My Turn: State officials must accept that sex offenders can change
People change. This is an incontrovertible truth in life. Yet, this concept seems to be lacking in the wonderful state that has become my home – at least it’s MIA in the New Hampshire state prison system. (Fortunately, it hasn’t hit our schools yet.)
The money to be made by an opposite view – people don’t change – is real. The flawed anthropology that argues that people can’t change has no place in any serious attempt at rehabilitation. The shallow promises to act on behalf of change are the result of playing to the popular. In New Hampshire, when it comes to sex offenders, the popular is paranoia and ignorance. These never lower rates of recidivism.
Any pseudo-science that would claim that people do not change does not deserve our serious attention.
For every psychiatrist or psychologist with a master’s in the arts of psychology or sociology, I’ll give you three doctors of theology or ministry who will present documented proof of miraculously changed lives.
Changed lives can be easily documented or demonstrated. The press, politicians and pseudo-scientific community refuse to acknowledge change. Change is threatening because transformation apart from them excludes them and is something they can’t take credit for or control.
Another reason the mainstream media refuses to understand spiritual change is their Western, anti-supernatural bias. Although you cannot see spiritual, supernatural transformation, you can clearly see its results in the life changes in millions of people. Yet they either refuse to see or cannot see. Is their blindness willful or does it have another source?
I learned in journalism (in my investigative reporter days, assigned to East Boston and Boston City Hall), that we should “follow the money.” In New Hampshire, easy money hides in the notion that people like Raymond Guay, who killed a Nashua boy in 1973, can’t change. Good politics, too.
Here in New Hampshire, the money trail is found in all the fees that are collected by independently contracted counselors – licensed by the state. The state collects licensing fees. The men and women on parole have to see these counselors weekly and have to pay for it themselves. Why should they ever get better? Why should they be released as healthy and changed? There’s no money in human transformation. So, “sex offenders can’t change” is the motto of profit.
There’s lots of talk about rehabilitation here in New Hampshire, but I question the sincerity. Four or five years ago I met with Bill Wrenn, commissioner of corrections. He promised a meeting with those of us involved in aftercare. It never happened. He also promised to get to the bottom of parole officers undermining parolees’ chances of re-establishing themselves in a community after having done their time.
The state set up a chaperone program to help sex offenders be able to attend churches of their choice. After having certified 13 of the people at New Life Fellowship in Concord, the state decided that it did not recognize their own certification. All training was conducted under an independent “counselor” used almost exclusively by the state to inform them about prisoners and parolees.
I know firsthand that some officials in the state of New Hampshire want to use these state-certified counselors to declare parolees who have served their time as mentally unfit for release. If they can’t keep sex offenders in prison, then they can at least have them committed to their mental facilities.
Several years back, one woman on the parole board made it her mission to incarcerate sex offenders for life. Never mind making distinctions between repeat offenders and one-time offenders or predatory versus passive, single-instance offenders. In her narrow mind, she lumped them all together.
During a parole hearing, she announced as much to a man that I was interceding for. She obviously does not believe that people change. For that reason alone she has no place serving our community on the parole board. We do not serve the people when we do not consider the weakest among us to be people also.
I hate to think of what state officials of New Hampshire would have done with Saul of Tarsus, who through his experience of regeneration became the Apostle Paul, one of Christianity’s greatest champions. Previously a murderer of men, women and children of the early followers of Jesus, he was transformed to become a man of great love and character. Though he still had flaws after his conversion, they were not dangerous flaws. Nor did he ever kill anyone again. Today he is known as one of the greatest of Christ’s apostles – a champion of the Christian faith. So much for people not being able to change.
I’m really more concerned with the question: Can politicians and journalists really change? I believe they can . . . if. If they are willing to return to integrity and character they can change. If they are willing to be compassionate, they can change.
We need to and can do several things: We need to take a close look at Maine’s way of classifying sex offenders. We need to take a close look at Vermont’s new system of combating recidivism. States all over the union are inviting Vermont’s prison officials to speak and teach about their successes.
We need to thoroughly purge New Hampshire’s propensity for profiting from its “rehabilitation” programs. No more keeping parolees of proven character who have paid the penalty and done their time under the control of the state and financially bound to it by various fees, fines and levies.
We have to end all clear conflicts of interest in the counseling and reporting of ex-prisoners.
Find men and women who do believe that people can change and support them to find new ways to work with prisons and parolees. If the people who now work there don’t believe that people change, then remove them and show them that we’re not afraid of change. Too many successful models work to hold on to one that doesn’t.
If they are willing to embrace a genuine concern for all people, even ex-offenders, perhaps there is yet hope. If the people and politicians of New Hampshire will treat one-time offenders the way they would want to be treated, everyone will change – for the better of our future and our remarkable state. Let’s put New Hampshire on the map for something other than politics as usual.
(David C. Alves lives in Concord and is a life coach and author.)