NOTE: We have removed other peoples names for their privacy!
Please allow me to tell you my own horror story.
In December of 2006, I gave shelter to a guy I who was on the streets. Not to sound Edgar Allan Poe, but it was a dark and stormy night, and he was standing out on the patio of the bookstore my mother and I frequented, wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. When I asked him why he was on the streets, he told me he did not get along with his step-father, and so when he turned eighteen, his step-father threw him out, same day - zero warning. Recalling my bitter relationship with my own father, I found his story to be plausable. I felt compelled to offer him shelter until the current storm passed.
The young man, named _____, slept on a sofa, in a spare room which we used for storing tote boxes, etc. Within a few days, he was gone. I was later told that his story was a lie, and that he was actually a sixteen year old runaway from a group home for juvenile sex offenders (where he was placed after raping his five year old, female cousin). Suffice to say I was creeped out.
Six months later, the local police raided my home, siezing my computer, etc., and taking me into custody for child molestation. I was told _____ had accused me of sexually abusing him.
Three days later, I was released. The D.A. had chosen to not pick up the charges. I was told it was because my accuser had recanted.
Returning home, I discovered my room mate, named _____, had suddenly moved out while I was in custody.
About a month later, my accuser ran away from his group home again, and showed up on my doorstep, apologizing, and trying to explain his reasons for his false accusation. I didn't want to hear it. I ordered him off my property. I wanted to call the police, but I was afraid to.
A few days later, I learned that he made a video, which he placed on YouTube, Yahoo Video, and I don't know how many other video hosting sites, recanting again, but this time in public forum. Within a few days he was back in custody, and returned to his group home.
Then, in January of 2008, I was re-arrested. The D.A. had chosen to pick up the charges, despite my accuser recanting over and over again, and they added charges of child pornography, too. I was at first baffled by the child porn charges, until it was explained to me that, during the search of my home, the police had found a CD, containing lewd images of a prepubescent girl. The disk was labelled as belonging to the room mate who had moved out while I was in custody, but I was being charged for it. I will explain what I know about this a bit later.
I was first placed into a sixteen man "tank". The following morning my story made front page of our local newspaper, and I was beaten down savagely. The guard's reaction to finding me bloodied and semi-consious on the cell floor was "he shouldn't have been touching little boys". I remember he spoke these words with a laugh in his voice. I was never seen by a doctor. I was simply given a change of jail uniform, and sent to another facility.
There, I was placed into a two man cell with a violent, mentally ill creep who bullied me contantly, and tried to rape me several times.
Before I go any further, it's important that I explain my state of mind during this time. I was my disabled mother's care provider - her only care provider. She suffers from several disabilities, including post-polio syndrome (she's in a wheel chair), and a limited ability to comprehend certain things. We could not afford the cost of my calling home, nor could she have figured out how to create the account needed for me to do so, if we could. What's more, because she had broken her arm a couple years earlier, and it never quite healing properly, she could not write to me. I was worried sick about her. Was she okay? Was she eating? She had no transportation aside from her wheelchair, and didn't not know her way around, so did she even have food!? Were the bills being paid? We live in a bad neighborhood, which gave me even more to worry about. I wasn't sleeping. I wasn't eating. I lived in constant fear of the next attack by my mentally ill cellmate. It didn't take long before I was an absolute mess.
I had been appointed a conflict attorney by the Court. Although I came to realize this for myself, I later learned that he is notorious as being a disinterested, ineffectual plea bargain broker, and that, while very unpopular among defense attorneys, he is loved by prosecutors.
While in custody, awaiting trial, I made every attempt to have conversation with my attorney. In the minutes prior to each hearing, I begged him to come out to the jail to interview me. At least three times he assured me he would "sometime this week", but he never did. I desperately wanted to know where I stood. As the matter of my room mate's disk had not yet been explained to me, I wanted to know where these charges had come from. Was child pornography actually found on my computer? If so, what kind? Pictures? Video? Heterosexual? Homosexual? Our local newspaper later reported "some porn charges dropped". Really? Which charges? What exactly was I fighting? What were my chances? Prior to my January rearrest, several people had told me that they were going to write witness declarations, offering their contact information and testimony. Had they done so? I wanted to actively participate in my own defense. But my attorney gave me nothing. I wanted my side of this nightmare to be heard, but even my own attorney refused to listen. Prior to several hearings, my attorney came to me telling me that we would again need to ask for a continuance for this reason or that. It was usually because my accuser had run away yet again. Each time I protested. Each time he told me we had no choice.
The one time I was allowed an actual sit down conversation with my attorney, in the jury deliberation room, I tried to ask my questions. All he would say is that child pornography had been found. He would not elaborate. Instead, he introduced me to our investigator (who eventually proved just as useless). The meeting was a waste of time. Another continuance was granted, and I again returned to my cell, frustrated.
By the time of the hearing date in which I accepted the plea agreement I was emotionally broken. I had been able to eat because I was nervous about this coming court appearance. I had not slept in two days because my cell mate's latest thing was to try to wipe his feces on my face while I slept. By this time I was done. I had given up all hope of seeing my family - especially my mother - again. I had given up on everything. I no longer cared what the system did to me. It was on this morning, just minutes before court started, that my attorney came to me with a huge smile, and whispered "you're going home today". I cannot put my thoughts, nor my feelings into words. Nor can I remember the details of the hearing that day. After months of isolation, beatings, humiliation, attempted rape and a level of anxiety I can only describe as torture, I heard the words "you're going home today". It repeated itself over and over in my head, and drowned out anything else I tried to focus on. I do know that, they ended up dropping all eleven of the child pornography charges, and that I had accepted a single felony charge of 647.6(a). Because of the many conversations I had had with other inmates, I at least had the presence of mind to insist on a People v. West plea.
I was released on my own recognisance, and given a remand date. It wasn't until I was out of custody that a first-year law student friend of mine, and I, finally got access to my case file.
I was especially interested in reading about the child pornography charges. It struck me as odd that the the detective in charge of the case would claim the disk was mine because...
- The disk was found in a common room of the home I shared with _____ at the time.
- The disk was clearly labeled as belonging to _____, not me.
- Although not known to me until much later, forensics clearly showed the images were downloaded onto _____'s computer, not mine.
- Also found on the disk were _____'s homework, his family photos, and his music collection. I believe his resume was also on the disk. Nothing on the disk had anything to do with me.
- Also not known to me until much later, _____ acknowledged ownership of his disk, only recanting after the detective told him he could be arrested if he did acknowledge ownership. This is in the police report. It was later brought to my attention that when the detective was still a uniformed officer, and my room mate, _____, was a teenage boy, _____ had gone on "ride-alongs" with him. I feel the detective's actions were clearly prejudiced by their pre-existing relationship.
- There is also the fact that these images were of an underage girl. I AM A HOMOSEXUAL.
We found many other flaws in the case, but it was already beyond the time for filing an appeal.
After my accuser turned eighteen, he filed a document with the Court, once again recanting. This time, however, he explained his actions:
It seems my accuser felt he was being treated harshly in his group home because he was an "original offender". He accused me in an attempt to re-create himself as a "victim who went on to victimize", in order to curry sympathy, and in the hope of being treated nicer. He stated that he thought the group home's staff would not report his accusation because they started each group therapy session by reminding the wards "what's said in group stays in group". He thought no harm would be done. When he learned I had been arrested, he recanted.
_____ also accused the lead detective of witness intimidation, and even battery, claiming that the detective had struck him on the mouth in retaliation for his running away and recanting in public forum.
My friend and I tried to file a Writ of Coram Nobis, pro per, based mostly on this new evidence, but the judge denied it without explanation.
After being released from custody, I was forced to participate in a sex offender treatment program at my on expense. A couple years later, some new law invalidated the program, and I was ordered to participate in a second program (again, at my own expense) - this because the first program was run by interns, with a licensed psychologist overseeing the program from a home office. The new law demanded a licensed psychologist run it, hands on - no interns.
I am now on Megan's Law, and so my reputation is ruined. I am now shunned by (nearly all of) my family, my neighbors, and by once-friends. My mother is even shunned for standing by me. I have been discriminated against in every aspect of life - especially employment. The only job I could find after all of this was as a driver/bouncer for a stripper company. I had to leave that in March of 2013, when my car finally died, and I could not afford to replace it. I've been looking for work since. As is, I'm a leech on my mother's fixed income. I was once an avid renaissance faire enthusiest. I loved faire, and I was a popular fixture at our local events. But now I'm persona non grata. I can't even pay to attend, much less participate. I am blessed with a landlord who believes in me, but our home has been vandalized many times because of this case. My car has also been vandalized. I am barred from certain local shops and stores. I have had my food grossly contaminated at a local fast food resturant. I have been violently attacked more times than I can count. I was the focus of a local white supremecist gang's rage for a while there, until three of its members were arrested for the murder of an African American kid, and the group disbanded. Most of it's members moved out of the area. My disabled, wheelchair bound mother has even been attacked! We have had pets brutally killed. More than one local police officer has told me that I deserve everything I get, and that they have no intention of doing anything about any of it...and so far, they haven't.
A couple years ago, against my better judgement, I became a witness in a gang murder case (an Asian crip murdered an Hispanic blood). The lead detective in the case told me that my family and I would have to go into witness relocation. For months he flowered us with assurances that we would be relocated, and even asked me to do some of my own research in choosing a "Point B". He told me that I would still have to register, but I would be taken off the public Magan's Law database. As soon as I was subpeonaed, however, the D.A. pulled it all out from under me. I'm a 290 - a registered sex offender. I get nothing. I was told if I didn't want to get involved, I should have kept my mouth shut. As it was, I was subpeonaed. They threatened that If I refused to testify, they would violate my felony probation, and send me to prison. "Then who's going to be there to protect your mom?" They told me if I'm afraid, I should simply learn to lay low and to keep my curtains closed. If they do come after us, "just call 9-1-1". So now I live in constant fear of this, too.
I contacted the Innocence Project about a year and a half ago, and even submitted an intake packet. Unfortunately, they cannot help me, as they have limited resources, and work to free the wrongfully accused who now rot in prison. While my case has strong merit, I am not in custody.
I live every moment of my life under terrible stress. I live in almost constant fear. Sleep is not my friend. I have trouble getting to sleep, for fear that I will be awakened by the police coming for me yet again – or the gang members I testified against – or the Nazis - or even some new nightmare. My dreams have been replaced by constant nightmares. I wake up bawling, but unable to remember the dream itself. I wake with terrible nausea every day – EVERY SINGLE DAY. I have trouble making eye contact with anyone anymore. Public places frighten me now. I especially hate bars, resturants and social events, like parties and fairs. I live with the dread of being recognized, and all the drama that comes with. I'm so tired of having to repeat my story to which ever new person is brought into my life. I now prefer to stay home, behind closed curtains and locked doors. Every time I see a police car, I am filled with panic and absolute hatred. I’m easily startled now, especially when someone calls my name. Not long ago I was at a super market, when a friend I hadn't seen in a while yelled out my name. I nearly bolted out of the store! I thought I was going to faint! I simply cannot watch high stress television shows, or movies. Even aggressive music (gangster rap, for example) gives me anxiety. My stomach knots up. I find myself being frightened by scary movies, and crying because of sad songs. It's like I've become a twelve year old girl! I have become bitter and impatient, with a short temper. I recognize that I suffer from PTSD, and I'm working toward finding treatment. Unfortunately, I have become very distrustful, and find it difficult to open up to anyone, face to face, about my feelings and fears.
All of this being said, if anyone knows of a group like the Innocence Project, who would help me pro bono, I would really, really appreciate a referral.