I love the definition the Merriam-Webster dictionary has for the word authentic. To be authentic means that you are true to one’s own personality, spirit or character. It also defines it as being worthy of acceptance. On paper the definition looks beautiful. It is something that I have strived to be for much of my life. I want the world to know who I truly am. I want to be accepted. For the past several years, I have been extremely challenged in this process. I am not living authentically and much of my life has become a series of lies to protect myself and my family. I am married to someone who is on the registry for life.
At my husband’s most recent group session he was challenged with the idea of living and being authentic. Although he is not able to give details about the group sessions, he is free to express his own personal takeaways. The request for him to be more authentic actually made me laugh. What a hypocritical request! Group requires him to be authentic and from a therapy standpoint I completely agree. But to have that same expectation on someone, who has been branded with the worst scarlet letter ever, to live a completely authentic and true life is nothing more than an unrealistic, hypocritical request. I would love to be authentic in my life, but my life under the registry has diffused that possibly. I support my husband’s sobriety 100% and because of that my life has been drastically and negatively impacted by a system that was created out of lies.
My husband was convicted of his crime back in 2005 and served his time. He has always been considered a low-risk registrant. So low that while we lived in Colorado, he was required to check in once a year. For the past 10 years, since being released from prison, he has led a productive, violation-free life. In 2020, we made a move to the midwest so that I could receive much needed medical care for my significant health issues. Prior to moving we did as much research as we could on what life on the registry would be like in our new community. As a low risk registrant we never would have imagined, in a million years, that he would be considered a predator and placed on GPS monitoring and house arrest!
This past year has been extremely difficult for both of us. Our lives revolve around a 7am to 7pm curfew. Once you deduct my husband’s work schedule, we have about 3 hours of movement a day. Because of my health issues I am unable to drive and am completely reliant on him. We fill the remaining available time with medical appointments, grocery shopping and all of the necessities that are required to live. Long gone are date nights, movies and the ability to visit our aging parents who live out of state. This past year has not allowed me to live authentically and true and because of that I have struggled with depression. I consider myself a registrant by association and I have never felt so branded as I have this past year. I live in fear that someone will find out who we really are and put us at risk for losing the little we do have. We have worked very hard to achieve what we have and the registry puts all of that at risk. My husband’s mental health has definitely suffered and he now deals with depression and anger. Both of which are triggers that can negatively impact his recovery.
When I reflect on what it would mean to live completely authentic I immediately hit a brick wall. How can I live authentically when, as a family, we have been branded with the worst scarlet letter there is? It isn’t like we can just introduce ourselves by name and say, “Oh by the way, my husband is a convicted felon and is on the registry.” This is the hypocritical request that has been handed to us through group therapy. We have experienced, first hand, the loss that living on the registry brings. Relationships have been lost, housing has been refused, and we have had to spend time living apart because of the restrictions that are placed upon us. How can we live authentically when we fear the system we have been placed under? The registry is confusing and filled with so many restrictions. Many of which fall into that grey area that is left up for interpretation. Rules that even the best rule follower would have difficulty navigating.
I honestly feel that the registry has a hidden agenda. The registry was created, under the premise of protecting people. A system that evoked fear, among people, by a claim of an 80% recidivism rate for offenders. A lie that has negatively impacted everyone since its inception. Research clearly shows that the recidivism rate is low and the registry does not work to protect people. It does, however, act as a great tool to entrap and convict all of the people that are placed on it. Overwhelming and unclear restrictions are just a melting pot for violations. Violations that are based on technicality rather than crime.
As I come back to the question of how it is that I can authentically live while being under the registry I find myself at a loss for the answer. I don’t know if I can. For now I will continue to live unauthentically to protect myself and my family. I will continue to lie about who we truly are so that we can at least feel temporarily safe in our surroundings.
What I do know is that the registry is wrong in the way that it was designed and in the way that it has been implemented. I am all for community safety and do believe there needs to be a system in place. I do NOT believe the registry is the answer. Feeling safe in our own homes and community is a right we all are entitled to. Publicly announcing names, addresses and other personal information trumps any possibility of that security. I have often asked myself this question, “ When someone is posted onto the registry, do the people in charge even realize the harm and danger they are putting family members and children in?” I think the answer to that question would be NO.
We need to continue to bring awareness to people. We need to dispel the lies that so many people have been led to believe. It is a slow process, but it is working. I am starting to see more thoughts and opinions swayed. There seems to be some traction against the registry and the constitutional rights that are being lost because of it. Organizations like W.A.R. are essential for dispersing information and bringing awareness to people.
I have come to realize that my story matters. I am living a life under the registry and my experiences are worthy of sharing. It is very scary for me to authentically share my life, but what I have learned is that in order for life to move forward I have to step out of my comfort zone. My hope is that someday the registry will not exist and I am happy to be a small part of that process. I hope that you will too. Always remember, your story matters!
Reach out to people, spread the word, and grow the W.A.R. movement!