Second in a two part series …
Imagine the windowless rooms where unspeakable acts happen to children at the hands of profiteering adults. Imagine the terror and pain inflicted on innocent children as criminals capture the sordid action on video or photographs. This is at the core of what is believed to be the multi-billion-dollar, worldwide child porn industry. How producers of this filth can ease their conscience with cash is beyond my comprehension.
Catching the criminals who produce this smut in remote places is not easy. So, law enforcement often focuses on the consumers to choke off demand.
Last week, I wrote about a man named Mark B. who was caught viewing this most awful kind of Internet porn. During phone calls from his prison in Pennsylvania, Mark admitted his obsession with adult porn led him to the darkest corners of the Internet and right into an FBI sting. He fully admits his guilt. He says he is deeply ashamed and still cannot fully understand why, as a hardworking, family man with no prior criminal record, he would dwell in that Internet cesspool.
“Damn, what a stupid man I was,” Mark told me during one conversation. I certainly couldn’t disagree. I asked, “But, why turn to pornography?”
“’Cause it was free…I was bored,” he said. “And you could, if you were stressed, go into another world of self-gratification. I became like a Pavlov dog.”
Mark, the longtime captain of private yachts in Florida, is serving a particularly harsh 17 ½ year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute at Loretto, Pennsylvania. There, he says, he discovered many more inmates who, like himself, were professionals with no prior record who became addicted to online pornography.
“It’s amazing how many people in here are like me,” he said. “Accountants, former mayors of someplace … that the federal government (put) away for a long time.”
They are derisively referred to as S.O.’s – sex offenders – by other inmates, Mark says, and are ostracized and subjected to violence by prisoners who might very well have been victims of childhood sex abuse themselves. Mark writes about this at his blog: MyShipwreck.com which his brother maintains as an archive for his children to read some day.
For example, in the chow hall the inmates segregate themselves. There is the Latino table, a section for the Italian inmates and so on. There is no specific place for the S.O.’s. Mark says, so they stand with their food trays waiting for a safe space to sit.
One day a guard ordered a white, middle-aged S.O. to take a seat at the Latino table even though all the spaces had been marked “saved” with overturned cups. The S.O. complied. “When the white inmate went outside,” Mark wrote, “the Latinos were waiting for him. A fight broke out, all over sitting down to eat a hamburger.”
Mark was arrested in 2010 at the age of 52 and because he had saved so many child porn images on his computer his sentence was “enhanced” for each transgression. If he serves his entire sentence he will be close to 70 upon release. There will be nothing waiting for him. His wife divorced him, his children are forbidden to communicate with him (both insisted to therapists they suffered no abuse) and his life savings are gone.
Today, Mark says, he sees younger men newly convicted of similar crimes coming into Loretto with much shorter, single digit sentences. That brought us to a conversation about federal sentencing guidelines. Paraphrasing the law Mark said, “The judge is supposed to think about what is sufficient to punish this guy but no greater than necessary.”
“I’ve been in here 7 years already,” he said. “I’ve learned my lesson, trust me. My heart breaks at the time I’ve lost with my children.” Then he told me about CautionClick.com, a grass roots advocacy group with a mission to change sentencing guidelines by educating the public about how pervasive porn is on the Internet and how the government’s actions have caused an “explosion of convictions, incarcerations and sex offender registrations for those who have otherwise led clean and productive lives.”
In some states a conviction like Mark’s could draw a life sentence. Yet those convicted of hands-on child sexual abuse often get much less time. Why? Because of the piling on of those sentencing enhancements based on the number of images the offender possesses. Someone who looked at, say, ten thousand images but didn’t save any would get less time than someone who saved a hundred images.
We can all agree it is immoral to view child porn. But it is time we ask ourselves how much time in prison is punishment enough. Mark asks himself that all the time. And he has a message for anyone who regularly finds themselves searching for porn.
“People think they won’t get caught. They are fooling themselves,” he said. “If you don’t’ watch out you’ll find that it becomes addictive. And if it does you’re going to look for more titillating types of pornography. Go get some counselling!”
And to the feds who investigate this. Let’s hope you can locate more of those secret rooms where this awful product is born.