A young adult from the reservation hamlet of Wolf Point exited high school homeless, without job skills and desperate.
But worse, much worse, than the young person’s lack of education and lack of a job and lack of hope was the brand that barred access and opportunity.
Samantha was 20 when she joined the Job Corps in North Dakota. A fling with a 17-year-old basketball player labeled our heroine a sexual offender. She had fallen in love with Bradley.
The product of this brief romance was Brad Jr. The ramifications were bigger than the baby. Samantha was charged with “corruption of a minor” under North Dakota’s age of consent law.
Today, at 23, Samantha and her oldest children are homeless. It is not tough to find a rental when your name is on the state’s sexual offenders list. It’s impossible.
She has managed to put bread on the table and cover her small family’s other needs but landlords shut their doors on sexual offenders, even if they are petite women with otherwise spotless records.
Having pulled herself up by her bootstraps, the industrious Samantha has money to cover apartment rent, but can find no apartment to rent.
At times her family’s homelessness has driven her to despair. Only her love for her babies gives her the heart to persevere.
Neither Samantha nor Bradley had given a thought to the legal consequences of their love. Neither knew that what they were doing was illegal.
In Montana, Samantha’s home state, a person can be convicted of statutory rape or child molesting if the “victim” is younger than 16 years old.
In most states, including Montana, women are not charged with statutory rape unless the “victim” is 5 or more years younger. In fact, a number of states specify that the victim must be female.
Samantha served two years in the North Dakota State Prison. Before she was freed, her name was added to the national register of sexual offenders.
In Montana a schoolteacher much older than Samantha was sentenced to 30 days for a rape that caused a 16-year-old to kill herself.
“The list” is forever and nationwide. Samantha could move to Key West, Fla., or live to 110. The list would persist, and she would still be unable to find an apartment to rent.
Samantha is currently attending beauty school in Billings. She and her family are squeezed into her brother’s apartment. Bradley Jr. is living with his father in Minnesota. On weekends Samantha hunts for a landlord who will rent to a young woman blacklisted by North Dakota.