Woman Wants Developmentally Disabled Son Taken Off Sex-Offender Registry
- Carol Nesteikis said that her son, Adam, should not be on the sex-offender registry.
- She wants legal reform for people like her son who have intellectual disabilities.
- This is Nesteikis’ story, as told to Jane Ridley.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Carol Nesteikis. It has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s heartbreaking to admit it, but I sometimes wish that Adam, our severely intellectually disabled son, will die before me and my husband, Robert. Our fear of the future never ends: Where will he live? How will he manage? Who will take care of him?
The anxiety is even more overwhelming because Adam’s name appears on the sex-offender registry. He committed a crime nine years ago without understanding the implications or realizing what he’d done wrong.
A troubled young man who lived next door to us told Adam it would be “fun” to pull down his pants in front of the boy’s 5-year-old niece. My son had the intellectual capacity of a 10-year-old. We learned he’d been horribly manipulated and silenced.
I feel tremendous compassion for the girl. Still, I believe that Adam has been betrayed by the court system. His status as a sex offender — he can’t go within 500 feet of a school, playground, or even a bus stop without the threat of incarceration — puts him in the same category as child rapists and murderers.
Federal laws were passed in the mid-1990s with the purpose of notifying communities about “sexually violent predators” living in their neighborhoods. But Adam is neither violent nor a predator.
Our developmentally disabled son is 35, but his mental age has regressed from 10 to 2 as a result of his fear
Soon after he was convicted of “sexual exploitation/exposure of organs” in 2013, Adam regressed to the mental age of a preschool kid. His life is in pieces.
Robert and I emptied our retirement account and sold our house to pay for Adam’s legal fees and a new place to live. The three of us share a small condo in Chicago where Adam has the only bedroom, I sleep behind a divider, and Robert sleeps in the living room.
Adam, who is 35, spends much of his day watching a robotic vacuum move across the carpet. Robert and I are 71 and 69, respectively. We thought we’d have moved to Florida by our age. Adam’s sister lives there with her husband and our young grandson.
But we can’t be together. Florida has some of the most stringent sex-offender laws in the US. If we went to Florida, Adam would stay on its sex-offender registry for life. A group home wouldn’t take him. A job or apartment would be impossible to find. I can’t bear to think of Adam ever being homeless, suffering, or dying on the street after we pass away.
Adam was formally diagnosed with his “invisible” disability when he was in fourth grade. He had a host of interventions like speech and occupational therapy throughout his childhood. He didn’t graduate high school, but was given a certificate of attendance. He had one-on-one aides and, at 18, functioned as if he was about seven years younger.
He went to a transitional program that taught people like Adam as much as possible about independent living. The kids were assigned jobs, which they switched every 90 days. Adam worked for a video store and a car-rental place. He got involved in the Special Olympics in our state. He won trophies and gold medals in his favorite sports, including bocce ball and track. He was introduced to scuba diving by an organization that works with the disabled.
Adam’s friendship with the neighbor proved catastrophic
In his early 20s, he landed a steady job cleaning tables at Applebee’s. He had the job for five years, and regular customers liked his smiling face.
Adam was friendly with the young man next door, whom our neighbors had fostered since he was 10. I remember asking his parents to stay home when Adam was at their place to keep an eye on them. The young man’s niece — the daughter of his biological sister — lived in the same house.
Life erupted in March 2012. Our neighbors told us that they were taking their son to the police department, because he’d been abusing the 5-year-old girl. Later, the girl told detectives about the time Adam dropped his pants. We went straight to Adam. He said, “Yeah, I did it.” He said that the neighbor had been sexually abusing him but told him to keep it secret.
Our attorneys told us that the case would have been different if Adam and his abuser had not been in their 20s. Adam, whose case was handled in tandem with the neighbor’s, was classified as a consenting adult.
The prosecutors refused to consider Adam’s abuse. They ignored the confirmation we received from a psychosexual therapist. He was charged with 19 felonies. Our lawyers said, “You don’t want him to go to prison,” and they said we’d never win a trial: Adam functioned as a child, they said, but the jury would see a man.
His name was placed on the sex-offender registry
They said that a plea deal for a single misdemeanor was our “best bet.” The neighbor had accepted the same deal a month earlier. Everyone said that it would “all be over” if we followed suit. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Adam, who got the same sentence as the neighbor, was forced to wear an ankle monitor during his probation period of two years. He was forced to leave the house where he was born and move with his dad into the condo we scrimped to purchase. He had a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. We were his primary caretakers, so we were put under curfew, too.
He was put on the sex-offender registry for 10 years. His name should be removed next year, but once you’re in the system, that’s it. Adam will never again be able to get a job, live anywhere near kids, or enter a public park, where a lot of events for disabled sports are held. The system has been about stripping him of his humanity — not returning him to society.
It was heart-wrenching when we had to sell our house in 2018. The local community had rallied around us, although an anonymous person sent us hate mail shortly after Adam’s conviction. The letter said, “We don’t want pedophiles here.” I reported it to the police who told me to keep it in my files.
But we had no choice but to quit our old neighborhood for financial reasons. We couldn’t afford the cost of legal fees and holding two properties. But our condo doesn’t feel like a safe space. If someone puts up a child’s swing set, for example, we’d have to move.
The psychological toll on our family has been unimaginable
I think the agony has taken 10 years off our lives. I was diagnosed with PTSD and take medication for anxiety. Isolation and the inability to indulge in his hobbies have made Adam regress. He frequently stays in his room, watches the robot cleaner, plays with fidget spinners, and talks to Alexa. He’s chronically depressed, but doesn’t understand why. Nonetheless, he’ll say, “When this is over, we’ll go for dessert.”
Robert and I have vowed to fight on his behalf. In 2015, I cofounded a nonprofit called Legal Reform for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. We want special courts to be introduced for people like Adam. Teachers, police officers, prosecutors, judges, and politicians need more awareness of intellectual disabilities.
We’ve asked the governor of Illinois to give Adam a pardon, but nobody knows if or when he’ll decide. A collection of expert petitioners emphasized the mitigating factor of Adam’s abuse before a hearing last fall. They included a psychologist, a former assistant state attorney, and a policeman. The sergeant said in his letter of support that our son “acts like a young sweet child.”
“Please right a wrong for Adam,” he wrote. It’s all we ask.
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