He was a small man, a proud member of the Tohono Oʼodham Nation. He’d worked as a jockey in his youth, and though he had a hard life on the streets, he was still in amazing physical condition. He had run 60 miles through the Arizona desert to Nogales to visit cousins.
He often worked as a truck stop lumper or hung around Home Depot hoping for day labor. A skilled roofer, he occasionally scored a job with a roofing company. The jobs never lasted long. With his record, truth always came to light.
He’d been in prison. Nobody wanted registered sex offenders on their payroll. His awful sins were posted online for all to see. Mostly he panhandled to survive.
In prison he’d been tossed around like a rag doll, mistreated, abused. There’s no mercy for sex offenders in prison. He was terrified to return. Just the sight of a police car would send him into panic. His life consisted mostly of avoiding any contact with law enforcement.
It had been several years since he’d updated his sex offender registration. To get caught meant a quick return to prison. To register, he had to have a permanent address to give, but he lived in a cardboard lean-to he’d built against a dumpster wall in a weedy, rock-strewn field behind a convenience store. No one would rent to him. He’d used his brother’s address previously, but they’d had a falling out and he wasn’t sure he could still use it.
Deputies were supposed to be able to contact him at any time at his permanent address, but he was never there. He lived behind the Circle K. Not being properly registered was anxiety producing, but so was walking into the sheriff’s office to fill out forms.
He confessed it all to me. What he’d done. The fear, the shame, the pain. All of it. As part of the church, he wanted to do right.
I offered to go with him to register. Terror filled his eyes. He blurted out what might happen. I didn’t know how to respond. Eventually, he chose to go. I offered to drive.
We sat in the parking lot a long time. He begged me to pray. Shaking like a leaf, he pled with God for mercy. “I deserve what I get. Please spare me.”
Finally screwing up his courage, he stumbled to the door. The Pima County Sex Offender Registration desk is a wretched place in an abysmal room surrounded by bulletproof glass and abject hopelessness.
He couldn’t speak. I introduced myself, telling the deputy the issue and the truth about his permanent address. “No problem,” the officer said, smiling kindly. “Happens all the time. We’ll take care of it.”
My friend stuttered his name and other pertinent information. He shakily signed the forms. The deputy shook his hand, thanked him, and said, “You’re free to go.” Relief flooded my friend’s face. He ran for the door.
I asked the officer if there were employers who hire sex offenders.
The kind deputy grimaced. “Sorry, pastor,” he said. “Being a registered sex offender is a life sentence.”
A couple in Bethlehem once registered with officials long ago. Their child was born there. He took on the sins of others. Even those of registered sex offenders.