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Welcome to gozarks portal into the past, present and future of life as we know it.... researched, observed, intuited and empirically experienced from an isolated nook in a semi-rural cranny of The Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.

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Robert Kimball Combs

Native son of Oklahoma, Robert Kimball Combs, who most folks know as "Kim," graduated with a B.A. in History from San Francisco State University in 1977, and by 2004 had earned his Certificate in Object Conservation from the University of California Berkeley’s Lowe Museum of Anthropology, his Master of Arts in Museum Studies from John F. Kennedy University’s San Francisco Center for Museum Studies, and nearly completed his Doctorate in Information Sciences from the University of South Africa.

At right: Robert Kim Combs stands beneath the Broadway Bridge in Little Rock, Arkansas, near where he slept on a cardboard box when he was released from federal prison and found himself homeless. >>>>

Along the way, Combs built a solid career as a Museum Director and History Professor, working first as Curator for the San Mateo County History Museum and by 2004 having served as Museum Director for five additional museums, including the U.S. Army Engineer Museum in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and the 2nd Infantry Division Museum in Uijongbu, Republic of Korea.

From his homeoffice in Little Rock, Combs is a potent advocate for guaranteed access to rehabilitative services for the homeless, effective reentry programs for ex-offenders and equal treatment under the Constitution for everyone.

“I was very lucky in my career,” Combs, who is the co-founder and Emeritus Executive Director of Arkansas Time After Time (ATAT) and a member of the Steering Committee of the Central Arkansas ReEntry Coalition, spoke candidly about the privileged life he enjoyed. But this was before he sent a disk containing illicit images downloaded from the Internet to an undercover detective in Arkansas, was convicted of mailing child pornography, spent 5 years in federal prison and ended up homeless, sleeping on cardboard under the Broadway Bridge in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. It was, to say the least, quite a come-down.

As a child, Combs was chauffeured to school by limousine. Graduate studies at the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum, and the International Museum of Photography in New York, and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., launched him to the annals of prestige.

“When I finished my graduate internships, I started working for the U.S. Army, as historian and curator at the Presidio of San Francisco,” Combs -- who was 57 at the time this bio was originally compiled in 2012 -- recalled the early days of his career. “Then I had the opportunity to design and build a museum for the Army at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I was achieving my goals,” he explained.

“I went to Korea in the mid-1990's and designed a museum for the 2nd Infantry Division,” Combs continued. "I relocated there in 2001, to serve as the resident director. I drove a classic Rolls Royce and attended Embassy Balls. I lived a charmed life.”

But then, Combs said, he fell into a “deep dark place” and began looking at child pornography on-line. “And it was not just looking at inappropriate images,” his candor continued. “It was a matter of communicating with people on-line who were in a similar dark place.” In a matter of months, Combs found himself “immersed in a community of sickness” and growing increasingly addicted to underground Internet voyeurism.

Released from federal prison in October 2008, homeless and penniless in a strange state where he knew no one, feeling helpless, lost, isolated and completely alone, Combs said that at times he wished desperately to just go back to prison. “At least there, I knew I would eat,” he elaborated.

“I'd been divorced for many years and raised my daughter as a single parent,” Combs recounted. “When I relocated to Korea in 2001, she was married and had a child of her own. And when I got into trouble, it was a shock to her and the rest of my family.” Combs has 3 brothers and said it 'challenged' their relationship. “My relationship with one brother has never quite recovered,” he said.

Beyond the routine encumbrances (joblessness, homelessness, abject poverty) faced by every convicted felon upon parole and release to the community, Combs carried the double-edged stigma of 'sex-offender'. Classified as a 'level three' by Arkansas standards, Combs is required by law to maintain compliance with specific regulations that mandate where he may live and what type of employment he may take, all the while being subjected to a modern Pandora's Box of intolerance, suspicion and fear.

“You lose friends and colleagues because it is such a shock to the system,” Combs explained. “For the first time in my life, I had no professional connections. And that's when I realized that there were actually lots of victims. My family, my daughter, my grandkids, my brothers and my father, my friends and colleagues were all victimized by what I had done,” he affirmed.

“I even victimized myself by losing my career,” he summarized. “I screwed up. I behaved illegally. I am ashamed of what I did all those years ago. But I am proud of what I've been able to do since then. And I believe in earning a second chance.”

A step through the looking glass and back again, Combs is today a proponent of 'sanity in legal reform' and advocates for the thousands of Arkansas families who are deeply affected by the unintended consequences of sex-offender regulations. “It is like advocating for Ebola,” Combs describes the job he has taken on as a volunteer, working within the system to ensure that everyone gets a 'second chance' to be a productive member of society. “The costs of us not doing this are taking an unconscionable toll,” he said.

At right: Combs meets with Stephanie Johnson of Simone's Home prior to her interview on It Could Be You, the talk-radio show Combs hosts, broadcast weekly on Little Rock's KABF 88.3 "Voice of the People".

The Department of Justice -- which typically reports general crime recidivism at 70% -- places sex-offender recidivism at only 3% to 5% and savvy public officials are taking heed of these demographics with an eye to using tax-dollars wisely.

“There is tremendous human, financial and moral cost to shaming, segregating and vilifying people who realistically pose a minimal risk or threat to the community,” Combs asserted, referencing recent Arkansas State Parole Board findings that repeat sex-offenses are rare among those previously convicted of sex-crime.

“It's the rarity of these heinous acts that grabs headlines,” Combs related. “But it ignores the fact that the majority of all sex-crimes are committed by family members or someone trusted by the victim. It ignores the fact that many sex-crimes go completely unreported and are not committed by people who are on the registry.

“We're working to change the paradigm,” Combs referenced a multitude of advocacy groups, such as RSOL, CURE, and FAMM, who are working on these issues and to differentiate between those who are on the registry because they made a stupid mistake and those who are truly repeat violent predatory abusers.

At left: Licensed sex-offender therapist Art Chupik and Kim Combs.

“When we hear the term 'registered sex offender', we need to ask what exactly did that person do? Did they harm a child or moon fellow students? Did they rape a roommate or have a teenage romance? Did they coerce an innocent victim or look at pictures on-line? What was it that put this person on the registry?

“The punishment needs to fit the crime,” Combs continued. “But that will only happen when people reject knee-jerk reactions, examine the science, ask questions, distinguish between violent predators and people who made a mistake, and that will only happen when they understand everything about what is going on.”

Despite Combs' noteworthy credentials and excelsior track record as a professional with a highly laudable administrative skill-set, it took him nearly a year after his release from prison to regain some minimal ground as “a contributing member of society” again. But this time around, he was grappling with isolation, depression, anxiety and fear; washing dishes, saving-up pennies to get an efficiency apartment, and dreaming of someday being able to afford the luxury of a second-hand automobile.

“There was one person who helped me to survive,” Combs credits, “And that was my federal probation officer, Ms. Tabitha Mitchell. She bent over backwards and went out of her way to help me reintegrate into the community. She helped me get into a homeless shelter, worked with me to find a job – which took months – and encouraged me. I might not have made it without her. She was an angel.”

Along the path of his own rehabilitation, Combs became increasingly aware of the disparities in the system that – instead of enabling and empowering – seemed to pose the greatest impediment to reentry success.

Worse, he said, is that so much of the well-intentioned intervention is not protecting the children who these policies and practices are intended to safeguard. “There is so much money being wasted in our state and so much effort from law enforcement personnel being misdirected that could be used more effectively to truly help make communities safer, and we want to be a catalyst for helping to influence that change,” Combs over-viewed objections and endorsements.

“We want to partner with mainstream victim advocacy groups to find out what we can do to help them reduce recidivism and make our communities truly safe,” he affirmed. “While our motto is 'Making Things Better' it could just as easily be 'No More Victims' because this, really, is our goal. And this will only be possible when people start looking at registrants as individuals, not as myth-driven cartoon characterizations.”

Combs admitted, however, that he appreciates the gravity of the obstacles to be overcome. He said that prior to his own downfall he held the view that if someone was a convicted sex offender; he would have fallen prey to knee-jerk dogma. “I probably would have thought they were a heinous monster and that they probably deserved whatever punishment they got, and worse,” he admitted.

At right: As an advocate, Combs meets with many elected officials such as Tim Griffin, Representative for Arkansas's 2nd congressional district

“So I understand how most people think and feel about sex offenders. And that our legislators, prosecutors and law enforcement officials are in a tough place. I mean, nobody gets re-elected for being 'soft on crime'. Which makes it all the more important to dispel myths and re-think the ways we are handling this.”

In example, Combs cited statistics and ongoing research debunking the myth that once someone has committed a sex-offense he or she will always be a sex offender prone to recidivism and can never be rehabilitated or cured.

Another dangerous and false perception is based on the myth that most sex crimes are committed by a 'stranger' when in fact the vast majority of sexual assaults on children are committed by other children, and the vast majority of cases involving an adult assaulting a child or another adult are committed by a person the victim knows very well; family members, coaches, teachers and close friends; people thought to be trustworthy and often loved.

This is why, Combs emphasized, it is critical for parents to know the legitimate 'warning signs' of sexual abuse. He also underlined that current residency restrictions simply don't work, at least not in terms of providing safety to children. Instead, he said, these regulations actually put society at greater risk of criminal activity.

“Residency restrictions tend to isolate former offenders, driving them underground, making it difficult for law enforcement to track them, making it more difficult for them to find housing and employment or have access to treatment programs and so they actually make society more dangerous,” Combs explained.

He said that while he thinks it is a very good idea for law enforcement officials to have easy access to ex-offender information, including current whereabouts and prior convictions, when such information is made publicly available, as is typical in the current system, unwarranted fears are heightened, paranoia is exacerbated and the result too often is eruptions of violent vigilantism or suicide.

“These laws that have been passed by our legislators are enacted with the best of intentions. They are trying to protect the most vulnerable among us. But they have so many unintended consequences and often work against having a healthy society by breaking-up families with scorn, humiliation and ostracizing from so much of mainstream life.”

In light of recent events, such as the Penn State tragedy, and the reality of more than 11,000 men, women, and children now on the Arkansas sex offender registry, “Governor Beebe should create a Blue-Ribbon panel of experts” in criminal justice, victim advocacy, prison reform, mental health, rehabilitation, reentry and law enforcement to draft a new comprehensive legal foundation for dealing with dangerous violent repeat sex offenders in Arkansas.

This would, Combs hopes, “eliminate the decades of patches and amendments that form our existing sex offender management system.” Among the things he'd like to see as a result:

  • Longer sentences and stricter controls for dangerous, repeat violent sexual predators.
  • Freeing up valuable prison bed space for the worst of the worst by more swiftly moving low-threat (no-contact, non-violent) inmates through the system.
  • Streamlining the sex offender registry by cleansing it of those who pose no dangerous threat to the community, thereby allowing resources to be concentrated on the truly dangerous.
  • An end to the public registry and ineffective residency restrictions, focusing instead on public education and outreach programs that work to legitimately safeguard children.

“I am thankful that my family did stand by me, especially my daughter." Combs concluded. “Going through all of this has strengthened our relationship and, I hope, made me a better man.”  ~ ~ ~

More about Kim Combs:
<> Robert Kim Combs
: CARE Rally, Restorative Reentry, Help YourSelf Publishing (13min MP3, 29 February 2016)
<> Help YourSelf Publishing: Community Resources Directory
<> It Could Be You
(public affairs radio broadcast) hosted by Kim Combs interviewing Jane Browning and Anna Cox of "Compassion Works for All,".broadcast April 10, 2013 [MP3]
<> Mystery ends in search for "third bell."
<> ATAT attends 2011 RSOL National Conference
<> "Breaking the Cycle," The Municipal (interview)
<> 2012 National RSOL Conference (Combs chaired the committee which produced this event)
<> It Could Be You (public affairs radio broadcast) hosted by Kim Combs, 2012 Sampler Composite, approx 56min. [MP3]

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
~Martin Luther King Jr.

 

That you may be filled with strength and power, rooted and grounded in love that surpasses all knowledge: Be kind to one another; live with compassion, producing every kind of goodness; stand firm and hold your ground in truth, righteousness and peace; be courageous; embrace faith which is perfect trust in justice. ~Ephesians 3-6 (condensed)