Guilty or Not, I Think We Should Show a Little Empathy Toward Lori Loughlin

It’s important that I start this article with a disclaimer. I do not in any way condone or excuse the alleged crime of Lori Loughlin or the other parents involved in the highly-publicized college tuition admissions scandal making headlines. I also do not condone, minimize, rationalize or excuse the crime that I committed toward the end of 2013. I own it fully.

This isn’t really about either of the crimes. It’s about the way people react to it.

I was well known in Central Maine at the time of my crime and early 2014 arrest. I was the publisher of a popular magazine, the founder of a regional film festival and had just finished a term on the local City Council. I received awards along the way for all of my endeavors and to the people on the outside of my small inner circle, I was a pillar of the community.

Lori Loughlin rose to fame playing wholesome Aunt Becky on 80s/90s TV show Full House. While she kept her career alive after that with the occasional Lifetime woman-in-peril movie-of-the-week, she was never an actress who took roles where she swore, was violent or displayed skin/sexuality. When the wholesomest-of-wholesome networks, The Hallmark Channel, began pumping out carbon copy feel-good shows, she was a natural choice to become a regular on the channel. Most recently, she rejoined the Full House reboot on Netflix, reprising the role that started it all. She wasn’t just DJ and Stephanie Tanner’s Aunt Becky. She was Aunt Becky for anybody under 45 years old.

I was bailed out of jail roughly 40 minutes after I got there. In those 40 minutes, the State Police issued a press release (with incorrect information), the local newspaper had been to my office looking for me and TV news vans were parked in front of my house. I was the top story on TV news for the next several days and my arrest was played on the front page of the newspaper. Every time I made a court appearance, a newspaper reporter, photographer and at least two TV cameras were there.

From the moment Lori Loughlin’s name became part of this tuition scandal case, a day hasn’t gone by where there isn’t a load of articles online about what’s going on, even when she hasn’t made a public statement, has made one brief court appearance to hear her charges and then plead not guilty. The media can’t get enough of her and something as simple as standing in her driveway with her husband becomes public fodder. But let’s not just blame the media. The media is not a public utility. It is private business that makes its money giving consumers what they want.

 

Being singled out

There are over 200 people living within 5 miles of me who, like me, are on the state sexual offender registry. Not a single one got 20% of the media coverage I received, and many of them are there for graphic hands-on offenses that resulted in much harsher sentences than I received. I’m not saying I didn’t deserve what I got for behaving inappropriately in a chat room with a teenager, but those who committed far more heinous crimes received far less attention.

There were nearly 50 parents indicted in the college admissions scandal, but aside from Felicity Huffman, can you name one other involved beyond Lori Loughlin and her husband?

I don’t think it’s that difficult to attribute why Loughlin’s case – and mine on a much more regional level – garnered so much attention. People get a morbid enjoyment out of finding out a public figure is not as perfect as they portrayed, and get a cheap thrill out of seeing that person dealt with harshly.

As I personally learned, facts don’t need to get in the way of a good public flogging, especially on social media. It was surreal reading the venom spewed my way by so many people who neither knew me, nor the actual facts of the case. They served as judge, jury and executioner in the very opening days of what was a years-long legal ordeal.

I’ll admit I was as shocked as anybody else when the Lori Loughlin story broke. It was just something you never expect to read. But now, six weeks later, I’m really getting tired of people passing judgment on the merits of the case. We know very little of what has actually happened and we won’t know for a very long time, regardless of what “a source close to the family” told a magazine. The evidence appears damning, but how do I really know what’s been reported is accurate? There were key pieces of my case incorrectly reported for months. When you’re in the thick of a legal situation, you don’t call the media to split hairs about their reporting.

My career was over the day I was arrested. The board of directors of the magazine fired me and the annual film festival – only two weeks away – had to be canceled. My son was young enough that his classmates has no idea what happened, but my daughter was so bullied, she left her school, finishing that year at home and transferred to another school the following fall. My wife started to be treated like dirt at work – and even though she put up with daily sideways glances – was eventually fired for “underperforming.” I know it had to do with me. All of this happened before I ever entered a plea.

The Hallmark Channel fired Loughlin the day after the story broke and the Full House reboot said she wouldn’t be returning. Her daughters, who had a healthy social media presence, immediately stopped posting and in the case of her youngest daughter Olivia Jade, lost sponsorships. Neither of her daughters returned to school for fear of being bullied. Depending on which news source you read, the family is either leaning on each other for support, or they’re at each other’s throats pointing fingers. All of this happened before she ever entered a plea.

 

Put yourself in their shoes

The counterpoint to all of this is that when you court attention for doing good things and put yourself in the public eye, you’re going to receive a greater amount of attention when you do something bad. The solution is not to do something bad, but people sometimes have horrible lapses in judgment. I think most people would say that both Loughlin and I had everything that was coming to us, and from a legal point of view, I agree.

From a personal point of view, I can’t agree. I probably would have laughed at Loughlin’s situation 10 years ago, making jokes about it and believing it was only happening to her in a vacuum, but I’ve been through this kind of thing now. When you are well known and you make such a massive mistake, not only do you get what’s coming to you, but so many other people get what they don’t deserve. I think it’s important to not only remember them, but also to recognize that Loughlin is being publicly dragged through a personal hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Her life is going to be radically changed no matter the legal outcome.

While you’re watching Loughlin’s case unfold remember that the alleged crime affects far more people than just the defendant and they need to be kept in our thoughts as part of a bigger picture. While I wouldn’t have been capable of it 10 years ago, I urge and practice empathy now.

Hopefully you’ll never understand what’s it’s personally like to go through a public shaming and protracted legal ordeal, nor any of your close loved ones or friends will either. When that happens, it’s easy to develop empathy and to then apply it to similar situations. I ask you to practice that empathy now instead of having the “look at the car crash on the side of the road” reaction most Americans and those in the media are having.

Practice empathy. It feels better.

 

 

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.

When the Sharp Reality of Regret for Your Actions Starts Setting In

For the longest of times, decades really, I lived by the philosophy that it was better to go ahead and live life the way I wanted and to apologize to people if I crossed any lines than it was to ask permission about crossing those lines in the first place.

I don’t know exactly where subscribing to this way of thinking came from. My parents, both elementary school teachers, were not “rock the boat” kind of people. My friends were usually not in line with that philosophy either.

My guess is that it has to do with the manic side of my bipolar disorder. I wasn’t put on medication until my mid-20s, and there were times I pulled myself off of it in the last 15 years, including the year or so leading up to my arrest. I think it could also do with the development of a warped set of survival skills as a small child. I can thank an abusive babysitter for that.

I’ve been struggling a little bit lately with depression. It’s the second time this year I’m dealing with it. Surprisingly, I haven’t had a lot of depression to deal with over the last five years. My therapist believes that I was probably in more of a manic state during the 22 months I was waiting for sentencing, 6 months I was in jail and several months after my release as I began to see how my life played out. She suggests my mind was occupied with anxiety and manic energy, shielding me from the reality of what I was going through.

Now that I’ve made my way to the other side of the legal process, she says my body’s defense mechanisms are probably going back to the way they were before I went off the deep end with the porn and alcohol. I’m back to normal, but normal includes bouts of depression.

When I’ve gone through these cycles of depression in the past, I know they end in one of four ways: I basically sleep it off and let it pass, something extraordinary happens to shock me out of it, I figure out what is at the root of the depression or I up my medication. These cycles typically can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months.

I went the medicinal fix root earlier this year, but would prefer to avoid it this time. I’ve been sleeping a lot extra this last month or so – about 9 hours per day vs. my usual 6 – and it’s showing a few signs of working, and the extraordinary option is out of my hands.

That leaves me with figuring out the root problem, and I think I made a big stride last night as I was lying in bed, fighting off tears of which I couldn’t identify the source.

Then it dawned on me: I have been letting regret smother me and I don’t have the tools to fight it off.

That earlier philosophy I mentioned is the root of my problems. I clung onto it during the worst of my addiction, when business partners were leaving, as I was becoming increasingly estranged from my family and while my world was crumbling. I stopped taking the bipolar meds, hoping to tap into the manic side of things during this time and continued to play by my rules, which included treating women like shit in chat rooms on the computer late at night.

I don’t think most people understand manipulating women to my will on the computer – often ending in them taking off their clothes – had very little to do with sex. Yes, it’s a sex crime, but it was an activity I engaged in to assert power. If I wanted porn, I knew how the internet worked. I wanted to control these women.

I don’t remember if I ever thought it was wrong at the time. My mindset was a mess at the time. I just needed that fix of power and control and I was going to get it anyway possible. If it occurred to me that it was despicable behavior, I certainly didn’t stop. I was going to do what I wanted to manipulate these women and I wasn’t going to ask if it was OK.

Then, the police knocked at my door. It turned out that one of those women I treated so poorly was a teenager. There was no saying sorry to get out of this situation.

Now, nearly five years since I was arrested and six or seven years since I was thinking straight regularly, I’m finally starting to understand the real wreckage I caused. I’m not going to run through a list of damages because frankly, it’s too long, involves too many people and it’s mighty painful.

My actions forever changed the course of my, and my family’s life. Someday, I will have grandchildren who discover what happened. Someday, I will want to move from my home and have to adhere to any residency restrictions a town may have in place for sex offenders. Someday, I may want a loan from a bank, but because I’m a former felon, it will be denied. Someday, I may want to get a job outside of my house and will have to cling to the hope they don’t perform a background check. Someday, I’ll want to travel out of the U.S., but dozens of countries won’t let me in. Someday, I’ll be a frail, elderly man who needs somebody to help him get to the police station four times a year to check-in as part of a restriction for a crime he committed decades earlier.

The philosophy I lived by led me to one place, a locked closet of regret and right now, I don’t have the key.

I’m not asking for pity or to be seen as the victim here. I did horrible things and deserved to pay a price. This is what I have coming to me. I thought that mentally, life would be easier the further I got away from it, but the regret just grows deeper.

Also, I’m not just starting to live with the regret. That started on the day I was arrested. What I’m living with now is the knowledge the regret will never go away.

Regret is knowing you did the wrong thing, knowing there is nothing you can do about it, and living with the fallout. It’s a fallout I’m coming to terms with more and more every day and it’s a painful process.

I lived my life without regret – and it’s the most regrettable thing I’ve done.

 

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.

 

Does committing a crime make someone inherently bad?

When I was arrested, I went from a “good” person to “bad” person in the blink of an eye for many people.  I still wonder if in revising their opinion, they came to the conclusion that while they thought I was a good person, I was always secretly bad or if my illegal act eliminated everything I’d accumulated in the good column. Did the good disappear? Was it ever really there?

Are people inherently good or inherently bad?

Neither. People just are. Social norms, acceptable behavior, laws and regulations all change over time. The behavior of someone in Year 317 or 1317 may seem to stand in stark contrast to modern day behavior labeled as acceptable. Were those people bad and didn’t know better? If we’re so advanced, will the people in 500 or 1000 years after we’re gone be all that more enlightened?

One of the more interesting evolutionary traits of humans (and I’m talking over millions of years, not hundreds) is the increasing need for order, averages and the status quo. We crave to know where to set the bar when it comes to every product, behavior or thought we produce or consume.

People are inherently fearful. They are scared that they will fall outside of their desired norm – and that’s even true of the most alternative anarchist. We go with the crowd, even if that crowd is a minority.

When people are looking through their black and white lenses because shades of gray are scary, I’m reminded of the oft-used phrase, “Hitler loved his dogs.” Can somebody be pure evil if they still love dogs? If the person who is the gold standard of evil has a soft spot for puppies is anybody 100% bad?

Well, no and nobody is 100% good, because again, those are labels that I’m using with my own unique definition. Hitler existed. His behavior has never been accepted as OK. But what if the Nazis won? There’s a good chance we’d be living in a world that looked back on Hitler through very different eyes and reached a very different conclusion about his place in history.

When I was arrested and convicted for my crime, I know that many people took an eraser to all of the things I had ever done that were seen as good. I raised tens of thousands of dollars for and brought awareness to plenty of local causes. I regularly volunteered my time or donated advertising space in my magazine. I made dozens of filmmakers’ dreams come true with the film festival I ran for three years. That all disappeared when I went from being a “good” person in many people’s eyes to a “bad” person because the one act of convincing a teenage girl to masturbate online trumps everything else I’ve ever done.

Should it? It’s not up for me to decide. I accept and live with the punishment I was given. I’ve come to understand what happened and for me, it takes place beyond good and bad. It was more an issue of sick vs. healthy. But I can’t stop people from viewing me as bad.

People are not one-dimensional enough at their core to be inherently anything. Labeling and stereotyping makes things easy. I think it was George Carlin who said something like, “There’s no reason for sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. If you just take a few minutes to get to know somebody, you’ll have legitimate reasons not to like them!”

I want people to like me and I want to feel like I’m contributing something to society. I think I achieved it in my life prior to my arrest, even if I was secretly a porn addict. I want to be seen as good. With what I did, that may never happen for a vast majority, even if I find the cure for cancer.

What’s most important for my recovery is that I know that I once had the capacity to do bad things that most people would never do. I was very sick when I made the decision to talk to women in online chat rooms. Even most sick people don’t do that. Then I made the decision to urge several to take off their clothes. Even more sick people don’t do that. Then I ignored the fact that there were females who might not have yet reached the age of 18, but continued the behavior. We’re now getting into a small number of sick people…but it’s what I was capable of, sick or not.

Does the fact I have the capacity to sink this low make me inherently bad? I think statistics suggest it makes me inherently rare and someone society correctly punished with a jail term and has determined tabs should be kept on for a while through probation. I understand the need for it, I really do.

There is no one-word, conditional-for-the-world-we-live-in-at-this-moment-in-time label that can apply to anyone. If we are inherently anything, it’s complex.

Waking Up From Dreams Makes Me Sad

When I go on podcasts or radio shows to discuss my pornography addiction and people ask what’s the worst thing that has come out of my last five years, first from my heinous mistakes, then my legal ordeal, and the fallout since, I usually talk about how I’ve created victims and can’t change that fact.

I still think that is the worst part, and I hate to be at all self-centered or self-pitying, but I personally underwent massive seismic changes in my life and none has been more unexpected than losing 99% of the people I used to call acquaintances and friends. I have to say this is second place in what has become the worst part of things.

Most of the time I handle this OK. I’m actually a very solitary person. I’d rather work from home doing my own thing than a cubicle farm in some office. The only thing I liked about working at those places in the past was the interaction with co-workers a couple times a day. I’m a loner who doesn’t like to be alone.

I feel that longing for human interaction most of all when I’m dreaming as I sleep. Or, I should say I feel it most when I first wake up. The subconscious is a weird thing. One moment you’re in high school, the next you’re on a road trip and the next you’re in the hospital. The mix of people is just as random, but for whatever reason, our brain makes sense of the crazy narrative thread, even if your fifth grade teacher is interacting with your first boss.

When I wake up, I’m so, so sad. Nobody asks me about my crime in the dreams. In real life, people ask how I’m doing out of duty because they ran into me at Home Depot or just flat-out give me the cold shoulder. That doesn’t happen in dreams. When I wake up, I recognize I haven’t talked to any of those people since the day I was arrested. I haven’t talked to some of the people in a much longer time, but most are people who were part of my life at that point everything changed.

The only ones who are more recent are the people I met at one of two rehabs I attended. It’s hard to explain just how close you get so quickly to that group of people. I’ve been told it’s like being in a foxhole by people who have done both. The problem is, once you’re out of that incredibly intense bonding experience, you see all the differences. While I’ve tried both times, I haven’t been able to maintain casual friendships with people outside of rehab.

I’m not going to get into specific storylines in dreams, because let’s face it, nobody likes to hear other people explain their dreams. As these dreams are unfolding, they are in a world where I haven’t committed a crime by encouraging a teenager to perform sex acts in a computer chat room. Nobody ever asks about that in the dreams. Nobody seems to know it ever happened.

It’s almost magical being able to escape that, because it’s very different in real life. When something like my entire ordeal happens, you understand certain things will change. But then there are little things, like when I was in jail and would see restaurant commercials on TV. You enter jail worrying about getting beat up and what the shower situation is, but you never think about seeing things you can’t have on TV.

I think this dream world is like that. In my blissful slumber, I’m devoid of the self-inflicted shunning. In the next, I’m awake, and mourn a world that I will never be able to go back to in my waking hours.

I’m not asking for pity or ideas to recirculate back into society as I know that ship has sailed. Instead, I just urge anyone who is doing anything illegal, pornographic or not, to try and think about all the little things you’ll miss if you’re caught.

I saw a guy leave my pod in jail to head to state prison where he was to serve 20 years. My sentence was nothing compared to his and his crimes deserve that long. But he was also a human I got to know.  A human who won’t see his friends at the bar he talked about often, a human who won’t have a steak dinner until 2036 and a human who will wear only khaki or blue for the next two decades. Those may seem like little things, but when you’re living them, they’re not.

I’m 4.5 years away from that fateful day I was arrested and regardless of any jail, probation, offender’s registry or anything else the legal system throws my way, I’ll be paying for this crime in ways I never imagined for the rest of my life…except when I take a nap.

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.