By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jeff Balke
He crept into her bedroom at night to fondle her. She was only ten years old and defenseless against a grown man, her stepfather. The number of times it happened, he can't recall exactly, certainly fewer than five, maybe two or three, he says.
She never told. His wife never walked in on them. No friend of hers ever went to a teacher or parent. But the truth did come out.
It arrived in a letter. His wife opened it up as Jamil Crowley was driving away to North Carolina for a year, to break off all connections with his family, to lose himself in construction work.
Jamil wrote the letter. Aghast at what he had done, at what he had become under what he says was the pressure of being a young dad with a pile of bills, he confessed his sin.
A year later, he went back to Austin, where he sat in jail until his day in court. On October 7, 1991, he pleaded guilty to "sexual indecency with a child/sexual contact." He was assessed court costs, six years of probation and court-ordered counseling. He got divorced and his wife got custody of their daughter, half-sister to the girl he had abused.
In the 14 years since then, Jamil's life has been bittersweet. He went on to community college in Austin, then moved to Houston, where he got a B.A. in business administration from the University of Houston. He had a child from another relationship, a son now five, and two years ago he married Antoinette, a childhood friend from his days on Chicago's South Side. She has five children of her own. He eventually re-established a relationship with his daughter and says that a year ago, he got forgiveness from the stepdaughter he'd abused. He has resolved that nothing like that will ever happen again.
Although he had the training and the ability and although he passed the CPA exam, because of his felony conviction, Jamil can never be licensed as a CPA. He can work for a CPA firm, as he has done for the last ten years, but never as a senior partner, never the person in charge.
Education was and is important to Jamil. Even before his marriage to Antoinette, he'd raised one of her sons since the boy was 12. That son is now at the University of Texas on an academic scholarship. Jamil was a frequent visitor to his children's schools, where everyone knew him, he says.
So it was a shock last spring when he went to Eleanor Tinsley Elementary as usual to sit in on one of his children's classes and was stopped at the office. A new policy was in play; they asked him for his driver's license, and once they ran it through the machine, they knew something about him they hadn't known before.
He wouldn't be having a school lunch again.
That was the last straw for Jamil in what had become a life of some disappointment for him.
He decided to quit his job and try for a better one. He would pull the kids out of school. And he'd start an organization, made up of convicted felons like him who have stayed out of trouble and done everything that society says they should do since committing their crime, and who want their rights restored. He calls them restored citizens, not criminals.
"If I can't be readmitted into the family of citizens, then we are telling a lot of people a bunch of lies," he says. "I have done all the things we instruct people to do after they have fallen yet I'm still unemployable as it relates to my abilities and experience. I am uninhabitable as it relates to housing. My children are deprived of having their father's full participation in their lives."
Of course, Jamil Crowley has chosen to take on this crusade at probably the worst possible time. There is little tolerance for offenders of any sort, and thanks to ever-improving technology, we can now know exactly where convicted sex offenders are living. Punch their names or a zip code into the Texas Department of Public Service database and you'll find them. You'll get crime data, maps to their homes and their photographs, too. Look at their faces, and if it creeps you out enough, then go picket their houses or apartments, or track them down and beat them up. Drive them from the neighborhood. It's happening all over the country.
Who is going to embrace a man like that? Relatives. His mother. And who is being punished along with him? The wife and children who depend on him to survive. Six years' probation, what a joke. This was a life sentence.
America prides itself on second chances, but the limits to that are what trip up and embitter Jamil and others like him. He accepts some of the restrictions. He understands, even if he doesn't like it, that he could never volunteer as a Little League coach for his sons. He understands why someone probably wouldn't ever hire him to work in a school.
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