There is immense power in the written word. Lawyers have made entire careers of contract law and wills; putting our wants and needs to paper. The Constitution continues to define our nation nearly 240 years after it was penned. A first edition Harry Potter book that contained J.K. Rowling’s handwritten notes recently sold for $228,000 at auction. Indeed, our words are worth more than the paper they are written on.
The same can be said for the people of Rose City, Michigan. In recent months life there has been captured by the words of the press. A typically tranquil small town, turned upside down. Tim Barnum of the Ogemaw County Herald,
WEST BRANCH — Former Rose City Middle School teacher Neal Erickson was sentenced to 15-30 years in prison for first-degree criminal sexual conduct July 10.
Erickson, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor during a pretrial in 34th Circuit Court in West Branch May 8.
Erickson was charged with CSC in December 2012 after the findings of a Michigan State Police investigation linked him to the crime. The investigation was started in October of last year, and the findings alleged Erickson and a student who is a minor engaged in sexual conduct from August 2006 to August 2009.
Neal Erickson, considered by many to be a pillar in the community, had a “relationship” with a student. Said student was an 8th grader when it began. (Let that sink in. The kid was probably around 13). In the intervening years, Erickson got married and became a stepfather. The victim grew up and went to college. The relationship came out when someone anonymously sent a picture of the victim to the local school board. The police, naturally, were brought in to investigate.
It’s enough to bring any community to its knees. I’d like to say the entire community rallied around the victim and his family, still residents there. I’d like to say they publicly admonished Erickson, crying out for justice. I’d like to tell you that the teachers, paid with our tax dollars, stood in solidarity with the victim, professing their continued dedication to, not only educating our students, but protecting them from harm.
But I can’t. In May of this year, Circuit Court Judge Michael Baumgartner started receiving letters of support. Not for the victim, but for Erickson. Ten letters, nine of which were written by former or current teachers of the district, were entered into the record. Many talked of Erickson’s dedication to a local 6th grade camp. (Yikes). They all proved two things. You cannot take back the words you write. And these idiots just don’t get it.
His wife, Toni Erickson, wrote that the person that released the photo, “…simply wanted to embarrass the school district, and expose others.” She further proclaims the victim (I will not share his name, though it has been made public) isn’t a victim at all. “X does not perceive himself to be a victim, nor is he living a life that has been negatively impacted by Neal’s actions.” She DOES know who the real victim is in all of this. “Going to prison can’t punish him anymore than he has been already – but there is someone who will be punished if he is sent away – my daughter, Margaret.”
But it gets worse. Sally Campbell, also a teacher, writes in her letter, “Neal made a mistake. He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more.” Harriet H. Coe, retired teacher, wanted to remind the judge that “Neal is, was, and always will be a good, kind, responsible, hardworking person.”
You know, when he’s not trying to bed 13 year old boys. Other than that? Totally responsible.