Visitors - Come on in and say hello!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Eyes of a Child...The Eyes of an Offender

I’ll never forget his eyes, how they hid in his teen face, still childlike, terrified, questioning, and in complete agony. His hands were shaking as he spoke, seeming to transfer the fear to his very voice, which also shook. He was a nervous kid, from my observation, and found it difficult to relate to anyone.

That evening I was assigned as his “One to One”, a Staff person assigned to a patient who was in need of extra supervision. He was a fairly new patient so we were on a locked unit. At the time, we were in his room, with the door open according to policy. Also according to policy, I could not be outside of an arm’s length from him. The only time he could be alone was in the bathroom. At the end of this conversation, a male staff would be assigned to him as he’d no longer be able to go into even the bathroom by himself.

Troy* had accepted my presence with docility, and seemed to be a nice kid. He was soft-spoken, with a willowy stature that promised to eventually make him a tall man. At the time, he was maybe 15, maybe a little younger. His pimpled face betrayed his adolescence, while his eyes seemed both very old and very young all at once. Although I’d been working there for a couple years and knew most of our patients had experienced agonies the average person couldn’t even imagine, I’d never seen such pain before. It was almost hypnotizing.

As he was a new patient, and given his mild manners, I wondered how the other patients would accept him. Troy didn’t seem strong enough to stand up for himself. Guaranteed he’d be bullied, and if he wasn’t, he’d be one taken in by the bullies and “converted” to their ways. He seemed ready to conform to whatever the place had to throw at him, just as a form of passive survival. Troy was a wounded creature, and I was about to find out just how wounded.

I knew some; he had been abused and he must be an abuser because he was not allowed off the unit or near the children’s ward. He was a risk to himself and to others, although they weren’t sure in what ways, exactly, which is why I (and other staff on other shifts were assigned to him.)

Troy asked to speak to me in his room, and acknowledged the need to have the door open. He also knew that whatever he told me would be reported; this boy knew the system. I was on my guard, but he did seem sincere. He was near tears and the shaking in his hands became more pronounced. But I told him he could speak to me and I would listen.

He sat at the foot of his bed. I sat on the other, which was not assigned to any other patient. Consistent with the rules, I was in sight of the doorway and within an arm’s reach; the building was constructed with this in mind. I had a radio on my hip, out of his immediate reach, and the other staff on the unit knew we were there. Yet they could not hear what was said, so Troy could speak as though in confidence even though he knew I’d be making a record.

Troy told me, haltingly, that he’d been abused…sexually. Severely. He didn’t get graphic, but the shame was evident. He had told this story before and knew that we were aware of it, so he didn’t need to provide details. He even verified that I knew and seemed to take comfort that I did; for that way, he didn’t have to reveal the worst details. But that’s not why he wanted to talk. He seemed to want to lift a weight from his shoulders and reveal who he really was. He told me how awful the abuse was, how it made him feel, and how it made him want to die. But as he got older, he found himself with other kids, and he started doing the same things, compelled to do so. He hated himself for doing it, and even more, wanted to die. He knew he was making those kids feel like he had felt and STILL felt.

He had nightmares of jumping through windows, of hanging himself, slitting his wrists…everything. And he wanted to follow through. He wanted to die. He’d rather die than ever abuse another kid. He wanted his compulsion to end. And he would kill himself if he got the chance. Troy didn’t want sympathy; he wanted to be condemned and he wanted to die as quickly as possible and felt he deserved it. He said he knew he didn’t deserve to be abused and neither did his victims.

He was just a kid…and when his eyes met mine, they were direct; he meant what he said, every word.


I didn’t say a word as he spoke. I wasn’t surprised by what I heard, although I was moved. I knew I was sympathizing with a sex offender, but he was a sex offender who was still a child. He was both adult and child in the same person, and all I could see was his humanity.

He wasn’t a danger to anyone at the moment; he was on a locked unit and he was there for help, admittedly help he didn’t want for he thought his help could be found on the edge of a razor or in the barrel of a loaded gun.

I thanked Troy for speaking with me and telling me what he was thinking. I asked him if he realized what I had to do; he did. He would not be allowed to go to the bathroom alone, he would have someone within an arm’s length for as long as the powers that be decided. But he said he was glad he had spoken. Troy went with me willingly to the supervisor’s office to obtain the orders necessary to protect him.

To this day, when I learn of sex offenders, I am torn. On one hand, I think they are vile, they are evil, they should not be suffered to live. There are too many horrifying stories of lives destroyed and of brutal murders. And I worked with so many victims of those offenders; children…just children. Then, I remember Troy, his dark eyes anguished, both adult and child, and I realize that EVERY sex offender was once a child, and they and Troy share the same eyes.

I can’t divorce the humanity of the offenders from their offense. I don’t sympathize with their crimes, only their humanity. They were children once, too. They were abused, they were terrified, they were alone and they were destroyed. It was their destruction that created monsters they became. But within those monsters, there are still children that were so wounded they could never overcome the injuries.

And yet...others suffer because of them. Excruciatingly. Lives are destroyed.

Of those offenders that are not violent in the bloody sense, their actions are still violent given what they do the heart and soul of another. Some of them hate themselves, and still, there is no treatment.

I remain torn when it comes to the issue of sex offenders. People need to be protected from them, and thus, they must be isolated from the ability to offend again. Yet, they are human beings, wounded souls more in need of mercy than many of us. Not all of them are psychopaths, and we pray that their victims don’t follow in their footsteps.

I believe in justice….strongly. In fact, I tend to align more with prosecution than with defense, if given a choice. When I considered going to Law School, I considered that if I pursued Criminal Law, which was the area of the greatest interest for me, I wanted to be a Prosecutor. What stopped me? I’d have to spend time working in Defense. I did not want to defend criminals.

Yet my very life brought me into the position of defending those who have committed the most heinous of crimes…this very post is an example.

I also believe in Mercy; for I have been the recipient of Mercy, over and over again. I still don’t deserve it. I have also been a victim of crime. Yet…there is no Justice without Mercy.

We all need to find the balance. We all need to be rational, look at facts, weigh them carefully…and then we have to be careful not to remove humanity from those facts. All of our judgments in life impact others.

Maybe I’m wrong in this philosophy. But whenever I think of justice and mercy, I remember Troy and realize that it’s only by God’s grace that I never went by the same route.

God have mercy on us all.

* Troy was a real boy but this is not his real name. Incidentally I don’t think I ever had a patient by that name.


uncle jim said...


Woodrow said...

A difficult issue indeed! I'm torn in my feelings, too. Many of the women on my mom's side of the family suffered abuse at the hands of uncles and step-fathers, and, in the case of one of my closest relatives, at the hands of an aunt who was also being abused at the time (the close relative was 5 or 6 and the aunt was 11 and had been abused since the age of 4. Both my aunt's abuse of my close relative and the abuse my aunt suffered at the hands of her abuser went on for 6 or 7 more years.) I don't know how to feel towards my aunt. It's difficult because she has never apologized for doing what she did to my close relative.