SOSupporter's Youtube Channel
Part One: My Hero, Your Sex Offender
The story of my boyfriend, Geoff, and I, on one level is very romantic, and not terribly atypical to the love stories of many other young people. Not exactly high school sweethearts, though we met in high school, we were close friends, but never actually “together”. As we approached junior year, we went our separate ways, and had little contact over the next 7 years. I wound up in a relationship with an older man that turned into a marriage, and after an unhappy four years together, I reconnected with Geoff once I had decided I no longer wanted to be with the man I had married. Quickly, Geoff and I began a relationship, I divorced my husband, and now we own a house together in central New York. It's a cute little story.
A cute little story that's also terribly boring. I commend you if you've made it this far. The way I've portrayed Geoff and I – hardly controversial or even interesting enough for a Lifetime TV movie – is the way I am sure we would be perceived if you were to meet us, get to know us and even become our friend. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Although our love and dedication to each other is as strong and sweet as it possibly could be, the path we have been forced down in an attempt to merely live our lives together has been painful, turbulent, and sometimes terrifying.
My name is Shana Rowan and I am 25 years old. I live with my boyfriend Geoff in central New York. I am also a survivor of domestic violence. Some would probably refer to me as a victim. For nearly four years, I endured horrific physical, emotional and verbal abuse at the hand of a man who played on my nineteen year old insecurities and loneliness, keeping me away from the world and molding me into a timid, empty girl who came to regard his “punishments” as deserved for my naivete, stupidity or disrespectfulness.
By the time I managed to escape, I was a 23 year old zombie whose exhaustion from working sixty hours a week – due to my husband's three year unemployment – stole from me any strength I may have had to even consider that my life was meaningless. I had lost myself what seemed like so long ago and to this day I do not know what it was that finally wore down my wall of denial and awakened my anger, kept in hibernation for much too long. What I do know is that somehow, I knew unwaveringly what I had to do to get out, and found the only person who could reach me where I was. That person was Geoff.
Our relationship as 16-year-olds isn't terribly different than the one we share today, in some aspects. Geoff is a sweet, quiet man who exudes more than he speaks. His emotions, forced down inside of him for most of his life, emanate rather than form words. He radiates when he smiles, when he trembles and when he cries. His love for me is in his timid touch, quiet pride and unquestioning acceptance. My swooning awe at his presence has as much a hold on me now, nearly ten years later, as it did as a sophomore in math class, unable to concentrate on anything but his face.
Geoff is an honorable, kind, genuine person who stops on the side of the road to change flat tires, pull cars out of ditches in snow storms, and thinks it only natural to offer his aid to whomever needs it. He is giving, forgiving and accepting. He is strong and masculine but humble, honestly oblivious of his abilities, and anyone who might appreciate them. He is handsome, funny, and he is my life. He is also a sex offender.
That is what I am here to talk about. I am here to tell you, and anyone else who will listen, how that brand, and society's opinion about what it means, has effected my life and devastated Geoff's. I want to tell the other side of the story, the one that never gets told, about how some offenders wind up in the situation they are in. I believe everyone needs understand how the way they are portrayed by the media, lawmakers and politicians is unjustified and detrimental to everyone.
I will give you the statistics and studies, and educate you on the current legislation that exists for sex crimes. You can do with that what you will. But I will also give you something that statistics and studies and mug shots cannot: the story behind the face, behind the label, behind the crime. I hope you will listen, for the story I have to tell is better than any novel, TV show or movie could come up with and that is because it's real. I promise it will change the way you look at offenders and what you believe they deserve as punishment.
I will be back very soon to begin my story. Please invite anyone you know to watch. Thanks for taking the time to listen to me talk.
Part Two: Childhood and Trial of a Sex Offender
First of all, I want to thank all of you for the kind words, encouragement and subscriptions. I didn't expect this kind of response and am so thankful to all of you because without you, my story won't get told.
I'm going to begin by explaining that, up until the moment that I upload this video, I am the only living soul who holds the knowledge of the wreckage that was – and sometimes still is – Geoff's life. The awful things you are about to hear were not revealed chronologically or without extreme anguish. It is only within the very recent years that Geoff's mind has allowed him to remember the majority of his life, and the path from remembering to communicating these memories is excruciating for him. It can take hours for him to reveal one memory, and is almost always ridden with tears, flashbacks, and fits of trembling, at which point I have no choice but to hold him silently and wait. After over two years, I've finally understood enough that I can take the fragmented pieces Geoff provides and fit them together into an ominous, never-ending puzzle.
As I have mentioned before, Geoff and I are both 25 years old. We grew up in the same small town of South Salem, NY, in Westchester county. South Salem is a beautiful place with lots of Revolutionary War history. Our mothers attended the same high school, John Jay, which we then both attended as well. South Salem is different than it used to be – property values, as well as demographics, changed drastically once young, highly educated professionals migrated from Manhattan and other large metropolitan areas searching for something “rural”, but still a convenient commute to the city.
Geoff's birthparents were married only for a few years, and divorced by the time Geoff was five. He remembers few actual events that took place while his parents were married, just that there was a constant feeling of being blamed and that his mother was almost constantly angry. She insisted on having custody of Geoff, and so when she immediately moved in with and married another man, Geoff was expected to adjust, accept and embrace his new life without question.
After a few years of moving around to various rental houses, Geoff's stepfather purchased a large farmhouse with several acres of land, which is uncommon in South Salem and does not come without a large price tag. He owned a successful trucking company in Connecticut and apparently did quite well for himself. He was also a paraplegic who had lost the use of his legs and been in a wheelchair for over 30 years, as a result of his own drunk driving. He was unable to perform most of the heavy labor required at the truckyard and instead concentrated on the paperwork aspect of things.
Geoff doesn't remember the first time that his mother struck him, but once it began, it didn't stop. He was beaten every day – sometimes accused of “doing something wrong” or “being just like his father”, and sometimes for no apparent reason at all. It was rarely explained what it was that he had done wrong or why being like his father was bad, just that it deserved punishment. The other family members were aware of what she was doing – his stepfather, and his half-sister, who his mother had within a year of marrying his stepfather. From what he describes it was regarded as a normal event that warranted no reaction. His stepfather did not participate physically, but often joined his mother in the verbal ridicule and withholding of any kind of affection, or even attention at times.
Geoff's mother didn't just use her hands to hurt him. Additionally, she used whatever was available – anything from a mop handle to a heavy pan or plate. These objects were used to beat him or were thrown at him – hard enough that he still suffers from physical pain in certain parts of his body. As soon as he was strong enough, around age nine or ten, he was forced to maintain the house by himself – everything from roofing, demolishing, simple plumbing and electrical work, but worst of all, chopping and stacking of wood. The farmhouse, which was quite large, had no modern heating and was heated exclusively by woodstoves. It was Geoff's responsibility to make sure there was constantly an over-abundance of fuel, which meant regardless of the season, hours of his day were spent chopping and stacking. If he resisted even slightly, he was forced to sleep outside of the house in a tent, sometimes for weeks at a time. If he was injured while working, he was forbidden from seeking medical treatment. It wasn't uncommon for him to return from a weekend with his father to find the contents of his room thrown out the second story window or simply to have disappeared completely. When Geoff was a teenager and his father bought him dirtbikes and four-wheelers, his mother would sell them when he was at school.
All of the house maintenance, wood chopping, and mechanical work he was forced to perform on the family's vehicles and various machine equipment took up so much of his time that he became a poor student who rarely completed assignments or was functional enough to retain anything that was being taught to him. This enraged his mother, who decided that in addition to house work, he was also going to “help” his stepfather at the truckyard, since his grades were so poor anyway. This meant from the time the schoolbus dropped him off in the afternoon until the early hours of the morning, he was in the truckyard, alone in the dark, loading and unloading pallets of produce. There were some mornings that he slept in the car on the way back from the yard, and was driven directly to the bus stop to go to school.
Geoff's biological father lived nearby, but the custody arrangement allowed him only to see Geoff on every other weekend. His father is the one who taught him mechanics. Unfortunately, he was either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge what was happening to Geoff, and so the cycle continued.
As I've mentioned previously, most of Geoff's life is a blur. There are only a few specific incidents he remembers in detail. At age 13, his mother beat him until he was unconscious and threw him in the back of her car. She drove 50 miles into a nasty neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens, at 3:00 in the morning, opened the car door, and pushed him onto the sidewalk. She told him if he wanted to act like crap, he could live with crap, and drove away. At age 15, he nearly lost a finger chopping wood. His mother refused to take him to the hospital and disconnected the phone so he couldn't call 911. He took the keys to her car and began driving himself to the emergency room. She called the car in stolen, and the police stopped him before he reached the hospital. Afraid of what the punishment would be, he made no indication to the officer that he was injured, and he was returned to their home where he was forced to crudely treat his own wound.
At around age 13, he remembers encounters between himself and his then 7 year old half-sister that went on for about a year. He does not remember how it began, or why. There was no intercourse, and there was no violence; it was mutual touching of genitals and some oral contact. On at least one occasion, their mother became aware of what was going on, but she chose not to stop or report it. Geoff has very blurry memories of his mother directing him to do these things, and possibly demonstrating on him what he was to do. Unfortunately, this is often where his ability to communicate shuts down and his body transforms into a trembling, sobbing mess.
One day, at age 16, Geoff returned home from a weekend at his father's house and his mother instructed him to get in the car. It was then that she drove him to the police station, handed him over to police custody and he was arrested for first degree sodomy (which would later be modified). That night, he went to his mother's house, packed his few belongings in black garbage bags, and proceeded to live the next year and a half of his life with his father in the next town over.
The charges were filed in September of 2003, but Geoff wasn't convicted until March of 2004, right after he turned 18. His father could not afford legal counsel, so for some inexplicable reason, he agreed to let Geoff's mother and stepfather pay for his defense – even though his mother made it very clear, throughout the trial, that she was seeking the worst possible sentence and that she hoped he burned in hell. It was at Geoff's lawyer's “advice” that the trial was moved from town to county court, even though the town judge was about to offer him a deal that would have charged him as a juvenile offender and sentenced him to juvenile offender treatment until he was 18, and then his record would have been expunged.
Instead, his case was dragged out for over a year, and it never went to trial. There were months of testimony and other various delays. It was eventually alleged that the abuse of his half-sister had gone one until he was fifteen, which allowed him to be charged as an adult with a B violent felony. His lawyer rejected numerous offers from the distract attorney – without ever making Geoff aware that they were available - which were lesser than the plea he eventually took, which was 2 to 6 years in state prison, of which he served four in jail and two on parole.
I wish that I could say that is where the abuse and trauma ended for Geoff, but unfortunately, that is far from the case. I feel that the period of his life spent in prison, and the three years since he was released, deserve their own segment so they can truly be appreciated. But now, finally, the world knows what really led up to Geoff's charge and status as a sex offender. Even if some may believe he truly is guilty of a crime, that he really was aware that what he was doing was wrong, there is no denying that he was a child himself – yet he has paid for it with all of the adult life he has ever lived, and missed out on everything a normal teenager is supposed to experience, from learning about the opposite sex to a high school diploma. Even so, despite all of this, he trudges onward in life, being the best that he can be and still managing to make me smile and laugh every day. For this reason, he is my hero.
I hope my words have resonated with you, and that Geoff's story has inspired you. Maybe it has even changed the way you look at sex offenders – if so, I'm so glad. If not, I encourage you to keep watching, because his story is far from over.
Thank you again, everyone, for your time. I will be back soon. Sincerely, Shana.
Part Three: 18-Year-Old Sex Offender Goes to Jail
Hi everyone, sorry I couldn't get back to the camera sooner. Please continue sharing my videos with others so we can get as much awareness out there as possible. Even if you know people who don't agree or have preceonceived notions about who sex offenders are, perhaps seeing the story told from a different perspective will get them on the path to open-mindedness. This one is a little bit longer than the last two, but unfortunately this still the shortest story I can possibly tell without taking away from the gravity of it all.
First, I want to address some concerns that have been brought to my attention about revealing such personal information to such a vast audience. To them I say, I appreciate your concern. However what I am doing is no more personal than what is already out there. Because I love Geoff and share my life and home with him, I virtually have no privacy. I know that the other family members out there who have a loved one on the registry understand, and maybe until now I didn't even consider that those who DON'T live with someone on the registry really don't know how invasive these laws actually are. To those who don't know, let me explain as eloquently as I can what we live with every day:
Our homes, addresses, vehicles, license plate numbers, and a clinical, horrible-sounding charge against our loved one and their photograph is available for anyone so inclined to look up. There is virtually nothing preventing anyone from abusing this information. Because the registry is public, even if an individual takes it upon themselves to re-post personal information about our loved one in a public place, or online, or even if they choose to harm our loved or their personal property, there is no recourse. Even if it is the family members, not the offender, who are being harmed, law enforcement for the most part doesn't care and does nothing to stop the misuse of information. Largely this is because there is NO way to prove that the information was accessed from the registry. Privacy - and in many ways, safety - for an offender and their family simply does not exist. If people want to look, judge, or take things into their own hands, there is absolutely nothing Geoff or I can do about it. Our government, legislators and society have ensured that. That is precisely why I have chosen to take advantage of what is otherwise a very negative circumstance, and use it to our benefit.
Anyway, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I want to continue with the tale of Geoff. I left off in my last video with his trial, which was manipulated entirely by his abusers – his mother and stepfather – and his subsequent sentencing, which was four years in state prison and two years on parole.
From the courtroom, 18-year-old Geoff was transported to Westchester County Jail, where his head was shaved, his clothes were stripped and he spent the next ten days trapped in a concrete cell. He told me quite some time later that it was in that place that he spent the most time seriously contemplating suicide. However, before those plans could come to fruition, he was taken from County to his first state facility, Fishkill.
The first few weeks were terrifying, as one might assume. But for Geoff this was not because he was simply nervous or unfamiliar with his surroundings. In a way – a small way – prison was a sort of relief for Geoff, as he was finally free of the parasites that were his “family” for so many years. Though incarcerated, and handcuffed and shackled on a regular basis, it was more freedom he had ever experienced in his life, just confined to a smaller space. Or so he thought. Quickly, it became obvious that he had not escaped constant, nonsensical abuse and torture – the characters were just different.
Within the first few days, he was picked up and thrown down a flight of stairs by a group of corrections officers (who I will hereon refer to as “COs”), while handcuffed. They laughed at him as he struggled to get up without the use of his hands, and painfully crawled back up the stairs. Days later, another group of COs grabbed his hair, again while handcuffed, and slammed his face into the pavement outside until he was bloody and unconscious. Even today, every time I look at his face, my eye is drawn to the bare patch in his right eyebrow, a scar from seven years ago. In every photograph I have of him, no matter how small, it is visible. A constant reminder of the awfulness that was inflicted on such a timid, sweet, innocent young boy who was mistreated by every person who was ever supposed to help or protect him.
Geoff's eyes are boundless and beautiful. Brimming with a yearning I have never before or since seen in another human being, they burn holes in my soul. So often even now he will not meet my gaze, still afraid, even all these years later, of what he might find if he looks for anything other than hatred and anger. It hurts me still, even though he has revealed so many secrets and reasons for the way that he is, that he can't look me in the eye sometimes. I tip his face up to meet my awed gaze, and when I see his fear turn to happiness, I still shiver. That is why I cannot comprehend how any human being is capable of harming him. It makes holding the knowledge of what has been done to him ever burdening and makes me ache in my heart. But you need to know his story, so I will do my best to continue.
Geoff was shipped from one facility to the next for the equivalent of about half of his sentence. He has said that he believes it was an attempt to keep him from becoming “comfortable” in one place. Though constantly moving around was difficult, he made the best of it. He has told me stories of “bunkies” (aka cellmates) that made him laugh and whose presence made being in jail more bearable, and from the way he describes things, sometimes even enjoyable. He says that he met people who made his past seem easy, and also people who infuriated him with their ignorance or inability to accept responsibility for their crimes. In some facilities, where the COs were kinder, loud farts, flinging of frozen peas, and other forms of boyish humor were enjoyed by the entire wing, allowed to go on even past the mandatory 10:00 “lights out”. These are the COs I wish I could meet, and thank for their mercy and ability to look past incarcerated young men and see the scared, juvenile boys they really were.
He worked hard in jail, too. Not just in the programs sex offenders are forced to complete, but in the kitchen, library, and even in groundskeeping. Though most of his jail “employment” was in the kitchen, a few COs saw in him what I see – a miraculous person with a multitude of talents – and he was granted exclusive rights to tend to the landscaping and even plowing at one of the facilities. Staying in his cell made him go insane, spiral into a world he didn't know how to escape (his mind). So he worked as much as he could. In fact, he worked so many hours that when he received back a time card he had submitted to the processing center in Albany, there was a note written on a Post-It that said, “what are you DOING?” He replied, on his next time card, “as much as I can”...and received back, “Oh.”
One of the few benefits of prison was the opportunity for education – not just in terms of experience, but in actual classes. Geoff has expressed confusion as to why more inmates do not take advantage of what is offered to them in jail, as this is where he was finally given an opportunity he might not have had otherwise – a GED. This didn't come easily, in fact only after constant correspondence with the state about being able to take the test in jail. Even after he passed his GED, he continued with classes. He was already extremely mechanically able, but being able to take Physics greatly added to his ability. He not only retained this information, but filled up several notebooks with calculations, detailed notes and equations. He still refers to these notebooks when designing and fabricating custom truck suspensions, as he does today.
Unfortunately, his violent welcome to the New York State prison system was not the end of the abuse. His entire sentence was dotted with trips to the infirmary, by his calculations, equivalent to about two years. The worst facility, in terms of violence, was Gowanda. Sex offenders and DWIs were housed together. For whatever reason, the majority of the DWI offenders thought their charges were much less significant and grotesque than those of the sex offenders, even though many of them had physically harmed people with their actions. As was the case in most facilities, most COs shared this view and did little to prevent or stop issues between the two groups of inmates. This hostile environment was extremely conducive to violence and fear on the part of the sex offenders.
As anyone who has had a loved one incarcerated for a sex crime can attest, particularly if it is a husband, boyfriend, or significant other – the “therapies” sex offenders are forced to undergo are something like that out of an 1800's sanitarium. The moderators of the sessions despise the offenders and make no attempt at hiding this; and whomever is responsible for the methodology of the “therapy” either lacks any knowledge of basic human psychology, or wants to create a sub-human race composed entirely of asexual, self-loathing, perpetually terrified former sex offenders.
When an offender begins his “treatment”, the first thing he must do is reveal to the group what his crime was. Keep in mind that the moderators have all of this information already. The idea is to humiliate the offender by forcing him to reveal his charge in front of everyone else, so they can then begin the next step, constant degradation and re-assurance that once they get out of jail, everyone will hate them and want to kill them. And the saddest thing, in my opinion, is what Geoff told me when I asked how the programs addressed romantic relationships and what is healthy and what is not. In the eyes of the moderators, there is no such thing as a healthy romantic relationship for a sex offender. Not only will no woman ever want them, or even want to be in their general vicinity, but any romantic interest in a woman – from the mere desire, to an actual physical advance such as hand-holding, a hug, or a kiss – is considered re-offending.
I realize this all sounds like some kind of conspiracy, that it is too over the top or preposterous to be true. I was not there in those sessions, I've never been in jail and I've never been arrested for a sex crime. All I can do is rely on Geoff to tell me what it was like. But even if Geoff interpreted things to be this way, and it wasn't exactly as he says – the undeniable fact is that their therapy failed him. If their goal is to rehabilitate people so they can be contributing, stable members of society, they failed. They took an already unstable, self-loathing, terrified boy with absolutely no coping skills, and made him worse. He already hated himself not only for the acts he committed with his half-sister, but because of how he had been treated his entire life, regardless of where he was or who was in charge. They took someone with unbelievable potential and smashed him to pieces.
Because Geoff's final charges were not the actual events that occurred – particularly the length of time that the abuse had continued – AND none of the abuse he had endured had ever been included in the record – he refused to say to the group what his crime was the way it read on paper. It is hard even now for him to talk about what happened, and I cannot even imagine how difficult it was then. Regardless, he told his story the way it happened, but the moderators refused to accept that. Instead, they decided to force it out of him.
Later in the day of his failed therapy, while he was working in the kitchen with several other inmates – all DWIs – one of the group moderators walked in. As Geoff removed a large tray from the oven, the moderator began reciting his charge outloud for everyone to hear. Before they could finish, another inmate knocked the tray out of his hands and onto his forearms. As his skin blistered away, another inmate punched him in the back of the head, and he fell to the ground. Within seconds, eleven inmates were on top of him, punching, kicking, hitting and doing whatever else they could to hurt him. This is the fight that he says he watched take place, from far above. Outside of his beaten body, watching it waste away. He thought he was dying. He says he can't remember how long it took for them to pull the last inmate off of his back, probably because he was unconscious. It was six weeks in the infirmary after that, but at least for then he was safe.
When he was put back in general population, he quickly learned that fight had opened a door. He suffered broken ribs (being hit in the stomach with a barbel), which he walked around with for two weeks before reporting; a broken jaw, countless beatings and attempted assaults, some of which he was able to stave off. Geoff is a strong man; he can easily take down three other guys without much of a problem. The problem was, there were never just three. Even though he did everything he could to avoid the fights, and even situations that could possibly lead to them, he was denied parole three separate times. Every one of the eleven inmates who had tried to kill him that day in the kitchen was out on parole before he was finally released in March of 2008.
Geoff's father had moved to Texas – over 1,500 miles away – in the middle of Geoff's sentence. With him, he had taken all of his belongings – everything from clothes to thousands of dollars worth of mechanic's tools. So when he walked out of Gowanda the night of his release, and boarded a one-way bus to White Plains, New York, he found himself with the $50.00 they give you on the way out, nothing else. For the next three months, he would live in the homeless shelter in Valhalla, and begin his re-entry into the world.
That is where I will end today's segment because this is when Geoff's life began to change for the better. It still wasn't easy and there is much yet to be told, but I need to stop now. For whatever reason this is the hardest part of Geoff's life for me to deal with and I need to go distract myself with something else now. Thank you again, as usual, for your kind words and support. There is much more to be told, I promise. Sincerely, Shana.