Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"This Now Defines You"

Day 3 from inside the system. I am glad to get all this out, but it is also exhausting...

As part of my probation process it was required of me to attend and graduate from a 4-part sex offenders therapy program. The classes have no true beginning or ending; you start going immediately and stay until the head of the program decides you are done. As a result, you never know how many years it's going to take to finish- you only know it will take years. It also means that your first day of Level 1 you are walking into a class of sex offenders who are trying desperately to say the right things and get promoted to Level 2. Sessions last an hour and only one or two participants got to talk each week. We were told we  could not get off of probation until we finish all 4 levels. This is a partial truth, it turns out, but still- everyone wants to get their chance. I was in the group for 5 weeks before the therapist spoke to me, other than to call my name when he called roll and collected my payment. And they NEVER forgot to collect payments. Every week, from every person. Money rules inside the legal system. Four levels, around 20 guys per class, multiple weekly classes at each level, $20 per person per week- this therapy stuff was a racket! Of all the things that were part of my probation, nothing was as frustrating or as useless (for me) as the 4 and a half years of "intensive" therapy. Why? I was hoping you would ask...

By the time the therapist decided to talk to me a few things had become crystal clear. I was way out of my element. Some of the guys were there because of various computer offenses, some were 19 year olds convicted of statutory rape with their underage girlfriends, and there actually was one guy there for urinating in a parking lot. Then there were the guys who had done some truly heinous "get your own story on Dateline" kinds of things- and their stories freaked me out a little. And again- I can't say this  often enough- we were all lumped in the same pile and given the same "treatment." The clear purpose of Level 1 was to remind us all that we were officially scum of the earth, and that in fact there was no lower form of life than a SO. One of the first things he ever said to me was "I don't care who or what you think of yourself. You are a sex offender. This now DEFINES you." He made it known that he didn't really want to hear what you thought were the reasons you may have offended; he would TELL you why you offended. There was to be no mention of God or faith or any of that "bullsh*t." And most importantly, at the risk of humiliation in front of a group of around 20 guys, you were to never minimize your crime. This was the greatest sin. Before I ever got to speak in group that was painfully clear. And according to our fearless leader, everyone minimizes. Everyone see their crime as "not so bad" and blames someone or something else. This way of thinking led to a problem with me. You see, I freely confessed what I did and that what I did was wrong, and that it was my fault. I was the sinner. And because there was no victim, no emails, no pictures, no phone calls and no attempt at further contact, there was no need to minimize. My crime, though very much a crime, was by the standards of this program already minimal. Just as had been the case during my 49 day sin jail back in Georgia, even the other "criminals" laughed in disbelief at that my particular offense was being punished in such a way. And the therapist knew it too. So he never wanted to talk to me. He promoted me to Level 2 in about 6 months (which was ridiculously fast compared to others) simply because he wasn't sure what to make of me. Many were much less fortunate, and the therapist took great pleasure in ripping them new ones and keeping them in Level 1- some for years. I met one man who had been in Level 1 for three years when I arrived and was still there when I left.

Another fabulously useless part of the therapy was the mandatory polygraph testing. Once a year, at great expense to the SO, we had to schedule and take a lie-detector test from one of four approved polygraphers in the county. They would hook me up to the equipment, test me with sample questions about my behavior since the last time I was there, and then administer the test. It felt like a big deal and was very stressful, even if you knew you had done nothing wrong, because such tests are notoriously unreliable. But here's the real deal- I could have confessed to robbing a bank during those sessions and it wouldn't have meant a thing. My therapist was the only one who could see the results; the legal system cannot use the results. Even my PO could only know if I passed or failed. So the worst thing that could happen was deeper questioning and more time spent in counselling paying $20 a week. I passed every time, and the polygrapher recommended each time that I didn't need to be tested again. That fell on deaf ears. The money needed to keep flowing...

Levels 2 and 3 of the program were with a different therapist, one who actually seemed to care about the individuals in his groups. These classes were all about writing papers and letters and presenting them to the other SOs in group. Some of the papers allowed for personal reflection and pondering what led you to commit your specific crime. These were actually helpful for me, as were some private (and expensive!) sessions I scheduled with the new therapist to speed up the process. The letters were supposed to be apologies to your victim and their family, so I just got to make stuff up. I enjoyed the chance to get some creative writing in. The bigger issue was for the others in those levels. Many of them had trouble with writing; they certainly had difficulty saying things the way they needed to be said for approval. Every paper and letter I wrote was approved the first time I shared it, and there were a couple of other guys like me. Some of the rest of those guys were rejected over and over again and are probably still in those levels hoping their probation will expire before they have to write anything else. I actually ghost wrote papers for three guys (including Jose, the friend I mentioned yesterday who died while still in the program) just so they could move on. I spent a year on each of those levels before being sent to Level 4 and one last battle with my original therapist. It was a skirmish that would last nearly as long as the first three levels combined.

Early on in Level 4 the Doc made it clear that he was going to try and break me. It was clear to him that I didn't feel nearly bad enough about myself, and in fact seemed much more at peace than I had back in Level 1. That was NOT the way it was supposed to work and it needed to change. He wanted me to confess to things I had not done. He wanted me to acknowledge that faith was a fantasy, that my youth ministry (for 28 years) had been a scheme to get me close to teenagers and that the church was actually a plague on society. He told me that I had no doubt ruined countless families over the years through my manipulations. At one point I told him that many parents and former youth still supported me; he called them delusional and accused me of using mind control techniques, including this blog. He tried to make me stop writing, but my PO backed me up. He wanted me to admit to being a pedophile, despite the fact that my crime had nothing at all to do with young children. (Side note: It does not help your cause in such situations to point out to a licensed therapist with a PhD that he is misusing a clinical term like "pedophile." Bad juju...) When I refused to confess to these lies, he shut me out, not talking to me in class for weeks at a time. Many weeks I boarded the bus for home with tears in my eyes, wondering if this would ever end. Finally it became clear what I had to do. Suck it up, tell him the lies he wanted to hear, and graduate. So that's what I did. At my final polygraph test the administrator asked me if I had ever lied to my therapist. I never even blinked as I responded, "YES." When he asked me what I had lied about, I told him the truth- and he was stunned. My therapy ended with me saying horrible and false things about myself so I could get out of the system. And I was not alone.

Mandatory sex offender therapy is another cosmetic illusion in the overall system. I witnessed very little effort to help SOs discover the WHY of our offenses. I saw a concentrated effort to remind us all that we were now garbage and that there was no coming back from that. They sought to (and quite often succeeded) destroy hope at every turn. It is little wonder that there are many SOs who choose to violate probation and go back to prison, because the pain and scrutiny they bear on on the "outside" just gets to be too much. I saw people punished for not being able to pay on time, while others were released early because they had attorneys who played golf with the Judges. One wealthy business man, who had molested 5 kids in his home and was a real jerk in group, served no jail time and was released halfway through Level 2 with his probation terminated because the Judge felt he had "done enough." Justice may be blind but it sure knows how to find a dollar. There is lots of lip service given to keeping offenders from reoffending, but I saw little evidence of concrete steps being taken. Personally, my biggest takeaway was a list I carry in my wallet of things I would miss if I ever reoffended. That is a huge deterrent for me. I'm not certain how well that works if you have an addiction or a mental illness that led to your offense. The public safety would be much better served by a program that encourages and rehabilitates and actually treats problems instead of telling offenders over and over again what they already believe- you screwed up, and no one loves you anymore. Now go away...

One final word. When I walked out of Level 4 as a graduate, free and clear of the mandatory therapy, I shook the hand of the therapist, looked him in the eye, and said something like this: "There is something you were wrong about from the first day we met. Being a sex offender does not define me and it never has. I believe in the love, grace and forgiveness that come from following Jesus. And THAT defines me. FOREVER!" And I will take a polygraph on that anytime you want me to. We'll wrap all of this up tomorrow.

Because of Jesus,


  1. Always appreciate your candor and transparency - and of course, always reminding us that it's all about Jesus! (All things our world desperately needs more of!)

    1. Thanks bro. I hope the message comes through that we live in a broken world, but that even in the midst of the chaos of life Jesus is there. Always!


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