Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but Names…

I was sitting in a holding cell in the prison’s Receiving and Diagnostics Unit waiting to be taken to a doctor’s visit. I couldn’t see who was in the cell next to me, but the guy was raving on about skinners this and skinners that.   “Skinner” is prison slang for sex offender.

In prison you learn to control your space. With constant vigilance you can anticipate trouble and usually avoid it.  After a few years, most of us settle into a more-or-less safe routine.

But R&D is a wild card.  Comings and goings from the prison require a trip through its dingy halls. You might run into anyone there.

Trouble usually starts with name-calling led by a self-appointed tough who knows, or thinks he knows, your crime. Emboldened followers join in the taunting. Skinner! Ripper! Pervert! The mob works itself up to an act of violence – if you’re lucky it’s just throwing urine, food or feces. But, given the chance, they will hurt you.

I relaxed a little when I realized this rant wasn’t directed at me in particular, just my kind.

The two guards at the desk seemed amused. The expletive-saturated vitriol had all but sputtered out, when one of them prompted a new crescendo by remarking, “So, Trant, I guess you’re still proud of what you did.”

“F---ing skinners! F---ing baby rapists! I did what I did to protect you and your families from those f---ing animals!  I can’t believe they’re allowed to roam around free.”

So, I was in a cell next to Lawrence Trant.

Trant was in prison for assaulting a former sex offender on a city sidewalk, stabbing him in the back and arm. The guy only survived because a passer-by threw him in the back of his car and rushed him to the hospital.

I heard the cops found a printout of the state’s sex offender registry in Trant’s apartment.  It was marked up like a hit list. It turns out Trant had also set fires at two apartment houses where other registrants live.

It wasn’t difficult to figure out where Trant got his script.

The New Hampshire Legislature’s most recent sex offender law is called “The Child Predator Act”.  Among other things, it lays out onerous registration requirements for anyone ever convicted of a sexual offense. Lawmakers heard testimony that sex offenders were incurable monsters who “steal the souls” of their victims. The governor was taunted by conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly into signing the gargantuan bill.

A “predator” is, of course, an animal that lives by capturing and eating other animals. When lawmakers officially label a whole class of citizens “animals”, it sends a clear message. The effect of such name-calling is to demean and dehumanize in the eyes of the public. When the government then posts the names, addresses and photos of the members of this subhuman class on the internet, where anyone with sociopathic tendencies can access them, it completes the message. It was only a matter of time.

Trant was indicted on eight counts of attempted murder.

The papers said that at his trial for the stabbing charge, Trant borrowed a page from the prosecutors’ playbook. He looked directly at the jury and delivered a thirty-minute impassioned monologue, painting his targets as sexual terrorists and himself as a victim of sexual assault. He told the jury he was protecting children from these animals who would steal their souls.

Three members of the jury refused to convict Trant of attempted murder, even though he admitted on the stand to brutally stabbing his victim multiple times with a kitchen knife.

Prosecutors eventually decided to offer Trant a plea bargain on the other charges. They weren’t sure they could find twelve citizens who would vote to convict a guy whose only crime was trying to kill someone the Legislature had labeled a dangerous animal - a "child predator".

As I left the holding cell, I looked back to see what Lawrence Trant looks like. I wanted to be able to recognize him should we ever meet again. Trant comes up for parole in October of 2014. I guess I’ll have to be watching my own back once he’s out.  It seems clear the State of New Hampshire won’t be.