The papers that had been on Cynnie’s desk were not scattered on the floor. A few crumbled sheets of paper sat near the trash. The owner of the room was pacing back and forth, a distressed look on her face. Her arms were behind her back, her left hand hooked by her right. Her eyebrows were furrowed. She was deep in thought.
It had been three hours since she had talked to Darko. She did not know what to make of the situation. He was asking her to go against everything society had taught her. She knew he did not trust authority, especially when it came from the government. Was he just bitter and resentful, or did he have a point? Were the way sex offenders were treated really going too far?
She was still afraid. Even if Darko was sincere in his desire not to hurt anyone again, that did not mean he would not do it. He had not meant to do it the first time. What if something like that happened again? It was easier to do something once it was already done once. Perhaps his anger at the way he was treated would get the better of him and cause him to lash out. Maybe he did not have as much control as he thought he did. She was afraid of what he was capable of.
On the other hand, if Darko had really not meant to do anything wrong the first time, did that not mean that anyone was capable of horrific acts? That could have easily been someone like her brother. Did she have a right to judge when there were other forces that sometimes overpowered personal desire to do good?
She knew it was not good to judge people harshly. She believed in second chances. She believed people could change. How were they supposed to prove they had changed if they were never given the chance? They needed to be given a little trust at a time. Darko had always been nice to her. Despite her brothers’ suspicions, she always thought he was a good guy. Why should her opinion change now? She would not want his opinion to change of her if he discovered all of her faults and past mistakes.
She surmised that Darko may have changed, if there was anything to change at all. Of course, there was always the possibility that he was lying or glossing over the truth. He had said he would not hurt her. Could she trust that? She would be taking a risk. At the moment, she could not decide if it was worth it. It needed further thought.
She was still undecided on Monday when Ben gathered her and John in the living room. Her oldest brother was dressed in a Packers shirt and hat. He had something flat and rectangular in his hand. He was grinning from ear to ear. Cynnie knew what this had to be about.
“They’ve arrived!” Ben exclaimed. He turned over what was in his hands to show his siblings. They were Packers tickets. “Which games do you want to go to? Let’s start with division rivals. Which one of you wants the Lions? I had them last year.”
Cynnie allowed herself to smile. Her grandfather had had Packers season tickets. When he died, he left them to Ben because he was such a big fan. That was usually how one gained Packers tickets. There was a waiting list, but it took forever to get to the top. Parents would put their unborn children on the list in hopes that they would get tickets by the time they were 30. Lambeau Field had been sold out since the 60’s. It gave the fans a great sense of pride and tradition. No other team could boast of such a thing.
“I’ll take them,” John said. “I don’t mind Lions games.”
Ben nodded. “Good.” He ripped off two tickets and handed them to his brother. Then he turned to Cynnie.
He did not even have to say anything. “Vikings, please,” she said with a grin.
A slight frown crossed Ben’s face. “I don’t know if I should give those to you after what happened last time.”
Cynnie rolled her eyes. “That was three years ago, Ben. Get over it.”
Ben crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at her. “It was my turn. You begged me to give you the tickets.”
Cynnie raised her eyebrows. “How was I supposed to know Favre was actually going to sign with the Vikings? We lost anyway. It was humiliating.”
“But it’s Brett Favre!” Ben exclaimed, throwing up his arms in exasperation.
“Why would you want to see him after what he did?” John said bitterly. “That’s why I gave my ticket to Cynnie the next year.”
Cynnie smirked. “It was so funny to see your face when I showed up,” she said to Ben.
The oldest boy shot her a glare. “See? You got to see both games!”
Cynnie shrugged. “I like Vikings games. You went last year. Is that not enough?”
Ben sighed and shook his head. “Fine.” He reluctantly tore the tickets off and handed them to her. “By the way, you have to make up your mind about Brett.”
Cynnie frowned. “What do you mean?”
Ben raised his eyebrows. “You know what. You have to choose a side. Do you love him or hate him?”
Cynnie let out a groan. “Do I have to?”
“Yes,” John said emphatically. “You can’t stay on the sidelines for everything. Make a judgment. Stand by it.”
Cynnie shook her head. “How am I supposed to make up my mind? I don’t know everything about the situation.”
John rolled his eyes. “It’s not that hard. Why do you do this about everything? This is how you get into trouble.”
“Don’t you have enough information yet?” Ben asked. “You have to decide what you think is right.”
Cynnie bit her lip but did not say anything more. She was bad at choosing. She wanted too much to make the right decision. Perhaps that was impossible. Was she really just supposed to use her best judgment? She thought of Darko. She had to make a judgment right now about whether she could trust him. If she did nothing, she realized she was already making a decision.
She could not ignore the sympathy she felt towards him. She wanted to help him. She did not know if she would just be able to forget him. Fine then. She had her choice. Her attention snapped back to Ben. She had more tickets to get.
A thought suddenly crossed her mind. She remembered how interested in the Packers Darko had seemed at training camp. She then thought about how passionate the fans were about their team. They included everyone… including a sex offender? Maybe. If they got to know him first. She did not know if it was likely to work, but she could not think of anything better. She had to tell Darko!
After claiming her three other tickets, she was out of there. Luckily, Darko’s apartment was not too far away. Someone was coming out when she arrived. She managed to slip inside before the woman closed the door. She raced up the stairs to Darko’s room. She stood there panting for a few seconds. She had to get her thoughts in order. She took a deep breath before knocking.
The door opened a crack. Darko seemed surprised to see her. “Hi,” he nearly mumbled. He opened the door all the way. He was wearing holey jeans and an orange tee-shirt. His movements seemed almost cautious. “Come in.”
Cynnie gave him a weak smile. “Thanks.” Elva the cat was on her heels as soon as she stepped into the room. Cynnie chuckled as she bent down to pet her. This cat was so much like a dog; it was amusing. She stood up again and gave Darko a warmer smile. He could not be that bad if his cat loved him so much. Animals could sense stuff like that. “How have you been?”
Darko shrugged his shoulders. “Fine.”
He did not say anymore. She knew he was waiting for her to get to the point. She knew he did not like idle chit chat. Fine. She sucked in a breath and tried to gather up all of her courage. “I want to be your friend,” she began slowly.
Darko raised his eyebrows slightly. There was a hint of surprise in his eyes. “You do?”
Cynnie nodded. “I believe you. I don’t think you’re dangerous. I want to give you a chance.” Her voice became stronger and more confident as she spoke. She was sure she was doing the right thing.
A look of relief crossed Darko’s face. “Wow. Thank you. I promise you won’t regret it.”
Cynnie smiled slightly. “I’m sure I won’t.” She hesitated. “Can I ask you more about this… topic… or are we done?”
“Ask anything you want,” Darko said readily. “I don’t want to hide anything anymore.”
He seemed sincere, so she continued. There were a couple things she was curious about. Maybe he could put her mind at ease. “Why are there so many names on the registry? Are there really that many sex offenders? They can’t all be dangerous.”
Darko studied her for a minute before nodding. “You’re right. They’re not. In fact, only around ten to twenty percent are truly dangerous. Even most of them are unlikely to ever commit another sex crime. The recidivism rate for sex offenders is five percent, the second lowest for any crime behind murder.” His face was calm, much different from the last time she had seen him.
Cynnie frowned. What he said did not make any sense to her. “I always thought sex offenders were dangerous rapists or child molesters who couldn’t control her actions.” She shook her head. From the look on Darko’s face, she had been wrong. It was time to find the truth. “What is everyone else in for then?”
“It varies by state,” Darko said in a steady voice. “Some convict juveniles and put them on the registry. Anything from sharing porn to touching another child inappropriately is considered a crime. Urinating in public is enough to get on the registry in some states. And then there is the classic ‘Romeo and Juliet’ scenario where an adult, often only 18 or 19 years of age, has a relationship – not always sexual – with some someone under the age of consent. The age of consent can range from 15 to 18 depending on the state.” He gave her an emphatic look. “Do you really think these people, these kids, are dangerous and need to be watched? Do you think they’ll ever commit another sex crime in their life?”
Cynnie shook her head slowly. “Probably not.” She could hardly believe what he was telling her. Could it be true? What were their policy makers thinking? She bit her lip. “What about the others?”
“There are many like me who have only committed one offense,” Darko explained. “Sometimes, especially if it involved touching a child, this leaves you on the registry for life. These people will probably not reoffend either because they realize the horror of what they’ve done.” He gave her a long stare. “Believe me, the victim has psychological effects because of what was done, but so does the one who did the deed. It does not help when the system does not allow you to move on.”
Cynnie nodded. That did not seem right either, though it was more understandable. “What about those who had more than one victim?”
“Those people are likely to be dangerous, and you could argue that they should be on some sort of list. But the list should be private for police to use and there should be a way to get off of it for good behavior.”
That made sense. If people had an incentive to do good, then they often would. There was one more category left. “And those who do reoffend?”
Darko paused before responding. “It depends on the circumstance, but they probably should stay in jail. Treatment should also be given, which has proven very successful. If they pass, then they should be let go while being supervised by police.”
Cynnie considered this for a minute. She did not know much about criminals, but it seemed to make sense. It appealed to her sense of empathy as well as logic. How could anyone disagree with him? “It seems like there should be a system where sex offenders are evaluated on their likeliness of reoffending and not just the fact that they have committed a sex crime.”
“I agree,” Darko said. “You don’t even know half of the problems the registry creates. It was supposed to help increase public safety, but can people know who is truly dangerous among all of those who aren’t?”
Cynnie nodded. That made sense as well. There was still one thing bugging her. “Why are so many people on the list in the first place? Why is there no one campaigning to reform it?”
A darker look crossed Darko’s face. “Because, like you said, the public thinks that the worst sex offenders describe all of them. This is an extremely emotional subject. The laws get expanded after a particularly tragic – though rare – case.” He shook his head. “Good policies do not come when people are in an emotional state. They ignore logic and efficiency and enact what feels good. Anger and hatred fuel the public. They can’t listen to reason. Politicians are supposed to be above this and protect minority groups like us, but all they care about is getting re-elected. No one is going to vote for someone who sides with sex offenders.” He smiled bitterly.
“But that’s not fair!” Cynnie exclaimed. Did not sex offenders have rights too?
“Fair has nothing to do with it. There is no justice for sex offenders. We’re all monsters in the eyes of society.” He turned his head away, a certain sadness overcoming his face.
Cynnie suddenly felt a wave of sympathy for him. No wonder he had moved around so much. She wished there was something she could do for him. Maybe there was. “Do you think there’s a way that you could get people to accept you as a person, if just in a small community like Green Bay?”
Darko looked at her warily. He appeared tired. “I don’t know. There’s got to be a chance. Trying is better than giving up.”
Cynnie took a deep breath. “I think I know a way.”
Darko raised his eyebrows, now appearing more interested. “What is it?”
“Well,” Cynnie began slowly. She began pacing the room. Elva followed behind her. “To get the people here to accept you, even after they find out what you did, you have to connect with them on the deepest level possible. You have to prove to them you are one of them.” She stopped and turned to look at him seriously. “I think the best way to do that is through the Packers.”
Darko blinked. “The Packers?” he sighed. “Cynnie, I don’t think-”
“Trust me on this,” Cynnie said quickly before he could finish. “You don’t know Wisconsinites as well as I do. This could work.” She gave him an encouraging smile.
Darko frowned. “Fine. I’ll try anything. Where do we begin.”
Cynnie grinned. She was glad he had agreed to her plan. She was sure it would work! It had to. “Well, my brother Ben has season tickets to the Packers.” She smiled, waiting for him to be impressed. When he just stared at her, she frowned and continued. “He distributes the tickets amongst John, me, and him. I’ve got one game with each of my brothers. I also have two games where I can bring anyone I want. I want you to come with me.”
Darko raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Me? Don’t y'all kill to get those tickets?”
Cynnie shrugged. “Something like that. But I think it could help you. Nothing else will show that you’re serious about the Packers.”
Darko seemed to consider this and then shrugged. “Ok. When’s the first game?”
Cynnie’s mouth formed into a wide grin. “It’s their opening game against the 49ers – September 9th.”
“That sounds fine,” Darko said.
Cynnie was excited. She could not wait to show him just what living in Green Bay was about!