Perverting Justice

Jessica's Law prevents paroled sex offenders from residing near schools or parks. That means they can only live one place in S.F.: on the streets.

But some of the greatest effects of the decision will be much more local — for the roughly 70 parolees here in the city who are currently living in a voter-inflicted paradox. "They don't want you to stay, but they don't want you to go," Bob H. says.

As for Mr. C, he isn't holding out much hope that the justices will let him move indoors. He assumes he'll just continue the routine he has established in his two months out of jail. He hangs out at a nonprofit during the day, or runs a few errands. As he ambles around San Francisco, he talks to keep himself company and turns down panhandlers who ask him for change: "Buddy, I'm as broke as you are." With just a sweatshirt on his back, he'll sometimes pretend to read brochures in the BART station to warm up. His pride keeps him from lying down.

When teenage girls get on the J-Church train, Mr. C can't help but notice how developed they are at young ages these days: "Big butts and boobs — like, dang, what did they put in their food?" But years of prison will kill your taste for such things, he says: "It's scary to think about it, even." As for the victim of his molestation, "It's not her fault. I hope she turned out normal."

Like other sex offenders in California, Mr. C must wear a GPS unit so law enforcement can track his whereabouts.
Frank Gaglione
Like other sex offenders in California, Mr. C must wear a GPS unit so law enforcement can track his whereabouts.
Like other sex offenders in California, Mr. C must wear a GPS unit so law enforcement can track his whereabouts.
Frank Gaglione
Like other sex offenders in California, Mr. C must wear a GPS unit so law enforcement can track his whereabouts.

Though being homeless embarrasses him, it also offers a comforting dose of anonymity. Peering into shop windows he passes, Mr. C avoids glimpsing his face, the disfigured reminder of his past. Out here, he can simply be the friendly old man who was delighted when a dog he'd petted earlier in Union Square followed him down Market Street. ("At least I know dogs still like me," he says, brightly.) To the teen selling light sabers outside Macy's, he's the rare passerby who actually answers his corny sales pitch: "Be a kid again!"

"I wish," Mr. C huffs.

"You don't have to wish," the kid calls after him. "It's six dollars!"

At the end of his evening's walk, Mr. C shuffles up to the shelter to take his post-prison place in the city, greeting another homeless man outside: "Hey, Bill."

"Wazzup, Pops?"

Mr. C considers the greeting, concludes, "I'm old," and walks inside to claim a hard seat.

Asked whether he's happy after surviving his suicide attempts, he answers, "I'm kind of in between. I'm hoping things will work out." He figures maybe he's got 15 years left, and he'd like to make them at least peaceful: a roof over his head, some welfare cash in his pocket, antidepressants in his system. With his history, he knows he'll be alone.

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