Friday, March 15, 2013

A Sex Offender in the Neighborhood

Being a landlord is tough.  We've owned a rental for a dozen years now.  Each time we need to rent it out, it's incredibly stressful.  Will the people we pick take care of our house?  Will they be good to the neighbors?  Will they pay their rent on time? 

And since our rental is in the same neighborhood where we live, it adds another dimension of stress.  They will be our neighbors.  Their neighbors will be our neighbors.  If there are problems, we will hear about it and feel obligated to try to smooth things out.  The house is about two blocks away.  We all go to the same church.

Whenever it comes available I have neighbors and friends asking that we pick good church members who will add to our ward (parish).  Or requesting that we choose someone with young kids so their kids can have new friends to play with.  Or any of a number of other criteria.

I'm not going to lie.  My two biggest concerns are whether or not they will take care of our house and if they will pay their rent on time.  I want good people who aren't going to cause headaches for the neighborhood, and thereby for me, but that's just bonus.

A while back we had a sweet, young woman renting from us.  She'd had a rough life and was working to get back on her feet.  She was on state housing, so we knew we'd get our money.  We liked her.  And we've often used our rental as a way to help people get back on their feet.   We sometimes rent to people others turn down.  We work with someone when they lose their job.  We believe we are blessed and feel honored that we can help people find a jumping off point.

While this girl was sweet and good with our house, her brother wasn't.  He manipulated his way into her house, our house, and proceeded to use it for ill.  (We later found out he was dealing drugs from there.)  It came to a point that we needed to ask her to leave.  But that's a tricky thing.  We wanted to do it kindly, partly for her and partly so the house wouldn't get trashed.  I knew she was in a difficult place and was unsure how to handle it.  I prayed and prayed for about a week seeking direction.

Then one day my husband called.  Our close family friends were getting kicked out of their place.  Would I consider renting to them?

I run the rental.  The choice was left up to me.  And he knows I generally have a rule about not renting to family or friends because I worry about what it will do to our relationship.  But this time was different.  This time felt like an answer to prayer.  I could explain to our renter that we couldn't renew her contract because we had friends who needed our house.  Turns out, she was looking for a way out.  It worked out perfectly on both ends.  (Although her brother and his friends did trash the house the weekend before she moved out, while she was out of town.)

There was just one possible problem.  This close family friend is a registered sex offender.  In fact, that's why they were being kicked out of their rental.  A neighbor had found out and complained to the landlord.  And that was that.

But it still felt right to offer them our house.

We'd known these friends since long before his crime.  He made a horrible, stupid mistake.  He did an awful thing.  It was quickly reported and he was arrested almost immediately.  He served five years in prison.  We watched his family try to rebuild.  Try to put their lives back together.  Try to get past the shame, knowing that at any time someone might find out what their dad had done, what her husband had done.  He had lots of therapy while in prison.  He worked hard to change who he was.  They worked hard as a family. 

Over the years afterward we watched as things would go well for a while and then someone would find out.  Maybe the kids would need to switch schools because of the unkind things people were saying.  Maybe they would get in fights due to the verbal bullying that followed.  Maybe they would be treated as second class citizens by their neighbors and fellow ward members, those who called themselves Christians.

I understand the fear.  I was a victim of sexual assault.  More than once.  And I am a mother who has always worried about this happening to my children.

But I also believe in the power to change.  I believe in redemption.  I believe in second chances.  And I believe we must constantly watch and protect our kids because most sexual predators are not labelled because they've never been caught.

After a bit more prayer, I decided we should offer them our house.  I knew there was potential for uproar.  I tend to be proactive when I can so I went to those I thought would be most affected and let them know in advance that he would be coming.

I have a few friends in the neighborhood that I knew had been victims of sexual assault.  I started with them.  They thanked me for the warning but said they just kind of treat everyone like they're a possible predator, so they weren't too worried.  They're always careful.  I went to the immediate neighbors of our rental and warned them.  They thanked me, asked some questions, and said they trusted my judgment and would see how things went.  I didn't go to everyone in the neighborhood.  I didn't want to sour the neighborhood completely against our friends before they even got there.  But I knew it would be found out eventually and wanted to head it off if I could.

I was confronted by a couple of neighbors who had great concerns.  One because of a daycare she runs from her home.  How would this affect her business?  The other because she'd been the victim of sexual assault and it still had great power over her.  They asked if I would meet with them so they could express their concerns.  I agreed.  I'm afraid we had a different idea of what the meeting was for.  I expected to answer their questions and try to alleviate some of their fears.  They were hoping to convince me to change my mind.  The meeting took about an hour.  There were a lot of tears.  There was, "How can you look at him and not see the man who assaulted you?"  And there was anger.

I expressed my feeling that this was an answer to my prayers.  How could I ever ask God for help again if I turned away from this help just because it was hard?  I was told by one of these women that whatever voices I was listening to they were definitely not of God.  It was tough.

A few days later I was contacted by our bishop (pastor).  He wanted to express his concern that it could tear our ward apart.  He was also concerned for the well being of this neighbor who was in such a bad way over it all.  I listened and cried.  But I told him it felt right in my heart.  I told him I thought he was underestimating the people in our ward.  And I told him that even if every member of the ward turned against me, I couldn't ignore an answer to my prayer.  It was more important to me that God approved than that my neighbors did.  I apologized for the extra stress this was likely to cause him.  He said not to worry about it.  He hugged me and told me he believed in me and appreciated my conviction.  He said we'd get through it.

And we did.

Most of the neighborhood was incredibly kind to them.  They were welcomed and befriended.  They were not judged for anything in their past.  They made friends here.

The one neighbor never did get beyond it.  She called the police on them multiple times with nuisance complaints.  None of these ever came to anything except visits from policemen checking things out.  Our renters were kind and understanding about this.  They did their best to keep their distance from her.

These friends who rented from us have since moved on.  They still struggle to find acceptance.  The label of sex offender will be forever upon him (and will affect her and their family).  At any time someone may find out and then decide to make life even more difficult for them.  I'm glad they had their time with us.  I'm glad they felt accepted by many for at least a short time.

The one neighbor who told me I was of Satan still hasn't forgiven me.  She still won't look at me if we find ourselves in the same place.  She has never talked to me again.  And that's okay.  She has great pain and fear inside her still.  She has not had the therapy and healing that I've had.  Her life is difficult.  If she needs to see me as her enemy, I can honor that.  I have offered many prayers in her behalf.

But I know renting to our friends was the right thing to do.  Helping people get a fresh start is my favorite way to use our rental.  And all of this was validated when their closest neighbor came to me after they'd left and said, "Thank you for teaching us a lesson in compassion.  They were wonderful neighbors."

End of lesson.


Dez Daniels said...

Oh boy..tough one. But ultimately, I believe in the power in, and the possibility of, redemption. Not everyone will get there. But it takes a pretty empathetic person to extend that opportunity when so many others would not.

MaggieJo said...

I'm glad someone who prays and who honors God above all others had the ultimate choice. You're a good lady and I love you!

Bonnie said...

Good lesson. :D I've got strong feelings about those sex offender lists. We would be buds on that issue as well. Isn't the gift of the Holy Spirit truly the most important thing we have?

The Dose of Reality said...

I have reservations about those lists. I think they build false confidence. Most predators have never been caught and are on no list. MANY people are living near a sexual predator, they just don't know it. You should institute the same safety procedures for your children whether or not you have someone on those lists in your neighborhood. that you honored what you felt called to do. :) --Lisa

Dana @ Kiss My List said...

I don't know how I would have handled that situation if I were you or your neighbors, but you made a decision you felt was right and most neighbors respected you for it. Sounds like you live in a wonderful community! Visiting back from SITS - your blog is so honest; thanks for sharing your struggles and triumphs.

Tracie Nall said...

This is such a tough subject. I'm not sure how I would have reacted if I lived in your neighborhood, but I hope it would have been with grace.

Catherine Gacad said...

Robin, those around you are so lucky to have you in their lives. And we are so lucky, as readers, to hear your stories. I admire your courage, compassion, and faith.

Jennifer West said...

What a powerful story with a lesson in it as well. As a mother to young ones, and having had similar circumstances happen in my life, I too hope I could pray and offer the compassion and grace you did. What a powerful, powerful story. I am so glad you stopped by and commented on my blog, I always follow back up and I am so glad I did. Have a wonderful weekend!

Rubye Jack said...

You rock Robin!

Chris Carter said...

WOW. What an amazingly difficult path you took in your obedience and trust in your conviction!! I am so proud of your steps in faith through this awfully difficult decision making process. Beautiful insights and powerful faith shared in this post!!! You are so much stronger than you profess to be my dear friend!!

xtraleo said...

What I realize after reading this is that I am all for second chances, but only extend those chances to some. I can relate to one of your friends in that I treat everyone as if they're a potential predator..Ditto to that one. Such an amazing, thought provoking writer. Always! Visiting from SITS.

Adrian's Crazy Life said...

Popping over from SITS. That is a tough decision. Not sure what I would have done because I feel like you never truly know someone. In fact, we've just found out that our next door neighbor that we have known for six years is being investigated for child pornography. I had no clue whatsoever and now I'm not sure how to act, or how to treat them. We have a 14 year old son and there are 5 kids in the house on the other side of them. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in case it isn't true, but if it is, I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Christa aka The BabbyMama said...

I'm glad that there are people like you in the world helping people achieve some level of redemption.

Because I know in my heart that I would have been the unaccepting neighbor - and probably would have confronted your friend directly to ask how I was supposed to feel like my family was safe.

I have a lot of work to do when it comes to being charitable!

SGQ said...

I found your blog- have read through some helpful parts...
I have had a SO move in behind me. I leave them alone- They are none of my business.
BUT. The word mistake flares anger in me.
The man who raped me told the parole board "he made a mistake and.."
No. It's not a mistake you make. It's a choice. One that is only regretted when discovered.
To me a mistake is.. oops- too much salt. Or oops, wrong turn.

It's not a mistake they make. It's something else. It feels trivialized when that word is used. Like "oops! I'm sorry that was an accident" would suffice.

I'm venting now. But yeah- no.
I understand they have to live somewhere, I understand they shouldn't be harassed (the real threat of a SO going underground).. But I wouldn't trivialize what has been done.

And the point of a list is awareness- not a sense of security. Most of the one's where I live are actually child abusers and most have multiple offenses-- and even more importantly- most are high risk for reoffending.