"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

stranger than fiction...

I have come late to writing. Or, to be exact, I have returned late to writing. Next month, in mid-February, I will celebrate the miracle (a word I do not use lightly) that occurred one desperate night and brought me back to writing, the night that changed my life.

I would love to be able to write fiction, but find I am plot-challenged. I cannot think of a plot that’s intricate enough to sustain more than two pages. I am most comfortable in the non-fiction genre, but, as the fellow said, life can be stranger than fiction.

The story I am about to tell is true. You just won’t believe it.

Gambling is illegal in Alaska. There’s a loop hole, though. Non-profits and charities can have drawings and so on to raise money. Businesses can peddle pull tabs, but at least ten per cent of the profit must go to the charities. At first, the idea of a lottery seemed like a good idea. Sell a bunch of tickets, draw a winning number, split the proceeds with the winner, the lottery operator and the charity. Win, win, win, right?

Thus, there was quite a bit of interest when Lucky Times Pull Tabs recently announced the winning number in the state’s first $500,000 lottery. They estimated somewhere around 150,000 tickets at five bucks each were sold. Advertising on TV, however, is still illegal, and that probably limited ticket sales. It seemed to me it took a while before the winner’s name was revealed, and when it was, all hell broke loose. No other way to describe it, because the winner, Alec Ahsoak, 53, is a convicted sex offender.

That’s not the whole story. In an unbelievable twist of irony, the charity that is to benefit from the lottery is none other than STAR, an acronym for Standing Together Against Rape. This agency aids victims of sexual abuse, and according to the story in today’s newspaper, expects to receive between $2000 to $20,000 as its share of the profits, most likely something closer to the lesser amount.

As for Ahsoak, he did the time the state demanded for his crimes, which came after his guilty pleas in 1993 and 2000 to sexual abuse of a minor. After being released from prison last March, he said, he has tried to turn his life around through therapy. Currently living in a Salvation Army-run hotel, Ahsoak was quoted as saying he wants to buy a house with his winnings. He also wants to give some of the money to God and charity. The owner of the pull tab parlour suggested that charity be STAR.

First, according to the paper, Ahsoak said he would donate $50,000. Later, he upped it to $100,000. Now, he says his attorney has advised him not to speak to the media reporters.

In the meantime, a firestorm of controversy erupted. The daily talk shows are filled with varying opinions. Letters to the editor of the paper are just as varied. Some say Ahsoak has paid his debt for his crimes. Others say he may have paid his debt but his victims will suffer forever. Others think the victims should sue Ahsoak for reparations, like the Goldman family did after O.J. was acquitted of murdering their son.

One of Ahsoak’s victims, now a woman in her twenties, was quoted by the paper, and in one sentence revealed what being a victim of sexual abuse can do to a child. She said it felt like a slap in the face, and “We’re still dealing with it, and he gets to walk away with half a million dollars.” After taxes, Ahsoak will receive about $350,000.

Ahsoak, it seems, was baby-sitting the children when the abuse took place. He was a friend of the family. He claims that he also was a victim of abuse as a child, was orphaned at four, and spent part of his life at the Jesse Lee Home for Children in Seward. He bounced around in foster care, and was reported to be an alcoholic at seventeen. He also served four years in the U.S. Army.

As for STAR, it’s response has thus far been classy and is avoiding the controversy as much as possible. A spokesperson told the newspaper reporter that the events of the past couple days “underscores the scope of the sexual abuse problem in Alaska, where the rate of reported rapes is the highest in the nation…”

Today, while Ahsoak was being partly defended but mostly demonized in the public discourse, a twenty year old man from California had different thoughts. As Ahsoak wandered into various stores in downtown Anchorage, a young man asked him if he were the lottery winner. He said he was.

When Ahsoak exited the mall, Pepsi in hand, the young man was there waiting, only he had something much more lethal in his hand. Some say it was a pipe, others say it was a tire iron. Whatever it was, the dozen or so blows that landed on Alec Ahsoak did severe damage. He managed to escape by throwing his soda into his attacker’s face. He then ran to a nearby cafe, where employees called 911.

As of this evening, Ahsoak had been treated and released at a hospital. His injuries, they say, are severe but not life-threatening. Robbery was not a motive. His alleged attacker, Brandon Hughes of Los Angeles, was arrested and charged with second degree assault. Although bail was set at $90,000, Hughes will not be released on bail because he also is being held on a fugitive warrant from California.

It is apparent that Alec Ahsoak is an Alaska Native, one of the First Peoples. As is true with so many of his race, when they smile they do so with their whole face, and I find it impossible not to smile with them. He was positively glowing as he was presented with an oversized check to symbolize his winnings.

And, in an interesting side note to this story, the accused attacker was identified as a white man. This is seldom done anymore, as political correctness has swung way too far to avoid insult. I often wonder how fugitives can be identified when race or skin color is not publicized.

I don’t think this story is over, and while I am sorry that Alec Ahsoak was subjected to a vigilante-style beating, I am even more sorry for his victims, whose scars may not be visible, but are indelible nonetheless.

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