeen he was questioned by the police. His mother was present and it was her instinct to remove Ricky from the interview, but she had just undergone surgery on her eyes and was disoriented due to the post-operative medications she was taking. Unfortunately, Ricky's stepfather at the time wanted the matter resolved and signed a waiver for the police to question him without legal counsel.

The police had something they wanted Ricky to sign as well.

It was a simple statement that he had in fact had sexual relations with Amanda. Ricky was apprehensive, but he signed. It was, after all, the truth. And in Ricky's world the truth served an honest person well.

"Sorry to tell you," said the police officer according to Blackman after he had signed the statement, "Amanda admitted she lied to you about her real age, but she was only thirteen."

It probably wasn't the tactics Ricky envisioned for himself as a police officer. Get a kid to sign a confession, and then tell him what he just confessed to. Ricky's naiveté took a hard blow. But it was only the first of many times that the real world would land on him like a Mac Truck.

The officer told him that the case would be sent back to the D.A. and that it might come to nothing since Amanda had confessed to lying about her age. He also advised him, in a rare moment of clarity and honesty from the system, that it could go either way.

Ten days later Ricky was arrested in front of his friends and taken to jail. He was charged as an adult with two counts of third degree sexual abuse, a felony. In an almost artistic manipulation of timing and the system, police and prosecutors used laws applying only to juveniles to garner evidence and a confession, and then used it all to charge him criminally as an adult.

The arrest made the papers, complete with Ricky's full name, address and the nature of the charges against him. It was the beginning of a two-pronged assault on his life. From the criminal justice system he was threatened with twenty years in prison, more time than he had even been alive at that point.

The community in which he had lived and thrived turned on him in an instant.

When Ricky and Mary went food shopping, cashiers in one line at a local grocery store refused to check them out, forcing them to go to another line while other customers glared at them. His younger brother, who was nine at the time, was badgered and humiliated at school.

Duval read the writing on the wall and immediately made plans to take Ricky and his brother to Oklahoma in hopes that they could put the matter behind them as much as possible. It would have to wait until the Dallas County Prosecutors Office was done with him.

That process began with a rare, upbeat moment that seemed to promise a partial reprieve. The prosecution offered a deal with Ricky that almost seemed reasonable given the circumstances. He would plead guilty to one count of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, a class D felony, and be given two years probation which would be expunged from the records if he satisfied the terms of his probation. He would not have to state a felony on job applications and because of the adjudication he would not be placed on a sex offenders registry.

It seemed like the best offer possible all things considered and Ricky agreed to the plea. Unfortunately, the system came back with a vengeance. Just minutes before the hearing was scheduled to begin, even as Ricky and his mother were seated in the courtroom, the state appointed attorney advised them that there had been a recent change in Iowa law.

Any plea arrangement Ricky now made was contingent on being placed on a sex abuser registry for ten years. Both Ricky and his mother erupted in tears causing a commotion in the courtroom. It took some time for both of them to compose themselves, though they scarcely had time for the anguish. Ricky now had literally moments to decide whether or not to take the deal. He didn't want to be placed on the registry. He didn't think it was right. But to fight it was risking two decades behind bars; a place where young men, especially those not hardened by criminal life, were sure to find out what real sexual deviance and assault are all about.

It was a duel blow for Duval, who lost her eyesight entirely five weeks before the hearing. And it turned out that the "recent" change in the statute had happened nearly a year earlier. Ricky's lawyer just wasn't up on it.

Ricky took the deal, but almost ran into another snag with the court. The prosecution wanted Ricky to state on the record that he had lured the girl to his home for the purpose of having sex. The request was clear. What the authorities wanted was a false allocution. Blackman, with courage almost unimaginable for his age and the circumstances, refused. He told the court that the sex was what they both wanted and he wouldn't make a statement to the contrary.

They entered Blackman's statement into the record and closed the case. Ricky received the adjudication and was now free to move away from Iowa.

It was something he couldn't wait to do. The promise of getting away and getting something a fresh start almost made the situation bearable.

The state of Oklahoma, and some its citizens, had other plans.

Unknown to the family when they moved, Oklahoma law required Ricky to register as a sexual offender for life. And because of the age difference between he and Amanda, he is listed as a tier three offender, which labels him as violent, dangerous and aggravated. He was placed on the sexual offender registry. This affects Ricky's life in ways that most of us cannot imagine.

Since moving to Oklahoma he has been kicked out of school, ousted from public parks and verbally abused by neighbors and strangers. One neighbor shouted obscenities and videotaped him whenever he stepped outside his door. The same man came to their home and told Mary Duval he would not quit bothering them till she took her "child rapist" away. He was not interested in the facts surrounding Ricky's case. He had seen everything he needed to know about Ricky Blackman from the offenders registry.

Ricky cannot live or go within 2,000 feet of schools, parks or any other establishments where children are known to be present, which also forces him to live as far from town as possible. This means he cannot attend his younger brothers football games or go most anywhere where he could make and maintain friendships. He cannot even attend church unless he informs the clergy there that he is a sex offender and gets their permission. Now that Ricky is off probation his younger brother can have his friends in the home while Ricky is there.  But most parents don't want their children in a home with a registered sex offender.  And the reality is that children around ricky present a dangerous vulnerability...for Ricky.  Any allegation against him, even the most patently false, could have disasterous results. 

His probation officer had him dismissed from the school system, saying, according to Duval, "He is a liability to them." He was denied G.E.D classes because they were offered on a school campus and the State Board of Education denied him online classes because he was on the registry.

Ricky was eventually allowed to take G.E.D. classes, at a local police station.

He now lives his life in near solitude, helping to take care of his mother and trying to sort out how he is going to make something of the rest of his life. He had a job in a fabrication plant, but was "laid off" when his employers discovered his history. Effectively in prison, Ricky will remain that way for the rest of his life unless something changes.

Ricky and his mother are both involved in trying to effect those changes. They have both taken the story public and Duval has an on-line radio program to raise awareness of what the registry actually does. She has managed to get the story covered by some television stations and newspapers. She also has an internet petition demanding changes in the laws. Primary among those demands is that the states recognize the difference between sexual predation and consensual sex between teens.

Many places, including Oklahoma, the law sees no such difference and consequently makes no legal distinction between someone who lures a child into a car and rapes them and people like Ricky Blackman.

It was a difference, however, that the prosecution in his case was apparently able to see, even as they held twenty years in prison over the young mans head in order to coerce a guilty plea. It was the prosecution that recommended to the court that Blackman receive two years probation with deferred adjudication. In that recommendation they advised the court that this course of action would be sufficient to rehabilitate the defendant.

One only need consult a mental heath professional with experience dealing with sexual offenders to learn that the perception is that the recidivism for sexual offenders is high. In my considerable time in the field it was the general consensus of clinicians that predators were untreatable and that incarceration was the best option. There is research that disputes all this, but in Blackman's case, it was always perceptions that guided events, not reality.

That being said, prosecutors are generally less generous than psychotherapists. With their recommendation to the court, the prosecution openly acceded to what every one else in that courtroom already knew.

Ricky Blackman was not a sexual predator.

Ricky Blackman was just a kid that had sex with a girlfriend he thought was a year younger than him.

Ricky Blackman had no business being there in the first place.

At this point, though, it was too late. Blackman was caught up in a system largely devised by politicians clamoring to quell public fears about the safety of children. Fanning the flames of public outrage, and sometimes lighting them, lawmakers run for office against each other on platforms largely consisting of "tough on crime" one-upmanship. One ever more draconian measure after another is offered up as a sales pitch to a panic-ridden, woefully ignorant public that will sign on to whatever sounds the most extreme.

The result is laws that not only fail to protect our children, but in the case of Blackman and others, they have actually started destroying them. Elected politicians, like prosecutors and judges, fearful of being seen as soft on crime, force people like Blackman through the legal gauntlet without compunction. They have become robotic assassins, creating unthinkable collateral damage in a war that is supposedly being waged in the publics best interest.

Meanwhile, children are no safer on the streets than they have ever been.

It is perhaps fitting to point to the silver linings in this story. Duval, since the loss of her sight has nonetheless emerged as a dogged and tireless advocate for her son, and for bringing problems with the sexual offenders registry to the publics attention.

Ricky has found some focus for the future as well, though it took some hits and misses. He wanted to get a law degree and work to change the system for the better, but he won't be allowed to practice law anywhere--the registry. Now he takes private lessons in web design, a profession suited for someone who has little reason to leave the house. He also wants to reach out to young people and caution them about the hazards and consequences of teen sex. The jury remains out on whether that can ever happen.

These are thin consolations, lending neither redemption nor solace. Even if Mary Duval had not lost her eyesight, she would never again see the Ricky she knew before all this happened. Her life is, and will be consumed with trying to find justice for her son. She openly admits this may never happen.

And Ricky, at nineteen, is never going to be the same. At an age when he is supposed to have his whole life in front of him, looking forward to the time he will marry and have children of his own, his path looks to be marked by a single set of footprints. His ideas on women are not what they used to be.

"I don't trust them," he says. "When I see one looking at me I just walk away."

Still, he is a young man with a message, albeit forged in the fires of adversity. It is a message that assaults the complacency in which we all too often find comfort.

"Anybody who looks at the registry should not judge people just for being there," he says, "There are lots of people that don't belong. People like me. There are even people that had to pee so bad they went outside and the next thing you know someone takes a picture with a cell phone and they end up on the registry too."

Right along side the child rapists.

Little at this point would ameliorate the damage done to this family. The Kafkaesque storm that overtook them three years ago still darkens every horizon and pummels the simplicity out of life that they used to take for granted. It still rattles their doors and windows, as though trying shake more skeletons from the closet. And it has swept away hope for the future, leaving behind only the solemn, desperate need for peace and safety.

We love to think that justice is blind. But in each of us we pray that those who administer that justice are people of vision. When systems become so twisted that the letter of the law strangles its spirit, then justice cannot exist. It will die as surely as the dreams of a teen-age boy when the world caves in around him.



3
There is an incalculable amount of advice in this world instructing women on how to get what they want from men. Scarcely is there and issue of COSMO or a host of other women's magazines that doesn't have and article on how to find the right man, how to get and keep the right man; how to make that man love you, how to drive that man wild with desire, or how to get him to listen to you and help around the house.

There are a variety of books on the subject as well. One notable effort is Lori Uscher-Pines' "The Get-Your-Man-to-Marry-You Plan: Buying the Cow in the Age of Free Milk," which helps women corral that guy who is not sure he wants to tie the knot.

Once she gets her prince charming, she may want to smooth out a few of his kinks. For this she can turn to the classic, "How to Make Your Man Behave in 21 Days or Less Using the Secrets of Professional Dog Trainers," by Karen Salmansohn and Allison Seiffer.

While I am sure that the laudable work of these ladies will help you find the partnership and intimacy that is the foundation of true love, I'd also like to offer my two-cents worth, as a man, with a little self-help magic.

Let's call it, "How to Get a Man to Respect You."

I can't imagine why, but Uscher-Pines and the Trainer Twins didn't address this in their books. And being that respect might actually have something to do with a relationships quality and longevity, I'll try to pull up the slack.

I am tempted to apologize in advance to the many women who this advice does not apply to, but then again, those that really don't need to hear this are unlikely to be offended.

Let us begin, ladies, with a definition of respect. I don't know what it says in the dictionary, but I would define it as a feeling of admiration, and a tendency toward good treatment, based on the observed qualities in a human being.

That is to say that respect is not a given. Respectful treatment is, but the actual feeling of respect is a product of what another person shows you to be their make up as a human being. I am sure you want to be treated with respect, but I am also sure that you would prefer that respect is genuine and not something that your man has to feign because he doesn't really feel that way.

Now that we have a definition for respect, let's proceed with how to get it, starting with communication.

I have heard many women say that one of their problems with men is that they are not very good listeners. I have to agree that at times they are not. So let's look at how to improve on that problem.

The first thing that many women can do to make their man a better listener is to realize that all human beings are limited by their attention span. With that in mind, let me point out that "How was your day?" does not require a ninety minute answer. In fact, in most cases, anything more than about three minutes is too long.

Now, you may find it fascinating that Myrtle in accounting has restless leg syndrome, but I assure you that your man doesn't. Anything more than a passing mention of Myrtles twitching thighs will have him scanning the room for the remote control.

He will likely never say so, but at a certain point he will to want to point that remote at you and frantically push the "off" button in hopes of a reprieve.

The same is true regarding comprehensive descriptions of your shopping trips, disputes with your family members and co-workers, and exhaustive detailing of all his mistakes and shortcomings.

Talk about whatever you want or need to within reason and your man will likely pay meticulous attention. But treat him like it is his duty to pay painstaking attention to rambling, circular diatribes that have nothing to with his life any you will find his attention waning.

Exactly as it should.

Once you practice talking with a reasonable expectation of how much your man, or anyone, should remain interested in listening to you, you will actually feel listened to.

You will respect him for listening, and he will respect you for respecting him.

Another area in which I have heard men criticized is with respecting, or "validating," as therapists like to say, your feelings.

And again there is some truth to this. For men, feelings have their place on the ladder, but not above reason or intellect. Men are problem solvers by nature, and the reality is that how they feel about something might identify a problem, but it does nothing to help solve it. So once feelings have served their purpose, men generally like to dispense with them and move on to solutions.

That doesn't mean men don't care how you feel. They just care more about fixing things. Expecting them to listen to feelings at the expense of resolving the precipitating problem puts men right back on the search for that remote.

So tell your man how you feel, but again, keep it with reason. If you do that, and then allow the conversation to focus on solutions, you will not only find that your feelings have been validated, but you will see that he is actually interested in what caused the feelings to begin with and in what he can do about it to help.

Again, you feel respected, and so does your man.

There is also one caveat about feelings that must be addressed.

They are not always reliable. Intellect and reason are far from empirical; emotions even less so.

Just because you feel a particular way doesn't establish any fact except that you feel something. It doesn't prove your man made a mistake, that he was insensitive about something or that he is hiding something from you.

Feelings, whatever they are, are almost always transient. They change and vacillate and come back to square one about as often as they wane off into obscurity. Putting your partner on the "validate these as we go program" is not a formula for good communication or a roadmap to respect.

It is a splendidly good idea to run a check or two, or ten if need be, on your heart with your head before expecting him to take your feelings so seriously. Doing that check will reduce conflict, solve more problems, prevent more problems and free the relationship to be enjoyed more by both.

I'll assume you agree that is a worthwhile goal.

Another, very important thing you can do to gain a mans respect is to carry your financial weight. Now, if you are a woman that takes care of a home and raises children, that IS carrying your weight.

But if you are like most women in these times who work and support themselves, then it will garner you a lot more respect if you reach for your purse to take care of your half of whatever you do together. Most men want you to, but will not bring it up for fear of running you off. If what you want is free dinners, then forget this part. But if you want real respect, don't just offer to pay your way, insist on it.

Thinking you are entitled to a mans money simply because you are a woman doesn't command respect. And in this day and age it doesn't show much self respect, either. Self importance, maybe, but that is not the same thing. Everyone likes to feel special, but that feeling doesn't have to be gathered from another persons wallet.

There will always be men who take the old school, macho stance of "No woman is going to pay her way around me!" They are usually the same guys that think you owe them something when the check is paid. And the rest are just so insecure that they think this is their only way to companionship. I'll wager that neither kind of man will ultimately respect you.

Most men won't admit it, but they often wonder if the women they are with would even be around if it weren't for financial perks. And some women won't admit it, but the answer is often "no."

Respect and security are bolstered by equality and undermined by a lack of it.

The thrust of this is that if you want respect, it really gets the ball rolling to start off by giving it. Every man and woman deserves respect, but we don't get there by requiring partners to assume the role of a captive audience, personal therapist or an ATM on legs.



4
Main / Ricky's Life- Sexual Predator Insanity
Jan 03, 2009, 11:06 AM
At sixteen, Ricky Blackman was fairly typical of teen-age boys. He loved sports, especially basketball and football, and played them well enough to have realistic hopes for a scholarship. He liked socializing and hanging out with his friends. And girls-- of course there were always the girls.

His Middle American upbringing produced unsurprising ambitions. He dreamed of serving his country in the Navy after school and ultimately of a career in law enforcement. He was, by all accounts, a healthy and well adjusted young man.

Skip ahead three years and you'll find Ricky and his life have changed radically. He takes private instruction in web design because he isn't welcome on a campus. He no longer trusts the law he once wanted to serve, and when in the presence of young women he panics and withdraws. In fact, his life, once so full of promise and hope, is now little more than a daily struggle to survive, and a challenge to even find reasons for doing so.

While the way that Ricky sees the world around him differs greatly from his younger days, it is nothing compared to the way the world around him now sees Ricky. He has become the ultimate pariah and outcast. He is, at least in the eyes of most, pernicious persona non grata; human refuse hardly worthy of life itself.

It all started before his seventeenth birthday. Ricky was at a local hang out for teens and met a girl there. Amanda was from his area, said she was fifteen years old and they seemed to have much in common. They began seeing each other and eventually had sex on two occasions.

The encounters would undo the rest of his life.

Like many young people trying to impress someone they like who is older, Amanda lied to Ricky about her age. She later told Ricky's mother, Mary Duval, that she was only fourteen and pled with her not to let Ricky know. Mary promptly told her son of the confession and he cut off the romance immediately. They found out later that she still wasn't being entirely honest.

The police became involved with Amanda sometime later as a runaway and discovered her prior ties with Ricky during questioning. She admitted the sexual relationship to the police. She also admitted that she had lied to Ricky about her age. After evaluating the situation, Amanda's parents weren't interested in pressing charges and the police weren't interested in making an arrest. Or so it seemed until the Dallas County Iowa District Attorneys office got wind of the case.

Shortly after Ricky turned seventeen he was questioned by the police. His mother was present and it was her instinct to remove Ricky from the interview, but she had just undergone surgery on her eyes and was disoriented due to the post-operative medications she was taking. Unfortunately, Ricky's stepfather at the time wanted the matter resolved and signed a waiver for the police to question him without legal counsel.

The police had something they wanted Ricky to sign as well.

It was a simple statement that he had in fact had sexual relations with Amanda. Ricky was apprehensive, but he signed. It was, after all, the truth. And in Ricky's world the truth served an honest person well.

"Sorry to tell you," said the police officer according to Blackman after he had signed the statement, "Amanda admitted she lied to you about her real age, but she was only thirteen."

It probably wasn't the tactics Ricky envisioned for himself as a police officer. Get a kid to sign a confession, and then tell him what he just confessed to. Ricky's naiveté took a hard blow. But it was only the first of many times that the real world would land on him like a Mac Truck.

The officer told him that the case would be sent back to the D.A. and that it might come to nothing since Amanda had confessed to lying about her age. He also advised him, in a rare moment of clarity and honesty from the system, that it could go either way.

Ten days later Ricky was arrested in front of his friends and taken to jail. He was charged as an adult with two counts of third degree sexual abuse, a felony. In an almost artistic manipulation of timing and the system, police and prosecutors used laws applying only to juveniles to garner evidence and a confession, and then used it all to charge him criminally as an adult.

The arrest made the papers, complete with Ricky's full name, address and the nature of the charges against him. It was the beginning of a two-pronged assault on his life. From the criminal justice system he was threatened with twenty years in prison, more time than he had even been alive at that point.

The community in which he had lived and thrived turned on him in an instant.

When Ricky and Mary went food shopping, cashiers in one line at a local grocery store refused to check them out, forcing them to go to another line while other customers glared at them. His younger brother, who was nine at the time, was badgered and humiliated at school.

Duval read the writing on the wall and immediately made plans to take Ricky and his brother to Oklahoma in hopes that they could put the matter behind them as much as possible. It would have to wait until the Dallas County Prosecutors Office was done with him.

That process began with a rare, upbeat moment that seemed to promise a partial reprieve. The prosecution offered a deal with Ricky that almost seemed reasonable given the circumstances. He would plead guilty to one count of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, a class D felony, and be given two years probation which would be expunged from the records if he satisfied the terms of his probation. He would not have to state a felony on job applications and because of the adjudication he would not be placed on a sex offenders registry.

It seemed like the best offer possible all things considered and Ricky agreed to the plea. Unfortunately, the system came back with a vengeance. Just minutes before the hearing was scheduled to begin, even as Ricky and his mother were seated in the courtroom, the state appointed attorney advised them that there had been a recent change in Iowa law.

Any plea arrangement Ricky now made was contingent on being placed on a sex abuser registry for ten years. Both Ricky and his mother erupted in tears causing a commotion in the courtroom. It took some time for both of them to compose themselves, though they scarcely had time for the anguish. Ricky now had literally moments to decide whether or not to take the deal. He didn't want to be placed on the registry. He didn't think it was right. But to fight it was risking two decades behind bars; a place where young men, especially those not hardened by criminal life, were sure to find out what real sexual deviance and assault are all about.

It was a duel blow for Duval, who lost her eyesight entirely five weeks before the hearing. And it turned out that the "recent" change in the statute had happened nearly a year earlier. Ricky's lawyer just wasn't up on it.

Ricky took the deal, but almost ran into another snag with the court. The prosecution wanted Ricky to state on the record that he had lured the girl to his home for the purpose of having sex. The request was clear. What the authorities wanted was a false allocution. Blackman, with courage almost unimaginable for his age and the circumstances, refused. He told the court that the sex was what they both wanted and he wouldn't make a statement to the contrary.

They entered Blackman's statement into the record and closed the case. Ricky received the adjudication and was now free to move away from Iowa.

It was something he couldn't wait to do. The promise of getting away and getting something a fresh start almost made the situation bearable.

The state of Oklahoma, and some its citizens, had other plans.

Unknown to the family when they moved, Oklahoma law required Ricky to register as a sexual offender for life. And because of the age difference between he and Amanda, he is listed as a tier three offender, which labels him as violent, dangerous and aggravated. He was placed on the sexual offender registry. This affects Ricky's life in ways that most of us cannot imagine.

Since moving to Oklahoma he has been kicked out of school, ousted from public parks and verbally abused by neighbors and strangers. One neighbor shouted obscenities and videotaped him whenever he stepped outside his door. The same man came to their home and told Mary Duval he would not quit bothering them till she took her "child rapist" away. He was not interested in the facts surrounding Ricky's case. He had seen everything he needed to know about Ricky Blackman from the offenders registry.

Ricky cannot live or go within 2,000 feet of schools, parks or any other establishments where children are known to be present, which also forces him to live as far from town as possible. This means he cannot attend his younger brothers football games or go most anywhere where he could make and maintain friendships. He cannot even attend church unless he informs the clergy there that he is a sex offender and gets their permission. Now that Ricky is off probation his younger brother can have his friends in the home while Ricky is there.  But most parents don't want their children in a home with a registered sex offender.  And the reality is that children around ricky present a dangerous vulnerability...for Ricky.  Any allegation against him, even the most patently false, could have disasterous results. 

His probation officer had him dismissed from the school system, saying, according to Duval, "He is a liability to them." He was denied G.E.D classes because they were offered on a school campus and the State Board of Education denied him online classes because he was on the registry.

Ricky was eventually allowed to take G.E.D. classes, at a local police station.

He now lives his life in near solitude, helping to take care of his mother and trying to sort out how he is going to make something of the rest of his life. He had a job in a fabrication plant, but was "laid off" when his employers discovered his history. Effectively in prison, Ricky will remain that way for the rest of his life unless something changes.

Ricky and his mother are both involved in trying to effect those changes. They have both taken the story public and Duval has an on-line radio program to raise awareness of what the registry actually does. She has managed to get the story covered by some television stations and newspapers. She also has an internet petition demanding changes in the laws. Primary among those demands is that the states recognize the difference between sexual predation and consensual sex between teens.

Many places, including Oklahoma, the law sees no such difference and consequently makes no legal distinction between someone who lures a child into a car and rapes them and people like Ricky Blackman.

It was a difference, however, that the prosecution in his case was apparently able to see, even as they held twenty years in prison over the young mans head in order to coerce a guilty plea. It was the prosecution that recommended to the court that Blackman receive two years probation with deferred adjudication. In that recommendation they advised the court that this course of action would be sufficient to rehabilitate the defendant.

One only need consult a mental heath professional with experience dealing with sexual offenders to learn that the perception is that the recidivism for sexual offenders is high. In my considerable time in the field it was the general consensus of clinicians that predators were untreatable and that incarceration was the best option. There is research that disputes all this, but in Blackman's case, it was always perceptions that guided events, not reality.

That being said, prosecutors are generally less generous than psychotherapists. With their recommendation to the court, the prosecution openly acceded to what every one else in that courtroom already knew.

Ricky Blackman was not a sexual predator.

Ricky Blackman was just a kid that had sex with a girlfriend he thought was a year younger than him.

Ricky Blackman had no business being there in the first place.

At this point, though, it was too late. Blackman was caught up in a system largely devised by politicians clamoring to quell public fears about the safety of children. Fanning the flames of public outrage, and sometimes lighting them, lawmakers run for office against each other on platforms largely consisting of "tough on crime" one-upmanship. One ever more draconian measure after another is offered up as a sales pitch to a panic-ridden, woefully ignorant public that will sign on to whatever sounds the most extreme.

The result is laws that not only fail to protect our children, but in the case of Blackman and others, they have actually started destroying them. Elected politicians, like prosecutors and judges, fearful of being seen as soft on crime, force people like Blackman through the legal gauntlet without compunction. They have become robotic assassins, creating unthinkable collateral damage in a war that is supposedly being waged in the publics best interest.

Meanwhile, children are no safer on the streets than they have ever been.

It is perhaps fitting to point to the silver linings in this story. Duval, since the loss of her sight has nonetheless emerged as a dogged and tireless advocate for her son, and for bringing problems with the sexual offenders registry to the publics attention.

Ricky has found some focus for the future as well, though it took some hits and misses. He wanted to get a law degree and work to change the system for the better, but he won't be allowed to practice law anywhere--the registry. Now he takes private lessons in web design, a profession suited for someone who has little reason to leave the house. He also wants to reach out to young people and caution them about the hazards and consequences of teen sex. The jury remains out on whether that can ever happen.

These are thin consolations, lending neither redemption nor solace. Even if Mary Duval had not lost her eyesight, she would never again see the Ricky she knew before all this happened. Her life is, and will be consumed with trying to find justice for her son. She openly admits this may never happen.

And Ricky, at nineteen, is never going to be the same. At an age when he is supposed to have his whole life in front of him, looking forward to the time he will marry and have children of his own, his path looks to be marked by a single set of footprints. His ideas on women are not what they used to be.

"I don't trust them," he says. "When I see one looking at me I just walk away."

Still, he is a young man with a message, albeit forged in the fires of adversity. It is a message that assaults the complacency in which we all too often find comfort.

"Anybody who looks at the registry should not judge people just for being there," he says, "There are lots of people that don't belong. People like me. There are even people that had to pee so bad they went outside and the next thing you know someone takes a picture with a cell phone and they end up on the registry too."

Right along side the child rapists.

Little at this point would ameliorate the damage done to this family. The Kafkaesque storm that overtook them three years ago still darkens every horizon and pummels the simplicity out of life that they used to take for granted. It still rattles their doors and windows, as though trying shake more skeletons from the closet. And it has swept away hope for the future, leaving behind only the solemn, desperate need for peace and safety.

We love to think that justice is blind. But in each of us we pray that those who administer that justice are people of vision. When systems become so twisted that the letter of the law strangles its spirit, then justice cannot exist. It will die as surely as the dreams of a teen-age boy when the world caves in around him.



5
Introductions / Hello All
Jan 03, 2009, 10:59 AM
Greetings everyone and Happy New Year!

Just wanted to introduce myself.  My name is Paul.  I live in Houston and I am a writer on men's issues.  I love these types of forums and I'm looking forward to finding my way around this one.