A Legacy Of Ideas
Before this blog retires in June of 2015, I hope to leave behind a legacy of editorials. Normally, I prefer to write facts and maybe squeeze in an editorial comment here and there. I feel that's a more effective way of writing.
But there will be fact-laden criminal complaints to write about until the moment I hang up my bloggy spurs. So if I don't pause from writing up facts to write up some of my ideas in editorials, well, these ideas just won't get written because after blogging it's going to be the writing of novels, baby...
This whole blog is the application of an idea written up in what might be considered something of an editorial--Market And Romanticize The (North Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization) Struggle. So it's probably a good idea to leave some productive idea seeds sprinkled around...even if others will need to take care of the application of those ideas, if anybody has a mind to do that.
A Fruitful Idea From The Plains Of North Dakota
One of the most pressing issues our society faces is how to deal with dangerous sex offenders after they have completed their prison sentences, but still remain (in the judgment of shrinks, society, the legal system and anybody with common sense) still too dangerous to roam around like free range chickens.
Sometime between the fall of 2000 and the fall of 2004, a great idea for dealing with Level Three sex offenders fell from the sky right in front of me. At the time, however, I didn't know it was a good idea. In fact, I thought it was a stupid idea rife with negativity.
Back then I lived in Grand Forks County and participated in a North Dakota online forum called "Say Anything." Their chat format has been altered quite a bit over the years and, sad to say, many old discussions from the early "two thousands" have been lost in the internet ether. So I have to sort of patch this together from memory...
This much is certain: Grand Forks, North Dakota, is scarred by the murder of Dru Sjodin which was committed by a recently released Level Three Sex Offender from Crookston, Minnesota. In fact, some of the current laws and policies about keeping Level Three Sex Offenders locked up in Moose Lake can be traced to the murder of Dru Sjodin. There were a lot of discussions, back then, about whether sex offenders should be locked up forever with the key thrown away.
Sex Offenders, Meet Prairie Ghost Towns
In the early 2000s, North Dakota was not swilling in oil wealth the way it is today. In fact, back then North Dakota was kind of an economic wasteland with its young people fleeing the state in droves, to the point the state had been losing population since the 1930s. Now the on-again, off-again "boomtown" economy associated with domestic oil production has changed everything, but BACK THEN a lot of discussion took place about "how on earth are we going to save this place from the negative changes caused by out-migration of its youth?"
Even with enormous oil wealth in part of the state, much of North Dakota is still dotted by what can only be called "ghost towns." These ghosts are still living beings on life support, usually with a bar, post office and one functioning church.
But empty houses, lots of them, rotting away in the elements. It's sad. When people built those houses, they thought those towns had bright futures. They dreamed bold pioneer dreams. The idea of those old houses just going to waste makes me sad, sad in the same way I hate to see abandoned houses in North Minneapolis.
One day, on the Say Anything forum, an anonymous commenter suggested a novel idea:
Throw a big fence around one of the ghost towns and let the worst of the sex offenders live there. Let them grow their own gardens, fix their own houses, occupy themselves relatively free of controls as long as they stay inside and don't stab each other.
Such low-control "containment" would be cheaper than long term, intensely supervised incarceration. Self-starter building and gardening activities would be better therapy than ineffective treatment programs. Such containment, even for decades at a time, would be more humane than execution or (good lord!) ball-chopping.
Furthermore, there are so many North Dakota ghost towns that sex offenders from ALL OVER THE COUNTRY could have their own ghost town. Imagine how many local jobs would be created erecting the fences and pulling some of the security jobs on the perimeter!
The commenter (to the best of my recollection) thought I'd be in favor of this idea because (at the time) I was still licking painful psychological wounds associated with failed political efforts in North Dakota. For the record, I still think "industrial hemp" in the heartland is a good idea. But I digress.
I was not in favor of the "sex offender ghost town" idea and I argued with the anonymous commenter. I was even less in favor of making North Dakota (or any rural, low population state) suffer by making it a national homeland to the teeming refuse of sex offenders from other states, especially more affluent states. This, I told the anonymous commenter, was a terrible idea that would hurt, not help, North Dakota.
Did the commenter seriously tell me they could grow "industrial hemp" and manufacture items from the hemp fibers? I don't remember specifically, though it rings a bell.
I remember rejecting the idea and saying North Dakota didn't "deserve" to be the location of a sex offender "gulag," and it would be particularly said for the ghosts of the old settlers to see the names of little towns that started with such pioneer hopes and dreams become inextricably associated with no-accounts who couldn't keep their penises to themselves.
On The Other Hand...
I still think it's a bad idea to make any particular state accept sex offenders from other states, even for innovative "ghost town" penal colonies in stagnant rural areas. Every state should be responsible for its own population of Level Three sex offenders, or whatever that state prefers to call the worst of the worst.
But over the years, since rejecting the idea out-of-hand on the Say Anything forum, the idea has developed and percolated in my brain.
WHAT IF a dozen sex offenders were told, "Inside this high, barbed-wire topped fence you'll find some old buildings and some basic supplies. We can get you other stuff you need, like garden seeds or even colonies of honey bees, when you're ready. There's a hut on the inside monitored by security where you can make periodic phone calls, use limited portions of the internet for an hour a day, or visit with relatives. Otherwise, well, keep yourselves occupied."
And it wouldn't need to be an actual ghost town with a proud pioneer history and the graves of settlers nearby. Heck, take some old FEMA trailers and put them in a field with a view of woods and a lake. I'm thinking St. Louis County.
NORTHERN St. Louis County. Within sight of Canada.
The idea of the program would be personal freedom...within a contained area. Such a program would be purely voluntary and anybody who didn't like the program could go back to pointless therapy and endless incarceration at Moose Lake.
I am a believer in hard outdoorsy work purifying the soul, no matter what filth that soul has been into. Dig in the earth and plant something. Pray to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins as you harvest raspberries from thorny bushes and contemplate His Sacrifice on The Cross. Face the wintery elements of nature and figure out what natural materials can be used for insulation. Make some homemade bread-and-butter pickles from cucumbers the way decent people do instead of doing illegal things with your pickle.
Honestly, people incarcerated for serious crimes OTHER THAN SICKO SEX OFFENSES deserve the benefits of such a "compassionate containment" program a lot more, but the problem of sex offenders who have already served their sentence, but remain too dangerous to release, is the problem at hand. To this problem I propose:
With a side order of homemade pickles.