There’s been a lot of positive comments thrown in my direction lately, both here and on the podcasts I share my story. I know a bunch will come when my book comes out. I appreciate all of them and treat them not as fertilizer for my ego, but as an indicator that I’m doing the right thing now. I also realize they come from people who don’t actually know me in my everyday life, despite the fact I may share more here than anywhere else, and that helps keep things in perspective.
I’m going to share a story today that is honest, but may get your scorn instead of sympathy or admiration. I think that people forget just how I ended up here sometimes. It’s not a pleasant story, but it’s one that I have to retell myself every so often.
I shared a more graphic version of this in my first book. I’m going to tone it down quite a bit here and not talk about any specific incident in detail, but I thought it was time to come clean with my readers about what was going on in the weeks and months leading up to my arrest. Trigger warning, I guess. Scummy person warning, I’m sure of.
After a 20+ year addiction to pornography, I made the fateful leap to the world of online chatrooms in mid-2013. My illness reached a critical point. Cross-addicted with alcohol, suffering the consequences of an ill-timed abandonment of my bipolar disorder medication, growing estranged from my family and watching my professional life begin to crumble, I let myself slide into a place of emotional, mental and physical disrepair unlike I’d experienced.
I told myself I was a victim of the world around me – a world conspiring on all fronts to take me down. As with so many other addictions, when what you’re doing isn’t meeting your self-soothing needs, you up the ante. I abandoned traditional online pornography sites for peer-to-peer webcam sites. This was when rock bottom started to get in sight.
These were not the traditional adult sites where one pays to talk to a stripper or “model.” The one I found was fairly simple: two random users connect via their webcams. If either doesn’t like what they see on their screen, they click “NEXT”.
Men outnumbered women 20-to-1. If you were going to get a woman to stop and talk to you, you’d better be handsome and have something fast to say, or in my case, type. I’ve never had a problem with a quick comment, but I wasn’t going to make the cut in the looks department. I looked as much the haggard late-30s failure as I felt.
Despite the site claiming to have over 40,000 people online at any given time, I noticed several of the same attractive men – the kind I bet women stopped for – popping up on my screen repeatedly. They were always in the same spot, wearing the same clothes, day-after-day. Something wasn’t right.
When the same buff guy bathed in orange light sitting against his couch appeared, I was able to get him to stop and tell me what was going on.
Whoever was actually on the other end of the computer explained I was watching a video. He couldn’t get women to stop to talk to him, so he found a video of a “hot dude” who appeared to be typing on his computer. He said women wouldn’t stop to talk to the real him, but he could probably get one out of five to stop now, and a quarter of those could be convinced to take their clothes off and/or perform a sexual act.
I found a video at a site containing these kinds of catfishing clips he directed me toward. A handsome guy in a white T-shirt and basketball shorts was laying on his bed, typing away. During the 14-minute video, he smiled, waved, made a peace symbol, laughed, pulled his shirt up to show his abs and took his shirt off completely. I isolated all of those moments into individual clips, including the main video, nine minutes of him typing into his laptop. I could play it on a loop for an hour without raising suspicion.
I’m a project guy. I like to figure out how to get an idea off the ground, fine-tune it, and move on. My life at that point was more about being a fix-it guy, and I don’t play that role well. I was trying to save a business I’d long lost interest in. I was watching relationships with my family fall apart and had no idea how to salvage them. I was over-indulging in pornography and alcohol addictions I’d mostly been able to keep under control for two decades and it was taking a physical and mental toll. Instead of living a life where I was creating things, I was putting Band-Aids all over a balloon that was about to pop.
Then I found that website, learned how to manipulate a video and my warped, decaying mind found a new project. I’m a methodical worker. I experiment, analyze, experiment more, analyze again. I’d already cracked the hard part learning the technical end of being an online groomer. As somebody who interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in my years as a journalist, I had an above-average ability to read people and get them to talk. As a charismatic business owner, I had plenty of techniques to convince people to do what I needed. These are not good skills for a sick person with no sense of boundaries or consequences to possess.
I’d seen how the average guy on one of these sites operates. If they could get a woman to stop, within 30 seconds of talking to them, they’d tell the female to flash their breasts. I could never see how the low success rate of that strategy reaffirmed it as the go-to technique.
I think these are the guys who frequent strip clubs and don’t understand it’s a show. They believe all women are nymphomaniacs just waiting to be commanded to remove their clothes in everyday life. I wasn’t interested in stripper types, who put on a show for money or nymphos, who made things easy for the simpler guys.
I wanted to talk to average, everyday women (or at least as close as I could find on a peer-to-peer cam site) who would hit “NEXT” the moment a guy like that demanded nudity. I wanted to find a woman who believed she’d never do that kind of thing and then figure out the path to push her to get there.
I still got the NEXT treatment from most women and of those who stopped, if they looked underage, couldn’t hold a conversation for more than three seconds, or immediately steered the conversation toward sex – an indicator that it was probably a video – I’d hit the NEXT button.
The women I wanted to manipulate were never going to comply with a direct request. Much like a sales call when I sold advertising at my magazine, I had to build rapport and trust before I could close. Treating these scenarios like business transactions and not viewing the females on the other end of the computer as people would have been a red flag for me at so many other points in my life. Short of a professional intervention, I don’t know what could have stopped my increasingly poor judgment. I just saw “right” and “wrong” as concepts others lived by, not me.
I claimed to be a struggling model, surviving only by working as a personal trainer. I said I didn’t like training buff guys because they intimidated me. I preferred average women because they were more “real.” Ironic, I guess. Instead of taking a scholarship for college, I wanted to see if I could be a model, which broke my parents’ hearts when I left high school since I graduated second in my class. I said I wasn’t making it as a model and was considering quitting and heading back home.
So, I’ve created a smart, good-looking guy who prefers average girls and is trying to follow his dream, but is getting discouraged…and hasn’t yet said a sexual word. For the kind of women in need of attention on a site like this, you couldn’t build a better guy. At least, I couldn’t.
I made a show of not wanting to share my personal information. Most of them had never encountered a guy who accused them of wanting too much personal information. Many of them would start blurting facts about themselves just to prove I could trust them. I felt so powerful, never appreciating how my sense of good judgment was disappearing more every day.
I could take whatever information they gave me and while we held a conversation on one part of my screen, I’d be figuring everything out I could about them on the other side. If I discovered a lot of photos on Instagram of them as a competitive show jumper, I would somehow introduce a reference to my sister loving horses. If there was a Facebook entry about the third anniversary of their grandmother’s death, I’d casually mention mine died a few weeks earlier, but I couldn’t go home for the funeral. Most people simply don’t realize how much information they share about themselves and how that can lead to a world of other information. How do you think psychics are able to be so accurate?
Inevitably, they’d ask about my modeling and want to see examples. I found a model on the Abercrombie & Fitch website with a passing resemblance. There was another on a lifeguard supplies site who could pass. All I had to do to find these was take a screen capture of the video I was using and drop it into Google Images. When a woman would ask, “Is that really you?” I’d talk about lighting and makeup and how I always look so much worse in real life. They’d uniformly tell me I was wrong.
Along the way, I’d gauge just how much my story was getting them to have feelings. If none were developing, I’d cut my losses and let them go. If I wasn’t successfully manipulating them, my diseased mind saw no reason to continue and I was on to the next, or if it was past 3 a.m. at the point, I’d call it a night. I needed to get my 2-3 hours of sleep before I faced the world that hated me, I told myself.
In November of 2013, a female who popped up on my screen that I told myself looked old enough turned out to be underage. As I did with all of the other women, I took a couple screen shots of her at the end of our session. They were trophies of my accomplishments, not used for sexual gratification, but used to convince myself I had some semblance of control in my life and could reach goals I set. It’s still hard for me understand how I could rationalize that night after night, but I guess there wasn’t a lot of rationalization going on then.
I was informed about her age when the police came knocking at my door in March 2014. They found my folder of “trophies” and were able to establish she was the only one underage. With the way I was thinking then, I probably got lucky, as much as it hurts to recognize that.
I’m at the six-year anniversary of talking to that girl. She’s in her early 20s somewhere now. I hope my transgression didn’t cause any lasting permanent damage. Nobody deserves to be taken advantage of that way, at any age.
My poor choices led me there. It was nobody’s fault except mine. My poor choices also led me here, to create this blog, give the interviews and write my books. Hopefully, at some point in the far future, the good I do in my life now will cosmically, karmically and in-actual-fact, outweigh the harm I did.