- Carol Nesteikis has said her son, Adam, should not be on the sex offender registry.
- She wants legal reform for people like her son who have developmental disabilities.
- This is the story of Nesteikis, 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 sometimes I wish that Adam, our severely intellectually disabled son, died before me and my husband, Robert. Our fear of the future never ends: where will it live? How will he manage? Who will take care of him?
The anxiety is all the more overwhelming as Adam’s name appears on the sex offender registry. He committed a crime nine years ago without understanding the implications or realizing what he had done wrong.
A troubled young man who lived next door to us told Adam it would be “fun” to drop his pants in front of the boy’s 5-year-old niece. My son had the intellectual capacity of a 10-year-old child. We learned that he had been horribly manipulated and silenced.
I feel enormous compassion for the girl. Yet I believe Adam was betrayed by the justice 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 to inform communities of “sexually violent predators” living in their neighborhoods. But Adam is neither violent nor predatory.
Our son with an intellectual disability is 35, but his mental age has regressed from 10 to 2 years due to his fear
Shortly after being convicted of “sexual exploitation/organ exposure” in 2013, Adam regressed to the mental age of a preschooler. 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 home. The three of us share a small condo in Chicago where Adam has the only bedroom, I sleep behind a partition and Robert sleeps in the living room.
Adam, who is 35, spends much of his day watching a robot vacuum move across the carpet. Robert and I are 71 and 69 respectively. We thought we would have moved to Florida at 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 strictest sex offender laws in the United States. If we went to Florida, Adam would stay on his sex offender registry for life. A group home wouldn’t take it. A job or an apartment would be impossible to find. I can’t bear to imagine Adam being homeless, suffering or dying on the streets after we passed away.
Adam was officially diagnosed with his “invisible” disability when he was in fourth grade. He had a host of interventions like speech therapy and occupational therapy throughout his childhood. He did not graduate from high school, but received a certificate of attendance. He had individual aids and, at 18, functioned as if he were about seven years younger.
He went through a transition program that taught people like Adam as much about independent living as possible. The children were assigned jobs, which they changed every 90 days. Adam worked for a video store and a car rental agency. He got involved with Special Olympics in our state. He won trophies and gold medals in his favorite sports, including pétanque and athletics. He was introduced to scuba diving by an organization that works with the disabled.
Adam’s friendship with the neighbor turned out to be a disaster
In his early twenties, he landed a steady job cleaning tables at Applebee. He held the position for five years and regular customers appreciated his smiling face.
Adam was friends with the young man next door, whom our neighbors had taken in since he was 10 years old. I remember asking his parents to stay home when Adam was at home to keep an eye on them. The young man’s niece, the daughter of his biological sister, lived in the same house.
Life broke up in March 2012. Our neighbors told us that they were taking their son to the police station because he abused the 5-year-old girl. Later, the girl told detectives about the time Adam pulled his pants down. We went straight to Adam. He said, “Yes, I did.” He said the neighbor sexually abused him but told him to keep it a secret.
Our lawyers told us that the case would have been different if Adam and his attacker hadn’t been in their twenties. Adam, whose case was handled in tandem with that of the neighbour, was classified as a consenting adult.
Prosecutors declined to consider Adam’s abuse. They ignored the confirmation we received from a psychosexual therapist. He was charged with 19 crimes. Our lawyers said, “You don’t want him to go to jail,” and they said we would never win a case: Adam was functioning like a child, they said, but the jury would see a man.
His name was placed on the sex offender registry
They said a single-misdemeanor plea deal was our “best bet.” The neighbor had agreed to the same deal a month earlier. Everyone said “it would all be over” if we did the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Adam, who received the same sentence as the neighbor, was forced to wear an ankle monitor during his two-year probation period. He was forced to leave the house where he was born and move in with his father in the apartment we had skimped on buying. It had a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. We were his main guardians, so we were also under a curfew.
He was on the sex offender registry for 10 years. His name should be retired next year, but once you’re in the system, that’s it. Adam will never again be able to find a job, live near children, or enter a public park, where many disabled sports events take place. The system was to strip him of his humanity – not to send him back into society.
It was heartbreaking when we had to sell our home in 2018. The local community had rallied behind us, although an anonymous person sent us a hate mail shortly after Adam’s sentencing. The letter read: “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 leave 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 installs a child’s swing, for example, we will have to move.
The psychological toll on our family has been unimaginable
I think the agony took 10 years from our lives. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and am taking medication for anxiety. Isolation and the inability to indulge in his hobbies set Adam back. He frequently stays in his room, watches the robot cleaner, plays with fidget spinners and talks to Alexa. He suffers from chronic depression, but does not understand why. Nevertheless, he will say, “When it’s over, we’ll go to dessert.”
Robert and I have sworn to fight in his name. In 2015, I co-founded a non-profit organization called Legal Reform for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. We want special courts introduced for people like Adam. Teachers, police, prosecutors, judges and politicians need to be made more aware of intellectual disabilities.
We have asked the Governor of Illinois to pardon Adam, but no one knows if he will decide or when. A group of expert petitioners pointed to the mitigating factor of Adam’s abuse ahead of a hearing last fall. Among them were a psychologist, a former assistant prosecutor and a policeman. The sergeant said in his letter of support that our son is “acting like a sweet young child”.
“Please right a wrong for Adam,” he wrote. That’s all we ask.
Do you have a compelling story to share with Insider? Please email details to [email protected]