Though this blog is was originally intended as a resource for offenders in Massachusetts, much of what I write about is applicable to sex offenders in every other state and many countries around the world, especially in Western Europe. Even other non-sex offenders trying to navigate prison, probation and parole, or employment and education opportunities can glean relevant information from this blog and apply it to help overcome their own struggles.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The College Sex Offender

A few months after I was release from prison in 2001, I enrolled in a state college here in MA, studying for a bachelor degree in psychology.  I was young enough (just about to turn 25) and motived to attend school full time, but thrusting myself into the realm of 18-21 year olds took a little getting used to.  Thanks to my family, I was able to commute to school and live at home.  I can't imagine I would have been able to afford attending school any other way, especially a few months out of prison and on probation.

With my bachelor degree, I planned on attending graduate school where I could then be trained and certified as a clinical or counseling psychologist.  Yeah, I know the usual critique of psychologists, they are in the profession because they are screwed up themselves.  It's probably true but to some extent, who isn't?!  Anyway, as good as my intentions were there was no way I could ever do the internships and receive state certification.  So now, on to Plan B: becoming certified as a "life coach".  It is an expensive credential, important to have when trying to find clients, and the strengths-based approach with a foundation in positive psychology is more attractive to me.  I don't regret my 4 year degree and subsequent debt at all.  I learned how to learn, made some good friends, and proved to myself I could actually accomplish something besides surviving prison.  I had zero skills to bring to an employer, so school was really the only viable option.  But I should have thought things through before choosing my major!

Let's talk about things you need to consider if you are thinking of attending any institution of higher ed.

  • Pick a viable major (see previous paragraph)
  • Try and figure out if it's worth it from the stand point of taking on debt and your current financial situation.  Holding a job while attending classes is best.  If you are able to secure grants and loans, even better.  Sometimes a job is more valuable than a diploma, especially if you are a convicted sex offender.
  • Be a commuter or live off campus.  Do not live on campus in a dorm, even if somehow you can.  With mandatory reporting of sex offenders on college campuses, very soon you will be popular for all the wrong reasons.  Skip the drama.
  • Tell a trusted advisor or professor about your situation:  You want a respected member of the campus community to be aware of your situation by way of your telling him/her and not them finding out from the campus police.  My advisor ended up being a staunch ally of mine and always offered to help if I had problems with anything relating to being a sex offender on campus.  Also, when the rumors about you start to fly, he can shut a lot of conversation and people down by saying "yeah he told me about that".  Simple but effective.
  • You might not be popular and well liked.  Deal with it.  But do your job as a student and member of the community, be yourself, be friendly, make friends, and even if others don't like you, they have to respect you, which can pay dividends.
  • Avoid the dorm parties starring booze and drugs. The parties are a volatile mixture of hormones and emotions and things can and do happen.  You don't want to be anywhere near it when it does.
  • If you run into trouble on campus such as being harassed, document it in any way you can, even going to the campus police and filing a report.  And don't wait until it's convenient.  My story of dueling police reports with my victim, then an adult in 2004, is fair warning.
  • Don't be creepy.
  • Be normal and do what you want to do.  Go work out in the gym, join clubs, play intramural sports, tutor other students, etc... You're paying good money for school so use it like any other student.
  • Be fearless without being offensive.
  • If there is a report of a sex offense on campus by an unknown assailant, you may want to get in front of it.  Consult your lawyer and/or probation officer, let them know what happened on campus.  My PO suggested I, along with my attorney, stop in the local police department and introduce myself to the detective and answer any questions he had.  It sounds ridiculous, I know, but sometimes being out in front of this stuff is effective.
  • Make the Dean's List
  • If you are on probation/parole, inform them of your schedule for the semester and see if you can make alternate arrangements if, say, you have a class scheduled the same time you are supposed to meet your PO for a home visit or court house check-in.  You could also file a motion with the court to try and get some of your requirements/restrictions modified with a judges order to accommodate schooling.  It's tough for them to be hardasses with someone trying to turn their life around by going to school.