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 out...to 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 was...sex 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 men...in 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 tonight...to 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.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. How strange it must be for you to find yourself sitting in a room with men you would never have known in your previous life -except maybe as angry parents to be calmed.

You are getting so many opportunities to face your fear and to be vulnerable enough to tell the hard truth over and over again. I'm so glad there was at least one man there for you to connect with, and that you're getting to glimpse a larger purpose.

I'm so sorry for the pain that continues to live in your heart - how hard to start this on Valentine's Day.

I am confident that you will continue to heal and to know God's grace fully as you continue to walk this new path. I'm so proud to be your sister. I love you.