TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Joe Sessel works for a Fortune 500 company in Topeka.
The 32-year-old Topekan enjoys being a father to his 20-month-old daughter and spending time with his elderly mother.
He serves as the principal for Tiger Management LLC, which works in property and asset management and strategic business planning.
Everything may appear normal in Sessel's life.
But every three months, Sessel has to check in with the Shawnee County Sheriff's Office.
He is one of numerous drug offenders who have to register under the current version of the Kansas Offender Registration Act.
Sessel said he feels he is still paying for a drug crime he committed in 1999.
Sessel was born in Kansas City, Mo. He moved to Topeka with his mother at the age of 5.
His father wasn't in his life, and Sessel began to struggle even more after he learned his father had died.
His criminal history started at the age of 10 when he broke into a local school with some of his friends. He was in and out of trouble after that.
"I didn't see any reason to respect laws," Sessel said.
As a freshman in high school, Sessel discovered he could make money selling drugs.
"I took a $20 bag of pot and sold five joints for $5 each," Sessel said. "I still had joints to smoke. I made money."
Sessel said he wasn't popular in school, and he often felt out of place because he was highly intelligent. He dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.
"I was a teenager," Sessel said. "I did stupid things."
A few days after turning 18, Sessel took the remaining $150 in his bank account and put a 50 percent down payment on $300 worth of methamphetamine.
"I started my run that ended me in prison," he said.
Sessel turned his small-time gig into a money making lifestyle. In 12 months, the teen was distributing $800,000 worth of meth per month across northeast Kansas.
"It was exactly like building any other business," he said. "It was like any other enterprise."
The teen didn't turn to violence, but he had guns at his house to convince people he was tough, he said.
"I created the appearance of being one of those people," Sessel said.
He called his lifestyle "very seductive" but also "very terrible."
"My supplier was very unpleasant," Sessel said. "I wanted out, but he kept me in debt."
Sessel was 19 when his life came apart at the seams.
He learned that law enforcement may be investigating his operation. He packed up some of his belongings, along with his drugs and guns, and met a friend to pick up a safe to store his items in. The two went to a business at Forbes Field industrial park to obtain the safe.
A deputy had approached Sessel and his friend, who said they were working late at the business, but when the deputy asked the dispatch center to call the business, he found out the business was closed.
A deputy stopped Sessel, who had driven away from the business with his friend. The deputy smelled burnt marijuana and a preliminary search of Sessel's vehicle yielded audio and video equipment, according to previous Topeka Capital-Journal articles.
Sessel and his friend were arrested and booked into the Shawnee County Jail in connection with burglary, theft and criminal damage.
"I was terrified," Sessel said.
During a more thorough search of Sessel's vehicle, deputies found several handguns and an M-11, The Capital-Journal article states. They also found methamphetamine worth $172,000 during the search.
Police and sheriff's officers searched Sessel's home, which at the time was at 5217 S.W. 31st, and found drug-packaging materials and documents relating to drug sales.
Sessel could have served 30 years in federal prison, he said. Instead, he cooperated and pleaded guilty to distribution of about 2 kilograms "of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine" and "carrying three firearms in relation to a drug trafficking offense."
He received 150 months — or 12.5 years — in federal prison.
Sessel would serve 11 years, two months and 13 days for his crime.
As a teen, Sessel said he never asked himself "Who am I and where do I want to go?"
"I had a path in front of me," he said. "I chose the wrong one. And I paid. I paid a lot. They took 11 years of my life."
Sessel knows what he did was wrong, and he went to prison because of it.
Sessel spent years reading books. He earned his paralegal certificate.
"I turned prison into a college and a monastery," he said. "I decided I can be a force for good."
Sessel played tennis on some old, decrepit tennis courts at the prison. The same courts where he spent time meditating, reading and learning.
"I found myself on those prison tennis courts," he said. " I found out who I am. I have worked tirelessly to become the person that you walked up to and met today."
After spending six months in a halfway house in Leavenworth, Sessel moved back to Topeka. He became employed right away, and he and his then-girlfriend had a baby girl.
Sessel right away began complying with the offender registration act, which requires him to update his information four times per year and pay a $20 fee. He said any time he opens a new email account or switches jobs, he has to notify the sheriff's office.
There is a private and a public list.
Sessel's name appears on the nonpublic registry because he was convicted before the registry started July 1, 2007.
He said he is "rigorously compliant."
Sessel has stayed out of trouble. Court records show he hasn't had any criminal cases filed against him since he was released.
Court documents also show Sessel was supposed to be on supervised release for 10 years, but that was suspended after two years because Sessel had "complied with the rules and regulations of supervised release."
"Crime doesn't pay," Sessel said. "I'm living proof."
He said he is still paying the price by being forced to be placed on a registry along with sex and violent offenders.
Sessel said he thinks the laws need to be changed.
"I'm not looking for someone to blame," he said.
Jennifer Roth, assistant district defender for the state, has spoken out as an opponent of the drug registry.
"It's about resources," Roth said. "It just seems like an unwise use of limited resources. Wouldn't communities be better served if officers were out in the field rather than registering people who have drug convictions."
A recent bill — House Bill 2209 — states "a person would be considered a drug offender if the person is convicted of certain drug crimes on or after July 1, 2007." The bill, which recently passed unanimously through the House, means Sessel's name would be removed from the registry.
"I am encouraged and heartened by HB 2209," Roth said.
But there is still work that needs to be done.
For now, Sessel just wants to be judged for who he is now and not who he was as a teenager.
"That was another life," he said. "Look at my actions and my outcomes now."
Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com