We Need to Re-Examine the Sexual Offender Registry

Tomorrow is passport picture day. For most people, that’s only once every 10 years, but for me, it’s twice a year. As a registered sex offender, every time I have my quarterly check-in with the police, I have to bring a passport photo that is sent to the state capital to be posted online with my crime. Thankfully, CVS provides two passport photos, so there is only need to visit twice a year.

I’m not suggesting by this entry that I did not deserve to get punished for what I did. On the contrary, I took my sentencing like a man and do not get into the argument of if I received too much or too little time. The government decreed that six months and six days in county jail was appropriate for the crime of engaging a teenage girl in a sexual manager in an online chatroom, and I did the time.

I have no problem with the probation I was given, three years, despite the fact that both my lawyer and the state suggested I only have two years. I think the judge gave me a lighter jail sentence and longer probation as a trade-off. Whatever, that’s fine. I’ve got about eight months left and aside from signing a piece of paper and having a 30-second conversation once a month, it’s not that bad. I can certainly understand why it’s useful for drug criminals who need to submit to a urine test.

At the end of probation, though, those drug criminals aren’t tested anymore. They have served their time and they are free to live their life. Hopefully, they stay away from the substances that got them there, but as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, they’re free to move along.

Sex crimes are not treated the same. I’m not a law scholar by any means and I know the validity of the sexual offender registry has been tested in several states and always upheld, but I have a problem with serving my sentence, doing my probation time, yet still being on the hook for the rest of my life.

For me, there are two arguments against this.

First, is the fact that I’m not treated like any other criminal. I literally could have been convicted for manslaughter, done my time, and nobody follows me after probation. I could have been nailed selling drugs to teenage girls, but I’m not put on a list for the rest of my life of people who need to be watched. I could beat my wife and kids, do my time, and the law isn’t going to follow me once probation is over.

Something seems askew to me when people can commit crimes with tangible results that are just as bad, or worse, than mine, yet there is no criminal registry for what they have done. Once they are finished with probation, they are left alone.

Second, is the fact that I’m on the same list with violent sexual predators. I’m not suggesting my crime wasn’t heinous and severe. It absolutely was. I took advantage of a young person and who knows if my behavior scarred her for life. What I did was disgusting and wrong.

That said, I never put my hands on a child. I never forced a child to commit a sexual act on me, nor did I commit one on them. No violence, nor threat of violence came with my offense. There were also no threats made against her family, property or anything like that.

I have taken four risk assessment tests and questionnaires designed to determine if I am at a risk of reoffending. On three I ranked the lowest score possible. On the other, I didn’t even rank on the scale. I have taken two polygraphs about my sexual history and have passed both with flying colors.

Yet there I am, on a list next to a guy who repeatedly raped a four-year-old boy. On the other side of me in the list is a guy who raped a 9-year-old girl, did his time, got out of jail and promptly returned to the girl, now 14 and raped her again. I think I have the right to say that compared to me, on a spectrum of sexual offenses, these are violent and depraved criminals who committed acts that are nothing like mine if you’re looking for an even playing field.

In my opinion, I think my being on the same list as these violent predators is like being someone who once bought a bag of pot being next to an international drug smuggler on the same list or someone who stole a lady’s purse being put next to an armed bank robber. Yes, the offenses may officially fall under the same umbrella, but there is a world of difference between the two.

I know there are people out there who probably couldn’t get beyond the third paragraph of this and who think that I should have been put in jail for life. Sexual offenses illicit a strong response in people and its one area where both Democrat and Republican law makers are more than happy to add new laws to the books, even if they make no scientific or historical sense. It feels good to castigate sex offenders.

I’m not looking for pity, I’m looking for equal and appropriate treatment. I’m hoping that you can take whatever opinions you have of sexual offenders and somehow parse them, not putting all of us into the same box. Unfortunately, the registry doesn’t do this yet.

I did a rotten thing, but under our current way of punishing people, I think that I’m being held to a different, higher standard, and I don’t think that’s fair.

Holding onto Hate, Grudges and Resentments Hurts You More Than The Other Guy

At what point is making the other person pay for their sins enough? When have they atoned for the wrongdoing they did to you or the wrongdoing they did to the world? Who decides? A judge? You? Them? When is it time to let somebody move on with their life…but more importantly, move on with yours?

Now, obviously, if you murder someone, you’re going to be paying for it the rest of your life behind bars. I’m not talking about extreme circumstances like this.

The judge in my case seemed to be very clearly weighing two options: nine months in county jail or three years in state prison. Since I attended two inpatient rehabilitation facilities and had been part of intense therapy for the 22 months between arrest and sentencing, not-to-mention that my support system was local, she opted for the county jail, followed by three years of probation.

This week, I’m finished my second year and the countdown to being off probation falls under 365 days. For anybody who thinks probation is easy, spend some real time on it. When I got to jail, I met people who opted to do extra jail time to NOT get probation. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. It’s a cross to bear and a black cloud that follows you everywhere – or at least the places you’re allowed to go.

I have heard people say my sentence was too long and I never should have seen a day of jail time and I’ve heard people say they should put me in prison and throw away the key. From the moment I heard her verdict, I made the decision to accept the nine months I got (of which I served six months and six days) was appropriate. After all, isn’t the judge the person who was appointed by the Governor of Maine to make these kinds of decisions?

Dealing with injustice

Are you able to let things go? As I’ve mentioned on this site before, letting go of resentments has been a huge piece of my recovery. There is too much energy and thought wasted on resentment.

Sure, there were times that resentment felt good because I felt there was genuine injustice happening, but I now practice the concept of radical acceptance. It’s found in the Serenity Prayer in its purest form…know what you can fix, what you can’t and how to tell the difference.

Do I still think there is a lot of injustice in this world? Absolutely. Whether it’s a bunch of inept duck boat operators or a President who seems to get a pass on behavior that would have taken down any public leader before him, I see all kinds of injustice in this world. I just accept that my righteous indignation doesn’t change anything. And putting that righteous indignation on display says far more negative about me than about whatever I’m railing against.

If you want to see a bunch of resentful people, visit the comment section of any story on the Fox News website. Even when a story isn’t about politics, there are people who will twist whatever the topic is into a political debate where they are correct, you are wrong, end of story. And this comes from both the right and the left, politically speaking. It’s a place where people go to argue politics and when there are no immediate politics, they’ll argue about anything because they don’t know how to communicate any other way. It’s actually quite sad when you just stand back and watch.

Resenting other people takes time and energy and thought. Do you really have those things to spare and in looking back, how many positive results have developed out of your resentments?

Grudges are Resentments, too

Maybe you don’t think you carry resentments. Maybe you’re able to let the injustices of the world melt away. What about grudges? Carry any of them?

While it will probably be gone by the time you read this, somebody posted a vitriolic review of my book on Amazon recently. It wasn’t a review of the book at all, it was just a chance to call me a few horrible names. I don’t think the person did it to try and hurt sales. If they did, they don’t really understand how the process works. I think they did it to feel better about themselves. I hope it worked, but I know resentment doesn’t ultimately work that way.

Based on the content, they seem to be local and seem to still harbor a lot of anger toward me. It doesn’t seem like we were close based on what they said, but they knew me from afar, or maybe was an acquaintance. Six or seven years ago I would have been crazed to get their review off the page and making a federal case over the fact I was called a few names.

When I read this review, which is probably gone because it violated Amazon’s terms of services, I immediately felt bad for the person who wrote it. They seem very angry at me not just for the crime I committed, but for the fact I presented myself as someone I wasn’t prior to the arrest.

I still get the feeling that the populace where I’m from hasn’t let it go. The funny thing is, it’s not about any crime I committed, it’s about a deeper betrayal. I was a City Councilor and the “good guy” magazine maker who had the film festival that brought celebrities to town every year. I was eccentric, but in the best way possible. I was an interesting guy who was fun to have a conversation with.

Most of those things disappeared in many people’s eyes when I was arrested and convicted. Anything positive I did for the community was buried. I erased everything positive in one fell swoop.

There’s nothing I can do about that view of things. Once I figured it out a few years back I let it all go.

Let It Go

I will not be welcomed back into my community at any time because there are too many people who spend energy disliking me for poor choices I made five years ago when I was sick. I don’t use the illness as an excuse. I allowed myself to get there, but I also feel like I paid my dues and I’m done groveling. I’m sorry. I’ll always be sorry and I’ll always be vigilant to make sure nothing like my behavior ever happens again. But I have to move on. If you’re waiting for more groveling, you’re going to be waiting for a while.

I am a vastly different person today than I was prior to my arrest. Those who know me best can attest to that. Those who only knew me back then through Facebook postings couldn’t tell you anything about me, so they hang onto the anger and hate. I can explain for days I’m now a pornography addiction expert trying to do good with my situation. It won’t matter. They’ve frozen their opinion of me in time. I can’t unthaw it, so why try?

I paid my debt to society, or at least I’m in the last year of that process. I can get into the pathology of the people who yell the loudest about me not getting enough time, but it fascinates me far more than it bothers me. People don’t get as angry at gang members who knife somebody in the park. That person is expected to do that. I was never expected to commit my crime. I violated their trust.

I know there are plenty of people like that Amazon reviewer still out there and there probably always will be. It is what it is. I urge them, as I urge you, to let things go. Hate, resentments, grudges…they’re all a waste of time. Still hate the ex-husband or ex-wife? Let it go. Think Trump is the devil? Still want to prosecute Hillary Clinton? Let it go. Planning on being a bitch to the bitch who was a bitch to you in high school when you get to the reunion? Let it go.

When people get angry or indignant with me now, it just kind of goes through me. If they have a point, I’ll address it, but mostly it’s about needing to spew venom. That’s OK. I’ve got a permanent snake bite kit working 24/7 inside of me. That is one thing I will never let go of.

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.

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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.

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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.

How We Judge Guilt of Alleged Hollywood Predators Hits Close to Home

Back when I was just starting as a reporter at a newspaper in 1994 or 1995, I fielded a telephone call from somebody who was claiming that their neighbor was doing all kinds of ridiculous stuff to their property. It was a great story, they told it well and I thought it would make for great copy in the next day’s newspaper.

My editor looked at me like I was wasting his time before 10 words got out of my mouth. He asked, “Have they filed a complaint with the police?” I didn’t know, so called the person back. They said they hadn’t. I asked if they were going to. He said that he hoped a story in the newspaper would be enough to shame the guy into behaving. He didn’t really want to get the police involved. I told my editor and he said we wouldn’t be pursuing it. Until the caller was going to document his claim through official channels, we wouldn’t be reporting about it.

Twenty-two years later, apparently Twitter is now an official channel.

I’m having a deep reaction to the ongoing news cycle of sexually inappropriate behavior in Hollywood, Washington and elsewhere, but I guess as someone who was very well-known in his little corner of the world when a similar thing happened to me – coupled with the pings of PTSD I get when talking about it – it would be more surprising if I wasn’t having a reaction.

First things first: Anybody who has criminally violated anybody else sexually should be held accountable in a court of law for their actions, as I was. It shouldn’t matter if it was 25 days or 25 years ago. Statutes of limitations are ridiculous in these cases. How is it that if a perpetrator does something wrong and then outlasts a clock, they get away with it?

I am grateful for the intervention of law enforcement officials which led to my intense introduction to recovery and the journey I continue on today, nearly four years later. I hope that the famous and powerful men who have committed these crimes are able to seriously devote themselves to understanding why they made the choices they did and how to refrain from making them in the future.

I did most of what I was accused of (which you can read about in plenty of other blog entries) and never denied it to police. While I did plead not guilty at first, it was a procedural move made at the advice of my lawyer that 99.9% of defendants make to hopefully end up with a more favorable outcome.

One of the things that I’m feeling watching these stories come out is the sense of helplessness for some of these men who perhaps did not break the law, but made horrible choices, not recognizing the consequences and who will now be paying for it for the rest of their lives. I feel even more helpless for the men who have been accused of either inappropriate or criminal behavior, but perhaps didn’t do it at all.

Take for instance, the case of Charlie Sheen. A friend of Corey Haim, who has been dead nearly a decade, claims that Haim told him that when Haim was a young teen on the set of the 1980s movie Lukas, a much-older Charlie Sheen had sex with Haim. Sheen denied these charges and even Haim’s mother said she knows it wasn’t true.

Ignoring Sheen’s reputation as a womanizer for the last two decades, there appears to be nothing to this case other than a friend of someone who has been dead for years making an unprovable claim. Even Corey Feldman, who is championing a movie to expose pedophiles in Hollywood and was Haim’s best friend, said that he had nothing to support the story.

But can you ignore Sheen’s reputation over the last 20 years? Isn’t that the part that makes the claim seems plausible? If this was a different actor with no womanizing reputation, would you have a harder time accepting it on its surface?

If the assumption is that any person can write anything on Twitter and it is 100% true, we no longer have a need for a criminal justice system. The same goes for any report in the media, whether it’s a liberal or conservative outlet. Reading Twitter reaction or comment sections on various websites shows that this wave of stories is little more than just another tool by which to bash the opposition.

Following my arrest, before I ever made a court appearance, before any evidence ever went to a grand jury or a judge, my case was tried in the court of public opinion. The public didn’t, and still doesn’t know what actually went down and what I did or didn’t do, but for a significant segment of people, those facts were insignificant details. If I had actually been wrongly accused, I don’t think things would have been all that different.

At some point in the near future, this cycle of news stories will slow down. Hopefully workplace culture will change for the better. People behaving criminally sexual need to be brought to justice more often. People like Louis CK – who seemingly didn’t do anything criminal – but based on his position of power made highly inappropriate choices, will hopefully get the message this kind of thing won’t be tolerated any more.

Whether it’s a fiercely conservative, older southern white guy running for office or it’s an openly gay, liberal Asian actor from the most famous science fiction show of all-time (Roy Moore and George Takai, respectively), when we are given a denial, it should then be up to the legal system to prove guilt. In the court of public opinion, I’ve seen people crucifying and vigorously defending both men. The “truth” has little to do with the facts (since all we really have is hearsay) and more to do with what each stands for philosophically.

What will last longer than this news cycle is what continues to happen: We keep moving in a direction where ideas like burden of proof and presumption of innocence being cornerstones of our society and system continue to erode. We are quickly becoming a world where all you have to do is point a finger to take somebody down, justifiably or not, and that’s not a good thing.