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.

 

 

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.