To Vote or Not to Vote

vote

As I begin to write this blog the election is over and we all know who will be running our country for the next four years. Because of my incarceration I did not get to vote, although if I did vote I would be not be voting specifically for one person or the other, but I would be voting for the party instead. As we look at the future, it will be an interesting four years. Can  we all agree that our country needs prayers, now more than ever??

The election brings back memories of my high school days. I had just started my freshman year and was sitting in my choir class waiting for it to begin. A girl in the class stood up and asked everyone if they would be willing to take a poll for one of her other classes and to vote if they were either in favor of abortion or against it. Immediately everyone started discussing the issue with the others around them. Since I was in a brand new school and still did not know a lot of classmates, I just sat quietly listening to the others talk.

In a class full of 14-year-olds with most not really having an opinion for themselves most of the time, the individual with the loudest voice and the most popular student usually could persuade everyone to vote his or her way. Sure enough, there was a vocal and popular freshman girl in the class who was for abortion (pro-choice) and was convincing everyone why it was OK to have an abortion. While the paper to tally all the votes was being passed around, I noticed I would be the last of about 20 students to vote. As the paper passed through the row in front of me, I took a glance and was surprised to see that every single classmate that voted so far voted pro-choice. I thought surely there would be a few pro-life votes. Did this girl really sway everyone to vote her way? When the guy before me received the paper, it looked like he was actually going to be the first to vote Pro-life. After staring at the paper for a few seconds, he then said, “I don’t really care,” and caved into the peer pressure by voting for abortion like everyone else.

It was then my turn. Without any hesitation, I grabbed my pen, and with others looking over my shoulder, I marked the lone tally in the Pro-Life column. I didn’t care what people thought. And I was definitely not going to be persuaded by the girl and fall into peer pressure. High school is a time in life when we are faced with peer pressure and do what everyone else does. But on that day, I voted from my heart and what I thought was right. And it sure did feel good.

Donald Trump has been chosen by the people to become the next President of the United States. I know some are happy and others sad or angry. God says that as long as you are not forced to disobey God, you are to obey your leaders and submit to those in authority. Please continue to pray for our country and its leaders as we go into the unknown future. We don’t know what’s in store but we can do all we can to be good citizens of the United States of America. God will take care of the rest.

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The Label

What comes to mind when you hear the term “sex offender”? Monster, serial rapist, pedophile who preys on young children? Chances are your assumptions are incorrect.

In Texas where I am incarcerated they paint a very broad picture when it labels someone as a sex offender. Currently, there are over 87,000 people listed on the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry, including children as young as twelve years old. A label againslabel-jars-e1399849997575t everyone who has been convicted of a sex offense includes sexually active and sexting teens, or  those whose behavior falls in the “public nuisance” or “college boy stupidity” categories. Also included are the young men and women who end up in a relationship with someone slightly under the age of consent, some who believed the person to be older. In Texas, mistaken age is not a defense! Before deciding to go on a date with someone who looks young for their age, make sure you check their ID!! You have to do what you have to do!

There are also those who made the mistake of chatting online with a police officer posing as a teenager who enticed them to say things to get them in trouble, viewing pictures on the internet, or drinking too much and not realizing that the girl sitting at the bar was only 16. (Once again, ID ID ID…..I know it sounds silly.) And of course, there are those who were innocent and falsely convicted or forced to take a plea deal because there seemed to be no other options. The term “sex offense” and sex crime encompass a wide variety of sexual acts.

Have you ever made a choice or a regrettable mistake? Should we all bear a label of some sort – a label that does not necessarily define who we are as a person? Should our mistakes label us for the rest of our life even though we are not that person anymore? If we are all honest, there is probably something in the past that could have landed many of us on the sex offender registry. All you golfers out there who have ever urinated behind a tree during a round……watch out…..that’s a sex offense. If someone reports you, you could end up on the registry FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!!!

There is no denying that there are those who have committed horrible sex crimes that have caused great harm to their victim. In fact, the media tends to focus on the most brutal offenses. They fail to differentiate between different cases and different types of offenses.  They fail to mention that most people convicted of sex offenses will not re-offend. Statistics show that across the board re-offense rates for sex offenders are barely over five percent, making sex offenders the least likely criminals to re-offend. Studies also show that sex offense inmates are the least likely to stir up trouble in a prison. Most are labeled as “role model inmates”…..meaning they improve the prison atmosphere, make work easier with less stress on the officers, and improve statistics to make the prison look good. In order words, why wouldn’t police officers and judges come down harshly for all sex offenses no matter what types? Having sex offenders in prison make their jobs easier!

There are many good husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, good neighbors and employers, and fellow church members who are required to register and carry the label “sex offender” for the rest of their life for a mistake that might have taken place 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. They are not dangerous people!!!! They should not be labeled!

Although passing judgment is a normal and necessary part of life, Scripture warns us that we have a natural tendency to judge others in a wrong way and, at times, we are prone to look for the worst in people. Theology scholar and author Johnathan Corey says it best:  “If not bad enough to judge people we actually do know, we often judge people we do not know – and we use labels to do it. Instead of a navigational tool, a label becomes a way to determine who is in and who is out….who is good and who is evil….who is worthy of our self-sacrificial love, and who is not. A human being, made in the image and likeness of God – and who is loved so much that Christ died for them – reduced, judged, and dismissed on the basis of a single word. On any given day I may be on the giving end of this type of judging, or on the receiving end – as are you. Such is the overwhelming power of the desire to judge others.”

A few years ago, I did the unthinkable and committed a sex offense. Because of that I am currently serving a 74-month sentence in a Federal Prison. I’m not proud of what I did. It was done with no malicious intent; it was a poor choice with a lack of judgment, done with selfish reasons. Unfortunately, I will be one of the ever growing millions across the United States who will be registered as a sex offender. But this does not and will not define me for who I am. Please do not label me for who you think I am.

For those of you who know me, you know what kind of person I am and who I have become. Yes, people will label me for the rest of my life and judge me harshly. But thankfully, God does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. God has forgiven me and made me clean. He is molding me and forming me into the person He wants me to become, even in a prison setting. For those who love Him, all things will work out for His glory and good.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2