by Barney Oldfield
In 2003 I was arrested and charged with two counts of child molestation, Class 2 felonies. I was offered a plea deal that would have resulted in prison and lifetime probation. I did not want probation and the ACA refused to negotiate any other plea deal. I went to trial, was found (rightfully) guilty and sentenced to two 15-year terms (flat time) to run concurrently. I was 60 at the time and it was my first criminal conviction.
I have learned that sentences are often disproportional to the offense committed. People who commit murder often receive shorter sentences than those convicted of a sexually-based crime. A friend of mine got 200 years for pictures, a death-in-prison term. It is disheartening to see someone who sells drugs to a child that results in the death of that child get the same 15 years I got, as well as only having to serve 85% of his time, while I had to serve every second of my sentence. He also does not have to be on a public registry, labeled as a dangerous criminal for the rest of his life.
Once I got to prison, I realized it is designed to make inmates fail, reoffend and return. Human beings are being warehoused in these institutions, many of which are run by private, for-profit businesses. That experience is a story for another time.
Long-term incarceration so institutionalizes the inmate so that life after release is extremely difficult for most. Yet there is virtually no support to help someone re-enter. I was released on December 26, 2018 with 26 months of parole and have been fortunate to have a great Parole Officer. I also have the advantage being old and having monetary and other assets. I really feel sorry for the youngsters. For me, the effects of institutionalism were minimal because of my autism and the fact that I had spent many years in the military. Most are not so lucky and are affected more than me.
Housing: One of the biggest issues for anyone with a felony record, and even more difficult for people with an SO label. Many places that will accept felons will not accept anyone with an SO conviction. Again, I was fortunate to have money, which most people just being released do not. I lived in a motel that was satisfactory and I felt safe there. The owner had a daughter. Families lived there and in the adjacent motel. At ~$42/night ($1260/month), not cheap, but the proprietor gave me a break for paying in advance and being a Vet. Never any problems. The owner says he likes SOs because they pay and keep to themselves. I bought a condo in March and moved out.
Employment: Although I am well-qualified for many jobs and pose no threat to society, I have had problems obtaining a job. I am fortunate to have retirements, but I know people who go back to prison because they cannot find work.
Transportation: The motel I lived in for the first 3 months had no stores close by, so I lived in a “food desert.” I did a lot of walking at the beginning. I was lucky to have friends to help me with transportation and I learned the bus and trolley system quickly. Because I had money from retirement, I was able to buy a car three weeks after my release. Most people do not have the money to do that.
Companionship: I avoid social events, fearing I might meet someone I like and having to tell them I am an SO. When I do participate in a social activity, I wear a “Desert Storm Vet” hat. That helps guide the conversation in a direction that feels safe to me. I have been lonely with no female company, but I cope.
Church: No Catholic Church will accept me without Draconian conditions, but Praise and Worship Center in Chandler has welcomed me.
I ask legislators to work to change the Draconian laws we have in place that make it very difficult for a person to successfully re-enter society once they have served their prison sentence.
EDITOR’S UPDATE: Barney returned to custody on a questionable technical violation and died of COVID in prison in 2020.