I was a public defender. Not for that long, only a few years, but for long enough to have developed a sense of outrage at the costs imposed by the system on offenders.
Morally and legally, I believe Megan's Law is seriously problematic. I think our criminal justice system depends on a defendant being able to serve his sentence and then be released. I am aware of the frequency of unjust convictions. I am horrified by the routine violations of civil rights that plague our court and penal systems.
But I checked the Megan's Law webiste anyway.
I'm a mother of four. As most of you know, my children are 10, 7, 3, and 1.5 years old. I am as susceptible as anyone to the fears that accompany contemporary parenthood. I am terrified that my children will be harmed. My fears run the gamut from tsunamis to pedophiles to car accidents and plane crashes.
In my zip code there are 11 registered offenders. Some of these men likely fall into the category of offenses I would not concern myself with. For example, if an eighteen-year-old boy has sex with his fifteen-year-old girlfriend, he can be convicted for statutory rape. When I was fifteen I had boyfriends who were in the Israeli army. One coerced me into losing my virginity. The others were just boyfriends. I would even say I had the upper hand in at least one of those relationships. These guys were all between 18 and 22.
Some of the other 11 men listed on the website scare the shit out of me. There are two who were committed to long-term psychiatric care due to their sexual offenses against children. There are a couple who were convicted of "sexual penetration with a foreign object."
I tried out some other random towns. Mill Valley's got 8 offenders, Pasadena has 119. Ross doesn't have any. Just for the information of those not from the Bay Area, Ross is our little Marin enclave of fabulous wealth. Sean Penn lives there. And a bunch of other really rich people.
So what's a mama to do? Do we sell our house in Berkeley and buy a place in Ross for the same money? Not an option. While it's possible that a family of 6 can fit into a double wide, I'm not sure they'd let us park under the underpass for long enough to get the kids into the Ross school system. Do I stop letting my kids walk around the corner to the market where they can sign for an ice cream? Do I stop letting them have lemonade stands out in front of our house, complete with a tin marked "Tsunami Relief?" (Why else would someone pay a buck for a half a cup of cloyingly sweet lemonade made from the Meyer lemons on our tree and the entire contents of the sugar canister?)
No. I value my children’s independence too much. Moreover, it already makes me so sad that when my kids go out and play there's no one for them to play with, even on our street where kids live in almost every house. When I was a kid, we roamed the neighborhood, getting tootsie rolls from the lovely young woman in the wheel chair, playing war on the dirt hills above the busy main street, making faces at the mean dogs behind their fences and petting the nice dogs that ran along with us. These languid child-centered afternoons and evenings are the sources of some of my most important memories. I can still remember the feel of the wind in my hair as I rode my bike down to the Kentucky Fried Chicken to get 1/4 regular and a biscuit. (I was an suburban kid with a taste for junk food, what can I say.) The idea of Sophie saddling up her bike and riding down to College Avenue for a donut strikes me as absurd, but she's the same age as I was back then. I can't deny my children the independence and fun of my own childhood. I can't constrict their lives because of my fear. There are statistically no more child abductions now then there were in the 1970s. The difference is that now I can plug my zip code into the Megan's Law website and confirm my worst fears and anxieties.
I won't do it anymore. I will teach my kids to holler, "Mama" as loud as they can, never to get into anyone's car, even if invited by a man who says he needs them to help take care of his sick puppy. But I won't hem their lives in so much so that they have no idea what to do with an empty Sunday afternoon when I've forgotten to book a playdate.
Zeke and his friend Jack are out in the yard, in bathing suits, having a Super Soaker fight. It is 53 degrees out there, and only an insane person would prance around in a wet bathing suit. An insane person or a seven-year-old boy. Any minute one of those 11 pedophiles (as defined by the statute) could walk by my house and snatch the boys. (If Fanny, our huge Bernese Mountain dog, would let him). But I can hear them laughing hysterically, screaming with feigned rage and hysterical glee. I remind myself (again) that they are safe, that they are having fun, that the risk of danger to them is the same as it was to me when I rode my bike around my neighborhood, pigtails flying, leaving a trail of KFC grease in my wake.