This blog is a Topical Personal Archive referenced by our other blogs. Article dates will be original date of news or research. Blog also contains "Informational" posts.

Bob Dyer: Are sex offenders ruined for life?

5-2-15 National:

by Bob Dyer Part-1 of 3

Well, here’s something new.

How about an 85-year-old woman from a small Wayne County town rushing to the defense of a convicted sex offender she doesn’t even know?

And how about that same sex offender agreeing to sit down for an interview with the Beacon Journal just days after a thorough public shaming?

Orrville resident Donna Dale Davis, a self-described “little old lady,” phoned me to express her disgust with our favorite newspaper, which had run a story at the top of Page 1 about the firing of the new public address announcer for the Akron RubberDucks.

Turns out the Ducks, who apparently didn’t do even a basic background check, had no idea that their new voice, Scott Foster, was a former sex offender.

The same day a Beacon Journal reporter asked about Foster’s history, the Ducks canned him.

That prompted a voice-mail rant from Davis.

“The guy made a mistake 12 years ago,” she said. “He paid his dues. He’s off the sex-offender list. He never touched one of those girls, thank heaven.

“I’m not trying to justify what he did at all, but I’ve seen several articles where the courts [and Akron City Council] are trying to work with felons to get their records wiped clean so they can have a job. And here this guy did that, and the Beacon Journal ruined it for him.

“What on earth is the purpose of this?”

Well, the Beacon Journal is not in the business of keeping secrets about people who hold high-profile jobs, especially when those would-be secrets are part of the public record and were widely reported at the time.

And you can’t really blame the Ducks. An organization that flies an enormous banner next to its ballpark promising “Affordable Family Fun” no doubt would spend the entire season dodging heavy flak for continuing to employ someone with his past.

But what about Foster?

Eleven years ago, he was convicted of sending sexually explicit emails and making sexual comments to two 13-year-old students at A.I. Root Middle School in Medina, where he was a science teacher.

He served six months in jail and three months on house arrest, spent five years on probation, received extensive counseling and was required to register his address for 10 years.

In all honestly, if I were the father of one of those girls, I might have gotten a far harsher sentence than Foster because I would have been sorely tempted to take matters into my own hands.

But that’s not the way the system is supposed to work. It is supposed to work exactly the way it seems to have worked.

The court figured that, after a full decade, the man either would have straightened out his mind and his life or re-offended. As far as we can tell, he patched himself up.

New start

Foster, 40, has a solid, full-time job, a wife who stuck with him, three children (with a fourth on the way) and the warm embrace of close friends at his church. His days no longer are fogged by alcohol and porn addictions.

The things that have happened since his conviction are exactly what the sentencing judge, Medina County’s James Kimbler, hoped would happen when he lightened what could have been a three-year prison sentence — a sentence that would not have permitted the judge to control Foster once he was released.

So when Foster was on his way to the RubberDucks audition, where he beat out 50 other candidates, he didn’t spend much time worrying about what might happen if he landed the job.

But now, suddenly, just when he thought his worst days were behind him, he is once again a regional pariah.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t regret the way I lived my life in that time period,” he says. “And there’s not a moment that goes by that I don’t work to become better from it.”

He is sitting in a room at the Beacon Journal with his wife, Kathy, talking about the last thing on earth they’d like to be talking about.

They are holding hands. They are clearly uncomfortable. But they want to tell the story, in large part to further the idea — voiced with increasing frequency by community leaders — that felons who have cleaned up their act deserve a second chance.

Scott Foster’s wife certainly gave him one.

“The thought of leaving actually never crossed my mind,” says Kathy, who married him in 1999 after a five-year courtship.

“I wasn’t going anywhere, because I knew who he was, warts and all. I knew the man he was. I know the man he has become. I knew the father that he was.

“When everything happened, we had a young child who absolutely adored her father, and her father absolutely adored his daughter, and that was something I wasn’t going to tear apart.”

In addition to his sex counseling, Scott and Kathy signed up for marriage counseling. “I knew we needed work,” she says, “because I knew that contributed to where we got to.”

She says she received unconditional support from both her family and his.

The Fosters, who declined to be photographed for the interview, met on the soccer field at Ashland University, where both starred for their varsity teams.

“There’s not a lot of women who would have stayed with me,” Scott says. “I’ve got one of the strongest women on earth, and that gives me the strength to fight.”

Daughter didn’t know

Two of their children, an 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, are young enough that their peers have no grasp of the situation. That is not the case with their 13-year-old daughter, who had been completely unaware of her father’s offenses.

The day the Ducks firing hit the news, the Fosters went to her school and talked to the principal, who long has known about the conviction. The parents took their daughter home and told her the full story, a story they had worked hard to shield her from.

“I was really concerned that she would catch flak, and she did,” her father says. “The next day and the days since have been horrible for her in school.”

He is confident she will be able to handle it, though, because “we’ve done a pretty good job grounding her with the church.”

Faith has played a huge part in Foster’s comeback. He credits Medina County Jail chaplain Larry Jarvis with pointing him in the right direction. Jarvis “put me back on a path toward Christ, which helped in every aspect of my life.”

Foster is well-aware that claims of a religious conversion often are met with skepticism.

“People will sometimes say, ‘It’s such a cop-out that prisoners find God while they’re incarcerated.’ It’s the easiest place to find him, because all the distractions of life are peeled away, and you’re surrounded by quiet.”

Picked up jobs

In terms of work, Foster’s comeback was smoother than you might expect. He won his first post-conviction job, with an IT recruiting firm, while still under house arrest.

But after two months, “someone found out, and the whole office walked out. They said, ‘Either he goes or we all go.’ [The owner] was faced with losing his entire staff. So, unfortunately, he let me go, which we couldn’t fault him for. What was he going to do?”

(Foster declines to identify former employers to save them from potential public scorn.)

After he was fired by the IT firm, Foster went to work for a longtime friend of his mother. During his seven years in that job, he moved from the lowest rung to “eventually managing cleaning services across this entire part of the country.”

He then was able to increase his income via a friend at his church, who connected him with a business that performs installations. Foster got along so well with the owner, he says, that “he entrusted me with the company once he passed away. I’m in the process of keeping his legacy going.”

In addition, Foster and his wife are partners in a DJ business and wedding company they started in 2004.

Vicious cycle

Foster is disappointed with losing the announcing gig, which he hoped could lead to other things, such as voice work or even a move up to the major leagues. But he doesn’t blame the Ducks. The blame, he believes, belongs with the entire culture.

“We as a society seem to be open to the idea of forgiveness and redemption,” he says. “You look at cases like Michael Vick [the football player who served 21 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring].

“There are all kinds of cases out there where [famous] people are given more opportunities and second chances. And I hate to think that’s just based on their wealth and their stature.”

During his six months in jail, Foster met plenty of folks who were badly lacking in both wealth and stature. Some of them became his friends. They nicknamed him “Teach” and looked out for him; he helped them learn to read and write.

Foster has vivid memories of a conversation he had with one of those men.

“He says, ‘I had a good job. I made a mistake. I served my time. I went back out and did everything I was supposed to do. I’ve got a family of five, and I can’t get a job that will pay me more than minimum wage. I cannot take care of a family of five for $7 or $8 an hour.’

“And as a result, he started dealing drugs again and got in trouble again.

“The cycle just continues, over and over and over again. I had to have met 200-300 guys with similar stories. It’s just overwhelming.”

Recidivism rates prove his point.

But recidivism rates aren’t exactly 100 percent.

Our little old lady from Orrville very much believes in redemption, and she wishes the rest of us would climb on board.

Her husband feels the same way.

“Jim and I are really strong Christians,” she says in a follow-up conversation. “That’s one of the things that guides our thoughts. And this just really upsets us. ...

“The guy paid his dues.”

But the bills keep coming. by Bob Dyer

No comments: