Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Good Friends Closer

I know I’m writing a bunch lately. Whatever the opposite of writer’s block is, I have it, and you’re the victim. One of the things that my 15-year-old son doesn’t seem at all interested in doing in life is creating or maintaining close friendships with other people. I guess it’s OK, but as somebody 27 years his elder, I worry that he’s going to come to regret it, especially if he finds himself with his back against the wall like I did when my pornography addiction was revealed in a very public way.

For those of you who follow this blog, forgive the next few sentences. You’ve read them too many times, but I’ve got to bring the newbies up to speed.

I was a prominent member of my community six years ago. I was the editor/publisher of a popular regional lifestyle magazine, was co-founder of a film festival that was finally getting national recognition and I’d just finished a term as a City Councilor where I lived.

I also had bipolar disorder, alcoholism and a porn addiction. Through a series of bad choices, I ended up engaging with a teenage girl online, convincing her to perform sexual acts on-screen. This is obviously illegal, I was arrested some months later in early 2014 and within an hour of my arrest it was the top story in Maine media and remained so for a few days. I ended up serving six months in jail for it in early 2016. I’ve been in recovery since April 1, 2014 with no relapses.

I was never the guy who formed deep bonds with people going back to my youth. I didn’t have a large group of friends. I had a large group of acquaintances in school. I had four or five good friends, but nobody rose to the “best friend” status.

I did a year of college in Rhode Island, made some friends, but never stayed in touch with them. Same thing happened at several work places I’ve had. I can be very, very close to you in November, but if you’re laid off in December, there’s a good chance we get together once in January and then never talk again. And for clarity’s sake, liking a photo of a “friend” on Facebook doesn’t count as friendship.

When I was running myself into the ground with the many full-time jobs (not to mention being a husband and father) six years ago, I thought I had more friends than I did. Since I had a big hand in the local media and the local government, I didn’t recognize exactly how many pretended they liked me much more than they ever did just to get my ear.

When I was arrested, about six people from that world of hundreds dropped messages to me on Facebook. When details – many that were incorrect – were in the media, even a few of those dropped by the wayside.

By the time sentencing rolled around in the first couple weeks of January 2016, I was left with two friends. Two. One had been around since 7th grade. The other was the ex-husband of a co-worker I met back in 2000 or 2001. Neither really had anything to do with the fast-paced life I created. They were around well before that time.

These two guys are not high-maintenance. We can go six days, six weeks or six months in between talking. It’s not a lot of effort to stay friends with them. It’s probably a big reason it worked.

I’ve reached out to a handful of other people who I thought I was closer with than most, but have received unanimous silence. When I see somebody in public who I know, I don’t go up to them out of courtesy and say hello. I allow them to come to me. Why create an awkward situation? I think people have said hello to me twice in 4½ years.

I understand there are a lot of things at play here. I was accused of a heinous crime, convicted on lesser charges and most people don’t know the actual details. I am probably more of a bogeyman in their eyes than is factually correct. If I am now just my crime, who wants to be friends with that crime?

I also understand many were never my friends. I do understand how friendships come and go while few stand the test of time. I thought that I had at least a half-dozen others out there that would last through everything.

I believe most people locally don’t actually despise me because of the crime. I think they despise the fact I presented myself as one thing while behind closed doors I was something else. I think there’s a level of betrayal there. If I were truly a monster incapable of change, I don’t think I would have sold any copies of my book or have been invited on so many radio shows and podcasts for interviews.

I have sold around 50 copies of my book locally. I was actually thinking I’d sell more, if for no reason other than people wanting to see if their name was in there. Honestly, I thought I’d sell a few hundred here. Thankfully, the higher-than-expected sales elsewhere made up for it and I’m still further ahead than expected.

I’ve not heard a review from anyone local other than my family. I wonder how many of my former “friends” have even read it.

The flip side of this is the idea that this is just part of my punishment. I shouldn’t be given a moment of pity over losing any friends I had and it’s all part of the package that comes with doing something as heinous as I did. I hope people recognize how much of the punishment and consequences of a crime don’t come from the legal system, but from society in general.

In the end though, I know it comes down to the fact I just wasn’t the kind of person who valued friendship for a lot of my life. I was content to let people go and I think because I gave off that vibe, others were content to let me go. I’m sure for many, I’m now just a guy they used to know.

I doubt my son is going to do anything as stupid as I did, but I worry that if he does, he’s going to have as little a support system outside of our family as I wound up having. I wouldn’t be this far along if it weren’t for my two friends, but I also wonder if I had four or five friends if I’d be even better off today. It’s one of those questions there is no answer for.

Cultivate friendships and nurture them. You’re going to be thankful they are there when you need them.

 

 

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.