Oh, Give Me a Home

The state says sexual predator Cary Verse is rehabilitated, but it isn't the state he needs to worry about.

The first thing visitors notice when they drive into Bay Point along Willow Pass Road is the renovated office of husband-and-wife legal team Araceli Ramirez and Anthony Ashe. The building is situated on a strip dotted with taquerias, auto shops, and dilapidated homes, and the local prostitutes used to linger out front. Back in 1999, it was the first law office in Bay Point. The manicured property was the pride of this unincorporated community, which sits in the shadow of power plants and oil refineries. These days, most residents view the place differently, Ramirez concedes: “Now they say, ‘The first thing people see when they drive into Bay Point is Cary Verse’s house.'”

Last fall, the couple lunched with Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Brian Haynes, who, thanks to a new state law, was responsible for finding a home for Verse, the Bay Area’s most notorious sex offender. In the preceding year and a half, angry residents had run Verse out of first Mill Valley, then Oakland. Although he had finally found refuge in San Jose, the new law required Verse to move back to Contra Costa, where he’d committed his last offense in the early ’90s, sexually assaulting a homeless man in a Richmond shelter. Haynes was having no luck finding a willing landlord for Verse; about ninety already had turned him down.

As Verse’s story played out on the nightly news, Ramirez and Ashe watched with empathy. Ramirez works in family law and Ashe is a criminal attorney, but both are self-proclaimed do-gooders. Ramirez is a Mexican immigrant who grew up in Bay Point, graduated from Harvard Law School, and returned to the hardscrabble community where her family still lives. “My wife could have written her ticket to Wall Street or some large firm, but she had a strong sense of community,” Ashe said. The couple met in the Martinez courtrooms and raised their four children in Bay Point before moving to Walnut Creek three years ago because they didn’t want their children crossing paths with families they might have angered in court. Ever since, they have donated office space on their Bay Point property to various nonprofit groups. Two years ago, the county Bar Association honored Ramirez with its Community Service Award.

Listening to Haynes over lunch that day, Ramirez and Ashe wondered whether the vacant cottage on their one-acre property was a good fit for Verse, whose legal travails struck them as legally and morally unethical. Ashe thought it unfair that Verse was still being punished after serving his time, and he was offended that Verse’s sentence had been extended because of a law passed while he was in prison. Ramirez viewed Verse’s plight as an opportunity to honor the values she’d been raised with. “I’d like to think that if this were World War II and we had a chance to give housing to those who were being persecuted, we’d do it,” she said.

The couple naively thought there would be many volunteers. In fact, they were the only applicants. The next week, Haynes arranged a meeting in Judge John Minney’s chambers, where Verse’s attorney and representatives from the state Department of Mental Health approved the plan. The next step was to make it public and give residents fifteen days to comment. Afterward, Judge Minney would decide whether Verse could move in or had to keep looking.

In anticipation, Ramirez decorated the living space in a “country cottage” motif. She repainted it a soft yellow, stocked the kitchen spice racks, and refurbished the bathroom with stainless-steel fixtures and Laura Ashley towels, just as she’d done in her sons’ bathroom. “I wanted Cary to feel at home,” she said. Verse was genuinely moved when he toured the cottage prior to Minney’s decision. “I wish I felt this much love growing up,” Verse said. “What Araceli and Anthony have given me here is really somethin’ else.”

Friends within the legal community also voiced their support. But Bay Point residents were taken aback. Lyn Estrella, editor of local paper The Courier, jumped into action, publishing six thousand copies of a quickie edition headlined “Special Issue — Community Alert.” Two stories ran down either side of the tabloid’s front page. One pictured Verse’s mug in a story about upset residents. The other reported on local victims of molestation. Inside, Estrella printed nine photos of other registered sexually violent predators, or SVPs, who already lived in Bay Point. “This got dropped on them so quick it seemed like a back-door thing among attorneys,” she said later. “The county rolls right over them all the time. One morning they wake up and they’re told Cary Verse is moving into their backyard.”

At a hastily called town meeting, locals took turns questioning the couple’s intent. Were they in it for the publicity? For the $1,200-a-month rent they’d pull down from the state? After all, they didn’t live in Bay Point anymore, so they weren’t endangering their own kids.

Wendy Cervantes felt blindsided by the news. Three years ago, the thirty-year-old mother of four had bought her first home just three blocks away from where Verse might soon live. Like Ramirez and Ashe, she too had dedicated herself to Bay Point, as a county worker who provides services to indigent residents. On any given day she might register a couple to vote, take a child to a doctor’s appointment, or translate health insurance papers for a Spanish-speaking family. Her work has even taken her to the nonprofit offices on Ramirez and Ashe’s property.

But when Cervantes heard about the couple’s latest altruistic gesture, it didn’t sit well with her. “When I found out he was moving here, I was like, koooosh,” she said, making a heart-crushing gesture. “This brought up a lot of bad stuff. I thought it was very nice of them to open their doors to Cary, but there are too many SVPs here already.”

Cervantes herself had been molested. It wasn’t something she shared with anyone, aside from her husband and a few close friends. But at the town meeting, when she got her chance to speak, the tale of her own victimization fell from her lips before she knew what she was saying.

Cervantes told the crowd the attacker had been her uncle. Everyone had thought he was a good guy. Instantly she felt the dread of exposing too much of herself to her neighbors. “I thought, ‘What are people going to think of me?'” she recalled. “What will they do?”

Until she confronted the notion of Verse coming to town, Cervantes thought she’d put the molestation behind her. “I didn’t think about it more than once a year, if at all,” she said. “Now I have to think about it every day — it’s hard to deal with.”

The following weekend she helped organize a protest outside the law office. She printed three thousand fliers advertising the demonstration, but when Cervantes tried to pass them out to students at a Pittsburg high school, administrators barred her from the campus. The sheriff’s department wouldn’t give her a protest permit, but she obtained one through her relationship with the Pittsburg police.

On a Saturday afternoon she used a bullhorn to lead chants: “Why here, why here? We don’t want Cary here.” Protesters held up signs that read, “Put Him in Orinda,” and “Yes to Family Morality Safety.”

News reports put the number of protestors at 150; Cervantes said it was more like 250 to 300. Estrella agreed with Cervantes and said the Contra Costa Times reporter who showed up for the “token twelve minutes” missed how angry residents truly were. “These people don’t have a voice,” the editor griped. “That’s why the county treats them like a dumping ground. Let’s face it, our image isn’t that good to begin with. This puts a huge black mark on the town.”


Rejection of Self

Cary Verse, now 34, began committing sexual assaults at a young age. He grew up in a strictly religious home on a military base in Lemoore, California. Early in life he knew he was aroused by men, but said his stepfather warned him, “If my son is gay, I’ll shoot him in the head.”

In a nineteen-page autobiographical essay Verse wrote just before his release from Atascadero State Mental Hospital in 2004, he admitted that as early as age eleven he’d bribed a six-year-old boy to fondle him. The boy reported the incident but his parents declined to press charges. At twelve, Verse forced himself on another boy. This time he was caught, but instead of being charged him with a crime, the district attorney’s office offered counseling.

When Verse turned seventeen he fell obsessively in love with a teammate on his high school track team. One Friday night, he invited the friend to sleep over when he knew his parents would be out late for dinner. After a few hours of playing video games on an Atari 2600, Verse considered his crime. “It felt like my mind was struggling between what I knew was right and wrong,” he wrote. “About 9 p.m., I played out my plan and started off play wrestling with him. Before he knew what was happening, I had pinned him.”

Verse reached for a kitchen knife he’d hidden and forced the fourteen-year-old to let his attacker kiss and touch him. Verse stopped only after he saw the fear and anger in his victim’s eyes. He immediately released his grasp and apologized, he wrote. The boy fled the house and the military police arrived the next morning. As Verse was led away in cuffs, he recalled, his stepfather spat out, “Take him away.”

Verse’s sexual assaults over the next five years followed the same pattern. He’d grow infatuated with a male he knew at least casually, and then fantasize about forcing himself upon his victim — before actually doing it.

For attacking his teammate, Verse was sentenced to an Alameda County juvenile camp. There he befriended a seventeen-year-old, and together the two escaped. Once outside, he attacked his pal. Verse, who’d just turned eighteen, was sent to county jail, where he soon tried to force himself on his cellmate. He served two years in state prison, got paroled, and moved to Richmond at age 21, where he sexually assaulted a homeless man in a shelter. In June 1992, his fourth and final assault landed him a twelve-year prison sentence.

Back in county jail awaiting transfer to a state prison, Verse engaged in his first consensual affair. One night, his cellmate surprised him with an offer for oral sex. At first Verse thought it was just a trap to out him, but eventually he complied. “It felt natural and my mind felt open and free,” Verse wrote in his essay. “The idea that I had to force myself on men for homosexual sex seemed ludicrous now.”

A few months later Verse was shipped to Corcoran state prison to serve his time, with parole eligibility in six years. He lied to his fellow inmates about his crimes: He was doing time for assault, period. For six years he avoided mishaps and kept a clean record. (His only infraction was a write-up for carrying dice.)

In 1998, a few months before he was due up for parole, Verse got caught in a legislative snafu that would extend his sentence and ultimately make him a notorious criminal. Two psychologists from the state Department of Mental Health paid him a visit in Corcoran. They’d been sent by the Contra Costa County DA’s office to determine whether Verse was eligible for treatment under the new Sexually Violent Predator Act. Verse agreed to the daylong evaluation without much thought.

The SVP Act was written for repeat offenders like Verse. In 1996, the public was still reeling from the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas, whose killer had committed several previous sex crimes, only to be released on parole. The new law, passed by state legislators in response to the public outcry, let prisons hold repeat sex offenders beyond their original sentences. Instead of parole, the marked prisoners would receive treatment at a state mental hospital.

As the law defines it, a sexually violent predator is someone who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder, and who has been convicted of sexually assaulting two or more victims who were strangers or casual acquaintances. Verse was among the first of these cases considered for rehabilitation. Less than sixty days before his tentative release date, according to Verse, the psychologists returned to Corcoran to inform him that he’d been diagnosed with paraphilia — any of a group of psychosexual disorders characterized by sexual fantasies, feelings, or activities involving a nonhuman object, nonconsenting partner, or pain or humiliation of one of the participants. In his case, Verse fantasized about forceful sex with unwilling adults.

He was one of the first inmates sent to Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo County to join what was dubbed the Sexual Offender Commitment Program. With parole no longer an option, his release date was set back six years, but he was told he could get out sooner if he willingly participated in treatment.

Inside the state hospital, an air of resentment filled the halls, Verse recalled. Attorneys for a majority of the 150 new patient-inmates were challenging their sentences, which had been extended in similar fashion. The inmates boycotted therapy sessions. Frustrated workers complained about disinterested subjects. Verse initially sided with his fellow inmates and waited for a trial.

At the same time, he was taken aback by how freely homosexual behavior occurred within the hospital. He’d never seen anything like it. He began another consensual affair with a 39-year-old patient and also began chatting up a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, reengaging in a dialogue about God and discipline. Buoyant with what amounted to a new sense of self-esteem, Verse decided he wanted to set his life on a course he could control, he wrote. The idea of getting out earlier grew more appealing. He decided to enroll in the hospital’s new program.


Rejection of Others

Cary Verse arrived in Judge Minney’s courtroom an hour early for an 8 a.m. hearing that would determine whether he could move into the Bay Point cottage. He was wearing a thin-fabric suit and reading his Bible. He’d bought a new shirt for the occasion, but resorted to using a paper clip for a tie clip. Since his release, his only job has been cleaning buildings at night, a gig he got through a church member. That morning he sat next to Birgitta Ericsson, a Christian friend. In contrast to the grim-faced mug shot that had appeared in newspapers and television, Verse wore a toothy smile.

“Big day,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay calm, read some passages with Birgitta.”

Verse was arming himself for a long day of public flogging. “I’m going to hear a lot from people today, so I’ve got to prepare myself to hear them out,” he said. “I’m not asking God for any miracles today, just a strong back.”

Verse’s mood was antsy but hopeful. He’d become familiar with the mob chants and media trucks that followed him, yet the prospect of a permanent home had him so excited he’d already started packing.

As local residents began to fill the courtroom, Wendy Cervantes was nowhere to be found. For a week leading up to the hearing she had suffered heartburn and nausea, she said. She was so wound up she snapped at her brother-in-law when he got into an innocent tickle-fit with her daughter one night. “I got dressed to go,” she later explained. “But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. … I wanted to go, but, I don’t know. It was too much, I guess.”

Bay Point resident George Robles sat in the front row across the aisle from Verse, who’d taken a seat at the defendant’s table. Robles, who has lived in the neighborhood for eleven years and whose daughter walks past the Willow Pass cottage on her way to and from middle school, had taken the morning off from his job at Waste Management. His broad shoulders pushed at the seams of his denim jacket. He said he wasn’t much of a public speaker, but in this case he was protecting his daughter. He needed to be heard. “Why would they think he’s good enough for this community if he’s not good enough for others?” Robles asked. “Send him to the city of his last offense. Send him to Richmond.”

They wanted to send him to another planet. When Verse first graduated from Atascadero, the law allowed him and other sexual violent predators to move anywhere they could find a landlord. But in summer of 2004, when convicted serial rapist Patrick Ghilotti settled in Vacaville after leaving Atascadero, a state senator from Solano County introduced a bill that forced SVPs to move back to the county where they last lived. Ghilotti was from Marin.

Since fresh parolees are usually short on cash, the bulk of released sex offenders tend to land in poorer communities such as Bay Point. California has about 100,000 registered sex offenders, of whom 1,300 live in Contra Costa County. The ZIP code that includes Bay Point and Pittsburg, however, has more offenders — 127 — than anywhere else in the county. In Bay Point — population 22,000 — there were thirteen registered sex offenders living just within a quarter-mile of the cottage proposed for Verse. By comparison, only thirteen registered sex offenders live in all of Orinda, Moraga, Danville, and Alamo — suburbs with a combined population of 92,550.

Judge Minney, who was one month away from retirement, took his bench looking regal and relaxed and said he’d listen to anyone who wanted to speak. About a hundred people raised their hands. He began in the front row, working right to left. The first speaker happened to be Verse’s Bible buddy, Birgitta.

She walked up to the podium, which faced the audience and Verse at his table. “There is a danger in knowing Cary Verse,” she said. “The danger is that you will need to come to know yourself. You will need to come face to face with your own sins. … I have known Cary for some time. I respect him, and the way he carries himself through these trials. … I have never met a man who has come so close to walking as Jesus did.”

The crowd went silent. No one expected a Verse supporter.

The next hour and a half was a chain of critics. Kathleen White, a Bay Point resident who wore a gold crucifix around her neck, said, “Mr. Verse, I’m also a Christian. But, and I wish you well, but we live in an area where there are already child molesters. … This causes our property value to go down.”

The floor moved to George Robles, who decided to speak. From the podium he looked at Verse, then over at Judge Minney. “I can assure you, judge, that if something happens to my daughters” — audience members began clapping — “and if Cary Verse is involved, the three deputies who patrol Bay Point won’t be able to stop me.”

A few men in the crowd clapped in response to his not-so-veiled threat.

Melody Chapman, a mother, approached the podium. Ignoring Verse, she addressed the crowd. “He has made evil choices,” she said. “If he lives here, it will add to the chaos of our already struggling community.”

“You got guts,” a burly man told the former convict as he held his son in one arm. “You’re out in the open. … But you’re in my den now. The lion’s den. If anything goes wrong, the home lion will take over.”

The judge took a break, and another half-hour’s worth of speakers returned to complete the flogging Verse had expected.

The last woman to speak didn’t give her name. “I have no kids,” she said. “I have no children. I was molested forty years ago. Everybody liked him — he was charming, he was a great guy. … Well, this morning I had to tell my father what happened just so he wouldn’t see this on the news and be surprised. … I told him for the first time. It was the hardest thing he has ever had to deal with.”

She fought back tears. “Please. Don’t let this happen again,” she said, and then walked out of the room.

Judge Minney drew a pause and asked Cary Verse if he wanted to address the community. Verse said he did. His smile from earlier in the morning had been replaced by the solemn expression in his mug shot. He looked at the audience from behind the microphone, his eyes narrowed and cheeks puffed out like a boxer’s.

“I’m very drained by what I’ve heard, so I apologize,” Verse began softly. “It’s very hard to live down what I’ve done.”

His mouth barely moved as he fidgeted with the podium. The room quieted; Robles’ arms were crossed across his massive chest. “I was very young, very stupid,” Verse said. “I was very bitter. I knew I was angry, resentful. … I think I owe my victims an apology and I will give them that.”

Verse talked softly about his own childhood and how he’d been molested at age five by his best friend’s dad. “I’ve been on both sides of it,” he said. He talked about his current life as a Christian and told the room how his father had taught him to keep things inside, to be tough. “It was the worst thing I ever did.”

When he got to Atascadero he was still resentful, Verse added. But after a while, he decided he’d give the treatment programs a try even if he didn’t expect much. “I learned a lot,” he told the crowd, somewhat humbly.

What Verse didn’t tell them was the details of his lessons: He had attended therapy sessions almost daily for several years. He’d submitted his body to an array of diagnostic tests right out of A Clockwork Orange. In the plethysmograph test, which he took every couple months, a wire connected to a band around his penis led to a computer setup. The monitor flashed erotic pictures and the wire recorded his genital response. According to Verse, the results showed he was attracted to men.

In another test, the ABLE screening, he was shown slides with multiple pictures for two minutes at a time. A detector scanned his eye movements and tracked where his gaze lingered. Again, Verse said the test revealed his sexual attraction to men — but he was never diagnosed as a pedophile.

Yet another exercise called “covert sensitization” had Verse meditate to audiotapes that were designed to condition his thoughts “away from deviant fantasies.”

He was also subject to a constant stream of shrink talk. He participated in small discussion classes: anger management, human sexuality, AA — even though he never drank alcohol or did drugs — and lastly a gay/bisexual discussion group, which encouraged him to send letters to family members announcing his true sexual identity. “All the people I felt would judge me were supportive and willing to open up some discussion with me,” Verse later said. “I was relieved. I couldn’t believe it.”

Verse’s apparent transformation was the kind rehabilitators live for. Once detached and angry, he now took responsibility for his actions and no longer blamed others. He’d regained his connection with humanity. He hadn’t committed a crime in more than a decade.

In early 2002, Verse was just the second sex offender recommended for “graduation” from Atascadero. At his final hearing, five psychologists and psychiatrists testified to his rehabilitation. An additional four expert witnesses, all of whom had testified against paroling him in 1998, now favored his supervised release. Judge Minney agreed, and ordered Verse back into society.

Now, standing at the podium, he asked his future neighbors to accept him. He looked at his audience. “I’m trying to learn to break the cycle,” Verse said. “I want to be open, not hide from anything.”

He looked at Robles. “I see there have been subtle threats made,” he said. “If they have anger and resentment, that’s fine. I just ask, please, take your anger and resentment out on me and not my family. I’d also ask that you respect the Ashes. I hope you don’t damage their property in any way.”

Verse stammered to a close, hoping he’d said all he needed to say. “I’m open to have a conversation with anyone who wants to discuss anything,” he repeated. “People know where I’m at.”

Birgitta and a few of Verse’s other church friends clapped loudly.

Judge Minney surprised the audience. Instead of making his decision as planned, he said he wanted to take time to absorb all he’d heard. “I will notify all the parties by fax in the coming days,” he said. It was a textbook cool-down move.

As the residents filtered out, George Robles said he was unmoved by Verse’s words. “It really didn’t matter to me,” he said. “I still don’t want him on my daughter’s walk to school.”

Anthony Ashe stood off to the side of the room while the news cameras headed out. He was talking to a reporter when a woman in a white shawl approached. “Why are you doing this?” she demanded. “What do you get out of it?”

Ashe leaned back from her body-space intrusion. He offered his hand. “My name is Anthony, what’s yours?”

The woman mockingly shook his hand. “Oh, let’s shake hands, let’s be friends,” she said sarcastically. “Why are you doing this?”

Ashe told her he wanted to give Verse a second chance. The woman clenched her mouth and raised her hand if she were about to slap Ashe across the face. Instead she slapped him on the shoulder. “You are a piece of shit,” she said.


Acceptance of Self

Verse was still awaiting the judge’s decision in his motel room along a grimy stretch of Monterey Highway in San Jose, where the cars zoomed past his window at 50 mph one recent morning. The former convict was anxious and had a difficult time sitting still. The small space was cluttered with moving boxes. BET played on the muted television. A San Francisco 49ers baseball cap sat proudly on an emptied bookshelf. Outside, across the highway, fencers traded goods in the vast parking lot of a drive-in movie theater.

When Verse first moved here last March, a protest line blocked the driveway to the motel parking lot. Police monitored dozens of picketers for a full week before they tired and returned to their homes. Since then, Verse has lived here free from outward hostility. The only people who have knocked on his door are reporters and church friends. “People on the streets don’t get hostile with me one on one,” he said as he took a seat on his couch. “They’re either neutral or positive. When they’re by themselves, they just don’t have that mob mentality.

“There are the screamers, though,” Verse laughed, “the irrational people. But I don’t want to ignore their feelings so I listen to what they say, too.”

The authorities keep Cary Verse on a short leash. On his coffee table was a list chronicling every person who had called him in the past 24 hours and the length of the conversation — the terms of his release demand that he journalize his entire day. Before going up the street to make copies, he had to call his watchers to report where he was going, how long he’d be gone, and what he’d be doing. Prior to the brief trip, he clipped on a GPS device the size of a fanny pack. He also needs approval to make significant purchases. It took him seven months, for instance, to get the okay to buy a $40 used bicycle at the flea market. “I understand where they’re coming from,” Verse said, smiling. “The community feels safer knowing every step I take, but, whooh, boy, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”

Verse attends his church’s local Kingdom Hall at least three times a week, and Bible study twice a week. He also visits his psychologist in Concord weekly, as well as a therapy group, and meets with a psychiatrist once a month. He takes a drug called Depakote for his bipolar disorder. And, somewhat famously, a Lupron implant inside his left bicep essentially removes the testosterone from his body, leaving him “chemically castrated.” His sex drive is nil, he said.

Even Verse’s critics admit that worse molesters live among us with less notoriety. That’s no solace to those who fear that he, like so many other sexual predators, is a creature of habit. In Verse’s own understanding of his criminal motives, he was a repressed homosexual unable to cope with his true self. A victim of child molestation, he grew up tortured by self-loathing. He was confused sexually and lashed out the same way he was lashed out upon. Today, after four years of intense therapy, Verse has made sense of himself: He’s gay.

He got up and reached for his autobiography. “I was about eight or nine years old,” he read aloud. “I was sitting at the edge of one of the local pools and I happily splashed my feet. I felt myself becoming distracted and caught myself feeling captivated by a same-age male peer swimming nearby. I felt some strange sensations and feelings that I didn’t quite understand. It felt like I couldn’t take my eyes off him. It was then that I realized that I had an erection! How could this be happening! I’m only supposed to feel this way about girls. I looked around with the feeling that everyone was staring at me. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and scared. …

“I continually asked Jehovah for forgiveness as I took that long walk home. I knew that he was glaring his powerful eyes down upon me. I knew from my church upbringing that gay people were wicked and doomed to fiery destruction. I didn’t want to die like that. What was I going to do? I couldn’t possibly be gay! I kept this experience to myself.”

Into his teenage years Verse fought any sexual thoughts of males. The more he pushed against himself, the more his repression built, he wrote. “I pushed myself so hard I actually vomited a couple of times.”

Verse joined the track team, excelling at the 400- and 800-yard relays. One afternoon, he confided in one of his teammates that he was attracted to men. The teammate, Verse’s best friend, betrayed his secret to the others. Verse said four teammates later coaxed him into the locker room where they beat him, shouting “black fag.”

The punches and kicks escalated to further acts of humiliation, until the boys finally took turns sexually assaulting him, Verse said. They didn’t leave the locker room until he’d promised to keep his mouth shut.

Verse read on: “I believe that at that moment in time I learned to hate and despise God, life, and my existence. If I would have died at that second, I would not have been unhappy. My thought was, ‘So this is my punishment for my evil gay thoughts?’ I lay there wondering what I was going to do. My world had been turned upside down and it was all my fault.”

Verse stopped reading, then put the paper down and shivered. “See, even now, it still gets to me after all these years,” he said.

After a few seconds, he composed himself. All those years he lived with such low self-regard, he said. Looking back, he could hardly believe it. He’d made peace with himself, his attackers, and God. “I feel a lot freer now than when I was committing my crimes,” he said. “This is the first year of my life I truly feel free.”

Free to a point. Verse had returned to his faith because his God accepted him, despite his past crimes, when society wouldn’t. Yet that same God does not condone Verse’s truest version of himself. Verse has considered this conflict before. How does Jehovah accept him if he’s gay? How could he accept himself if he can’t live out that lifestyle? “Everybody in my group tells me all the time: This is a problem, being gay and not, you know, living it out,” Verse said. “It’s an issue that comes up, and I talk about it. It’s a concern.”

Verse addressed it in his essay. “The question has arisen as to what I would do if I fell in love with an adult male and chose to return to an unrepentant life of homosexual sex,” he wrote. “Therefore getting myself ‘disfellowshipped’ from the Jehovah’s Witness organization. …

“I understand that being attracted to males is part of my existence and I accept that, as does Jehovah. That is a lot different than feeling doomed to be punished for attraction. I do have control over whom I go to bed with. It is not the Witness but the Holy Bible that convinced me that homosexual sex is unacceptable behavior to God. …

“My decision to abstain from homosexual sex in order to please Jehovah was well-thought-out and discussed with others. Proverbs 28:13 explains it well by saying ‘He that is coveting over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy. ‘”

Verse is determined to accept his lot. This fall, he hopes to convince the authorities to end his chemical castration. Jehovah’s grace will lend him guidance. “I make my choices now,” he said. “I can choose the lifestyle I want to live. I may choose to have a wife. I’d like to have a wife.”

**********

Later that afternoon, Verse got the call from Minney’s office. He could move into the Bay Point cottage within ten days. The ruling, the first of its kind under the state law, left no room for appeal. Verse was ecstatic. “I’ve got a new home,” he yelled.

Araceli Ramirez and Anthony Ashe also were pleased. Ramirez’ brother put some final touches to the cottage’s bathroom, and they moved in a big-screen TV. They also prepared their children to meet Verse. “When the appropriate time comes we’ll say, ‘Kids, this is Mr. Verse,'” Ashe said. “‘And Mr. Verse, these are our children.'”

Wendy Cervantes was at home when she got the news. She had taped a picture of Verse on her refrigerator along with those of other sex offenders who lived in the neighborhood. She said she wanted her children to know who was crossing their path. “I don’t know what to feel,” she said. “I know the guy’s not a pedophile. I know he doesn’t go after kids, and he’s gotten into church and all that, but I don’t know. There’s just something about the guy.”


Acceptance of Others

The next night, Verse was in a celebratory mood when he attended his church in San Jose. The Kingdom Hall is a low-ceilinged room about a mile from his motel room. With its cool-gray movie-theater seats, it has the aesthetic of an airplane’s interior with a podium at the front.

When Verse walked through the front door wearing his tie and GPS fanny pack, a church elder held his arms out wide. “Brother Verse, I understand you’re moving on!”

“I am, I am,” Verse said as he embraced the elder and rocked side to side. “I’m gonna miss it here, man.”

As a child, one of the few places that Verse recalls feeling any sense of peace was at Jehovah’s Witness meetings. “I envied the loving families I encountered there,” he said.

He was greeted with handshakes and hugs all the way to his seat. As Verse entered the aisle near the front, a blond-haired woman grabbed him by the forearm.

“I love your new place,” she said. “I saw it on TV.”

“It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” Verse replied with his big smile. The two joked about the hassles of finding someone to help you move.

Verse sat in the center of his row. No other parishioners sat close to him; he later explained that the church elders asked congregants to spread out during service.

Verse pointed out the elders. He seemed most impressed by Brother Rodriguez, an older man who read from the Bible at the podium. Verse said Rodriguez had four or five grown children, all of whom attended church. One of Rodriguez’ younger daughters sat in the front row with her new husband, and Verse marveled at the fabric of their family. “That’s his new son-in-law, isn’t that somethin’?” he whispered. He looked around for other siblings. “I guess they couldn’t make it tonight.”

Brother Rodriguez read a passage from Judges 11: “When we make vows to Jehovah, we need to fulfill them.” Verse nodded in agreement. When it came time to sing, he popped up from his seat. “I like to sing,” he said.

Jehovah the God of salvation

Our God above

Our sins forgive

In your great love

Later in the service, two women performed a skit. They read from a script that prepared parishioners how to deal with family members skeptical about the faith.

One woman played the skeptic, drawing a good laugh when she droned, “Oh, here comes the knocker,” a reference to Witnesses’ door-to-door proselytizing.

The religious sister talked sweetly about Jehovah’s kind spirit and explained why followers must adhere to a “clean and united” way of life.

“So what if someone doesn’t conform to that kind of clean lifestyle?” the suspicious sibling asked.

“Oh, yes,” the actress said, “the Bible tells us how to deal with these people.”

Verse laughed aloud, lifting a hand to his mouth.

The night’s final discussion centered on a reading from Psalms 84:11: “Jehovah himself will not hold back anything good from those walking in faultlessness.”

Verse was trying his best to walk in faultlessness. He felt fatigued, he admitted, from trying to be perfect. He knew the entire community was watching his every move, and so was Jehovah. When he got to Bay Point in a few days, he would register at the local Kingdom Hall as the new parishioner, and with the sheriff’s office as the new sex offender.

That night at Kingdom Hall, Verse sang with his congregation for the meeting’s final ten minutes. It took him another half hour to say his goodbyes to the people who appeared to accept him most, and when he left, he walked alone across the dark parking lot, and looked back at the light coming from the open doors. He had choices to make.

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