After a worried glance past the empty hopscotch courts and patchy playing field, Frank Penna figures it’s safe to drive by P. S. 2. He edges his old hatchback away from the tidy house where he lives, cruises past the school and Seventh Ward Park, with its baby swings and solitary seesaw, then steers right, into safer territory on Stiles Street. When he’s not examining curbside piles of trash, looking for loot he can sell at flea markets – that’s how he earns his living these days – Penna, 56, keeps his eyes focused on the road and out of trouble. Once he’s safely clear of playing children, of parents who fear him, and of the neighborhood toughs who torment him, he starts talking: “I go out driving innocently, looking straight ahead, and a woman might imagine something because that’s the way she’s geared to think – so overprotective of her daughter, she thinks something crazy inside her head and says it to someone else, and someone else. And then I got problems, and I didn’t even do nothing, I’m minding my own business. So that’s why I don’t go out. It’s not that I’m scared or real worried …” He stops for a minute, realizing it’s too late to pretend to anyone, including himself, that he’s not afraid. “I just don’t want to give them any more reason to give me more problems.” Away from South Wood Avenue and 18th Street – and P.S. 2 on the corner – few people recognize him. Nothing about Penna would stand out in a crowd. With his oval bifocals, thick, tanned hands, and graying hair that sweeps back from a widow’s peak, he could, under better circumstances, fit in nicely around town. He doesn’t look like a threat, especially when he’s happily fishing a ceramic appetizer plate from somebody’s garbage, or triumphantly discovering a salvageable hanging chime. Something about the way he always seems to be buying too much herbal tea, forgetting how much he already has at home, makes him seem almost harmless.
Yet his reputation extends far beyond the run-down Seventh Ward, where he lives; farther even than the 37,000 residents of Linden, New Jersey, a faded industrial town just south of Newark. Penna is one of more than 1,200 medium- and high-risk sex offenders living in New Jersey under Megan’s Law, the nationally known community-notification program designed to alert neighborhoods to convicted sex offenders in their midst. When it passed nearly five years ago, New Jersey’s notification law was among the country’s first, but it took full effect in the state only last year, and Penna is part of the first major wave of released offenders to live under its notification protocol.
Frank Penna was convicted in January 1976 of kidnapping and raping two junior-high-school girls aged 13 and 15. Now, seven years after he was paroled and began quietly rebuilding his life on the same street where he grew up, everybody in the neighborhood suddenly knows what the Union County prosecutors and the press called him: kidnapper, rapist, high-risk sex offender, do-it-again-anytime child molester.
Martin Hanks, a 17-year-old high-school junior and the proud father of a baby girl, got the word on Penna early one afternoon a year ago, when a detective from the Union County prosecutor’s office delivered a flyer to homes in the area. sex offender release notice, it read. tier 3. The notice described Penna as 55, five eight and 150 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and hazel eyes. It said he had been released June 25, 1992, after serving time for rape, kidnapping, and impairing the morals of a child.
Penna’s crimes are pretty typical for a high-risk registrant, if any of them can be called typical. Tier 3 offenders can include teenage serial molesters, two-time statutory rapists, and octogenarian can’t-help-themselves kidnappers.
As all Tier 3 flyers do, Penna’s also noted his address. His yard was just steps from Hanks’s family home, where Hanks lives with his five brothers, his two preteen sisters, and, when he brings her home from his girlfriend’s place, his infant daughter, Savannah. Only a tottering chain-link fence separates the two houses. “I would do anything to protect my family, and if I would have seen him even three feet near my sister, I would have attacked him,” Hanks says, sitting in the living room of his girlfriend’s apartment safely up South Wood Avenue, gently bouncing Savannah on his knees. “He’d grab kids, go into the bushes, do his due. He was just a very sick individual from what I understand. I mean, the paper that they sent us didn’t go into detail of what he did.”
Hanks says he’s softened his position on Penna since first seeing the notice – he even considers, for a moment at least, that Penna might be reformed, trying to get on with his life. His father, Martin Hanks Sr., however, takes a harder line. Heavy-set, baseball-capped, mustached, and wearing a blue work jacket with a patch from Montclair Public Works, Hanks Sr., who has come by to see the baby, says convicts like Penna should never leave prison. “You dig a hole,” he says, raising his open palms at his sides. “The National Guard don’t have nothin’ to do? Have ‘em guard that hole, I don’t care how big you make it, as deep as the city. Put ‘em in there. You want to feed ‘em?” he asks, his baritone voice ringing with contempt. “Drop the food in there. That’s the way I feel.”
Hanks Sr., who can watch Penna come and go from his backyard, says he doesn’t worry so much about him, though, even if they did let him out. “Frankly, the neighborhood gave him their feelings about his existence here,” he says. “I don’t think he’s going to do anything stupid, not here, anyway.”
Asked how the neighborhood showed its feelings, Hanks shrugs and answers without pausing. “They shot up his house, didn’t they?”
Indeed, nine days after the prosecutor’s office and police delivered the notices door-to-door around Penna’s neighborhood last summer, a 23-year-old local man, just out of jail himself, fired five bullets into the room right above Penna’s basement apartment. To Penna, the shots were reason enough to stay inside during lunch hours and after school, to sneak around the neighborhood where he learned to ride a bicycle as a child. On this particular afternoon, when he pulls into his driveway after a few hours out collecting, he drives directly to the back of the house to unload his loot, out of sight of the street.
To Hanks Sr., the bullets were more than a desperate stunt by a troubled youth. They were a collective response from an entire neighborhood, an anxious community’s message to a subhuman pervert: Mess with our children, the five bullets said, and you die.
Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl, was raped and murdered in 1994 by a convicted pedophile living across the street. The child’s family and thousands of supporters agreed that if her parents had known about their neighbor’s past, Megan might still be alive. The case sparked a national furor and prompted the New Jersey legislature to pass Megan’s Law in 1994. (This was not, as some think, the first legislation of its kind: A similar law was passed in Washington State in 1990.) Megan’s death led Congress to require all states to enact sex-offender community-notification laws by September 1997 or face punitive reductions in federal crime-fighting funds. Every state complied, though with varying degrees of fervor. Some states agreed to release information to the media, run telephone information lines, or provide CD-rom databases of registered offenders. At least fifteen maintain Websites listing offenders known to be living within their borders, and four more have approved plans to develop such sites.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement site, for example, lists 13,599 people, from kiddie-porn collectors to violent sexual predators, by name, address, and description. Pictures of each offender are accompanied by two blue-and-red flashing police lights. In Louisiana, local police compel released sex offenders to fill out and mail notification cards to their neighbors and to pay for newspaper advertisements about their presence in a community. Judges can also require offenders to post signs in their yards or wear special identifying clothing.
In New York and New Jersey, several high-profile court challenges delayed full deployment of the new laws. In New York, a state law passed in 1995 requires authorities to register and classify sex offenders according to risk level. New York also makes its registration database available to the public through a pay-per-use telephone line. Currently, that service is strictly limited under the terms of a federal court’s injunction, and its operators can give no information beyond whether an individual is registered and – if he committed his offense after January 1996 – the offender’s risk level.
In New Jersey, the 1994 law has also been toned down following several court challenges and injunctions, and the bulk of notifications began only nineteen months ago; as in New York, New Jersey police and prosecutors can distribute information only about registered sex offenders who have been classified, by means of a point scale, as medium- or high-risk. Officials can distribute notices only to people who might come in contact with the offender, and recipients are forbidden, in principle, from passing the information to the press or even to neighbors who fall outside of the approved distribution area. Before the notification even starts, offenders may appeal their classifications before a judge.
To be sure, any laws that require known offenders to register with local police unquestionably help law-enforcement officials keep track of them, and a good deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that registration alone helps prevent crimes. But community-notification laws (designed to inform the public-at-large, not just local police) haven’t been in effect long enough for a thorough evaluation, and researchers have only just begun to document their effects. In a not-yet-published study funded by the National Institute of Justice, the Department of Justice’s research arm, criminologists in Wisconsin found that community notifications may cause more harm to offenders – and, by extension, make them potentially more, not less, dangerous to the people notification seeks to protect. The study is the first in the U.S. based on interviews with the offenders themselves, and many of its subjects spoke of being forced to move time and again as angry parents pushed them out of town. Some had to opt for low-security prisons and halfway houses, the only places that would take them. They told of losing jobs and vital social networks. One offender told how his young daughter was questioned by her friends at school after a notification included his history of incest.
“If these people know that you’re a sex offender and they keep saying – keep pointing at you and everything else,” one offender told the researchers, “everything breaks under pressure, everything. No matter what. No matter how strong he thinks he is. You taunt a dog long enough, no matter how calm and collected that dog might have been the whole time, it might have been the most loving dog with children and everything else – but you taunt that dog long enough, it’s going to bite.” Richard Zevitz and Mary Ann Farkas, the study’s authors, write that the 30 offenders they interviewed face-to-face said stable housing and employment would help them get through the stigma of notifications. The alternative, one offender told them – the actual system of notifications currently in effect in most states – is going to put them over the edge. “That’s exactly what this law does,” he said. “It makes John Q. Public taunt the sex offenders. And sooner or later, something is going to snap.”
The third child in a family of two boys and two girls, Frank Penna grew up in the same house in Linden he lives in today. The Pennas were well liked in the neighborhood, but his parents had their problems. Frank’s father, Joe Penna, worked in the oil industry. Joe beat his wife when he was drinking, which was often enough for the neighbors to notice, though Frank insists his father wasn’t a drunk and his parents fought only occasionally. (Both parents are now dead.)
In school, Frank had a hard time fitting in. His teachers at P.S. 2 held him back two years, and by his early teens, he was putting more effort into extracurricular pursuits than into his studies. He was good at shop, and his skill at fixing bicycles earned him the admiration of the kids in the neighborhood. As he worked his way up to making gas-powered go-carts, even local mechanics chipped in with free welding and advice.
At first, Linden police noticed Penna because they had to shoo him and his contraptions off the streets. But eventually, he attracted more serious attention. Penna was first arrested when he was 13, for vandalism. A few years later, he dropped out of high school to work in a laundry, and when he was 20, he paid a $100 fine on a lewdness charge and spent time in jail for burglary. Later, he joined the Army with a friend but was discharged after just a few months, depressed and drinking heavily. He went through a series of jobs – roofer, mechanic, motorcycle detailer – but by the mid-seventies, he was an alcohol-and-drug-dependent mess. He used pot, hash, LSD, downers, mescaline, and heroin. He kept his dark hair scraggly and his beard full, and he rode a custom-built 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead chopper. “Used to be, all the neighbors, man, they didn’t like me,” he says. “We used to have packs of motorcycles drag-racing up and down the street and everything. We used to terrorize the neighborhood.”
There were women too. “Back then, girls used to support us and all that,” he recalls. “We had the old ladies and … the girls. They used to come around and, like, idolize us, and they used to – we used to swap ‘em and trade ‘em for parts and drugs, back and forth to each other. You know, it was pretty wild then, no aids or nothing. It’s not like that no more. Back in the seventies, it was …” The sentence seems to die beneath the gathering hiss of a kettle boiling water for herbal tea in his small kitchen. “Never again,” he says.
Penna knew he was bound to crash. On July 31, 1975, he and a friend were driving through Linden in a two-door Cadillac when they stopped to pick up a couple of junior-high-school girls returning from the Wheeler Park pool. According to Penna, the men had met the girls earlier that day and had agreed to pick them up. He says they offered the girls pot laced with angel dust, and he says they accepted it. The girls later told police they were forced into the car. They said Penna’s friend forced pills down their throats. Penna doesn’t make many excuses about any of this. Even if he attributes his crime, as he sometimes does, to his drug problems, or to the free-loving era in which it happened, or to the stupidity of his youth, he readily owns up to his mistakes.
The girls told police that they were raped in the woods after the men stopped the Cadillac. Whatever the details, given the drugs and their young age, they were raped. A few weeks later, after motorcycling through Virginia, Penna was arrested. He faced a jury for four days in January 1976 and was found guilty of kidnapping and rape.
At first, he says, the 125-year sentence underwhelmed him. “I didn’t care, because I figured that for so long I had the cops, you know, playing ragtag, and they were always trying to bust me and lock me up – it was all like a game,” he recalls. “When I got to jail I thought, They can’t get me no more, I’m free from all that. It kinda had a nice ring to it, you know. The reality didn’t hit me until about three, five years later.”
When reality finally set in, he tried to use his time wisely. He completed his high-school-equivalency exam, then continued with college courses. He studied horticulture, adobe house construction, fish smoking, leather working, and oil painting. He was a group leader in a behavior-modification training program and taught yoga to fellow inmates. He took self-awareness and decision-making courses, attended group therapy for rapists, and chaired Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for five years, never missing a week. “I seen I wasn’t getting out after a while,” he says, “so I just made the best of it.”
Along the way, he successfully appealed his sentence, in effect getting the two rape counts treated as one. The appeal brought his sentence down from 125 to 65 years. And during a second bid for parole, he satisfied psychiatrists and the board that he could be trusted to reenter society. On June 25, 1992, after nearly seventeen years in prison, Penna was set free, his debt to society paid.
He lived quietly when he got out, staying with a girlfriend while working as an assistant in her accounting office. When they broke up, Penna’s sister, Ann, who had begun looking after the family home for their ailing mother, let him move into a basement apartment rent-free. He worked for a while as a freelance mechanic and as a driver for a car auction. He began volunteering at Saint Joseph’s Social Service Center in nearby Elizabeth, which was where he met Edith Cheney.
Edie, a former Sister of Christian Charity, lives at the center and works there as a registered therapist. She locks her steering wheel and activates the alarm whenever she leaves her car. She worries about street violence, and she’s quick to point out that she strongly supports the principle of Megan’s Law. She believes in protecting children.
“He would offer to volunteer,” Cheney says as she leans back in her armchair in the study where she sees clients. “We asked him a couple of times to fix things. He’s handy.” In September 1994, Penna asked Cheney for counseling. “He was very up-front with me. He said, ‘I want to tell you my story,’ and as he told me his story, I mean, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Here I am trying to protect women and empower women. So I let him know. I said, ‘You know, it’s very hard for me to hear this.’ And he said, ‘I knew it would be, and I felt I had to be honest about who I am and where I’ve come from.’ And he said, ‘I’ve really had a wild youth and I really want to have a life out here that is productive, that is good. I want to be a person.’ “
She realizes it sounds strange. “You know,” she adds, trying to explain what he meant, “a good person.”
At the time, Penna wasn’t worried about Megan’s Law, even though the first few notifications in 1995 had made the news. One night, he watched as a CBS Evening News crew followed Plainfield, New Jersey, police who were distributing notifications door-to-door. He heard how in Phillipsburg, a father and son broke into a house listed in a notification and beat up its occupant. It turned out to be the wrong man. Penna never thought the law would apply to him: He didn’t see himself as a sex offender. And the law was getting tied up in court challenges, anyway.
He started seeing Cheney once a week. They talked about his past and how badly he wanted to get over it. They dealt with his depression and anxiety at being out of prison. They even worked on his romantic life, Cheney says. After moving back to Linden, Penna had met someone new. “He had a very nice relationship with a woman who was a widow. He brought her over once because they were having some communication issues. So she actually joined us in a session, and we talked about it. That was good. Things were going better in their communication.”
Penna’s parole officer requested progress reports from Cheney, and she was happy to oblige. In April 1997, she wrote: “Since Frank appears to be doing very well and my own schedule is even more demanding, we have agreed to begin meeting monthly, with the understanding that the door is always open if he needs to call or schedule a special session.”
He volunteered at the Veteran’s Administration hospital, worked as a summer shore-bird warden at a local park and as a canvasser for the American Cancer Society. He supported himself with flea markets, and as he got smarter about junk collecting, he moved into more upscale items like collectibles, antique housewares and ornaments, and high-profit mechanical goods such as lawn mowers and VCRs. He visited his sick mother in the hospital, taking regular turns with his sisters. He paid to remove the tattoos he bore after years of hell-raising. With his girlfriend, he got into classic movies, and he spent his spare time on the New Jersey shoreline, fishing for bluefish, striped bass, and fluke, and searching for coins with a recycled metal detector.
Then, last summer, everything changed. Megan’s Law survived another court challenge, and New Jersey’s prosecutors began contacting sex offenders again. The parole officer stopped requesting written progress reports from Cheney. The letters couldn’t help Frank Penna anymore.
Megan’s law splits registered sex offenders into three groups. The bulk of the registrants, the ones in Tier 1, don’t have it so bad, especially when compared with offenders in other states. Considered the least likely to commit more crime, they register once a year with the local police and must keep authorities informed of their whereabouts. Their neighbors don’t have to be informed.
Tier 2 offenders, at a moderate risk of offending again, don’t live quite so anonymously. Neighborhood schools, licensed day-care centers, summer camps, and community groups that register with police are notified.
Tier 3, reserved for the most dangerous released offenders, means flyers to schools, day-care centers, camps, and community groups as well as door-to-door warnings in a court-approved distribution area. The object is to reach just about everyone the offender might bump into. Notifications resumed in January of last year. Penna watched the papers.
Some Tier 3 flyers, such as the ones describing a sex offender in nearby Rahway, wound up in the local newspapers. All along, in other states, some offenders’ cars and homes had been picketed and even firebombed. A few offenders had killed themselves.
Maureen O’Brien, an assistant prosecutor in Union County and supervisor of the county’s released-offender unit, says she and her staff do all they can to keep notification flyers away from the press and from people outside offenders’ neighborhoods. She speaks to PTA and community meetings to warn parents against harassment and vigilantism and to defuse panic after notifications. She says the work usually pays off, but still, notices do wind up on telephone poles, on community bulletin boards, and in the papers. O’Brien admits the pressure that publicity puts on offenders can be dangerous. “Does notification make it more likely that they’ll offend?” she asks. “Maybe.” Two weeks after a notification was issued in one New Jersey county, the man allegedly tried to grab a little boy. Notification, O’Brien warns, didn’t necessarily have anything to do with it. All the same, she volunteers, it might have.
To determine which tier an offender belongs in, the state uses the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale, a list of thirteen factors devised to predict released offenders’ future behavior. The scale runs to a possible 111 points, with Tier 1 falling between zero and 36 points, Tier 2 between 37 and 73 points, and Tier 3 topping 74 points. The answers are filled in by prosecutors, and the test doesn’t require the usual rules of evidence. After seven items, Penna had already scored 71 points, and some of that was based on unproven charges from his rap sheet dating to his adolescence. His substance abuse, in remission, cost him an additional two points. And he got one point because his volunteering and scavenging – two activities from which he derives considerable pride – weren’t considered stable enough. But his living situation did him in. He had moved back into his family home, in part because he could live there rent-free. Yet the home was across from an elementary school, which cost him three points. It didn’t matter that his victims weren’t elementary-school-age or that he had never had any run-ins with preteens.
Despite the six years he lived after parole without getting in any trouble, and despite the psychiatric tests and the parole reports of good progress, the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale ratedPenna a 77. Four points into the high-risk category.
“I knew I was gonna have a lot of problems. Like I couldn’t walk around with my head up like I paid for the crime, that’s it, it’s over with.” Penna sits on the edge of his couch, trying to reconcile his situation with the press clippings, certificates of merit, letters of reference, and prison records he keeps bundled in cardboard folders. “I knew stuff was going to … I knew I’m going to get repercussions. I knew I was going to have problems, especially in the area where I live, where the notices was given out. And that’s what happened.”
At first, though, nothing really did happen. Kids bothered him with noisy taunts and nasty looks, but the neighbors who knew him barely reacted. One elderly neighbor, who has lived for decades next door to Penna’s home, said she couldn’t understand why the prosecutor’s office sent out the flyers. “I just couldn’t believe that they did that to him,” she said. “As soon as I seen him when he came back from prison, I knew he was a different person.” Many of Penna’s neighbors on 18th Street said they knew what he had done, but that after so many years, he was no longer a real threat to the community. They said he should be allowed to get on with his life. The neighbors who didn’t know him just kept well away.
But early on June 16, 1998, just a few days after the notifications went out, five gunshots jolted Penna awake. They barely missed a tenant living upstairs. Two hours later, just as satellite trucks pulled up and TV reporters began clambering across the front yard, he fled to a relative’s house.
The story went out accompanied by Penna’s name, address, and mug shots. It was a grander version of the original notification. His sister tried defending him to reporters but has subsequently declined to speak to the press. Many of Penna’s neighbors stood up for him. One longtime resident, Stacy DaSilva, told a reporter that she didn’t worry about Penna or about her 9-year-old daughter’s safety. “I know what kind of man he is,” she said, “and he wouldn’t hurt her.” Some people said they did fear him. One of the teenagers who used to taunt him told reporters he had seen Penna leering at small children.
The family of the shooter, Jimmy Johnson, said he was only trying to protect his young sister. “Who wants to live next to a rapist?” his mother said during a brief interview on her doorstep.
“I lost a lot of friends over this,” Penna complains. “One guy that I was friends with in the VA hospital, he went out and made xerox copies of an article and he gave it to everybody – down at the beach where we go fishing, at his work. That guy, he wasn’t supposed to do that. Now I got people looking at me funny in the hospital, too.”
He can’t find work – he hasn’t even tried since the notification. He used to obsess about getting his record expunged, or being bumped down to Tier 2. In theory, if he can hold down a regular job in spite of his notoriety, he can shed a point. If he can find a new home and make it through another notification, he can shed another three points. But the point scale, explains O’Brien, the assistant prosecutor, is only a tool. Prosecutors can appeal to bump offenders either up or down a tier regardless of the results of the test, and they’ve used that option before.
Once he hits fifteen years out of prison, and if he meets a host of therapeutic and behavioral criteria, Penna can apply to forgo further registrations and notifications. In essence, he can appeal to be a free man again. It’s a possibility, but it rarely happens. In New Jersey so far, there are only two confirmed cases in which an offender has been granted that status.
For now, he tries to live his life, always feeling like a target. “It would be different, maybe, if Linden was small and countrylike and everybody knew me and people weren’t moving in and out,” he says. “They could come to some kind of an understanding. But the way it is now, someone new just moves into the neighborhood, scatterbrained, you know. If they’re in a bad mood, they might take it out on me.”
These days, Penna is thinning down the junk he’s collected and trying to focus more on antiques. He keeps bicycles and bicycle wheels, dust-laden chandeliers, and ancient radios in his garage. Open toolboxes and extension cords practically carpet the stairs that descend into his apartment. In an unfinished room, he’s storing pottery, housewares, party favors, and children’s toys in boxes with hand-lettered labels such as donald duck, unicorns, and mechanical wind-up dolls, just until he can sell them en masse to serious collectors.
Out back, he keeps a tidy mechanic’s scrap yard, leaving a few salvaged machines under an overturned aluminum skiff, storing others in the shed. “Outboards, motorcycles, lawn mowers, everything – all kinds of shit – weed-whackers,” Penna says. He laughs. “I find ‘em. People throw ‘em out and there’s just little things wrong with ‘em.” A few times a week, he sets out before dawn to upstate flea markets, hauling his loot behind the car in a homemade trailer. He makes a decent living, too, returning most afternoons with his hands grimy from handling fives and twenties all day.
He still volunteers a few days a week and waits for his parole officer to visit every Monday. He goes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and has practically adopted an old lady around the corner as a surrogate mother, keeping her hedges trimmed and her roof watertight in exchange for dishes of meatballs and homemade soups. “Well, I can’t work,” he explains. “I can’t get a real job, so I do volunteer work. It keeps me busy, it makes me feel good, and it keeps my mind occupied so I feel good about myself.” Of course, he can’t ride his bike around the Seventh Ward anymore, so he walks a few days a week around a park in a neighboring city. He battles depression, watches his heart, and avoids all alcohol.
He stays sane through yoga and meditation, often listening to one of the New Age relaxation CDs he keeps handy. “See, I know better than to despair and disgust, feeling worthless and lowering myself to the mentality – like the prosecutor’s office and all the negative-thinking people – about Megan’s Law,” he says. “I’m not gonna feed into that. I’m stronger. I’m not going to feed into the negative tide the way they want me to.”
But even as the uproar over the notices and the shooting fades, Penna fears his troubles will soon start again. His mother’s will left the house to Frank and his sisters. After she died last year, they put it on the market. As the neighborhood returns to normal, the house will find a buyer, and Penna will have to move. Another neighborhood will learn about the kidnapper, rapist, and dangerous, high-risk sex offender in its midst.
One afternoon, Penna is hammering out and filling the body dents in his 1974 pickup truck. A natural mechanic and handyman, he seems to relish the chance to reclaim other people’s castoffs. He figures he can get the truck in shape to register it as a historic vehicle and save money on insurance. Already, the toolboxes built into the side fold down into traveling display cases, and he’s tinkering with a generator he found so he can prove to thrifty shoppers that his recycled televisions and VCRs really work. Besides, having a pickup truck would let him salvage larger antiques; then he could really get into business.
He picks himself up off the back steps, where he’s been enjoying a last warm breath of late-afternoon sunshine, and checks on his work. He starts scraping away some filler as he considers a question about his future. He wants to build an adobe house, and he wants a garden. He wants to heat his house with solar power. He hopes to smoke fish and get along in life like everybody else. “I’d like to be retired,” he says. “Well, I hope to be living in Delaware. Down the shore in Delaware somewhere. Just selling antiques. Collecting and selling antiques.” Of course, Delaware’s notification laws are every bit as broad as New Jersey’s. Delaware supplements community notifications by posting medium- and high-risk notifications on the Internet.
For a minute, Penna considers what would happen if he just disappeared. “I might just move and don’t even tell them,” he says, thinking out loud. “I’m not gonna get in trouble, you know. They’re not gonna be looking for me. Such an old crime. I’m an old man now; the likelihood of me committing a crime like that again is not probable at all. If it was, I’d be right back in prison already.”
Later, he seems to drop the idea. He sounds resigned to what’s ahead. “I felt clean,” he says, leaning to gently turn a reddening tomato hanging from one of the plants he’s been growing. “My debt to society was paid. Now it’s like it will never, never be paid. This will follow me for the rest of my life.”