Monday, February 21, 2011

Halfway house for sex offenders draws neighbors' ire

Tammy Simmons-Morse says she was shocked and appalled when she learned recently that five registered sex offenders are living next door in her Haymount neighborhood.

The offenders live in an unassuming three-bedroom home on Carolina Avenue. It's a two-block street with tall trees off West Rowan Street, where some historic homes fetch up to $200,000. Bragg Boulevard runs behind Carolina Avenue.

City inspectors say the house complies with the zoning law, which permits up to five people per house who are not related by marriage or blood. And a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, which is responsible for monitoring sex offenders after prison, says deputies have investigated and found no violations.

While sex offenders can be found in almost every neighborhood in the city, it's unusual to have so many under one roof.

A state registry on the Internet allows anyone to know if sex offenders live nearby. A total of 28 sex offenders live within one mile of Carolina Avenue.

Simmons-Morse said she is on a crusade to shut down the halfway house, which she considers to be putting children in the neighborhood at risk.

"We realize if it could happen here, it could happen anywhere," she said.
Simmons-Morse is passing out pamphlets, titled "Not all Pedophiles Drive a White Van," with safety tips, and she has formed a Facebook page called "Communities Against Pedophiles," which had 217 supporters as of Friday afternoon.

She is urging the Fayetteville City Council to adopt new restrictions on where sex offenders can live after they are released from prison.

On Friday, Mayor Tony Chavonne said city officials are researching their legal options about possible zoning changes after neighbors brought the issue to their attention a week ago.

"I think I can say the council shares their concerns about the situation," Chavonne said.

Chris Dempster, a Fayetteville psychologist who counsels sex offenders, said he opened the house a year ago to give his clients a place to stay while they look for work. The clients pay him whatever they can in rent. He said the house is an extension of their counseling treatment, which they receive in his downtown office.

"The guys I put in the home are low risk and remorseful for what they have done," Dempster said. "We are trying to rehabilitate people."

He said many sex offenders are homeless and have lost everything. He said sex offenders are ostracized, and many counselors don't want to see them.

"I really see myself as a community guardian for sexual offenders," Dempster said. "I always wanted to have my own homeless shelter."

Dempster said the neighborhood concerns are based on misperceptions. Not all sex offenders are pedophiles, he said. Probation officers visit the homes of sex offenders every week, and the offenders get group and individual counseling. He said they would be tossed from the home if they weren't progressing in their treatment. He said there has never been an arrest or violation in the home since he started it.

Dempster is president of Integrated Behavioral Healthcare Services, which has a contract with the N.C. Division of Community Corrections in Cumberland County to treat sex offenders. His company is renting the house on Carolina Avenue from Billy Cain, owner of Cain Electric Co.
Cain declined to comment.

The home is in Councilwoman Kady-Ann Davy's district.
"I find the problem disturbing, and we are working aggressively to take every action within the limits of the law to find a solution," she said in an e-mail Friday.

Starting July 1, a new zoning ordinance will require new licensed halfway homes to be at least a half mile from one another. A halfway home includes adults released from prison for supervision, rehabilitation and counseling, according to the local ordinance.

Simmons-Morse said her son is grown, but she decided to get involved anyway.
"It's everybody's problem," she said. "It's our responsibility to look after the well-being of others in our community."

Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at barksdalea@fayobserver.comor 486-3565.

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"When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."
~Adlia Stevenson U.S. Vice President (1893–1897) and Congressman (1879–1881)

On a Personal Note

Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts regarding the issue of citizens’ rights, particularly addressing certain sex offenders’ crimes that do not fit the devastating, inequitable and endless punishment given.

As you know, many young men and women lives across the nation are being destroyed by incarceration, life-time registry and restrictive laws that do more harm than good. For those individuals, there is no second chance.

Below is a personal letter to President Obama:
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“Dear President Obama,

I truly agree with your sentiments that individuals, such as ex-felons, should be able to receive a second chance at life. Since we all know that one can veer off that path of life and travel along rough, rocky terrain, sometimes running off and ending up in some ditch. We all have made our fill of mistakes and sometimes those held a costly consequence that changed life forever. So we lived through it, trying harder to make things right with family, friends and those around us, but what about those who aren’t able to make things right even if they tried…because they’re labeled as too dirty, a leper, a person who is rejected from society and home.

But what if they’re a seventeen year old and had sex with a fifteen year old, consensual at that? Or they’re a teen that had gotten so enraged after a breakup that he sent out naked pictures of his girlfriend on his cell phone or email? Or an individual urinates where someone just happens to see them?

All are wrong and a travesty but do they deserve the life of no second chance with a registry that ends all. They are labeled, no jobs, no where to live…they have been deemed a menace to society, a plague. These certain circumstances, and many other situations similar to these, I believe still deserve a second change.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

After my son’s early release and two years of prison, I thought I had handled that fact graciously knowing after serving his time he would be able to get that fresh start, that second chance. He was an exemplary inmate, GED, college courses and vocational classes. Little did I know that a second chance on the outside was the farthest from the truth? He now struggles and lives in a trailer park sharing a trailer with another and surrounded by others in the same rocking boat, one to float endlessly in shark infested waters. I see him little because of probation requirements (he couldn’t live with us because we were 800 feet near a school). My family is afraid of what would happen to them if he lived with them…vigilantism. My son has no other place to stay since others condemn him of his crime that is screamed from the highest rooftop. Sex offender, sex offender!

Not all sex offenders are pedophiles or predators but some are simply young kids that make one stupid and rash decision that eventually changes everything, and they have no idea what they’ve done until their life is never their own. Exactly, where is that second chance for those sex-offenders who are lumped together with pedophiles and predators? Now, it makes me sick to think of my son’s future and many like him that are on the registry and many with no second chance…ever. I am asking you as a mother and as another concerned citizen of the United States that these laws are looked at again and taken into serious consideration in what they are doing to the Constitution of the United States, not for sex offenders in general but the future rights of every citizen, before anymore are put into effect. They unjustly strip an offender of their rights and place them in a guillotine that can be easily set off by anyone and at anytime. Where is the second chance for ex-sex offenders in the present, pending and future laws?”
* * * *
What truly saddens me is the weakness and deterioration of what the sex offense issue is doing to our once, great nation. Across Europe, others are seeing the injustice and disregard of rights, but we ignore this problem and it makes me wonder where humanity is heading….

We have become a hysterical society in which our latest witch-hunt is a sex offender--no matter his/her crime.

Below is a email sent from a foreign advocate to a father of a sex offender:
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“The tragic story of your son's death is just so sad that it's difficult to explain how. It was very hard to read your letters. It seems almost unbelievable that this can take place in a democracy! From our point of view, there is no justice in this. Not in any way: not for you, your son, the former girl friend – or even the state.

It is an abusive legal system. It seems barbaric. And we are so very sorry that this takes place. That's why it's so important for us to try to neutralize the debate with this…, hopefully making some changes. ….. to show the every day life of the sex offenders, trying to show how they keep on being punished, even after served prison time…..But we will for sure tell the story of the injustice that your son has been exposed to.”
* * * *
I appreciate everyone's commitment and backing to protect everyone's civil rights, plainly as noted in the Constitution of the United States and is presupposed, giving ALL men are “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”