Freedom Could Be Close For E. Games
Twice-convicted rapist E. Games fully understands the gravity of his crimes but believes he has earned a right to live a normal life.
One that doesn’t require him to strap a GPS monitor to his ankle.
One that allows him to go to the grocery store without approval from his case manager.
One that lets him ask a woman on a date without first disclosing his past.
But as long as Games remains a client in a state program aimed at controlling violent sex offenders after they are released from prison, he’s not sure that will ever happen.
“I want to be a husband and father one day,” Games said. “But how do I get a woman to go out with me when the second thing I have to say to her is that I’m a registered sex offender?”
Games, 40, is trying to become the first graduate to be released from the state’s civil-commitment program, which he describes as a “therapeutic black hole” from which no one ever escapes. Of the more than 380 ex-convicts who have been assigned to the program during its 15-year history, no one has been released from the program because they have completed treatment.
Three men were released after the courts decided they were mistakenly placed in the program. About half the clients have been returned to prison or jail, some for minor rules violations such as being late to a meeting.
Earlier this year the Montgomery County court that hears the majority of the state’s civil-commitment cases allowed Games to become the program’s first client to live independently, away from the Fort Worth halfway house where he has spent the previous six years.
He bought a residence in Fort Worth, where he lives as a registered sex offender.
Games has undergone extensive therapy and works full time in a managerial position at a food-processing plant. But as long as he remains civilly committed, his flirtation with freedom comes with many conditions.
He’s not looking for sympathy — “I don't have the right to ask any of my victims to forgive me” — but simply an opportunity to rejoin society.
But those in and associated with the program, run by the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management, know it’s an uphill battle.
The program was created in 1999 as an outpatient program for inmates who have two sexual-offense convictions and a “behavioral abnormality” that would make them likely to reoffend. Initial hopes were that successful treatment would eventually enable the clients to function independently.
From his observations, Games said it hasn’t worked out that way. There are at least two others in the Fort Worth halfway house on Henderson Street where he once lived who he believes are capable of independent living.
He says others in the program have followed the rules, found employment, gotten positive evaluations and done everything required of them only to discover that they were still not safe enough to reintegrate into their communities.
“I don't think it was ever intended for people to get out of the program,” Games said. “If someone had told me that a program like this existed in Russia, I would not have believed them.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the program, saying involuntary confinement is being used to administer treatment, not punishment.
But Nancy Bunin, a Houston attorney who has represented several clients of the program in court, said she believes that several of them are indeed still being punished even though they’ve done their time.
The men who are forced into the program get little or no treatment while they are in prison, said Bunin, who once worked for the State Counsel of Offenders, the division of the prison system that represents inmates.
“I’m happy for Mr. Games, but there are other men in the program who are equally able to live independently,” Bunin said. “There’s a huge misconception out there that these men are dangerous, and many of them are not.”
Overcrowding in the Fort Worth halfway house, Games contends, was a major issue.
“We would see six or seven new people come into the house and know to be careful because they were getting ready to send someone back to prison,” Games said. “They never had the room to house that many new people.”
Fort Worth attorney Christy Jack, who last April was appointed board chair for the agency that oversees the program, said the court makes decisions about where the program’s clients can live. Program participants stay in the program until a judge decides they can be discharged.
While Games lives on his own about 90 percent of the clients live in halfway houses. Others are in work-release programs and housed at a county jail and even fewer are housed in an assisted-living facility.
Contractors want out
Jack was appointed to head the board after the former chair, Dan Powers, resigned in April 2014, saying that the workload was too intense for a volunteer. Executive Director Allison Taylor stepped down last year in May as the state began scrutinizing the program for rule violations.
Marsha McLane was appointed as Taylor’s successor and immediately found the office records in disarray. The two primary contractors — Avalon Correctional Services and GEO Group — that operate housing facilities for 185 sex offenders soon announcedthey wanted out. Those clients, including the 32 who live at the Fort Worth Avalon-run facility, will be forced to move by the end of August, McLane said.
The Avalon contract with the state ends Aug. 31. Geo Group officials have agreed to continue to house program participants until the state can find appropriate placements under a month-to-month contract, McLane said.
“We've talked to, looked at, more than 130 locations, and we've got nothing set up,” McLane said. “Our program is an outpatient program, and no one is willing to look at it for their community.”
Avalon previously sought to increase the per-inmate payments from the state from $44 to $77 a day but said later that managing long-term care of sex offenders along with short-term parolees no longer fit with its corporate goals, McLane said. In addition to the 185 men under civil commitment, 178 inmates have been ordered to be placed in it upon their release, including 22 by the end of the year.
Where to place the clients is “the single most important issue facing the civil-commitment program to date,” Jack said.
The program absorbed another public relations blow last month when client Charles Sprague, a 44-year-old twice-convicted sex offender, walked away from the Henderson Street halfway house in Fort Worth. Sprague’s disappearance April 15 sparked a two-day manhunt that ended with his arrest at WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma.
The Sprague incident also apparently triggered security concerns within Avalon, whose officials immediately suspended travel for sexually violent predators except for medical reasons, according to McLane.
Avalon officials declined to comment and referred all requests for comment to the Office of Violent Sexual Offender Management.
Games acknowledges that McLane’s task of persuading a community to provide housing for repeat sex offenders is challenging; he himself would be wary of any proposals to move such a facility into his neighborhood, Games said.
“I don’t think people are being paranoid,” Games said. “I think they have seen the evil in the world. It’s the way I feel now, too. I wish I could write a book to explain ... what sex offenders think before, during and after ... so I can tell people why they should be paranoid.”
Games’ 1st sexual assault
Games pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 28-year-old woman on Sept. 3, 1999, in Lakewood, Wash., a city of 59,000 about 10 miles southwest of Tacoma, a spokeswoman with the Pierce County prosecuting attorney’s office said.
He was sentenced to three years in prison but only served about seven months, according to Washington Department of Correction records.
After his release, Games moved to Texas, where he ended up sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in 2001.
Both times, Games said he had been drinking.
“I was selfish,” said Games, who admitted guilt in each of his convictions. “There’s no warning label on the side of a bottle of tequila that says, ‘May cause sexual assault.’”
In the Washington case, Games and a friend got drunk and a woman he was with offered to let him sleep on her couch, afraid that Games would get in trouble with the Army if he was caught intoxicated in public, according to court records.
The woman told authorities she believed she was safe because she and Games were both in the military, the court document stated.
But after the woman went into the bathroom, she returned to find Games naked. Games made advances toward the woman, who resisted, but Games punched her repeatedly, according to the document. The woman screamed, and Games threatened to stab her if she didn’t stop.
The woman ran to a neighbor’s apartment who had already called the police, the document said.
“The emotional effects of the attack have proven to be more painful and harder to recover from than any of the physical pain,” the woman said in her victim impact statement. “I am afraid to sleep in my own room but can sometimes fall asleep on the couch. I sleep with my car keys in my pocket and my cellphone under my pillow. ... I have bought a gun thinking that it would make me feel safer but it doesn’t.”
Games’ version of what happened is different.
He said the sex started out as consensual but ended with a fight and the woman ordering him out of her house. Still, he took full responsibility for his actions.
“I don’t want them or anyone who has ever been a victim to think that what happened was their fault,” Games said, referring to how he feels about the way he treated his two victims. “You never caused anything. It was me and my messed-up thinking at the time and my selfishness.”
The Texas rape case
On Sept. 2, 2001, a Hill County sheriff’s deputy responding to an attempted sexual assault in Blum met with two girls who smelled of alcohol. At the time, Games said, he was a stocker at a nearby church food pantry.
One girl told the deputy that Games hit her on the head and grabbed at her breast and that she bit his hand and yelled for help, according to the police report. Both girls said they hid as Games drove away.
One girl said that she and Games “had sex once before when she was 15 and she did not understand why this happened,” the report stated.
During an interview with another deputy, Games said he asked both girls how old they were and they replied, “How old do you want us to be?” Games told them, “Old enough,” according to the report.
He was convicted and served eight years in prison.
About 16 months before he was scheduled to be released, he said he was interviewed by a mental health worker for about an hour. Games said he was evaluated for the state’s civil-commitment program during that interview and was found to have met the criteria. He was not immediately told of the decision; that didn’t come until a few days before he was scheduled to be released from prison, in 2009.
“He deemed me likely to reoffend upon my release,” Games said. “I don’t know how he made that determination, but I guess it was all based on my past. I can never escape my past.”
He’s been struggling to regain his freedom ever since.
“The day I got out of prison I went to the halfway house on Henderson Street,” Games said. “I was taken there in shackles and chains and I did not really understand why I was there.”
A believer in the program
Though confused and upset about being placed in the program, Games said he is determined to make it work. The therapy, which he still receives, saved his life, he said.
The most difficult thing has been maintaining family relationships. Some family members have been approved by the state office, while others have not, Games said. Initially, getting a job was difficult because the program limits the participant’s ability to travel and it is tough finding an employer willing to overlook the stigma of an employee with a criminal record, Games said.
“I had to begin networking,” Games said. “I made friends with vendors and other people who were going outside who would be able to pass on my résumé and job applications.”
Games called one company supervisor whom he knew to be sympathetic to his situation, telling him that he just needed a chance. The supervisor said he understood that sometimes people make bad choices and offered Games a job.
“He asked me to please not let him down,” Games said.
Ezio Leite, a licensed sex-offender treatment provider with a decade of therapeutic experience with clients in the state’s civilly committed population, said some people in the program respond well to therapy while others do not. The program must find ways to support those who really want to change while finding ways to isolate those who remain slaves to their deviant behavior, Leite said.
According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 3 and 14 percent of sex offenders released will reoffend within several years but recidivism rates fall further as more time passes.
“People who commit sex crimes overall have a statistically low reoffending rate,” Leite said. “But people are more afraid of sex crimes. The program was good at sending people to prison who were not compliant. It was not good at helping people to grow out of the program.”
Despite his concerns with past problems, Games said he believes that the program is positioned to move forward because of the new people now running the office and board. He desperately wants to be the program’s first graduate.
McLane said Games has a stable work history and has done everything his case managers have asked him to do and then some. His future, she said, is up to him.
“I have not made a mistake or committed a felony or a sexual offense in 15 years,” Games said. “But the only way you can truly know that I’ve changed is if you look after the day that I die and see that I have never committed a crime again. The only way I can truly repent is admit what I’ve done and never do it again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752
The political side
Legislation passed by the Texas Legislature this session might make it easier for people like E. Games to transition to independence, provided it becomes law. The legislation will go to a conference committee.
Senate Bill 746 calls for the civilly committed to begin the program in total confinement, not a halfway house.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee and sponsored the legislation, said clients will get more treatment if the program starts with a total confinement, inpatient structure, which would be more similar to programs in other states.
The program change would allow the civilly committed person to move to less restrictive confinement if he successfully progresses in treatment.
Another plus is that Texas residents will feel safer if clients, at least initially, are confined, Whitmire said.
“As long as they are considered outpatient we will have trouble locating them,” Whitmire said. “It’s more than resistance that we're seeing; it’s more of an attitude of ‘not in my back yard,’ even though the monitoring techniques in the program are stringent.”
— Mitch Mitchell