By Aviva Stahl | September 26th, 2019
When people convicted of sex offenses in the United States finish their criminal sentences, they generally face a slew of regulations and restrictions — from offender registries to residency restrictions to the possibility of lifelong civil commitment — that leave them isolated, stigmatized, and surveilled. But while Richard knew that living in the free world as a convicted sex offender wouldn’t be easy, nothing prepared him for the reality.
The first time he got released, in 2007, was after he’d served four years in Minnesota prisons for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old when he was 33. Residency restrictions meant he couldn’t live close to a school or daycare. Nobody would give him a job. “If I wasn’t with family, I don’t know where I would have been living,” he told me over the phone recently. He said an old friend once chased him down, put a gun to his face and called him a ‘baby raper.’ “Surviving was next to impossible,” he said.
Within six months, Richard was rearrested for violating his parole when his urine tested positive for cocaine. He ended up spending 10 more months on the inside, including attending drug treatment. One day, while Richard was locked up at Lino Lakes, a prison just north of Minneapolis, staff members employed by the restorative justice department of the Minnesota Department of Corrections came by to explain a program called Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA). The program, which prison administrators first brought to the state in 2008, pairs sex offenders at high risk of reoffending with groups of trained community volunteers, who meet with the indiviudal and ease their transition to life on the outside. (CoSA is not to be confused with COSA, the 12-step program for those affected by another’s compulsive sexual behavior.)
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