A Shining Light (from a Trailer in Oklahoma)

Hi Readers —  Last summer I spent a day with Mary Duval, her son Ricky, and Ricky’s wife. Mary and Ricky were in town to appear on a John Stossel show about the country’s sex offender laws, mostly because Ricky had ended up on the sex offender registry at age 16. He’d met a girl at a club, had sex with her twice, and only later learned she’d been 13, not the 15 or so she’d told him she was. Anyway, the whole, harrowing story is here and I’ve written about it before. What brought Mary to Stossel’s attention is that she fought the law that turned her son into a “sex offender,” and eventually got it changed in her state. She even got her son’s conviction expunged. This kind of victory is rare. Other young men like Ricky are on the registry for life.

Injustice made Mary into the kind of activist they make movies about…when the activism doesn’t involve sex offenders. Just about the same time her son was convicted, she went blind from Marfan Syndrome. A divorcee, she moved the family to a trailer in the middle of Oklahoma, since Ricky couldn’t live many places in town. Sex offenders have to locate a certain distance from schools, churches, day care centers – any place children may congregate. (And yet bank robbers don’t have to live a certain distance from banks.  And murderers can live anywhere. Go figure.)

Anyway, that day Mary was in New York, we painted the town red. We went to Central Park, and Fifth Avenue and Chinatown. What’s really fun if you’re blind? We sailed into a fancy perfume store and soaked up all the scents, even as the snooty salesgirl glared at us. We went to Barney’s, the ultimate in chic, where a sloppy-looking handbag cost $3000, and Ricky and his wife took pictures of the crazy New York prices. It was a great day. And as we walked along, Mary’s cell phone kept ringing. “Who’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s a mom who’s been suicidal for about a year. Her son was 15, he got a sext from his girlfriend, who’s 17, but the prosecutor got him for kiddie porn.” Or, “Oh, that’s a mom whose son is on the sex offender registry – the cops found something on his computer. And now when anyone rings the bell at their house he has to answer the door, ‘I am a convicted sex offender.’ She’s having a hard time.” Another mom called, also upset. She had to take all the photos of relatives under the age 18 down from her walls, because her son was on the registry and that’s what his parole officer demanded.

The moms called Mary for strength. She listened, offered some bracing words, maybe snorted with gallows humor and told them to call her again anytime. “That mom who was suicidal? She’s finally coming out of it,” said Mary, sounding damn pleased. “She’s getting ready to fight.”

I wish I could say the same for Mary, but in the less than a year since I saw her, she was diagnosed with cancer and went through chemo. She managed to make it to a couple of legislative hearings to explain that while we all want our children to be safe from predators, some of the sex offender laws aren’t making that happen. In fact, they’re making our sons less safe. And then, very recently, she broke her back.

Right now, the word I’m hearing is that Mary is in a coma.  The prognosis is grim and her message machine is full.

Of course it is. The moms keep calling her. They need her. We all do.

Hoping for a miracle. – L.

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