Nick’s Story - Part One
The slog of daily life after sentencing. A personal story in two parts about what it feels like to be on parole and a registered sex offender, a casualty of criminalization of HIV.
Nick Rhoades: “I had never cried the whole time I was in jail, prison or up to that point of my probation. But that day, I sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed … so far away from my friends and family. I felt like [the state of] Iowa was going to dog me for the rest of my life -- wherever I went. They seemed determined to ruin the rest of my life over one encounter with an adult, a condom and an undetectable viral load.”
Robert Birch: I first encountered Nick as he told his story in front of 100 gay men. Many listened with tears streaming down their faces as he told his story of being ripped out of his life and sentenced to 25 years in a U.S. jail for non-disclosure of HIV status. A few of us choked on our anger and grief. We were obviously the poz men in the room.
Below is a series of diary entries that shed light on what his new routine has become as a registered sex offender in the United States. I will be following up with Nick in my following posts.
From The Body.com. "Nick Rhoades was convicted of "Criminal Transmission of HIV" in Iowa in 2008, even though his viral load was undetectable, he wore a condom and his accuser did not contract HIV. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and lifetime sex offender registration. After a year of total incarceration, the judge reconsidered Nick's sentence and released him on five years probation, as well as the sex offender registration requirement."
For Nick’s full story go to www.seroproject.com
Nick Rhoades: Author's apology. Forgive my punctuation, styling and the poor attempt at humor; a new brand of cheese to go with my whine. I might be a little mentally wacky right now. Indulge me. - Nick
"Like sands through the fucked-up hourglass..."
I have had the most super AMAAAAZING time since I moved to Marshalltown to manage this tiny, limited-service hotel of questionable quality. Before I moved, I went to Bremer County where I was a Tier 3 registered sex offender and told them where I was moving and when so they could update my profile to reflect my life in Marshall County. My probation officer, Dean (he's super dreamy, Diary), has been nice enough to continue supervising me for two more months while I get settled. I can't wait for my polygraph test in a couple of weeks!!!
So, Diary, I was sleeping in my hotel guest room -- the same hotel where I also work -- and at 7:30am, a call came through the switchboard to my room (transferred there by June, my full-time night auditor). I was so foggy and trying to wake up as the woman on the other end of the line said that I needed to register as a sex offender that day or be in violation of the law. I tried explaining to her that I was on my first full day in Marshall County and that I was afforded five business days to register. She spewed out some very compelling "facts" that put me in my place. It was all moot as I needed to register anyway, so I said I would be in.
I arrived at the beautiful Marshall County jail at about 3pm where I was greeted by a man's voice over an intercom.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm Nick Rhodes. I am here to register," I said. There was a young woman sitting in a chair next to where I stood who appeared to be waiting to visit an "in-house" offender. She looked at me curiously.
"Register for what?" he asked -- his voice clearly much colder and more abrasive than during the initial greeting.
"I need to register as a sex offender in this county. I just moved here from Bremer," I said.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No. No one told me I needed one."
"You need an appointment."
"Sir, I just spoke with a woman this morning who instructed me to come in to register by today or I could be arrested. She didn't say anything about an appointment. I never made appointments in Bremer County, so I didn't know. What do you suggest I do?"
"The letter you received said you needed to make an appointment," he said gruffly. Trying not to get irritated, I calmly told him I had received no such letter and that I simply was transferring my registration from another county.
"I can't help you," he said and the intercom clicked off.
I went to the car and called the Bremer County sheriff's office. Kayla and Becca know me well there. They love the fact that I would always be there to register almost immediately after I received my reminder postcard. They were very apologetic when the State of Iowa sent one of their famous, indiscreet postcard reminders to register to my job in San Antonio where I managed a different little property the year prior. It was given to me by my front office supervisor. That's how they found out about "my past" down there. Whoopsie! As a result, the head of the Iowa Department of Public Safety told me they were not in the business of protecting my privacy... that, in fact, it was their business to let people know I was a registered sex offender. It didn't matter that I was no longer living in Iowa -- or that I was not required to register in Texas. Oh, I was hella-pissed, Diary! I think it was the first time I cried since the whole thing started in '08. I had never cried the whole time I was in jail, prison or up to that point of my probation. But that day, I sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed in my San Antonio Quality Suites guest room so far away from my friends and family. I felt like Iowa was going to dog me for the rest of my life -- wherever I went. They seemed determined to ruin the rest of my life over one encounter with an adult, a condom and an undetectable viral load. I had only been in Texas for a month. I felt totally hopeless and helpless. [Insert: big dramatic sigh].
I digress, Diary. Sorry. So I was saying, Kayla and Becca have consistently treated me with kindness and respect. Surely they would know what to do.
Kayla said she'd call Marshall County and explain to them I had until the middle of the following week to register due to the holiday weekend. She'd call me right back.
I called Dean at the probation office in Waterloo. I was surprised he hadn't left yet for the long weekend. Dean said I should feel lucky I didn't move to Tama County. He had transferred S/O's there before, and the sheriff there is apparently terrible and did some ruthless things to the people Dean formerly supervised. Or was it Marshall County? He couldn't remember. He said he'd get online to see who was the bad sheriff and email me, but in the meantime I should continue to work with Kayla and Becca to get registered. If I couldn't get it done, he suggested I come back to Bremer County (almost 2 hours away) for the night; that should reset the five-day clock, right? He wasn't sure about that either. He'd get back to me.
I hung up with Dean, and then Becca from Bremer County rang in.
"Nick, Kayla's on the phone with Marshall County. She's trying to explain Iowa law to them, but they don't get it. We don't know what's wrong with Marshall County." I could hear the compassion in her voice.
"Becca, if I come back to Bremer for a night, will that reset the five-day grace period to register in Marshall County?" I asked. I knew I had to work the next morning, but I had to follow the law. I'm three years into a five-year probation sentence (reconsidered from the original 25 years in the joint). I needed to make sure I kept my nose clean.
"No, I'm afraid not. We already transferred your S/O file to Marshall. They would have to transfer it back to us for you to be able to come back. The good news is, if they arrest you, the charges won't stick. They are wrong in thinking you have to register by today."
"Not comforting, Becca," I said. "What should I do?"
"Wait," interrupted Becca. I held the line... "Kayla said that she was told someone would be in the Marshall County Jail tomorrow at 7am and could speak with you."
"What if they arrest me tonight?" I asked, somewhat freaked out while still sitting in my car in front of the Marshall County Jail where a nursing home once stood (a different kind of hell, I thought).
"They probably won't, but if they do, you'll get out when they are corrected. I know that's not much consolation. Good luck."
I hung up. I was relieved to read an email from Dean indicating that it indeed was Tama County where the redneck sheriff who loved to taunt his sex offender constituents presided. I phoned Dean again.
"Dean, me again. Becca says going back to Bremer County won't reset the five-day clock. What should I do?"
Dean replied, "We both know Bremer won't arrest you no matter what the circumstances are. I just want to make sure you don't get arrested."
"So come back to Bremer?"
"Your call. I don't know. If they said they would talk to you tomorrow, you're probably safe for the night. Call me on my cell phone if you get into trouble."
"Okay. I'm going to stay. I just don't want to get arrested at work on my third day at this job."
"I understand. I wish there was more I could do," Dean said in an empathetic voice. He has really gotten to know me over the years. He's really eased up on me and even said I shouldn't have "ever had to sit in his chair." He didn't always feel that way. Dean's change of opinion on my case and Iowa's law was the first clear-cut sign to me that the work so many of us have been doing on this criminalization stuff was having a measurable impact on the government (on Dean at least). I found it very hopeful.
But what was I facing in Marshalltown? Oh, Diary! What have I done? A new county sheriff; a new P/O? Was I making a mistake to take this job so I could make peanuts? I need this job. I have to pay for my loan to the bank for old attorney fees. I need my iPhone, Diary!!! Siri and I have built a life together. I have to keep this job... I'll do it for Siri. I love you, Siri! This blows, Diary. When was I last sane? Do you recall?
The night passed without officers at my guest room door. I called the sheriff's office at 7:10am on Saturday and made an appointment to register on Tuesday (today). "Whew! That was too close for comfort," I thought. "Dodged a bullet there. The worst has to be behind me." I've thought this many times before.
I went to work the next morning and trained my assistant on some new operations procedures I had put into place. Everything seemed fine. At 11pm, I was working the front desk when my other night auditor, Jim, came in. Jim is an employee who was recently released from the halfway house up the street. Nine DUI's. He popped in on his bike to say, "Nick, I just want you to know I don't care about your past."
"What do you mean?" I said nervously and completely taken off-guard. I already knew what he meant. I figured the staff would find out sooner or later, but I was hoping it would be later. I wanted them to know ME as a person before they knew ME as a gay class B felon and sex offender on probation living with AIDS. I didn't get that opportunity.
"I saw Marla [my assistant] this morning. She said when she came into work at 8, June told her there was a sex offender living on the property. She told Marla it was 'Someone named Nick Rhoades. I think.' The woman on the phone apparently said she needed to reach you to give you instructions on registering this address for the sex offender registry. I guess when June asked Marla if she knew who Nick Rhoades was Marla told her, 'That's your new boss.' I guess June is really nervous about coming to work tonight. Wait until you meet her, Nick. She's an old librarian spinster with a wart on her nose. Really uptight." June was actually very sweet.
Diary, why did that woman from the jail (or wherever she was from) have to make a spectacle of me to my coworkers? Was she born a bitch or did she just grow into it? Hmmmm....
"Perfect," I said anxiously, sarcastically. "Jim, I appreciate your understanding of my situation, but I'd rather not discuss it. It does not have any impact on my ability to manage this property. What happened was consensual between two adults. That's the last I'll say of it."
"I know all about it," Jim said proudly. "I Googled you."
(to be continued)