A Mother’s Story

 by Sue Bowman

In 1984, my son John was arrested for sexual assault with a minor. He had had consensual sex with a girl who told him she was 16; she was actually two weeks shy of 16. The Mesa Detective told us he did not have enough evidence to charge John. A year later, after he had turned 18, two deputies showed up at our home and arrested him. Seems the father of the girl had waited until John was an adult before pursuing the matter further. He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and two years probation. He served 15 months of his sentence. Three months after his release he was told he was required to register on the Sex Offender Registry.

When someone is sentenced to prison, probation, and a lifetime on the registry, the entire family goes with him. This Lifetime in Prison on Paper has been demeaning for John and for me. For instance, after he was put on the registry, many of my friends shied away from me. They never asked for the whole story; they just assumed the worst.

The list of things he can’t do and places he can’t go is long, all having to do with restrictions saying he cannot be anywhere children congregate: We can no longer have family gatherings at my home, we can’t hold family picnics for a birthday, we can’t go to the park. None of our family considers him to be dangerous. He spent time with his niece when she was a child; she has no concern about her daughter being around him, but that does not change the rules that have been arbitrarily put in place.

One of the many ways my life has been affected is demonstrated by our problems finding housing. For example: While John was in prison, I rented a one-bedroom apartment in Mesa. Three months before his release, I let the apartment manager know my son was coming home and we would need a two-bedroom apartment. The manager informed me that the rules state they cannot rent to “sex offenders.” I had thirty days in which to find a new apartment and move. This was no easy task. Most apartment complexes and neighborhoods with HOAs will not rent to “sex offenders.” Finally I found someone who owned a duplex and was willing to rent to us.

Over the years we have been turned away from numerous rental properties. Finally, in 1999, I bought my own home in Phoenix, so I no longer need permission for John to live with me. After I bought my house, flyers were sent out letting the neighbors know a sex offender had moved into the neighborhood. Some neighbors would drive by and shout things like, “You’re not welcome in our neighborhood!” Some will not speak to me. Although they haven’t made direct threats to us, I always feel uncomfortable, knowing of their dislike of us and that they can cause us harm if they so choose.

Because of the prejudice against people on the registry, John has had trouble finding and keeping jobs, so he has been dependent on me for most of his adult life, including having to live with me. I am concerned about what will happen to him when I die, as I am his only source of support.

In 2016, he was charged with a technical probation and registration violation: failure to register as a sex offender in Pinal County. He was sent back to prison for 5.5 years (after being out for almost 30 years crime free.) So now, at age 74 I am back to visiting my son in prison, which is quite a hardship on me, both physically and financially.

We both feel victimized by the system that is in place. This is not justice. No juvenile should ever be put on the registry in the first place. John has never been a threat to society or to children; he has never been charged with another S/O crime. Yet he has been treated like a pariah his entire adult life, and by association, so have I. John’s incarceration has cost Arizona taxpayers thousands of dollars, and for what? It has not made the public more safe. His case should be re-evaluated, as should others who have similar circumstances; after 33 years of being on it, surely he could safely be removed. It is time for these cruel, unjust, harmful laws to change.

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