1993 proved to be a bad year to come out as transgender, especially in a conservatively religious community. A criminal background check could reveal I was arrested, indicted and later found guilty in 1993 with my transgender sibling. Sexual abuse of children is a serious matter, one poorly served by sloppy police investigations and biased prosecutions.

Back in 1993, children were coached in creating stories of bizarre sexual acts accusing despised subjects. LGBT people like us were characterized as pedophiles trying to recruit children into a deviant lifestyle.5 Ironically, I have yet to even meet the young girl who accused us. But for zealous law enforcement officials under influence of confirmation bias, this was all irrelevant.

To get “tough on crime,” legal protections for the accused were already stripped away. During and after the trial I was shocked to learn:

  • Hearsay exceptions were admissible for prosecution witnesses.

  • Expert prosecution witnesses were admissible with questionable qualifications.

  • Forensic evidence from the crime lab was biased toward the prosecution.

  • Independent scientific evidence could not be introduced by the defense.

  • Corroborating evidence was not even required for a conviction.

Most of these are still features in the criminal justice system, contributing to the largest incarceration rate in human history. The bulk of these 2.3 million prisoners are minorities like myself. When housed with them, my empathy for the socially disadvantaged grew deeply.

Rather than being bitter about the injustice, I found ways to turn tragedy into opportunity. “Whatever does not kill you,” prisoners would exhort each other, “can make you stronger.”

  • I found how to peacefully endure a dozen years of violent prison culture.

  • I learned to empathize more deeply with others, including those who wronged me.

  • I discovered ways to see the need behind the pain and explore how to address it.

  • I experienced increasing tolerance for discomfort and ambiguity.

  • I encountered new ways to embrace human diversity.

  • I enjoyed seeing the more important substance of life came to the fore.

  • I overcame animosity as I embraced the inherent value in everyone’s life.

It is a mistake to assume anyone who has been to prison is untrustworthy or cannot be a valuable contributor to the value needs of others. My life invites others to learn from such a mistake. People do make mistakes of all kinds, but mistakes can be corrected.

While incarcerated, I rose to leadership roles:

  • head tutor helping students earn their GED,

  • editor-in-chief of bi-monthly prisoner-led newspaper,

  • principal lay leader to a faith group of about 150 prisoners,

  • lay counselor to prisoners coming to terms with their gender dysphoria, and

  • lead tutor helping prisoners learn to use Microsoft Office and prepare for employment.

Since being released in 2005 I have finished my bachelor’s degree, graduating with honors in 2008. I led a student organization while starting and leading another. During this same time I served as editor to a quarterly national publication. In 2013 I earned a Masters of Public Administration degree. I started a second master’s degree in counseling, but was forced out due to this wrongful conviction.

My volunteer work continues to focus on transgender needs and addressing the economic vulnerabilities of the socially disadvantaged, including the wrongfully convicted.

Each of us has value, even the socially disadvantaged, waiting to be expressed and rewarded. My purpose in life is to bring out this creative potential of such an underserved population.

  • To encourage one another to know and express our passionate purpose in life.

  • To explore ways to turn such passionate purpose into a vocation.

  • To ensure our contributions to the needs of others are properly rewarded.

  • To resolve any wellness deficits hindering expression of our full value.

  • To transition from public dependency to economic interdependency.

  • To emphasize our ongoing personal value over our passing economic value.

I can deliver value to those who seek value, but will likely disappoint those who expect disappointment. Privilege, I find, has a way of devaluing and even scapegoating innocent misfits like me. Value, I find, will seek to overcome anything that gets in her way.

People make mistakes.

TYPE 1 ERROR: MY STORY 

So do the courts. One study estimates at least 10,000 have been wrongfully convicted each year in the United States, while less than 3,000 have been exonerated since 1989. Wrongful convictions for sexual assaults could be as high as 15%.  In 1993, an overzealous prosecution ensnared me into these statistics.

Appealing the conviction to such an intractable court system proved in vain. Having no prior or subsequent felonies or misdemeanors has not helped me any. Since post-conviction relief is prioritized for those still in prison, I decided to move on with my life with a merciful outlook. After all, I tend to turn challenges into opportunities.
People learn from their mistakes.
People can change.
People often deny their mistakes.
First we must admit to making mistakes, which law enforcement culture is slow to do. “Whatever mistakes I made,” as Andy Dufresne said in the Shawshank Redemption, “I've paid for and then some.” Sexual activity with a girl I have never met is not one of them.
We can learn from our mistakes. Even rigid policymakers. We just may need some help along the way. That is what I do, what I am about. Who best than one who overcame the mistakes of others? This is part of my value.
This background disclosure is not for those who rely on the comforting notion that criminal backgrounds are generally accurate. They are not. We can either help each other solve social problems of such injustice or remain complacent with a familiar but destructive status quo. “It comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
solving problems by resolving needs
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