Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The next week was spent getting familiar with this new life I was going to live for the next three years. There were new rules (which tended to change almost daily) and new routines. Fortunately, the life I lived on the outside wasn't so very different.
  • remember to make your bed each morning before I leave--I can do that
  • go to breakfast and clear your table when you're done--I can do that
  • keep your cube clean--I can do that, though it is a little more difficult when you live with two other guys
  • keep your shirt tucked in at all times when you are on the compound--never been a problem for me
  • don't wear your headphones on the compound--not a problem since I don't have a radio and I can't afford one
  • SMILE at everyone you meet--I just made that one get a frown or a cuss word if you look too friendly
  • check the "call-out" every day to see what appointments you have for the following day--this one took a little bit getting used to. I'm used to making my own schedule, but breaking this rule could land you in the SHU (special housing unit...or sometimes called the 'hole') for a few days

I met the dentist, who had problems speaking was probably his Pakistani heritage and the doctor again. Even the optometrist wanted to see me, which was a good thing since the glasses that I wore into this place have a chip in the lens.

My biggest concern during the first week was to try to find a job. One thing about prison is that rumors run rampant. I think some people tells an intentional lie just to see how long it takes to get back to him as the "absolute truth." But, regardless of whether it was rumor or not, the word on the compound was that if you didn't get a job before your first team meeting, you would end up working in the "chow hall" for the first four months. That really didn't sound like all that much fun to me, so I started looking.

My first stop was the library and the education department. I filled out the form and included my background of 23 years as a professional educator. I guess that's not what they were looking for. It seemed they preferred to hire men who didn't have a college education to be the tutors at the institution. I didn't hear back from my application, so I assumed the worst.

The first weekend there, I wandered over to the Chapel because I had seen fliers that they showed Christian movies every Saturday night. As usual, I was the first one there. Soon, a tatted out Hispanic guy came in and started to set up the room. I offered to help and he accepted. I found out his name was Noel and he was one of the Chapel workers. I stayed for the movie and the free pop-corn and then walked down to the recreation yard. I was still wearing my work boots, but I was getting in the habit of walking in them anyway.

I started my first trip around the compacted dirt track and as I looked around, enjoying the warm summer evening, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. He said I should check out the Chapel to see if I might be able to get a job there. I dismissed it at first, because the people I had talked to said no one gets a clerk's job anywhere when they first get here. So I put the thought out of my mind and kept walking.

The next day after Church and lunch, I wandered back over to the Chapel. I went in and just meandered about. If they would have had security guards, they probably would have tossed me out for loitering. The memory of the voice the night before came back as I walked in front of the office several times. Finally, I got up the courage to go in and see if they had any openings. As I entered the office, a young man in his 30's welcomed me and introduced himself as Bill. He asked if I was new on the compound and I said yes. I was getting ready to leave and then turned and asked if he knew if they had any job openings in the Chapel. I almost fell over when he said one of the clerks was leaving in a week and they were looking for someone and handed me an application. I quickly filled it out and when I got the the blank for "reference", Bill said I could use his name.

I handed him the application and walked out of the Chapel office, marvelling at God's grace for me. He had promised me before I came into this place that He would watch over me. It didn't take Him long to demonstrate that promise to me...and He continued to show me evidence of that grace and mercy in so many ways over the next three years.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Can You Fail the Test With All the Right Answers?

I could tell there was something wrong with him when he sat in the chair beside me. Last week, he appeared so friendly and talkative. But tonight, something was different. At first, I thought maybe he was depressed over something. He had mentioned in our last session that he struggled with that, but that it felt like he was getting stronger.

The rest of the group arrived and took their seats. There were two new faces who had missed for various reasons last week. As the Dr. came in, he took his regular seat just to the left of me. I didn't realize when I claimed this chair last week that I was choosing the seat at the front of the classroom. I shouldn't have been surprised.

The Dr. spoke to the man beside me and asked him how he was feeling.

"Scared!" came the reply.

I was watching him, and that was the exactly the emotion he was exuding. I could tell there was something.

"Why don't you tell the group what happened this week".

So he started. He had failed his polygraph and he was afraid they were going to send him back to jail. He explained to the group what had happened. Like the polygraph I had taken before I joined the group, the tester had gone through a series of questions with him. It sounded like they created some of the questions together. And then he sat down to take the test.

Polygraphs (in my brief one-time experience with them) are not what I had pictured from my exposure to them on TV. The tester goes through the questions with you before the test so you know what is going to be asked. When I took my only polygraph, I thought that was wierd and helpful. After the man to my right explained his week, I'm no longer very certain of that.

It seems the man works as an Information Technology person at his work which has him on the computer all day long. There were a few occasions when he removed the filter that had been put on the computer so he could access some programs to do his work. He is also apparently a bit of a recluse and his only social life is found on-line...through e-mail correspondence with a few old friends. The tester asked him about removing the filter and if he had viewed any pornography on-line. He answered "no" and the polygraph started to dance...never a good sign. The tester told him that he failed, so they would redo the test.

There was a short break and they tried to clarify the question. But as he took the test the second time, he failed even more miserably than the first. His anxiety level was shooting through the roof.

I have no reason not to believe him that he had not viewed pornography. As the group discussed all that had happened, the man talked about how his mind was working and that he had been thinking about how this probation officer would have viewed his practices. He had watched part of an on-line re-run of the British version of "Big Brother". When he realized that it was getting racy, he turned it off. He watches quite a bit of TV and most of the reality programs. Sometimes, there is a little skin revealed. He knew his probation officer's definition of inappropriate content might frown on those images.

It sounded like he allowed his mind to worry about what he had been doing and it showed through the polygraph test. He failed it, even though he probably didn't lie and he actually hadn't violated his conditions of probation. If something like that happened to him, could it happen to me too?

I have tried to be careful since I was released from prison. I honestly don't think there is anything that I have done that would be considered a violation of my conditions of probation. But the conversation during our group did shake me a little bit. I know that I will be called in for another polygraph sometime. I don't know when. And I don't know what questions they will ask me. I don't know if it will be the same man who tested me last time or someone completely new. I simply pray that honesty will actually pay when they connected those wires to me.

I know that God is in control of everything in my life. He simply wants me to trust Him, and I do. When I get that call to report for the polygraph, I know God will be there with me. If I fail for some reason, I know He has a purpose in that. It is difficult sometimes to understand His reasons, but I know in the big picture, they are always better than I what I could have planned. He doesn't need wires or a machine to know if I'm lying...He knows my heart. He is the only one that I really have to pass the test with.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Day is Finally Done...1085 to go!

That first day passed fairly uneventfully...if you can call turning yourself in to spend the next three years behind bars uneventful. I went to dinner with Gary and Larry and discovered (not for the first time) that they had beans for dinner. But then I guess with a population of about 70% Hispanic, I should have expected that. After dinner was over, I thought I would do a little more walking around the compound.

I was starting to get a vague picture of the schedule here. During the day, the compound is considered closed. In other words, you always have to account for your whereabouts and be signed in someplace. In addition, once you get someplace, you have to stay there until they call for a "Rec move". These typically last for about 10 minutes and give you enough time to get to your next destination. But after dinner, it was different. It was almost like you had a little bit of freedom. The compound was open until 9:30 and this meant you could essentially walk anyplace you wanted to inside the two rows of ten foot high fence and the razor wire.

I walked over to the chapel and looked around. It was pretty quiet. I didn't go in any of the rooms. I checked the bulletin board to see when the services were and then wandered back outside. The temperature was still in the 80's and it was quite warm in my institution issued khaki's and t-shirt and big heavy work boots. I walked down to the library and stuck my head inside. It was definitely the noisiest library I had ever been in with most of the tables full of men either buried in law books or playing cards or chess. There were no staff members visible in the room supervising and there were several adjoining classrooms filled with mostly Hispanic men that I would discover later were in GED classes. The noise from the typing room wafted down the hallway and as I stuck my head in, every typewriter was filled as men were writing letters to loved ones or writing a brief for their next appeal.

From the library I walked over to the recreation yard. I had been here earlier with Gary but hadn't really spent any time. Inside, the pool tables were full and the excercise machines were being used by men who looked like they had just come out the shower with their sweat soaked bodies. As I went outside, the tables under the coverings were all filled, mostly with men playing dominos or chess or cards. A few tables even had scrabble games going. To the south end, the volleyball court was busy with a Mexican version of volleyball that would have driven a PE teacher crazy and at the north end, the bocce ball courts were filled with older men looking for some quiet competetion. In the center, the loud voices of the mostly African American crown was jeering and cheering the players on the basketball court. The "wannabe" NBA'ers were doing their thing, trash talking each other and officials every chance they got.

The dirt track was filled, as I would find it was almost every night with men in groups mostly, making the slow 600 yard walk around the soccer fields. I found myself being drawn to the big cirlce and slowly walked the dirt oval, looking like a "new kid" at the fences and the open fields and hills beyond. Even now, only seven hours behind the fence, it was hard to remember what it had been like. And even harder, to think how long it would be before I would find myself back out there.

The work boots soon felt heavy on my feet and I slowly walked back to the unit. The TV room was loud with the slamming of the dominos and the cussing of the losers in the card games. The actors on the TV mouthed their words silently...the volume only available if you had a radio. Of course, I didn't have one so I left and found myself back in my cube. Larry was laying on his bed doing his college homework and Gary was down in the "white" TV room. I grabbed the guidebook they had given me when I checked in and crawled up onto my upper bunk. As I laid down and tried to read, the noise from the building was almost overwhelming. Our cube was right next to the entry to the bathrooms and showers so nearly every man made the trip past our open cube. I was soon to discover that this happened at all hours of the day and night, and most of these men had never been told that it was polite to keep quiet while everyone else was sleeping.

The compound was soon closed and it was time to call it a day. I knew that we had another count at 10:00 PM and I thought that it was a "standing count" so I moved back down and sat in one of the hard, plastic chairs. Soon, the two officers came up the hallway counting us and as they finished, the lights were turned off and many of the men noisily made their way back to the TV rooms or to the microwave or to the showers. I got undressed and crawled back up into my bunk. I tried to plump up my flat pillow but it was a losing cause. The goose that gave it's feathers for that pillow was either very small or was geriatric and had lost most of his feathers before making it to the pillow factory.

I'm not sure what time I finally dozed off, but it wasn't early. I was dead tired from the events of the past 48 hours but sleep didn't come easily. The sounds seemed amplified and the man with sleep apnia sleeping three feet from my head didn't lessen the problem any. Tomorrow would bring a new two of this 1086 that I would spend in this wilderness.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It Begins...

I arrived early, as I always do. I'm not sure why, but it seems to be my nature. There is probably a story behind it from my past, but I've not discovered that chapter of my life yet. I sit in the dark parking lot, looking up at the office. I count down from the end because I'm never certain which door leads to his office until I get up there. I find it and the lights are on. Still, I sit there. David Irish is playing Christian music on my CD player, the words soothing to my soul. Soon, a figure emerges from the office and the flash of his lighter breaks the darkness of the night. The solitary man slowly smokes his cigarette and blows the smoke out into the still of the night. Had I been a smoker, I too would have no doubt been easing my tension through the power of the nicotine.

The man went back inside and I looked at the clock on my dashboard. It was time. I got out and locked the car and started up the steps that led to the next chapter in my life. As I opened the door, there were two men sitting and waiting. No one said "hi". There was barely even a nod of acknowledgment. I found a seat on the futon couch and waited. Soon, the quiet was broked by the rumble of an approaching Harley. One of the men said that "he must be riding the Hog tonight." Soon, a man wearing black leathers and carrying a silver Nazi bike helmet entered the waiting room. His lips were pierced with twin rings and he weighed 300 pounds if he weighed an ounce. He said his hello's to the other two men and gave me a cursory glance and started unzipping his leather jacket.

Soon, the room began to fill with other men. All of them looked blue collar. I thought to myself how glad I was that I was wearing blue jeans and that I didn't stand much. As the clock neared 6:30, men started to emerge from the room inside and slowly and quietly left the office. They didn't look around to see who was there. I'm sure they just wanted to quietly get out of there and not be noticed because they were there for the same reason I offender treatment.

As the inner room emptied, the men in the full waiting room entered the rooms. I didn't realize before that there were two groups meeting tonight. The biker...he was in the other group so I wouldn't get to hear his story, nor him mine. For some reason, that was ok by me. I stopped briefly and said hello to the Dr. and made sure I was going into the right room and then found myself a chair in the half empty room. A black man sat in the chair across the room from me. I asked him how his day was.

"Don't ask!", he said. It wasn't said in a joking manner. He was serious. He didn't want to talk about it so I sat there, quietly. Soon, he and a small, lean man who appeared to be the youngest in the room started talking. It seemed the black man was told he wasn't welcome to live in home he was trying to move into. He had been living in a shelter for the past several months and the man who owned the rental told him he didn't want any "sex offenders" living there. Never mind that he was already renting to several who hold that distinctive title. He just didn't want "this" offender living there.

As the room slowing filled, the young man came over and extended his hand to me and introduced himself. I stood, shook his hand and gave him my name. The black man looked at us with a certain amount of disdain and subtly shook his head. Then Larry, the doctor came and told the group the obvious...they had a new member tonight. He explained that when a new member joined the group, the session started with each man introducing themself and explaining why he was there.

For the next half hour, the men in the group shared their stories. Four of them were there because they had sexually molested children...three of them their own. The other, for a student. One was there for the same reason as I was...possession of child pornography. Soon, they had completed their stories and it was my turn.

I silently asked God for His guidance to know what to say and how much to share. I started with my name and told the group that I had spent three years in Federal prison for possession of child pornography. The men just sat there and stared. A few nods of what could have been sympathy...I couldn't tell. And then I decided to share more. It was one of the hardest things I've ever shared with a group of fact, I've never shared it with a group of men before. I told them that the images had been of boys, that the pornography was gay pornography and how hard it was for me to understand that because I didn't consider myself to be gay.

I then shared about my arrest and my previous profession. It definitely got the attention of the former teacher. His arrest had been spread all across the news and I think he could relate to my arrest and subsequent humiliation. I told how I had met with my school board and submitted my resignation. The loss of my wife and family. A career destroyed forever. The cost of my choice to live in sin and how blind I had been to what I was doing.

I could see the other men nodding their heads in recognition. I wasn't alone in what I had done. These men had experienced similar stories. They had all been blinded by their own selfishness and lust and had destroyed lives...theirs and ones they loved.

God offered me a great gift on this night! I was able to share the enormity of God's grace to me both in prison and since I'd been out. The men were amazed by the generosity of the church in helping me to get established. When I shared about the job God had led me to, they shook there heads in disbelief. God had given me an opportunity to be a witness share to men who are in pain and in need of hope that there is a God who saw me...and who sees them.

The session went by quickly. It wasn't what I expected it to be, but then I really didn't know what to expect. Another gift. As I left, one of the men came over and said it was good to have another Christian brother in the group. He told me about his church and we gave each other a short hug. He then left to go home to his wife...he is a lucky one. His wife stayed with him. And it was Valentine's Day so he was looking forward to what he might find when he got home.

I remember standing in a courtroom almost three and half years ago and hearing the judge say that I would have to attend a sex offender treatment program when I got out of prison. The thought of it made my stomach clench in a knot. But as I walked down the stairs back to my car, I realized that my perception of what a treatment program would be like was very skewed. I realized that this was going to be a good thing. God was giving me an opportunity to continue to find healing with other men who also needed to find healilng. And, He was sending me into a mission field where God's grace in my life could be shared and perhaps, give hope to men who had none.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

That Day Is Coming!

My stomach clinched tight and heart started to pound as I listened to the message on my voicemail at work today. It was from Becky, my probation officer. She was calling to tell me that my "psycho-sexual evaluation" had come back and that I needed to get into a treatment program immediately. Don't pass Go, don't collect $200! It sounded that serious. What did it mean? She said that she had talked to Dr. Arnholt and that I needed to start in the treatment program in three days and that I needed to call her back as soon as I got the message.

I sat there for a minute and replayed the message. Then I pulled her tattered business card out of the back of my wallet where I tried to keep it concealed and called her office. I figured I wouldn't catch her because it was already after 12:00 noon and that she would be out to lunch. I was right, but I left her a message that I would call her back after lunch and to confirm that I had received her message.

As John and I went to lunch, my stomach was still in knots. I wasn't really sure why. I had already accepted the fact, and actually embraced the idea, that I would be entering a sex offender treatment program. But it was the tone of her message that set me back. Was the content of my evaluation so serious that she, or Dr. Arnholt, thought that I was a serious risk to re-offend if I wasn't in treatment right now? Did the evaluation show that there are serious issues that I haven't dealt with yet? Why didn't Dr. Arnholt call me if the results were so bad. I just couldn't shake the thoughts from my mind.

When I got back from lunch, I called Becky back and again got her voice-mail. I left her a message to call me when she got in and I went back to work. A short while later, I got her call. Her tone this time was a little less intense than her message had been. I simply told her that I got her voice-mail and that I would be at the treatment this week. We talked for a few minutes and she never mentioned the seriousness of the situation. I talked about wanting to find a new place to live but it seemed everyplace I looked at had playgrounds attached. She simply said that was going to be a problem and that I would probably have to live in a duplex or maybe even try to rent out a basement from someone. Where was a little bit of compassion? Where was a little bit of concern about what I was facing? It struck me how fortunate I am to have the support system around me that has enabled me to survive the past six months as well as I have.

I'm kind of looking forward to tomorrow first session, but I'm a little anxious as well. I have no idea what to expect, but God does. I have no doubt that He is orchestrating every aspect of my life right now and I just need to be obedient and submissive to His will. I believe there will be healing for me in treatment...that there will be questions answered that I haven't been able to find on my own. I thank God for that and look forward to that healing. I also look forward to the day when I have some sense of freedom again...a freedom to choose where I live and where I travel. Who I spend my time with and how I spend my money. That day is in the future...but it is there!