Reflecting on the Third Anniversary of My Time in Jail

It feels a little strange to recognize the anniversary of something that was so life-altering, but tomorrow, January 22, 2019, marks the three-year anniversary of the day I went to jail. I ended up serving 27 weeks which were among the most definitive of my life.

I ended up there because in late 2013, I made the heinous, reprehensible mistake of engaging a teenage girl online in a chat room. It doesn’t matter that I was an alcoholic, off my bipolar meds and generally watching my professional and personal worlds crumble. I made an error in judgment that I would never have made for 99.8% of my life.

The irony is that by the time I was sentenced, I’d spent the better part of two years in intense rehabilitation including two inpatient rehab stints, participation in 12-step groups and frequent one-on-one therapy sessions. The version of me that was sentenced by that judge in 2016 was the healthiest version I’d ever been.

I’m glad that I was healthy when I went to jail. If I had gone before my recovery truly had time to take root, I’m not sure I could have been so reflective with my time there. For me, jail was not hard time because I learned how to keep myself continually occupied. It was however, long time…and I think that’s the point. You get plenty of time to think.

In jail, nobody expects much out of you. You follow a few basic rules and that’s it. For some people, it drives them crazy. They literally pace the pod, taking 25 steps in one direction, turning around, taking 25 more and doing this for hours at a time. Others play cards, wagering their dinnertime desserts just to make things interesting. Meanwhile, others will veg out in front of the television, ironically watching marathons of Cops.

I did a lot of reading and wrote several books, including the one that a publisher picked up last year. I probably averaged 10 hours a day of reading or writing. While it was nice to have the time to get done two things I’d been neglecting for years, I felt a little like Burgess Meredith on that one episode of The Twilight Zone where all he ever wanted to do was be left alone to read, and when his end-of-the-world wish came true, he accidentally stepped on his glasses.

There were many occasions where I would just stop and look around at the other nine or ten men sharing this small space with me and say the words to myself, “I am currently in jail.” It remains as surreal now as it was then. The script my parents wrote for my life and tried to have me internalize at a young age did not include incarceration.

I said earlier I don’t make excuses and try not to minimize nor rationalize my crime. The one caveat I do make is that I know if I had been aware of pornography addiction or had someone called my growing use of pornography in those final years to my attention, I may not have ended up where I did. My addiction – one I never tried to control – led to my going to jail.

For those reading this who think to themselves, “There’s nothing wrong with looking at pornography a couple times a week or a few times a month,” just please recognize, I once held that belief as well. I couldn’t see the evolution from an ongoing addiction to a critical-phase addiction.

I got a lot of time to think about my poor choices and poor health management while I was in jail. You may think it’s impossible that you’ll ever end up there, but I am proof anything is possible when it comes to an insidious addiction. You’ve been warned.

Another Jail Story: Visiting Days

Having visitors is a weird thing in jail. It’s awesome to see your loved ones, but they are seeing you at your absolute worst and the picture in their head of you in a jail uniform talking through glass isn’t something that I think will ever leave their mind. I can understand why some inmates choose not to see anybody if they’re doing a short stint.

In my world, traditional visiting days for minimum and medium security inmates were Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Saturday nights. If you’d been there for more than 30 days, every other Sunday afternoon were “contact visits.”

I was extremely lucky that my parents visited every Thursday, sometimes bringing my son, while my wife came alone on Tuesdays. My wife and one of the kids came on Saturday nights. If I had a contact visit, she brought both.

I’m so grateful that nearly three hours of my week was spent with loved ones. I mentioned many choose not to, but the sad fact is for many of my fellow inmates, even those who were there for a long time, they didn’t have anybody who wanted to come visit or it was extremely rare.

The regular visiting room was actually two smaller rooms, with a long window in each room that was double paned plexiglass all scratched-up to shit. On the bottom 20% of the plexiglass, abutting a metal table was a large grate. It looked like a long cheese grater and that was what you talked through. There were no phones like in the movies and the place echoed like crazy.

31295245083_f7270b4274_k
This is the visiting room where “contact visits” were allowed. Families would sit in the inner section, with inmates on the outer. Want to hear a terrific irony? That’s Sheriff Eric Samson. He’s the man who I replaced on the Auburn City Council when I won my race in 2011. Funny how things work out sometimes.

There were a limited number of spots for each visiting time based on the layout of the room, but we were never denied a spot. On a few days, we were the only people in the room. It’s sad, especially when someone in my pod would posture like they didn’t care, but you could tell otherwise.

Anything out of the ordinary in jail is good. I often told people I didn’t feel like I was doing hard time, I was just doing long time. Breaking up the monotony was important and seeing my wife or someone else was good. It kept me connected to the outside world. It was the same reason I called home every single day while I did my time.

If you ended up in the same room with someone who talked loud, it could be a bitch to try and communicate with the person visiting you on the other side of the glass. It was a challenge when the other inmate and their visitor started arguing, which happened a lot of the time with the younger inmates and their girlfriends. I’d see the female often carrying a baby in her arm and just know that kid already had a strike against him in the ballgame of life. I often felt more sad seeing the real-life characters from the stories people told back in the pod than seeing my own family. We were doing OK, everything considered.

The contact visit room had a couple long table running the length of the room. Visitors sat on the inside and inmates were against each wall. In both rooms, visitors were seated before inmates were allowed in. As far as contact went, it was only a hug at the end, but it was a sliver of normalcy every few weeks that made waiting until release data a little easier, and a little harder.

Ironically, it’s not until you’re put in a position to sit and talk to someone for an hour that you realize how rarely you actually do that. After a few weeks in jail, I commented to my wife that I had to think about what I was saying so I wouldn’t repeat myself because there was always two hours of visits, at least a 15-minute phone call every day and I probably wrote a dozen multi-page letters to her while I was in jail as well. There’s just so much you can say when nothing is happening in your life.

I kept having to remind my mother that fact when she’d ask how things were going. Nothing ever changed, so I didn’t have much to say. There wasn’t a lot of negative or positive to talk about. It’s hard enough to come up with an hour of material on the outside, where my life was busy, much less to try and generate talking points in a place that is all about boring routine.

I was always happy to see my visitors and several other friends offered to visit, but I was allowed just so many on my list. The best visits were when I was sitting in the contact room on one side and my kids and wife were on the other and we were near a window where we could look out and see a spot that we’d drive by multiple times a day when things were normal. We could tease each other a little, laugh and it was a brief respite from the actuality of the situation. That was like finding gold in a coal mine.

Remember, this all happened because I let my alcohol and pornography addictions get out of control. I never thought they would. I managed to hide them for 20 years, but you can’t hide things forever. If you don’t take care of your problem, jail is where you could end up. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. Get help.

So How Was the Food in Jail?

It’s been about a month since I wrote about jail, and following the response I got about the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Experiment, I figured I’d talk about the food situation. There are a lot of guys who gain weight in jail, but I actually lost it. I ended up serving six months and six days, and came out about 20 pounds lighter than I went in.

The food was terrible. Breakfast was raisin bran with a side of toast and peanut butter most mornings. Twice a week the toast was replaced with nasty scrambled eggs and twice a week the raisin bran was replaced with nasty oatmeal. Once a month we’d get a coffee cake or something exotic, usually the result of a bakery donating food instead of tossing it out, I was told. A small carton of juice – usually orange or apple – rounded out breakfast.

Lunch was most often a sandwich with some form of mystery meat. Dinner was just the mystery meat in stew form. Despite having many myths about jail dispelled early on the quality of food was one of the more stereotypical things I anticipated correctly.

We had trays brought to us in the pod, so there was no cafeteria time. Unless you had a visitor, needed to see the nurse, or chose to go outside for recreation time – which only happened June through October – you never left that room. I never once stepped outside that building during my entire sentence. It was a nice break from some of my fellow inmates when they went outside to pour their testosterone on the basketball court, so I stayed indoors.

I rarely ate any meat in jail and never the red meat. For side dishes, I could always count on a lot of rice, vegetable soup, cole slaw, salad and oranges and that was what I mainly ate. I’m certainly no vegetarian, but I am a bit of a snob when it comes to quality…I demand some.

While we were never given menus, those who came before me figured out we were on a rotating four-weeks schedule and what was on it, so it was never a surprise when the guards arrived at the door. I do have to admit, the once-a-month cheese lasagna was pretty good.

Despite the quality of the food, I was surprised that in my six months there, I never saw a single person get sick, or even show any digestive issues. It would have been rough if more than one person was running to the bathroom because they had some bad salami since it was only a one-person bathroom. You can read more about that situation here.

Some like me, at light while others gorged. You were either someone who gave food away or you were someone who took the food. While food was used as betting material in card games or to bribe someone to do something, it wasn’t as serious a commodity as some TV shows and movies led me to believe it would be. I never saw any intimidation tactics.

I gave my food away to my core group of long-timers, or any of the older guys who would come into the pod. If they didn’t want it, I’d offer it up to the young guys. A lot of decisions in jail are about pecking order – who sleeps or eats where, who picks what to watch on television, who is allowed extra phone time without complaint – and both my age and duration of stay played to my favor.

If I were in state prison, I’d be a short-timer, but in county jail, a six-month stay is seen as a lifetime. There were several people who arrived after I got there, left, came back and left again during my stay. Usually they had drug or domestic violence issues.

I could still be friendly with the tolerable younger guys because I wasn’t that much older than they were, but the older men saw me as one of them. It was a good position, although turning 40 years old in jail was not how I envisioned that milestone being achieved.

Along with the side dishes, I supplemented what I ate with the commissary. I’d always heard of this “jail store” where you could buy snacks, playing cards, stamps, etc. but was surprised to find for us, it was just a sheet of paper and we had to call our orders in on the one phone in the pod twice a week. That process took 20-to-30 minutes for an average order, so I made sure to do mine when most guys were sleeping. A few days later our orders arrived in plastic bags.

I loaded up on peanut butter for protein. I was also liberal with the candy bars and potato chips. Everything cost 25-40% than it did on the outside, but if I wanted a sleeve of Ritz Crackers, I was paying $4 and there wasn’t much I can do about it.

The guys who didn’t have a lot of money would often get together and chip in to make “Jail Burritos”. One would buy a bag of Doritos. Those would be crushed, along with a cup of water, to make the dough. Once rolled out, somebody contributed a sausage or two from the commissary order form. There was also cheese sauce on the commissary list and jalapeno peppers. It was all very much like the Hickory Farms stand at the mall during Christmas. Sometimes, if guys knew they were making a burrito that night, they’d save their salad from dinner and put that in there.

The giant burrito would be folded over, cut up into section and served to the four or five guys who contributed. I participated once, but found the thing so vile, I never touched it again. It was gross, but it was clever and that was one of the things I discovered about my fellow inmates. They were broken people, but many were smart and made-do with limited resources. Hearing stories of how to get high with an orange rind and stapler, or how to build a tattooing gun was fascinating.

I never saw these things in action, but I did see guys who claimed to know how to pass notes and small objects through the toilet to other pods try their skills. I don’t know that they were ever successful, but enough swore they’d seen it work. Even if it didn’t, they did know how to talk to inmates the other pods through the sink and toilet. It was kind of impressive, to be honest.

There were some true dolts in jail to be sure, but I think most simple people follow the law. Jail was full of people who gave their capacity for criminal behavior too much credit. If you ever meet somebody who has been to jail and they want you to follow their plan for bad behavior, don’t, and not just because it’s illegal. They have proven they aren’t good at being a criminal since they have a history of being caught. You’d think they’d learn…especially when they know what the food is like if they go back.

The Strangest Thing I Did in Jail

Note: The following is a 100% true story. I am transcribing directly out of one of the journals I kept while in jail in early 2016. Based on a reference early on, it was probably written in mid-April. I kid you not…this is completely legit. I have the journal to prove it.

Day 0:

First, my skeletons in case I ever sell this journal to a magazine. I am serving a jail term that will last 186 days or six months and one week in the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn, Maine. I was convicted on charges stemming from encouraging a teenage girl to engage in a sex act on her webcam. She looked like a woman but wasn’t. I allowed my pornography addiction to drift from younger women to older girls. The alcoholism didn’t help. What I did was heinous, and I expect I’ll always have to live with the pain, shame and embarrassment. I have never tried to claim innocence and try never to rationalize nor minimize the crime.

I needed to be punished, even if I sit here now a healthier version of myself than I’ve ever been. It’s been more than two years since I committed my crime and made getting better my full-time job (two rehabs, hundreds of hours of therapy) before coming here. I’m not bitter about being here. I have no right to be.

Once you get used to it, jail is fairly easy if you can keep your wits about you. Follow a few rules, take your meds without arguing and develop a tolerance for flatulence.

Nobody demands anything of me here. I’m now at the two-and-a-half-month point and I’ve settled into a regular routine of spending my days reading and writing. This place is a cross between the worst waiting room in the world and an all-male version of the TV show Big Brother.

For the last week, I’ve experience my first real bout of restlessness. I need something interesting to keep me motivated and to write about. Four days ago, I put in an order at the commissary for 50 two-cup packs of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Tomorrow at 6:30 a.m., I will begin an adventure. How long can I mentally and/or physically tolerate nothing but Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? I’ll set the goal at one week.

When else in my life will I ever be able to conduct an experiment of this variety on myself? Take that, Morgan Spurlock.

 

Day 1: Peanut Butter Cups eaten today: 8
Total for the experiment: 8

I thought Day 1 would be a breeze and for the most part, it has been. I noticed after around 60 days in jail my body has hard-wired itself to know what we eat here. I skipped anything at breakfast and will probably continue through this experiment, trying to eat the bulk of the cups at normal meal times later in the day.

Many of my pod mates were enthusiastic about my experiment. I don’t think they’ve met someone like me before. I think their interest in a combination of curiosity and the fact I’ll be giving my trays away at meal time.

 

Day 2: Peanut Butter Cups eaten today: 8
Total for the experiment: 16

I’m hungry today, like I could eat 12 cups. I have budgeted for 10 per day, But I think 6-8 may be more accurate. I guess we’ll find out.

In jail, we are on a diet of 2,000 calories. I think it’s too much since we sit or lay down 23 hours per day. There’s just not much to do here. Each Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is 105 calories with 10% of daily fat, 11% of saturated fat, 3% sodium, 4% carbs, 2.5 grams of protein, 1% of calcium and 2% iron. That means I only took in 840 calories yesterday. I’m curious if this will become more mentally or physically difficult first.

hsy-004409

Day 3: Peanut Butter Cups eaten today: 9
Total for the experiment: 25

I may be going about this the wrong way. Part of me is telling myself this is a diet, which it isn’t designed to be. If I want to lose way, I can do that during the second half of my sentence. This is only about living on peanut butter cups.

Today was fairly easy. I went the first 6 hours of the day without one but wasn’t hungry. My body still recognizes meal time physically and mentally, especially dinner. It just feels like when I did Atkins before. I have a small craving for carbs.

 

Day 4: Peanut Butter Cups eaten today: 9
Total for the experiment: 34

I started today with three at lunch but stopped because my stomach was feeling sketchy. I rebounded and felt fine by mid-day.

I really like the taste of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and I can’t see that changing, but they are starting to take a place mentally where they didn’t in my previous life. I’m also just starting to feel hungry for other food.

I’m considering trying to go longer than a week, but I’ll see what happens when I get there. I still can’t decide if it’s better to eat a bunch at one time or spread it out through the day.

 

Day 5: Peanut Butter Cups eaten today: 6
Total for the experiment: 40

Had my first two around 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon. I wasn’t hungry but felt like I should put something in my stomach. I have to remember I’m not trying to starve myself, just see how long I can eat only Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Within five minutes of eating that first pair, I wanted other food.  I don’t know if I can do this more than a week.

Today at lunch, for the first time ever, they had kiwi. I almost caved.

 

Day 6: Peanut Butter Cups eaten today: 9
Total for the experiment: 49

I feel a little weak today. I actually took a late morning nap for the first time since I got here. Lunch was disgusting bologna which I would have passed up anyway. Eight days seems stupid. I feel like I’m counting hours to make it to one week.

I had a mid-day headache and took Tylenol for the first time since I got here and I’m drinking a lot of water. Dinner was hot dogs and beans, which I wouldn’t have wanted anyway.

A couple of people have told me they think today is the first day they can see the physical toll this experiment is taking. I just tell myself to reach my goal I only have to forego three more meals. I think tomorrow is going to suck.

Reeses-Peanut-Butter-Cups

Day 7: Peanut Butter Cups eaten today: 4
Total for the experiment: 53

I woke up today knowing I can soon quit this stupid experiment and will meet my goal in just a matter of hours. Knowing it’s almost done has boosted my spirit higher than it’s been in a few days. Officer Freeman told me it looked like I was losing weight. I came in here at 209. Guessing I’ll be under 200 when I leave. I can’t imagine I’m there yet, but I’ve got three months to go. If I could come out of here at 190, that would be great considering the lack of opportunity to exercise.

At 4, I had my second pack of the day. I only have to last 6 hours until I can have other food. I’ll be glad when this is over. I don’t know what I expected to happen. I think I may have broken in two or three days and given up if I really planned to keep going.

 

Day 8: Peanut Butter cups eaten today: 0

Had I gone to the store to attempt this experiment, I would have had to buy 27 of the traditional two-packs. I don’t think I’m going to eat any the rest of my time here and we’ll have to see what my relationship is like with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups after jail. Maybe this is the kind of immersion therapy people who are overweight could try if they are particularly addicted to a specific food.

When I hit the 10 p.m. mark last night, which made exactly 7 days, a pod mate made me a jailhouse burrito. It’s a burrito shell stuffed with pink sausage, crushed Doritos and jalapeno cheese – all purchased from the commissary. I’ve avoided these disgusting concoctions for almost three months but broken down when it was offered as my celebratory meal.

So, what did I learn? Aside from the fact I need projects to keep my mind occupied, not much. Jail time isn’t hard, but it’s long. It’s boring. It dulls all of the senses and makes measuring time difficult.

I know I’ll read this journal one day and think that this experiment was crazy, but I hope I have the perspective to realize that I did what I did because I needed to. This is probably the healthiest thing for my mental health. Staying healthy mentally won’t be hard on the outside after this experience.

I don’t know if jail is supposed to break your will. If it is, I won’t be broken, but I won’t ever, ever break a law that would get me here again. The only thing I had going for me this week was to live on 53 peanut butter cups. The incarceration system is not about rehabilitation.

This place sucks, and now, so do Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Note: Having read this for the first time in two years, I’m struck not as much by the experiment, but the recognition of needing to keep my mind occupied. I pulled my disconnection trick and have blocked most of what happened in jail and this reminds me of the monotony. I hope it doesn’t come off as not caring about my crime…the rest of this site should show you that I take my porn addiction very seriously and have maintained sobriety for over four years now. 

It’s interesting how I told myself that I’d one day think this experiment was crazy, and in a way, it was. It makes me wonder, though, if I could have been made to be more useful to society as part of my punishment instead of presenting this less-than-compelling data years later. Our system is broken. I don’t think you need more than this experiment to prove that.

The Day I Went to Jail

I usually talk about something to do with porn addiction, but this is a bit about what happens when it comes time to face your (well-deserved) punishment. Nobody told me about porn addiction, but nobody also told me what it would be like going to jail and that weighed heavy on my mind the 22 months between arrest and sentencing. So I thought I’d go a little off-topic and share what my first day in jail was like.

The judge granted me one week between my sentencing and the day I was supposed to report to “get my affairs in order.” I think years ago if you’d have ever told me that I was in a situation where I’d have a week before I knew I was going to jail, I would have told you that I was going to form a plan to flee and live as a fugitive. When you find yourself actually in that situation, the bravado disappears. I knew doing my time would bring me that much quicker to returning to whatever normal life I could cultivate.

The truth also is, I did the crime. While I was battling mental illness and addiction, I was well aware I had both and did not take proper care of myself. That led me to eventually convincing a teenage girl to perform a sex act in a video chatroom. I didn’t know her age at the time, but that is not an excuse for my behavior. I got what was coming to me.

My wife and I stopped off at the pharmacy at 8:15 a.m. on the morning of January 22, 2014. I needed to pick up my mental health medication. The whole thing seemed routine, yet I knew that would be the end of routine. I was surprisingly calm.

Heading up the walkway into the building was surreal after my wife dropped me off. I knew I’d be stuck in the building for seven or eight months, but what that meant wasn’t registering. I think part of me started detaching from reality at that point at as a coping mechanism.

I’ve seen enough jail and prison movies to know that intake is a humiliating experience, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I was given delousing shampoo and instructed to shower after stripping. Nobody watched me strip or shower and it was in a private stall. Following the shower, I had to show I had nothing in my ears or mouth, lifted my testicles and spread my ass cheeks and cough. The officer who was putting me through the paces seemed uninterested in doing a thorough job, much to my appreciation.

CITjails01P100715
While this was taken before I got there, this was the exact room that I stayed in during my time at Androscoggin County Jail. Photo ran with a story in the Sun Journal.

I was given a beige shirt, pants and a pair of bright orange slip-on shoes. In all, everything was actually quite comfortable, like pajamas and slippers. I wished I had underwear and socks – and I brought these things with me – but was told it would be a day or two before the officer who could release the property to me would be there.

When I asked about why I wearing tan, they told me it was for minimum security. It was the first time I was told I’d be heading to that part of the jail. He then said because of my conviction and the fact I was known in the jail community because of the media coverage, I’d be put into a protective custody pod. That meant at least one corrections officer would be stationed outside the door at all times and that I would always be accompanied by an officer when I traveled throughout the jail. I was given a plastic duffle bag to hold any possessions I acquired in the pod. Inside it were a couple bars of soap, shampoo, a tooth brush and an orientation booklet.

The first, “Huh…I never knew that” moment was looking at the toiletries. They were all “Bob Barker” brand. I went through my entire jail time thinking it was the game show host and didn’t find out until a few years later it was just some same-named dude from the Carolinas who, like me, was ironically a former publisher and elected official. He went on to make jail toiletries. I went on to use them.

Upon arriving outside the pod, I was given a mattress, a sheet and blanket. The mattress was little more than a worn-out replica of one of those mats from gym class you’d do sit-ups on. It was around 11 a.m. when I walked in for the first time. There were six bunk beds and all except one upper-bunk were full of sleeping people. I tossed my mattress on the metal frame and climbed onto my perch.

CITjails03P100715
The pod sometimes got so crowded they would bring in “boats” for people to sleep on placed on the floor. To the left you see the door to the mostly private bathroom. Photo by Sun Journal.

I made a promise to myself that I told many people during the 22 months following my arrest and reporting day. I said that the first thing I’d do when I was situated in jail was breathe a sigh of relief because I knew how much time I was doing and I knew when it would be over. Two years of not knowing really wears a person – and his loved ones – down.

So I sat on my bed and looked around at the 11 people asleep around me. This was my new reality. Every second that passed would be one second closer to being out.

Several years have passed since I left, but the jail is only about a two-minute drive my house and I probably pass it 10 times a week. About half of them I see and reflect on the fact there is an entire different culture going on inside of the building I never want to be a part of again. The other half of the time, I drive by without noticing. I’m not sure which is healthier.