No, Social Isolating is Not Like Jail

I was up with the dogs this morning, letting my wife sleep as long as possible before she has to go into her shift at the hospital. She’s been put on duty to stand outside the elevator in a modified hazmat suit and take every visitor’s temperature who is coming into the respiratory unit and have them sign in and out. I was watching TV and heard multiple people complain that the social isolation they’ve experienced over the last four or five days is akin to jail.

Fuck off, no it’s not.

I went to jail for six months in early 2014. I was in county jail, not state prison, and I was in a minimum security pod under protective custody — in Maine. I don’t believe jail gets much more mild than that, and I’ll still take social isolation any day. The drama queens and hyperbole spewers need to chill out and recognize they’re in for a long ride.

In jail, at least when you get there, you have your underwear taken from you. Until you buy some from the commissary, which can take more than a week after you arrive, you’ve just got the thick, rough fabric of the jail pants rubbing against your parts.

You also, at most, only get to change your clothes every two days. You can change your underwear, once you get it, every day, but the uniforms are cycled in and out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursdays, they’ll wash your whites.

In jail, you get your meals when they say (6 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. in my case) and while you don’t have to eat what they provide, they aren’t giving you a menu to choose. I stopped eating meat when I was there because I couldn’t identify it and heard horrible rumors about the low standards by which food for incarcerated people had to meet. I actually mostly survived off junk food and oranges.

In jail, basically every day is the same. Time takes on a different cadence. It’s surreal. Even when people come visit, it’s not like they’re the same people because their lives continue yet yours is same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

A book cart came around in jail twice a week with a very poor selection. Thankfully, I was able to get books sent to me as long as they came direct from Amazon. But that’s because I had the money to do it. Most guys don’t. There’s also only about a 14-inch TV that got about 12 channels. Once I was there long enough and got tenure I instituted a system for picking shows based on seniority, but in most pods I was told it was based on muscle. And I still had to watch 4 hours of country music videos every day which was like torture. I still can’t hear Marin Morris sing “My Church” without having flashbacks.

I wrote two books in jail. Wrote. No access to computers. Or pens. Or pencils of a proper length. While in jail, I estimate I wrote 500,000 to 600,000 words. All with those pencils that you score mini golf with that are one-third normal size and have no erasers.

In jail, you sleep on a mat similar to the ones you used to do push-ups and curls on in gym class, except even thinner. You don’t have a pillow. It’s lights out at 11 p.m., but the lights never go fully out, and a guard does a headcount every 90 minutes, opening and slamming a large metal door, waking you up ever damn time.

burnt finger

But, perhaps the biggest difference I’ve experienced in this social isolation that is not like jail is an injury I sustained yesterday. I burned the tip of my left middle finger and it’s now got a giant blister, as you can see in the accompanying photograph. In jail, there’s no access to any flames or heating elements (although I learned if you take a staple from a magazine binding and plug each end into a light socket, you can create a circuit that is capable of creating enough heat to light a cigarette) of any kind. How did I mess up my finger? By touching the top of the Crème brûlée I was making before the sugar cooled off after firing.

Yeah, social isolation is nothing like jail.

 

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.

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.