Innocents in Paradise

Billy was a big lump of a man. I met him when he got transferred to the sex offender program in the New Hampshire State Prison. By then he was twenty-nine. It was clear to everyone Billy was, shall we say, intellectually challenged. He was awkward to the max. He wanted to be your friend, but had nothing to say.  He stood too close. He wore an empty grin. If you paid the least attention to him, he attached himself to you like a shaggy dog.

Jim, one of the facilitators, tried to befriend him.  Billy would tag along when Jim did his daily power walk. He would stay several steps behind, imitating Jim’s stride, his stomach hanging out of his tee shirt.  When Jim dropped to do a set of ten pushups, Billy would flop down and make a fruitless effort to lift his belly off the floor, then lie panting until Jim finished his set.

I heard when Billy was nineteen he had taken a nine year old into the barn and sexually assaulted her. I guess the judge tried to take Billy’s mental disability into consideration. He gave Billy a sentence of two to ten years. At that time, two years was just long enough to do the sex offender program and process out through the minimum security unit and halfway house. But Billy flunked out of the program.  He’s illiterate and the program depends on reading and written exercises. It’s cognitive behavioral therapy. You learn to recognize triggers and modify your responses to avoid re-offending.  But anything cognitive was way above Billy.

So Billy got returned to the general population. He became a target for all sorts of abuse. I heard guys could get him to perform fellatio on them for a twenty-five cent ramen noodle soup. Who knows what else went on.  Billy’s abusers could have been charged with sexual assault if the state had cared to do so. New Hampshire law says sex is illegal if “the victim has a disability that renders him or her incapable of freely arriving at an independent choice as to whether or not to engage in sexual conduct, and the actor knows or has reason to know that the victim has such a disability.”[1]  But to charge those guys the state would have to admit it put a defenseless retarded man in the general population of a men’s prison.

As Billy approached his maximum, somebody realized he was going to be released without treatment. That’s why he ended up back in the program. This time the therapists tried.  Billy got a mentor who helped him through the exercises, somebody to read to him and write down his answers. I’m not sure much sank in. Sex for Billy is like a cookie jar for a three-year old. Sometimes it’s okay, sometimes you get your hand slapped. It’s hard for him to know why. At least in the program he wasn’t preyed upon.

If Billy was sent to prison to get rehabilitated, it didn’t happen. Then again, if he was supposed to be punished by losing his freedom, I guess that didn’t happen either.  For Billy one day follows another and whatever comes, well, that’s just how life is. In the end Billy was warehoused for ten years. Maybe that’s what he needed.  Except in this warehouse some of the other inventory wants to screw you.

[1] NH RSA 632-A:2, I,(h).