Stories from Jail: Realizing the Role Intimacy Plays in Sex and Porn Addiction

As a man of above-average means and intelligence, I was thrust into a world very unfamiliar to me with men I otherwise would never have had the opportunity to engage with when I served six months in the local county jail in early 2016.

There was the occasional outlier (I was in minimum security and in jail, not prison, so I admit I didn’t see the worst of the worst), but I would guess that 60% were there tied to drug/alcohol abuse, 25% for domestic violence and 15% for sex crimes. Maybe some were awaiting trial, while others were serving their sentence, or temporary locked up because of a probation violation, but in my non-ethnically diverse area, this is how it broke down with the 60-80 guys I got to know during my time there.

For someone on the outside who enjoys buzzwords of the day, they would have seen this group of men and immediately said, “This is the very definition of toxic masculinity.”

As somebody who, at the time of my sentencing, had just done nearly four months of inpatient rehab for alcoholism and sex/porn addiction, along with hundreds of hours of one-on-one and group therapy, I think I served as a bit of a de facto life coach/advisor for many of the men.

One of the reasons so many of these men trusted me with their stories was because they knew I sought help for my porn addiction. Despite being locked up for other reasons, the vast majority of these men had clear issues with both sex and pornography.

I recall one man (a domestic violence offender) who came to me off to the side one day and told me that he’d heard me talking to other guys. In his early 30s, he said if he did the math, he probably had slept with 1,500 women. When you break it down as two or three one-night stands per week over a little more than a decade, the number isn’t so unrealistic.

I remember his saying to me, “It sounds like a lot of these have only been with three or four women in their life. It makes me think I may have a problem.”

Another man, there for a probation violation because he was belligerently drunk in public (again), confided in me that he watched 5-6 hours of porn every day and even when he was holding down one of his rare jobs, he’d go to his car during his lunch break and watch porn on his telephone. It had never occurred to him that this could be an issue.

“Sometimes I watch with buddies, sometimes by myself and I don’t *Insert your favorite euphemism for masturbation* a lot of the time. When I’ve had girlfriends we’ve watched it together,” he said.

“Why do you watch it with other people?” I asked.

“I dunno. Cause it’s funny. Or sexy. It’s like a bonding thing I guess,” he responded.

“How else do you bond with people?” I followed up.

“It’s not like I only look porn. I meet a lot of people in bars,” he said.

“Isn’t that the reason you’re here?” I asked, motioning to nothing in particular in the room, about the same size as a doctor’s office waiting room we shared with 6 to 10 other guys.

“I’m gonna think on that,” he said.

Later that night, he came to me, asked to sit on my bunk (standard jail protocol) and said, “I feel good when I drink and I feel good when I watch porn. I don’t feel good too many other times. So maybe like you, my porn watching is just as bad as my drinking and I never knew it.”

“At least it’s not too late for you,” I thought to myself, yearning for the day in the near future I’d be released, hoping he’d get help before his porn problem ever become as critical, or depraved, as mine.

It was in that moment that I recognized while I thought I had real intimacy in my life, I wasn’t unlike many of those men.

I was surrounded by plenty of people in my real life, just like my fellow inmates were. It didn’t matter mine had better jobs, higher educations and could afford nicer things. It didn’t matter that I had two loving parents, a supportive wife and kids who thought the sun rose and set with me while they may not have been that lucky. None of us were willing to stick our neck out and create relationships that went deeper that what was on the surface.

They never felt unconditionally loved, trusted and cared for by any parent or guardian early on, or by any partner as they grew and entered into the world of adult relationships because they were unable to give what they were getting…and when I thought about it…it was my story, too.

Isn’t the physical act of sex and the visual stimulus of porn completely just on the surface? We all intuitively understand the difference between “having sex” and “making love.”

Intimacy is vulnerability, and it’s not just about being physically intimate. When those men came to me with their issues, they were being vulnerable. They shared things with me I never would have shared with anybody.

Despite being more than two years sober at that point, it dawned on me that my recovery had miles left to go and it had nothing to do with porn or sex.

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.

Everything You Wanted To Know About Being On Probation Without Having to Commit a Crime to Find Out

I’ve shared quite a few stories from jail, but once being locked up was done, my experience with the criminal justice system was hardly over. Jail is really just the middle part. At first you have the court system to wind your way through. That took me 22 months. Then, jail was 6 months. The final part, probation, is 36 months in my case. As of this writing, I’m now less than 10 months away from it being done.

When I was in jail, I learned that many inmates took longer sentences so probation would not be part of their lives upon leaving lock-up. I couldn’t understand why they’d make that decision. Isn’t a month in jail and two years of probation a better deal than three months in jail? At least you’re free.

When I first visited my lawyer, he suggested that we pitch a long-term probationary period of like 8 years to the DA and judge, while trying to keep me out of jail completely. That didn’t happen, and looking back now, I’m glad.

The judge, at your sentencing, also creates the terms of your conditional release, better known as probation. There’s the boilerplate stuff, like no committing other crimes, but then they will tailor things to your specific case. For instance, I was not allowed to move home with my family after jail until I passed a polygraph stating I’d never put my hands on a child. I knew I’d pass it with flying colors, but I still had to live with my parents for about three months after I got out while waiting for it to be scheduled. And while I knew I would pass, I was anxiety-ridden over the possibility of a false positive.

I was also forced to join a weekly sex offenders’ support group. Once I was deemed ready, which took about a year, I was moved to a monthly support group. I’ve grown to enjoy the group, so I’ll probably continue when I’m off probation, but as for now, if I don’t attend this group, which costs $40 per session (that’s $160/monthly in the weekly group – a large amount for some of the guys) I can be put back into jail.

That’s really the thing about probation, while it’s not difficult, there are so many strings attached that it’s like a black cloud hanging over my head. The specter of being sent back to jail always looms.

I first had to report every two weeks to the probation officer who handled sex offenses. He was supposed to have 30 people to oversee, but had closer to 80. After proving I was trustworthy over seven or eight months, I was transferred to a different PO that handled every kind of criminal.

POs are allowed to drop by and do a search of your house at any time. My first PO visited once in the beginning and my second PO did the same. I think their caseloads are just so large that they don’t have the time to make visits to people they don’t believe are at a high risk of recidivism.

My PO only sees me at the office once a month now, and most of the time his only question to me is, “Do you need anything from me this month?” and the answer is no. I’m guessing that they can tell that I am the kind of person who made a terrible mistake, follow the rules they provided me and am not going to be any trouble. I couldn’t just say that in the beginning, I had to prove it to them over time.

Most of the people I came in contact with in jail, and in the waiting room of probation, are there for drug violations that happened while they were on probation. They have a true addiction and despite getting nailed for having drugs at some point, the risk of being put back in jail is nothing compared to the demon of addiction, so they use again. Most who violate their probation are nabbed via a dirty urine test.

These are the people who will take a sentence of three months in jail and no probation instead of one month in jail and two years of probation. If they are not on probation, they can’t violate probation. Most have no interest in curbing their habit, or available support to even try, so skipping probation is the safest way to legally return to their habit. Nobody will be testing their urine.

While it was far worse in the beginning, I still get nervous on the days I go to probation. The PO has the right to determine I did something wrong (even if it’s not illegal for the rest of you) and bring me to jail. I haven’t even come close, but knowing that could happen ruins my day.

I did six months in jail and got three years of probation. Knowing what I know now, if I could have done an extra month in jail for those three years, I would have said yes. It would have meant no nerve-wracking polygraphs, no asking for permission when I want to leave the state, no court-mandated support groups, no $10 monthly fee for simply being on probation, no sick feelings when the first Monday of the month rolls around.

I now feel like I’m just playing out the clock, but much like I breathed a sigh of relief the day I left jail, I’m going to exhale just as deeply my last day of probation.

 

The Wildest Thing That Happened to Me in Jail

Note: I haven’t told a good jail story in a while. I know this is long, but I think it’s a pretty good story. Thanks for reading.

 

The story I’ve already shared (read it HERE) about a week-long diet of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups may have been the strangest thing I did in jail, but it didn’t hold a candle to when a few guys who didn’t like me tried to get me removed from our pod. It was by far the wildest thing that happened to me while I was in jail. There’s no porn addiction in this story, but I still think it’s worth telling.

What you have to understand is that everybody in jail thinks they are smarter than they are. The morons think they are slightly less moronic and the geniuses think they are super geniuses. Also, when you put 10-15 men in a room that comfortably fits only 6-8, you’re going to have tensions rise from time-to-time.

By the time I was four months into my six-month stay, I had settled in quite well. I’d wake up early, do my job of cleaning the pod (which gave me time off my sentence) while everyone slept, read the newspaper and write my book or letters until lunch. After lunch, I spent most of the time in my bunk, either reading or writing. I was friendly to the three or four guys who had been there almost as long as me, but it took me a while to warm up to new people, much like it does in the real world.

There was one long-termer who just didn’t click with me. We’ll call him Doug. He was one of these faux-spiritual types who liked to talk about paganism, dark magic, being in tune with nature, blah, blah, blah. He liked to talk about how tough he was, but at 5’11” and 150 pounds, he didn’t seem like much of a threat. He did, however, have quite a bit of charisma.

He was probably in his later 30s, certainly old enough to fit in with the older guys in the pod, but he chose to buddy-up with the younger guys and somehow become their de facto leader. He always had two or three guys who he could rev up and get to believe anything.

In a lot of ways, Doug thought he was the most popular guy in the pod, sitting at the nice table at lunch, dictating who else sat with him, trying to manipulate the TV watching schedule and always doing well at cards. I think he took it as a personal affront I had no interest in learning to play spades.

* * * * * * * * *

Now, you have to understand just how big the media circus was around me during the two years between my arrest and sentencing. Every court appearance came with TV cameras and I was almost assured to be on the front page of the newspaper, even if it was just me saying I understood the charges. I couldn’t enter the courthouse without being harassed by media. I took it in stride, though, since it had once been my job.

Three days before I was scheduled to report, the newspaper ran a big overview story of what had happened to me. The day before I reported, a journalist friend wrote a gut-wrenching column about how he thought he’d seen it all until his friend was nabbed for encouraging a teenager to take her clothes off online.

Both of these articles were in the papers delivered to the pod shortly before I got there. It didn’t take long to recognize everybody knew exactly who I was when I showed up.

One of the guys, Bryan, who ended up being the closest friend I had in there, told me early on that there was a belief I was “protected.” In an ironic twist, when I served on my City Council, I took the place of the guy who was now the sheriff of the county. He and I knew each other in passing, and he endorsed my candidacy, but we were hardly friends.

I was not at all protected by anybody, but I knew that Bryan had spread the belief that I was not somebody to be messed with or they’d all get in trouble. I didn’t do anything to dismiss that belief, but I didn’t play into it until I was forced.

* * * * * * * * *

Around the four-month mark, I had come to recognize just how poorly some people rationed their commissary purchases. They’d go through their chocolate bars or potato chips and have days left before a new order came in. When they got desperate, they’d go to somebody who still had treats left and make a deal that if they gave them one candy bar now, that they would pay back two candy bars later.

I decided to open up a little store and within three weeks, I probably had $500 worth of treats and never needed to purchase anything. I made a killing on two-to-one deals. Members of Doug’s little “gang” were among my best clients, but really hated having to pay me back extra. You could sense how much it pained them.

They stayed up very late playing cards and being loud, less because they needed the recreation, but I think more to assuage their oppositional defiance disorder. It was irritating and I often asked them to be quiet, sometimes not too nicely.

One night, around 1 a.m., I was awoken by a guard who told me to go with him. We went into the hallway where one of the sheriff’s deputies was standing.

“Have you been strong-arming people for food?” he asked.

“What?”  I asked, still in a daze.

“We got a note dropped that said you’re strong-arming people for food.”

I laughed. We would send our mail, or other requests on paper under the door. Somebody sent a note about me after I went to sleep.

“I wouldn’t even know how to do that. I think they’re upset with me for making deals their stomach wished they didn’t,” I said.

The sheriff’s deputy laughed.

“Yeah, I didn’t think you did anything, but watch your back with these guys.”

I was let back into the pod and the deputy yelled out, “Whoever is dropping false notes needs to understand we will throw you down into max for wasting our time. Quit your card playing and go to bed.”

Doug and his little posse got up from the table and went to the other side of the pod, probably 60 feet away, and much nearer my bed.

“Nobody here likes you, Shea,” said Doug.

“Yeah, why don’t you ask to be transferred?” said one of his minions, Randy, who also happened to be his cousin.

“Guys, store is closed. I’m wiping your tab, you owe me nothing, and we’re done,” I said, not wanting to deal with their crap.

“You don’t just cancel someone’s debt. What do you want from us?” said Randy.

“Nothing. Peace and quiet at night. I don’t want anything, but please, don’t drop notes on me. If you have a problem, be a man and come to me. The note thing is quite a bitch move and I’m really the last person you want to try to do anything to in here…and I think you know what I mean.”

“You don’t stand for anything. That’s your problem,” said Doug. “We stand for something.”

“if you want to tell me what you stand for, do it tomorrow, I’m going to sleep.”

From the bunk next to me, Bryan whispered, “Well played.”

* * * * * * * * *

Five days later, shortly before dinner, a guard came into our pod.

“Shea, get your stuff, including your mattress, let’s go!”

I was confused. I knew I wasn’t getting out as I still had 7 or 8 weeks left on my time.

The same sheriff from the first time was waiting for me in the hall.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Well, we got a note dropped while you were at visiting hours saying that you’ve been going into the bathroom while guys are taking showers or on the toilet and watching them,” he said.

I laughed out of shock.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Yeah, and listen, I don’t believe it. We already talked to Bryan and he told us what’s really going down, but when somebody makes an allegation of sexual nature, we have to take it seriously. We’re putting you into the room across the hall.”

That pod was slightly smaller and had a few less people, but in moving into the new pod, I lost my morning cleaning job. With the time I had left, that meant about 15 extra days in jail I wouldn’t have had to serve.

So, I wrote to the commanding officer about my concern and said that with the fact there is no proof and Bryan’s word, that should be enough. They told me I needed more. Thankfully, there was a guy in my new pod that transferred from my former pod. He left because Doug’s group harassed the hell out of him. He didn’t want to deal with it and refused to point the finger at them when he made his request to move.

I spoke to this guy and in exchange for three packages of coffee and a bag of Doritos, he agreed to tell the commanding officer what happened. With three of us, it was much more believable.

Through the window in our door, we saw Doug’s clique marched out, one-by-one, to the small room near our pods for questioning. They interviewed four guys. After three of them, including Doug, returned to my old pod, they went directly to their bunk, grabbed their things, including their mattress and headed to the elevator. That meant they were going downstairs.

After the four interviews, the door in the pod I spent the last three days in was buzzed open.

“Shea get your stuff,” barked the guard. “You’re going back.”

The irony was, I only wanted to go back for my cleaning job to get out earlier. I actually liked the people in the new pod more. I took two big handfuls of commissary junk food out of my bag and put it on my bed.

“You guys were very cool to me, split this up fairly,” I said.

I think they were sad to see me go, but glad to get the treats.

“These idiots don’t know how to keep their story straight,” said the same sheriff’s deputy that had been handling everything. “Nothing is going on your record, as far as we’re concerned, this never happened.”

“I’m not going to have to deal with those other guys again, am I?” I asked.

“Doug was sent to maximum since he was the mastermind and the other two are in medium. If any of them come back up here, they won’t go in the same pod as you.”

* * * * * * * * *

I got back to my original pod and Bryan came over and quickly attributed my coming back to his testimony, which did help, but also with the fact that I was “protected” from up on high.

“The minute you went to that other pod, I was telling those guys it was the biggest mistake they made here,” said Bryan. “Now Doug gets one 5-minute phone call and he’s isolated 23 hours a day. He deserves it.”

“I’m just glad I have my cleaning job back,” I said.

I didn’t go to the weekly church service, but Bryan returned from it a week or two after this ordeal and told me that Randy and the other minion told him to apologize for them. I didn’t hold a grudge. They got caught up in Doug’s charisma.

Bryan was released about two weeks before I left, which made those last two weeks longer, but many of us joked about the fact those four numbskulls thought they’d get the best of me. The one that didn’t get in trouble largely just kept to himself until he was sentenced to state prison.

People in jail are inept criminals. We all got caught. That’s lost on a lot of people in there who like to posture that they are tougher or smarter than they really are.

A few months back, I was reading the newspaper and Doug was in it. He and his girlfriend were busted for having something like 30 animals in their tiny apartment. They clearly loved them and would take cats, dogs, birds, rodents, reptiles or whatever when somebody moved. Apparently, they broke a ton of city ordinances with their home zoo.

Doug was immediately brought to jail for breaking his probation. I’m sure he hatched a brilliant plan to keep the animals at the apartment. Like his “Josh is watching us in the bathroom” plan, it just didn’t work out as he had envisioned.