Amplified Voices

Joe & Amy: Building Strength and Family Despite the System - Season 5 Episode 3

May 28, 2024 Amber & Jason - Criminal Legal Reform Advocates with Lived Experience Season 5 Episode 2
Joe & Amy: Building Strength and Family Despite the System - Season 5 Episode 3
Amplified Voices
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Amplified Voices
Joe & Amy: Building Strength and Family Despite the System - Season 5 Episode 3
May 28, 2024 Season 5 Episode 2
Amber & Jason - Criminal Legal Reform Advocates with Lived Experience

What happens when a career in law enforcement collides with unexpected personal and legal challenges? In this episode of Amplified Voices, Amber and Jason discover Joe and Amy's extraordinary journey. Joe, a former law enforcement officer, shares his story of camaraderie and disillusionment within the justice system. He opens up about his middle-class upbringing in Michigan, his educational and athletic pursuits, and what he saw in the system that led him to adopt a more empathetic view towards incarcerated people.

Joe recounts the bewildering experience of facing allegations that challenged his understanding of the law and his own actions. Explore the profound impact on Joe and Amy's life as they navigate post-incarceration challenges, from probation and registry restrictions to societal judgment. Learn how they built a supportive relationship and a loving environment for their son, despite encountering significant hurdles like employment difficulties and community stigma. Together, Joe and Amy's story is a testament to the power of resilience, the strength of familial support, and the ongoing fight for justice and fair treatment.

Organizations mentioned in the episode:
United Voices for Sex Offense Reform
Women Against Registry

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What happens when a career in law enforcement collides with unexpected personal and legal challenges? In this episode of Amplified Voices, Amber and Jason discover Joe and Amy's extraordinary journey. Joe, a former law enforcement officer, shares his story of camaraderie and disillusionment within the justice system. He opens up about his middle-class upbringing in Michigan, his educational and athletic pursuits, and what he saw in the system that led him to adopt a more empathetic view towards incarcerated people.

Joe recounts the bewildering experience of facing allegations that challenged his understanding of the law and his own actions. Explore the profound impact on Joe and Amy's life as they navigate post-incarceration challenges, from probation and registry restrictions to societal judgment. Learn how they built a supportive relationship and a loving environment for their son, despite encountering significant hurdles like employment difficulties and community stigma. Together, Joe and Amy's story is a testament to the power of resilience, the strength of familial support, and the ongoing fight for justice and fair treatment.

Organizations mentioned in the episode:
United Voices for Sex Offense Reform
Women Against Registry

Support the Show.

Intro:

Everyone has a voice, a story to tell. Some are marginalized and muted. What if there were a way to amplify those stories, to have conversations with real people in real communities, a way to help them step into the power of their lived experience? Welcome to Amplified Voices, a podcast lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system. Together, we can create positive change for everyone.

Jason:

Hello and welcome to another episode of Amplified Voices. I'm your host, Jason, here with my co-host, Amber. Good morning, Amber.

Amber:

Good morning Jason.

Jason:

Hey, amber. Today we have our first couple on the podcast. It's Joe and Amy. Good morning, joe and Amy. Good morning. How are you? It's great to have you here. So we're going to start by asking Joe to tell us a little bit about your life before the criminal legal system and what brought you into it.

Joe:

So I actually grew up in Michigan. I had a pretty normal childhood. I had nothing crazy, nothing traumatic. My parents were married my entire life. My dad worked a swing shift so he was coming and going a lot pretty frequently, which wasn't normal I guess in my neighborhood. Brothers and sisters I have one brother, no sisters. We went on vacations when we could. We weren't rich, we were more of a middle-class family.

Amber:

What kind of things did you do for fun when you were younger?

Joe:

Growing up back then I would say the late 80s, early 90s it was a typical childhood. Growing up in a neighborhood full of kids the same age, we all played from wake up until we went to bed and the street lights came on. The only time we came back home was for lunch maybe, and we had to be home for five o'clock dinner every night and then back outside again until the lights came on. We did everything we had a field behind my house, so so we would play football, baseball, street hockey, you name it. We did it growing up. We caused some problems, but nothing that I wouldn't say kids didn't cause.

Jason:

So you were one of the neighborhood kids, just hanging out doing what kids did in the 80s and 90s. And then school were you a student? Were you into sports? Were you into music? What was your thing?

Joe:

As my wife will uh confirm, I am not musically inclined. Um, I'm what I would call the dumb jock. Growing up in school I was a c student. I was in some special ed classes for math and science. I played football, I ran track. I was captain both teams. I'm very athletic maybe not now, but I was. I was very athletic and that's just what I enjoy doing. I struggled at school a little bit but I made my way through it. C student I always say C is get your degrees and so do D sometimes.

Joe:

I attempted college right out of high school. I didn't like it so I opted to not go to college and focus on working and making money, decide what I wanted to do for a living. I had a teacher that actually in high school that told me I would probably be really good at law enforcement and I kind of laughed at him back then. And then after high school I was like you know, it does interest me really a lot. So I majored in criminal justice and sadly I never graduated with that degree but it actually got me into law enforcement. I did an internship with a local agency. I felt more in love with it so I really put a focus on that and through hard work and dedication and a lot of luck, I would say I actually became a cop.

Jason:

So you're a police officer for how many years?

Joe:

I was a police officer for actually three years Exactly. I actually yeah, I actually left the force or forced off the force.

Jason:

Forced off the force, so I think it's is this the right time to get into it? What happened?

Joe:

Yeah, so I went to law enforcement. I became a sheriff in the area and I was working, sometimes in a jail, sometimes the court, sometimes I would do other things for them and I was doing really well. I was liked by my command staff. I was like by my fellow officers. We used to play jokes on people when they would leave the computer to go places, on people when they would leave the computer to go places. We would uh, a lot of people would just leave the sign on on the computers and as jokes.

Joe:

A lot of times we would play jokes on other officers we would, you know, post on their facebook feeds or myspace if it was still around back then and stuff like that. You know that they were coming out of the closet or just jokes that you know weren't harmful to people, but they can make you mad. Sometimes it was a frat-like culture. Yeah, we were a lot of young officers. It was pretty young force. I mean it was kind of a frat-like environment. Yeah, especially in the jails we really had nothing to do besides to harass people each other not inmates each other and yeah, they kind of took on a frat like environment where it's free for all what ages?

Joe:

you were 20 I was 20, 25 I think when I started. I think I didn't believe in the force when I was like 28, I believe. So it was going great. I did work in the court for a little while too, and that's kind of where I learned the justice system and how I viewed it as a twisted system. I started losing faith in it when I was working in the court, when I would see people who I believe were firmly innocent people get convicted and go to jail. And I started looking at that and watching prosecutors and defensive attorneys going out to lunch together and laughing about stuff and I'm like this isn't normal, this isn't right, it shouldn't be like this.

Jason:

So did that create like an identity crisis for you? You're thinking like are we the baddies?

Joe:

It kind of did. It also made me more compassionate, I would say, towards the inmates and kind of understand them a little better, and I would just talk to them about their problems and what was going on and try to give advice that if you want to change your life, only you can change it and the best way to change it is don't go back to the same environment you were in that got you in this situation, because that's all it's going to do.

Amber:

And so, joe I think what I'm hearing is there started to be a certain awareness, when you were working in the courts, of some of the injustices of the system. Someone who was on the front end of that system, how did that inform the way that you interacted with people?

Joe:

as a police officer, it made me more aware of how twisted the system is and how the media also only releases the information they want you to see and hear. But as far as how it impacted me in everyday life, as far as meeting people, talking to people, inmates, stuff like that it just made me more aware of them and that they're not horrible people and they just made horrible mistakes and they got caught up in a system that is not out to help them, it's just out to hold them back and hurt them. And that was my biggest thing when I would talk to people that were incarcerated as I was working. There was try to talk to people and help them realize, if you are in a bad situation that got you here, the only way to get out of that situation is to do it for yourself and you have to change your life.

Joe:

And who you hang around with and I always joked, but they're not going to joke with them I told them are those people visiting you in jail? Probably not. If they're not visiting you in jail, are they really your friends and your family? Because your friends and your family, the true ones, are the ones that come to jail and visit you, the ones that put money on your books, the ones that help you out, and if they're not here doing that, they're probably not good to have around you. That's how I would say. It changed my view on the system was that you're not innocent until proven guilty. You're more guilty until proven innocent in this country. Now, are we really doing what's best for these people? We're not helping them, we're hurting them, right, and that kind of what changed my thought.

Amber:

And so what happened that brought you even closer to a fuller understanding of the system.

Joe:

Everything was going great in my life. I mean, I was making good money, I was young, I was living a kind of a wild life, kind of a fast life. I was drinking quite a bit socially with my friends after work. And I got a phone call one day from my mom, asked me if I was sitting down. And I was like, okay, yeah. And she's like, well, your dad's going to go to the hospital. He's not feeling good, he's tingling in his feet. And I was like, okay, well, my dad's not a hospital person, not a doctor person. I I was like, okay, well, my dad's not a hospital person, not a doctor person. I said, okay, well, just keep me updated. I'm at work, just keep me updated if something happens. But he should be fine.

Joe:

Four hours later in my shift I got another phone call from my mom, who I thought was just going to be a hey, we're out of the hospital phone call. And it was hey, I got to talk to you about something. I said, okay, and she's like your dad's paralyzed. And I'm like wait a minute. My dad drove to the hospital, my dad walked into the hospital how is my dad paralyzed? And we went through this whole story. Everything happened and at that point he was diagnosed a few days later with stage four cancer. So I was able to to take out FMLA and I was able to travel to and from where the state they were in and spend time with my dad and really sorry, it's hard, it's okay.

Amber:

No, take the time you need.

Joe:

Bond with him and spend time with him. During that time period I was going through a lot. I was still working and I was traveling I would say three or four times in two months that I would go to and from that state. Um, I had free reign to do that. My command staff was very understanding, very supportive of it, so they were great. When I came back home, my dad had passed away and I took some time off work.

Joe:

I came back to work about a week after my dad passed and I started noticing kind of weird messages popping up on my instant messengers for people's names I didn't really recognize. But at the same time, like I said, I was kind of living a pretty fast life in a way. I was meeting a lot of people, whether it be out in public or it be a bar, whether it be online, trying. I was single, I was trying to get a girlfriend or something you know, and the time I had no kids and I'm 27, 20 years old, I had a good job. I had no kids. I hadn't you know. I was kind of a catch at the time, I guess you would say, you know, and I was trying to find someone and I would meet lots of people. So random names popping up on my messenger wasn't really a red flag. I didn't think nothing of it. After a while I was kind of like, okay, well, this is kind of getting weird. I had one that popped up a few times and a couple times here and there, and I would make small talk and nothing big. I wouldn't ask to meet up with this person, nothing like that, never exchanged pictures of nudity or anything.

Joe:

And then randomly, about two, two and a half weeks after my dad had passed away and I went back to work, I get a knock on my door and it ended up being internet crime in my apartment and it threw me for a loop. At first I was like, hey guys, come on in, what do you guys need? I thought they were just working in the area and they just happened to stop in my house. So I was just, well, open up in my house, come on in, what are you guys doing in the area? And they said, well, we've got to talk to you. And I was like, okay. And they said, well, can we go anywhere? We can sit.

Joe:

Everything kind of changed at that point and that's when they enlightened me that they said me. And then they said or somebody that may have gained access to your accounts was we're talking to a minor. And at that time I was honestly just kind of blown away. I was like, oh okay, well, I can guarantee you I haven't done nothing.

Joe:

If you need anything like laptops, cell phones, anything you need, I'll give it to you. I'm gonna prove I'm innocent here. And they said okay. And they said we have a warrant and I, like you don't need the warrant, I'll give you anything you need. And they said okay. So they sat down and we talked and everything that we talked about because I was law enforcement we are allowed a little bit of leeway with what we say and I was told it was not going to be put on the record. I said okay and I talked to him, I mean openly, freely. They searched my apartment. I gave them everything they needed, like I said, I told them you'll need a warrant, you have anything you want, you know. And at that point I started realizing wait a these instant messengers that were popping up, not knowing who they were pretty stupid on my behalf to talk to these people without asking other questions.

Jason:

And just for clarity here, these chats took a sexual yes.

Joe:

Some of them. Well, yeah, some of them did, but not really they weren't. My chats were not in a sexual rule of nature and that's kind of where I was confused. I was blown away. You know, like why, if I did talk to somebody who was underage, I know I didn't try to meet them, I know I wasn't trying to hook up with them, I know I wasn't asking for nudes, I know I wasn't doing any of this stuff, so I didn't break a law. Why are you here? And you know there's. Well, you're talking to a minor. I said, okay, but if I'm just talking to somebody, I'm not breaking a law. And they said, well, the nature of some of these conversations that we've seen, I again, you can have my laptop, you can have my cell phones, you can do anything you want with them. I'm not doing anything wrong.

Joe:

I ended up being moved to a different jail to work on what's called like a punishment area, and I sat there for six months, working every day, doing my job as if normal and not hearing anything. And then one day I got a phone call from the union steward letting me know that they're pressing charges against me. It's like again now. I'm shocked, I'm blown away. It's been six months, I'm not doing anything wrong and now I'm facing charges for something that I don't fully understand.

Joe:

I turned myself in, I did all the things I had to do and the biggest thing was when I went to court. Internet crime stood there and when they're talking about my bond, originally it was supposed to be set very high and internet crime spoke in court to the judge and stated that they did not believe I would be a flight risk. They did not believe that I'm going to do any harm to anybody. They did not believe that I actually did anything wrong. And they said when they had searched my computer and searched my phone, they were the cleanest phone and computer they've ever searched.

Joe:

The only messages that were in a sexual nature were messages that were taken from my work computer. And that's kind of when the light bulb really got bright on me and I realized those jokes we were doing as the frat boy, jokes of just hey, Joe's coming out of the closet, blah, blah, blah, those escalated and those turned into a joke gone wrong, or so I thought, and it got me in trouble and I actually chose to fight the prosecutor because I firmly felt that I did nothing wrong. So if it's not on my home computer, it's not on my cell phone, it's only on a work computer that I shared with other people. Even though it's on my sign on, I can beat this case.

Amber:

So I have a couple of questions and thoughts, if you'll indulge me, if you don't mind. So one of the things that struck me was this idea that so, first of all, when Internet crimes came to your home, these are people that you either know or know of, because essentially these are colleagues. Are these colleagues of yours? Is a different department of people that you don't know? What did that look like?

Joe:

They worked in the same building as me. I knew them. I knew them by name. I knew them by first name. My mom actually met these people Right After my dad had passed away the commanding officer in my jail. That work then granted my mother a pass to take a tour of the jail so she could see it and she met them.

Amber:

Yeah. So my follow up to that is and because we do try to have some difficult conversations here on Amplified Voices, to have some difficult conversations here on Amplified Voices Because you were in law enforcement, do you feel that there was a different way that your case was handled?

Joe:

Yeah, so they didn't store my house with a SWAT team. They didn't show up with 10 guys like they probably would have for any normal situation. They showed up with one lieutenant and they showed up with two internet crime officers and that was it. It was just three people and I knew all three people. I think internet crime actually was standing up for me and they were legitimately trying to say he's not this person and I fell on deaf ears. So, yeah, I believe I was given special treatment.

Joe:

I was still allowed to work for six months and then, when it became time that the prosecutor really got involved, then it kind of became a let's get them kind of mentality. I feel like I became the Patsy, I became the fall boy. They wanted to get somebody and they thought they could get me and they thought I would just crumble down and just give up and say, okay, I'm done, I quit. I always was taught to fight for what was right. It's the lesson my dad always taught me Throughout the family.

Joe:

I got a good lawyer. My lawyer actually is and was a prosecutor for other counties in the areas around me. He did the best he could and I fought and we fought. We dragged this thing on for six or eight months, fighting to try to prove my innocence, and at one point we had a very, very good agreement that I was going to plead down to a misdemeanor and no registry and all I had to do was quit my job and walk away. And I was either that or I was facing 12 or 14 years some of that in jail. So I was going to do it. But then when that went up the ladder to that prosecutor, that was a no go. They denied it. But then when that went up the ladder to that prosecutor, that was a no-go they denied it.

Jason:

So you're standing firm and you also know that if you are convicted and you go to prison, it's going to be quite an interesting thing for somebody who was in law enforcement to be incarcerated, right.

Joe:

Yeah, because, again, I worked in the court. I've seen people go to jail, seen people go to prison who I believe were innocent, and I've heard people jurors say they must be guilty because the cops got them, or I don't want to be here so they must be guilty. I just want to go home and I knew that. And I also knew that, being a sex offense, I'm going to be classified. The worst of the worst, and being ex-law enforcement at that point, that's even worse. I might not ever leave jail person. I might not ever leave. We continued to fight and it finally came down to my option was I take the case to trial, faced up to the 14 years in prison, or I could take this plea that was given to me the day or two days before the court. That would be six months county jail, four years probation, but I had to register as a sex offender, even though my crime at the time was not a registerable offense. They were going to make me register anyway.

Jason:

And for what length of time?

Joe:

25 years. So I talked it over with my family and it was a hard decision. But, as my family told me, I'm never really a gambling person and I know how the legal system would work. It would be a no brainer for me to probably just accept the plea do my time, get out and start rebuilding my life. I know how to quote-unquote do time in jail. I watched everybody do it. I knew how to lay low. I knew what to say, what not to say.

Jason:

So how was reality versus your expectation?

Joe:

to say what not to say. So how was reality versus your expectation? So part of I argued back I would accept this, but I want to be guaranteed court order protective custody for my own safety and I'll agree to that. Now let's fast forward to the day that I was sentenced. Even the judge gave me tons of leeway as far as I was found guilty and I asked to go to jail that day and the judge actually told me no. The judge said I want you to go home. I want you to have one month to gather your life and get things in order before you go to jail. And I'm giving you that professional courtesy which kind of blew me away. Again, I got some courtesy in the legal system that most people would have never got. That courtesy hey, you're guilty but you can go home.

Amber:

I really appreciate you sharing those things and laying them out, because I think the story is really important and it does underscore that the system, once it sort of starts rolling, it's a train that is very difficult to stop, regardless of who you are. So when you say protective custody, Regardless of who you are.

Joe:

So when you say protective custody which actually was just segregation I was put into a cell. It's called kind of a KPS-type cell. If we had any high-profile people, that's where they would go. I would have had my own bathroom, I would have had my own TV, I would have had everything, and that, to me, was my safety net.

Joe:

I spent all of about six hours in that actual cell before the head sheriff decided to move me against my will to a different county to do the rest of my time I knew I was safe where I was and they said I wasn't safe. They said that I was an escape risk, which I laughed because I had six months. Why am I running? So they almost forcefully moved me. They surrounded me with about four or five officers and that's when I asked what was going on and they told me I was getting moved and I tried to fight that and I lost that fight too. So I told them I said you don't got to do this, you don't got to surround me by officers. I know what you're doing. Yeah, just just take me. So they moved me to a different county that was over an hour away, and that was hard, because now I'm over an hour away from my family. I don't want to drive over an hour to see me. That was my thought, right?

Amber:

so yeah, um, it was, uh, it was tough what is the time that elapsed that you were incarcerated?

Joe:

when they moved me from my county to another county, the county I was being housed in, they had no control over me. They had to do whatever my county said to do with me. Nobody kind of knew what was going on. I would ask for my out date and, yeah, I would get the letter back saying I had no out date. And everybody has an out date. Why don't I have an out date? It's because that colony had no, they had no right over me. They were just holding me for somebody else. So I couldn't get no information and I had to take an officer out of the area and talk to that person in private and let them know who I was, where, where I was from, what was going on with me. And when I let him into the office he was like, oh, you're the guy, you're the one that's here. And I said, yeah, it's me. And he was like, yeah, a bunch of us looked at your stuff. We don't understand why you're here, and you know well, I don't either, but I'm here.

Jason:

So at some point you get released and then you are single and you're on probation right and you meet a woman.

Joe:

Yeah. So I got released. I was on probation, I was registered and I was also doing treatment classes and I got a job. I was working at a restaurant and I met a girl there and we just started talking as friends. She reached out to me one night on New Year's. She said that her boyfriend just broke up with her and I said, okay, well, on New Year's I was at my cousin's house On New Year's.

Amy:

On New Year's he broke up with you on New.

Jason:

Year's.

Amy:

He did. Yeah, I had a not great on and off relationship I guess. But you know, from my perspective, I had known Joe for about a year because I had worked with him in the restaurant, knew he was a stand-up guy, honestly thought he was married. Because I'm like you know, how could you know this type of guy, not already have somebody? Because you know he's just very kind, just a great person to work with. And yeah, we started talking a little bit and things kind of went well. I just admired who he was as a person and I started to fall in love with him.

Jason:

So you reached out to him and said I need a New Year's date.

Amy:

Yeah, I just wanted somebody to talk to. That's all it was. I just wanted somebody to talk to. From there we started dating.

Joe:

And, honestly, I actually pulled her on the first date. Yeah, I told her the very first day yeah, what was going on with you? And I was on the registry. This is what happened, so I didn't want to start something that never come out later, right, and then destroy the whole relationship. It's going to destroy the relationship.

Amy:

Let's just destroy it right now yeah, I think it's very, very important for anyone who has any type of history, like, just just get it out at first. Because if that person knows you like in my, in our example, like I knew him for about a year before I knew what type of person he was, like I was just shocked when he told me I'm like no, that's, that's not you, that is not possible. And like I from there, like I was like you know what this is ridiculous and I like from what you had told me, you know, I really want to, you know, even if things don't work out, like, I'm going to be here for you. But I mean, luckily for us. It's been 12 years and where this is our, our 10th year anniversary. We're celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary this year.

Jason:

Amy, was there a moment where you thought to yourself no, I'm not doing this Like I'm not?

Amy:

I just I thought it was wrong. Like I thought he got trapped up and screwed over by the legal system because of technicalities. When we first got together, like I knew, he was living with a family member at the time and he was having some problems with him so he wanted to try and move out into housing and I know at that time it was a struggle.

Joe:

At the time Michigan had in their registry requirements you couldn't live in a quarter mile of school. We lived at the time in a pretty big area. There are schools that are everywhere. It made finding a place to live pretty difficult, even an apartment.

Amy:

So I had always lived with family before I met Joe and we just decided to move in together.

Amber:

I have a question actually. So, because you were under supervision at the time, were there requirements that you had to follow in either treatment or probation to disclose you were having a relationship? Was there anything that was required of your partner in order to be in that relationship?

Joe:

At the time I had a very, very strict probation officer. She actually did not like the fact that I was former law enforcement. She actually told me to my face she didn't like it and that she thought I thought I was better than her. She didn't like me and she advised me not to date anybody. This is the first time I ever met her and I said, whatever, I'm staying away anyway. Then, when I met Amy, everything kind of changed and I actually asked Amy if she would be willing to come with me to one of my probation meetings with my probation officer, just so they could meet. But she met my probation officer and it didn't go as bad as I thought it would. Actually she didn't have a problem with Amy. And then I got a new probation officer and that person was really good. That person was very, very leaned in and everything. And again, amy met her too, and I wasn't forced to do that, I just did that because I felt like this is the best avenue to go.

Joe:

And then we decided that we're going to find a house and that whole problem came up again with where to live. And you know, we found a house and it was a great house. You know. We did get married and at one point we were on our honeymoon and found out when we got back from our honeymoon that somebody found out in the neighborhood and they went door to door in the neighborhood with a flyer and let everybody know. And at this point we thought, oh God, this is it, we're going to be hated. And I told her we got to hunker down, we're not moving, I'm not running.

Joe:

So we stayed and it was great because I talked to the one neighbor across street that's how I found out about this and he just said he was at a wedding. He just said give me a little bit of time, let me process all this. Okay. I said I just want you know, I didn't lie to you. You never asked so and it took maybe about six months and after that things were kind of back to normal again. I mean it never became a problem at the first house. All the neighbors were friendly, they all waved at us, talked to us. We would have block parties. We just decided that we wanted to get a bigger, better house. We wanted more of a country life. Now we're married and now we have a son. So we wanted him to grow up in an environment different from what we grew up at. We wanted him to see horses, we wanted him to ride dirt bikes and four-wheelers. So we moved and that's kind of where things started going bad.

Amy:

Yeah, they took a turn again, but I guess real quick. Going back to I know this is a while earlier in the conversation when you had to go to treatment. So your probation officers, they were asking me questions related to like how is he treating me? I'm like, well, this person is like mounds better than the person that I was with before, because this person does not verbally abuse me. This person does not like physically nothing. He opens car doors for me, like I'm telling you my, my now husband, is a gentleman in all rounded aspects. Couldn't ask for anything better.

Jason:

And you're, he's, he's's, he's misting up over here as you're talking, because people can't see, but I just want to share that I was raised, right you and it shows, it shows there's a lot of. There's a lot of love on screen for those people who are listening.

Amy:

Just want to share that 100 percent um, I mean, we're trying to raise our son the same way, right, but the registry is not for the faint of heart. So in our first home we did have some issues with a vigilante. We never found out who that was, but after a while we just kept to ourselves and, honestly, at one point we even made really good friends with a woman and her son, who's the same age as ours, down the street we're still best friends with them to this day. My son goes over their house. Like we both have moved at this point.

Joe:

we do a lot of things together and we told her everything a couple months a couple months after we met her yep, um, I didn't want to come out later and have her second guess. Oh my god, my kid's been over there. So we came out, we talked to her and stuff and it went good.

Amber:

So I really appreciate you talking about particularly now that you have a child, and how relationships with neighbors and friends are going, because we in this episode we talked about the registry, and if somebody stumbles upon this episode and doesn't necessarily know what the registry is, I just want to clarify a little bit are required to register with the state, which then puts their information online for everyone to see, showing their crime, their address and other various information. So one of the things that is striking me as very touching, Joe and Amy, is there's been a thread of transparency throughout this entire story, giving the information disclosing to people wanting to be honest and just wanting to do the right thing, and so I appreciate you really highlighting that and sharing that with folks, because, at the end of the day, Because at the end of the day, information without context of who someone actually is stokes fear and is very harmful. So thank you for really sharing that part of your story.

Jason:

And I just want to add on to that. I just know that it's never easy, right? Because for Joe having to disclose to Amy when they first met, and every single time you meet somebody like, and you have to make that calculation when, is too soon. I've heard so many people ask this question when is the right time? It's all this extra baggage and it sounds like you have the secret sauce Like you found it. You found what works for you us like.

Joe:

You found it. You found what works for you. So, to touch on that, there was a few people we did not tell and that would be her family.

Joe:

We never told her family. They know now we opted not to tell the family. There was reason around it. I didn't want them judging me. I wanted to build a trust factor but, like there's a lot of juggling act and we got to a point where we missed the opportunity to say something. Now it's over withholding information. And then through the years I've worked a couple different places. A lot of families helped me find jobs and I really appreciated for that. I had found a job working for a massive corporation. It was going to be my opportunity to step up in this family and really provide. I admitted everything on my application. They did a background check. They found it. They asked me to write a letter to them explaining what happened. So I wrote a letter. Shockingly, they hired me and I was happy.

Joe:

One of my friends, actually, who I met in my therapy class in my session, was working there. He just got hired about a year before me. Since he was there, he was on the registry. I knew I could get in. So we were both working there and it was just went on for 11 and a half months and then we started getting harassed by a coworker there. They found us on the registry. I decided to handle the proper way and I went to HR along with him. We both went to HR. We both complained that we're being harassed and they said, okay, this will not come back on you guys, you're protected.

Joe:

That lasted two days. Two days later we were phone called when we were off work and we were told we were fired. And we asked why. And they said, well, because your and I said but you knew about what criminal past you knew it. They said well, we made a mistake when we hired you. I said a mistake is a mistake. You do once, not when you do it twice. And there's another person on the registry working at this corporation in the same complex as us. Are you firing them too? Corporation in the same complex as us, are you firing them too? They said, well, no, so we were let go based upon that. We were being harassed and they couldn't prove who it was because they used like a google spoofed phone number kind of thing. But we lost our jobs because of this, and then that caused a marital problem with me and Amy. We were fighting and I don't like to bring it up, but she left the house for a few days During that time period she told her family.

Jason:

So did it just become too much?

Amy:

Yeah, at that point I was like, look, it's the registry, I needed a little bit of a break. I it's the label, like obviously, like I feel like that company that he worked for just didn't want anything, because whoever was harassing him could obviously like they could honestly go public and just bash the company, saying you know a bunch of people on the registry work here and it's not a great company and and I understand, I see that side. But at the same time, like these are people. They didn't do anything, they were giving you, they had a great work ethic, like he got. I want to say, joe, you got a promotion or two, or you were. Just he was on his way up.

Joe:

He got an accommodation for being one of the harder working people during the inspection.

Amy:

I've been going through school I was trying to finish up my bachelor's degree at that time and I just I needed a break, and at this time we had a son as well. So we were in a little bit of a gray area for a couple of days.

Amber:

So at that point I'm just like we got to tell my folks because I'm sick of hiding it. I'm actually getting a little teared up hearing this only because this is something that is very common and I appreciate you not omitting how this life under the oppression of the registry can cause problems within a family, and I'm hearing. The reason I'm tearing up is because I'm hearing a certain apologetic nature oh, we had this fight, you don't need to apologize, is my point, because this life is very, very difficult. Life is very, very difficult and the idea that it would cause strife within a family and tension is just expected. It's designed and, having worked with so many, particularly women, who support people on the registry across the country, this is not a unique story. It's very, very difficult. This is part of the journey. So again, thank you for sharing that. And so you had to tell your family, and the reason it's difficult to tell family is because you actually care about what they think. Let's hear a little bit about when you told your family what happened.

Amy:

I think we waited. Oh gosh it was seven years. Yeah.

Joe:

She made the decision, she was actually at her brother's house for a few days, and when she told me she was going to tell her family, that's when I thought, well, I guess his marriage is over.

Amy:

I called my mom in the car and I told her I'm like I was upset at the time, I'm like this is what happened to him and he has this still and it's just, it's not fair, and I don't know what to do and I just need a break for a while. And she's like okay, hey, amy, look at what you have, look at what you felt. This person is not that person. And she just didn't care. She was just trying to. She was telling me all of the good things about Joe and she was like, so what? And it's irrelevant at this point. What's happening to him isn't fair. And then I called my dad and he said the same things and I'm like, okay, wait a minute. I know I have a good person in my life. He is my soulmate, he is my other half. I feel like I can tell him anything and he won't judge me.

Joe:

I will say when she told me about her dad, that was a big one for me. I respect her dad a lot. He's a very, very, very smart man. He's accomplished a ton in his life. He holds very high positions. He told me that he supports me 100%. He advised Amy to come back and give me another chance and to talk to me and we could work through it. So I just want to say like it was a huge weight lifted and it's just I'm so emotional about it. More importantly, it made amy feel better, made her life a lot easier because she wasn't living a lie, no more, and I'm very grateful for her family and for her. She's been huge in my life. She's been in my route.

Jason:

Let's take this story to the action. So what are the things you're doing to make change?

Amy:

So at that point when the job loss happened, I tried to write some letters. I didn't really get much traction. We honestly were looking for attorneys at that point because I'm like this was wrong, what happened to Joe, and I want something to come out of it. And unfortunately we weren't able to get any traction there and it just kind of died for a little while. But this is the best blessing in disguise, because joe found another job through a friend of family member and he turned his life around again about 180 degrees and now he has a professional career in a good industry where he'll always find work and probably makes double or triple what he did before. I can heavily support our family.

Amy:

It took me about eight years to graduate from college because I was working full-time, had a child. Life is difficult and trying to fit school in the mix is not easy. So I had finally graduated with my bachelor's degree and we wanted to move. We wanted to find our dream home and we looked. We had a good realtor. She found us a great deal on a home and we were like this is it. We're going to move, we have our dream home. We moved from the city to a rural area and this is going to be it.

Joe:

Being in the situation that I was in, I felt amazing that I bought this myself, all by myself. I'm, for once, providing our dream home and I was making more money than my college-educated wife and I did it. It was a very proud moment for me to do that and to show my son because we don't hide this from my son my son knows everything and he's young but he knows everything and to show to him that hey, dad could still do this, Dad could still be a dad and he can make good money and still support this family. It gave me such a good sense of well-being. And then the spin. And then the spin.

Amy:

So we moved into our dream home and we were here for about I think four months. We had met some of the spin and then the spin. So we moved into our dream home and we were here for about I think four months. We had met some of the neighbors. Everyone out where we're at is generally nice, cordial. My son actually has a couple friends in the neighborhood and he goes and plays with the kids there. It's great. However, we have one neighbor who is somewhat of a vigilante and the registry gave her a lot of she got an alert that a offender had moved into the area, and that's where this all starts it started spiraling so we actually had a property issue.

Amy:

So that is the number one issue that came about and from that, from the property issue, we didn't file suit till months later because of some actions that were taken from this vigilante person. It's been terrible. Like she has brought my son into this and I'm actually going in therapy because I have a very hard time dealing with that. At this point I'd love to move, but we have gone through not to this extent before, but we have gone through something like this for a little bit in our first home. So at this point we're just trying to stay and hunker down and get through it. So I just have a quick question.

Amber:

You're referring to this person as a vigilante. So what you mean by that is this person has tried to leverage Joe's registry status with a lawsuit, or tried to spread information or has you know. Has this involved physical violence or is it more reputational violence?

Amy:

Yeah, so it's more as far as it's harassment and reputational. So they've we've had several police reports over the past year filed and the police won't do anything about it. They've lied to the police. Basically, from the understanding on my behalf, like from what I've read because I'm very analytical she's basically trying to get Joe in trouble for things that he didn't do and the police won't do anything about it. So at this point we're just hunkering down and just trying to live our lives. But in this, because of the actions, I've also advanced my advocacy journey. So I signed up for a couple groups. I did join the you before sor advocacy group and sean and kim and everyone in that group have been wonderful. I also joined war and ann has been great and all the speakers that come. I know you, both you and Jason, you and Amber have spoke. I haven't seen you speak but I feel like for myself that is a therapy in itself and I'll say the the law enforcement out here, where we are very small community.

Joe:

They have been amazing and I have no hatred towards law enforcement. What happened to me? I saw a family who were in law enforcement. When we talked to them that we had our first police incident out here. One of the neighbors and they found out went to the police station to let them know that a person on the registry had moved in right behind her and they said there's nothing we can do about that. He has a right to live out here same way you do. He's not doing anything wrong. So the police have been great. I have six-foot-high privacy fence all the way around my property. That's one of the reasons why we bought the house is we've got the privacy fence. It's in the rural area and shouldn't have no problems out here.

Amber:

So I think it's good to share that experience because there is a perception amongst people who have experienced such an oppression that there's no help for them, there's nothing that can be done, and the fact of the matter is sometimes that's true. Sometimes the stigma does influence people in systems Right, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes the buildup and this is the emotional harm of the labeling and the registry and the stigma and the registry and the stigma People perceive that there's no help for them. People perceive that their family won't understand or their friends won't understand if they share the information. Thank you for sharing that.

Amber:

I want to go back to two things that Amy said, just because she did mention two groups using acronyms that people may not know what those acronyms mean. She referred to the United Voices for Sex Offense Reform, which is an advocacy group that does national work and for people who are impacted by the registry and their families to be treated fairly and to change the laws. And then there is Women Against Registry, which she referred to, which is another great organization that is doing work and really specifically focusing on women and families who are banding together to say this is affecting us too and this is wrong. So I just wanted to just clear up those two great organizations that are doing some really good work.

Jason:

Just to tie back to thank you for that. So hopefully, that luck continues to grow and your relationships continue to grow and I hope that things are great from here on out. And I'm great to see both of you coming today to talk with us on the podcast and the advocacy work that you're doing. It's just tremendous. You're giving back, so thank you.

Joe:

I will say through the years. I mean I've been in the registry now for-.

Amy:

This is your 15th year. 15th year.

Joe:

Not a proud moment, but I will say though, through the years, like Amber said, I've had hard times registering. I've had agencies say you can only register from 10 to two, but not between 12 and one, because we're at lunch. Well, I got to work because I didn't trust the city that I lived in. I used to drive an hour to the state police to register because I knew they would do it. I knew they would do it the right way and they didn't judge me. When I walked in there they were treating me like a human. And then, when I moved out here, the lady who handles it out here when I spoke to her the first time, she said well, pardon me, she goes. If so, is it you registered at the state and you go an hour to do it? And I said, yeah, it's nothing against you, I don't trust city police. And she's like okay, well, can I ask why? And I told her what happened in my previous residence, can I ask why? And I told her what happened in my previous residence. And she was like well, I'm not that way, I don't do that. I firmly believe that you guys deserve a second chance. You guys did your time and you guys don't deserve to be on a list. It's not right. She's like. So if you want to come in here, I'd be more than happy to help you. If I need to come into work an hour early so you can do this, I'll do that for you, just so you are withholding up to your responsibilities. And that was like wow, like somebody actually wants to help us out here, and that was a great thing to have. I'm happy I'm able to be a dad, I'm able to take my kid to school every morning and drop him off, and there's days I get to go and pick him up from school, which is not many. I work late, but there are days that I do and I surprise him and he just runs out of school and just tackles me.

Joe:

But with that also became another problem. I mean, I went to go see him get an award and I was told I was not allowed in school and I told him that Michigan law prohibits you from saying that. There's no law saying I cannot be in his school in Michigan, you know, but they have the right being, it's their property and they told me I couldn't go in and see and I never got to see my son get an award. Since then I've talked to the school administration way up and they actually said next time to contact them ahead of time and they'll make arrangements and allow me to come into school so I can see it. I thought that's all I want. I will literally walk with a police officer to watch him get the award and walk out of the building. I don't care, I just want to be able to see it. That's part of being a parent. So that was taken from me one time and it's not going to happen again. I fought that too, so we keep fighting forward and knocking down walls.

Amy:

I've actually contemplated switching my career to law because of what we've been through and still debating it. But it's a heavy kind of sore subject in this house because it's a lot of schooling and we have a lot on our plate already and I'll say that, with her being part of these groups, this gave her a voice.

Joe:

This gave her people to talk to. Part of these groups, this gave her a voice. This gave her people to talk to and, honestly, it opened up this podcast because she brought up to me and I originally told her no, I don't want to do it. And then I was sitting in traffic one day and I texted her and said what's the name of the podcast? Because she knows I love podcasts. There's other podcasts I listen to that kind of along the same lines and I listen to your guys' podcast and I loved it.

Joe:

And that's when I reached out to Jason. I wanted to learn more about you two. I want to know who I was talking to. That's my self-trust issues is I want to know who I was talking to and I just want to say thank you to you guys for giving not only me, but giving everybody else a platform who may not be in my situation, but maybe in any situation a platform to come out and speak, because these voices need to be heard and it's a large group and we need to stand up.

Joe:

And one of the biggest influences in my life is Jelly Roll, the music artist and what he's been through. He's brought to life a lot of his life and how he's rebuilt his life and people aren't judging him for it, and that's kind of where I'm at now is. I want people to know what's happened and how. You know, this is affecting me not only for the six months I was in jail. It's affecting me 15 years later and I said that 10 more years ago and yet my wife and son they were never part of that, but, yeah, it's affecting them and that's not right. So that's why I agreed to do this was because you guys, your background and that I'm very grateful for you gave me an opportunity to share my story. I hope it gives somebody hope I was able to rebound and rebuild my life. My brother always says it's not about how many times you get knocked down, it's about how hard you fight to get back up on your feet and that's what I'm doing, Amber.

Jason:

I don't think we need a wrap up. I think Joe did it.

Amber:

I don't even have to ask my final question. That was so beautiful and I just want to thank you guys. This is the first time that we've had a couple come on together and we've covered a lot of ground, particularly about family life on the registry. That we have not covered before and I know for me personally it's been very meaningful to me as a person who lives under similar oppression, and I'm very excited to hear that you're taking your power back, because this is one of the worst injustices of the registry is that people don't believe that they deserve a place at the table.

Amber:

So whether that table is in family life, whether it's at your kid's school, whether that table is criminal legal reform, we need to recognize harm as harm. So whatever harm was caused during, whatever brought someone into the legal system, is dealt with in a certain way. But what we're not paying attention to is the state harm that is happening from the system, and so your story is a part of that, and so many stories of the guests that we've seen here in advocacy and around the country. So it's really great to have had you here, jason. Any last thoughts before we go.

Jason:

I'm just going to say thank you Amy, Thank you Joe, and until next time, Amber.

Amber:

We'll see you next time.

Outro:

You've been listening to Amplified Voices, a podcast listing the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system. For more information, episodes and podcast notes, visit AmplifiedVoicesshow.

Amplified Voices
Crisis
Navigating Relationships After Incarceration
Navigating Life on the Registry
Challenges and Triumphs of Rebuilding
Navigating Life on the Registry