The other day, I was notified that one of my thousand-or-so clients had gone missing. Which is a sad, but not infrequent occurrence - many of the people who use the drop-in centre where I work are homeless, and almost all struggle with mental health and addiction issues. Within a week or two most turn up, alive, not too much worse for wear. Some do not.
The man in question was a regular volunteer, and I felt particularly saddened to learn of his disappearance - my interactions with him had always been pleasant. A shorter, chubby-faced man, he’d always seemed sweet and eager to please; a little slow, maybe. Not the sort of person I’d associate with the seedy underbelly of society, or heroin addiction. Not the type to disappear and reappear casually without causing concern.
The more days passed, the more I worried about this guy.
Finally, today, I google searched his name, hoping that he had turned up days ago and that my colleagues and I had simply failed to be informed - the sort of thing that happens in the social services world all the time; we’re all too busy, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and bad news travels seventeen times faster than good news, according to the laws of idle gossip.
I also knew that my google search might turn up news that was far more upsetting - a body, maybe, or evidence of suicide. Tending to believe that any news is good news, and that I’d rather know than be left to wonder in the dark, I’m the type that regularly seeks out potentially awful information, even though many wise individuals have advised me that this strategy is incredibly stupid. And they may have a point.
I searched, and I found absolutely nothing to do with my client’s current whereabouts or anything related to his disappearance.
Instead, I found dozens of articles, years old, related to his release into the community after serving a lengthy sentence for committing a very violent sexual assault. Against a young woman, who was a stranger. Who he brutally assaulted, tried to kill, and then left for dead, unconscious in the woods, bones broken, eardrum pierced, her face requiring stitching from mouth to ear.
Considered a very high risk to reoffend, police released him back into the community because they had no other choice - he had served out the entirety of his fourteen year sentence. And during that time, he had stalked and had unwanted contact with several women, breached probation twice, and escaped once. He was found the next day. His parole board spoke of his release with grave concern.
Several communities had banded together to keep him out, and so he ended up here. Literally, here. As in, two blocks away. Or, right next to me, holding a knife, chopping onions, depending on the day.
Which...I’ve known some terrible, terrible people. People who have harmed those I love, who take pleasure in the pain of others, and who deserve nothing but the caustic flames of hell and eternal castration whilst being raped by a bear. There are people I feel no sympathy for, and likely never will.
But this client isn’t one of those people. And I can’t help but try to preserve my image of him; as a
polite, somewhat-slow, nice guy.
While this is the most graphic and well-documented case I’ve yet to encounter, I know that many, if not most, of my clients have done things in their past which are horrible, abusive, and wrong. Hell, most people I know, when boiled down to their worst actions, are the scum of the earth, so either I really do need to meet new people or the world is a complicated place.
And in that world...a convicted violent sex offended has disappeared without a trace. Which is troubling. Hmmm.
(Internal dialogue related to conflicting views, written down. I am not crazy.)
P: He’s a nice guy.
CP: He’s a rapist and attempted-murderer.
P: That was, like, 20 years ago.
CP: Yeah. Robert Pickton hasn’t killed in 10 years. Charles Manson hasn’t in 40 years ago. Doesn’t make them any less serial-killer-y.
P: But he’s been free for years, and managed not to rape or try and kill anyone! That’s showing progress, right?
CP: He hasn’t tried to kill or rape anyone that we know of.
P: You could say that about anyone!
CP: But not everyone’s been convicted of aggravated sexual assault and been deemed an incredibly high risk to reoffend by the criminal justice system.
P: Okay, but he seems kind of slow. Maybe he has FAS. Which places him at an unfair disadvantage in terms of the getting caught, getting convicted, and getting sentenced for his crimes.
CP: But he still actually DID do those crimes.
P: True...but...if he had a higher IQ, maybe he wouldn’t have been caught.
CP: How is that LESS scary??
P: I just mean that we shouldn’t judge people who have been nothing but perfectly nice to us!
CP: He’s not ‘nice.’ People who rape and beat other women aren’t nice, and just saying that kind of makes you a bad person.
P: But...I’m just trying to be a good community support worker. Lots of men are rapists!
CP: Um, I like to believe that lots of men are NOT rapists, actually.
P: Everyone deserves support, though, right? Even convicted rapists.
CP: I’m not saying you should tar and feather the man. Just, you know, stop saying he’s a nice person. He’s not.
P: But that’s so judgemental...you can support the person without agreeing with their actions. Judge not lest ye be judged, and all that.
CP: I judge you NOT to be a rapist. I judge him to be a rapist and attempted murderer. Case closed.
P: Fine. Whatever. I don’t like you.
CP: Well at least I'm not a rapist.