GOING TO JAIL: THE INCARCERATION EXPERIENCE
Geoffrey, not his real name, is an intelligent, kind and empathic, balding man in his mid-fifties who is surprisingly athletic for his age. He is an organizer with impressive social skills and a naturally reassuring manner. I have worked with him on carpentry projects, weve discussed a number of topics and he has become one of my better jail friends. Hes a sex offender who fondled his mildly retarded, pubescent foster daughter whom hed become fond of. He is remorseful and has begged forgiveness. His wife and grown up sons have stood by him.
He is also a convinced, evangelical fundamentalist; he takes the Bible literally and is a creationist: God created the universe in six days some six thousand years ago, although he admits that it is possible to believe in evolution and still be saved. His father was a Baptist minister and he was active as a lay ministry in his church. He supports the prohibition of abortion, drugs and pornography, and social conservative policies generally. Yet Geoffrey is a love-and-forgiveness Christian, kind and very open. I found this hard to reconcile with his religious politics. Faith and faith alone is the path to Salvation. Unlike many fundamentalists, Geoffrey is prepared to listen and debate the theological arguments. We spent hours in good-natured, often interesting discussion, mostly walking around the path that skirts the ball field. He has a very rigid and exclusivist idea of what is necessary to be saved. I told him his God has a personality and characteristics that in a human we would we would describe as egotistical, petty, narrow minded, savage and unforgiving. God of course was modeled on the character of the better tyrants of Ancient times
I gathered that very few people make it to Heaven. Only those who are born again can make it. He himself has been a believer since he was a small boy, he has never been estranged, and as for being born again he has reaffirmed his faith a few times since then. While Heaven seemed to be a very nice place, I could not see it as offering anything better than can be experienced on earth. Eternal ecstasy, bliss or orgasm does not sound attractive. As for Hell, it sounded like endless torture, eternal fiery pain. I couldnt figure out who was doing the torture, God or the Devil, or whether it was just a condition of not being saved. If the Devil was the one torturing the unsaved I wondered if he got any sadistic pleasure from it. What reason would he have? It was God who was offended by the unsaveds lack of faith. Yet torturing people, even the dead, didnt strike me as the type of thing that God would enjoy, although He does have wrathful tendencies. Why would they be subject to eternal torture anyway? It would be too late for any attempts at rehabilitation seeing as the people were already dead, and theres no mention of a second chance. Deterrence was out as the endless fiery tortures in Hell would not publicized on Earth unless through some hook up, live from Hell, we could see the unsaved suffer. Denunciation? I suppose if whoever is aware of whats happening in Hell needs convincing that lack of faith is very wrong, denunciation might make sense, but again who is? Theyd have to get some moral satisfaction out of it. Finally I figured that all that torturing going on in Hell must simply be old fashioned punishment; an endless spanking.
The thought of billions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, Roman Catholics, liberal Protestants, not to mention doubters, agnostics, atheists and those who dont give a damn suffering eternal pain for their beliefs or lack of them appalls me. Im not sure what happens to little children but I dont see why they should get any special dispensation. To be fair, arent they just as capable of feeling pain and suffering as adults? I also have trouble with God conceived in the image of an all-powerful, egotistical, narrow minded, pedantic, yet somehow loving and merciful tyrant. He does not sound like a nice guy, or particularly sane.
Geoffreys charges were a heavy blow to him and have fractured his life. It was humiliating; his friends and religious associates were shocked, and many were shunning him. The foster daughter who inadvertently revealed their sexual activity had suffered, he readily acknowledges this, but realistically agreed with me that the harm flowed more from the consequences of exposure and the disruption of her life than from the fondling they engaged in. It frequently seems in child sex cases that the welfare of the victim is secondary to punishment of the offender. He was consoled by his conviction that while his church was not very forgiving, God is. His crime, he feels, was the biggest mistake of his life. He violated the law of the land, his marriage vows and the tenets of the church. He is remorseful but not pathetically so. He has made his personal confession to God and feels that He has forgiven him. This provides him with some comfort, a comfort that non-believers dont have. His wife, and grown up sons have stuck with him and she has visited him in jail and will pick him up when hes released. His church, however, has not forgiven him and he cannot resume his lay ministry.
While admitting what he did was wrong, he felt he was treated harshly. The sex was willing, essentially fondling with no penetration sought or occurring, although the law, in theory, and often in practice, takes no account of the nature of the acts or the willingness of the young participant. Since the mainstream feminists succeeded in having rape replaced by sexual assault in our laws, fondled breasts, or patted bums are not clearly distinguished from penetrative rape at gunpoint. Geoffrey felt a warning or probation would have been sufficient to prevent him from re-offending. I definitely agree, jail was totally unnecessary in his case, although his sentence is certainly lenient compared to mine.
He is honest; he admits he has a strong sexual attraction to young girls. I tried to explain that this was a gift to be used responsibly, that it could serve constructive social purposes and be part of Gods plan. He could not go along with this idea and while he hoped he would never be unfaithful again, he could entertain the idea that if there were no legal, moral and social sanctions he might again pursue sex with young girls. Good luck!
I was interested in Geoffrey because, oxymoronically, he was an open minded fundamentalist. How often would I get a chance to meet such a person, especially one who has committed a socially perceived egregious crime? As I see it, his people, the Fundamentalist Christians, are among my most vocal persecutors, my political enemies, the likes of Noreen Waters, for example. I consciously saw him as a window into this alien world.
While Geoffrey was open-minded he was not widely read, and was poorly informed on many subjects. The worlds fate is in the hands of God. He trusted God and did not follow current affairs or read the local newspapers. Twice I gave him religion-related essays Id found, including an article by Doug Ward, the often interesting, religious affairs journalist on the Vancouver Sun. Geoffrey didnt seem able to get interested in any of them, or dismissed their arguments rather superficially. He answered questions about creationism by mentioning an article he once read about how all the fossils happened quickly. He was not interested in the physical world or science and read novels for escape. He said he found most inspirational material tedious. I saw his lack of curiosity as an unconscious defence.
A question, or the question I see for deeply Christian people, is how they strike a balance between this world and their presumed next world, or how do they compromise the welfare of this world in order to advance prospects in the afterlife. The extreme example is torturing and killing people in order to save their souls, but it also includes any decisions where moral or religious considerations conflict with practical, humane considerations. I tried to interest him in GODRIC by Frederick Buechner, a novel about a Twelfth Century English hermit that I was reading at the time. It explores the conflict between devotion and love of God, and behaving kindly towards ones fellows.
I tried to interest Geoffrey in how religion relates to public and political life, and how his people, an appellation he was not ready to adopt, adversely affected the welfare of outsiders and people like me with their activism. I have long had mixed feelings about Christians, or at least the true believers amongst them. While for some like Geoffrey, their faith gives them tolerance and calls for practicing forgiveness, for many others it is a license to be righteous and moralize. For some it is more than a license, its an injunction. Understandably, anyone who feels they have an exclusive grasp of an all important truth may feel duty bound ethically to share this truth with as many as possible. The truth is: Faith will give you back your body resurrection again after you die. Resurrection not only gives you another kick at the bucket but you get immortality thrown in and a chance to meet old friends. And those who oppose this holy mission do not deserve their gods mercy. Moral outrage justifies hatred and cruelty.
At one point I saw a possibility that with his understanding as a result of his charges, he might moderate or make more intelligent, the policies of his people, his church. I suggested to him that he regard his experiences as a resource that he could use in his ministry. I dont think I succeeded. While he could see my arguments about the utility of child porn, and about the place of intergenerational sex, it was too much for him to handle; it was temptation. It all had to remain evil. He couldnt see any good coming out of his incarceration but thought that he might try working with young men released from jail and helping them get re-established in the community. He didnt think he could help sex offenders in particular.
Several days after he was released, a friend of his, Eddie spoke to him on the phone. Things have gone better than Geoffrey expected. He has been invited over for dinner at an old friends, and his church allows him to attend services but, for the time being at least he cannot resume any of his other work.
Eddie, a man in his sixties who had been convicted of molesting a granddaughter. had suffered perhaps the most abusive childhood I have encountered. Starting at an early age he had been placed in a series of hellish foster homes. The worst was with an abusive family who allowed their own older children to regularly play punishment games with him. They would strip him, tie his arms above his head and whip him as punishments for supposed offences. The children would righteously condemn him as they took turns hitting him. The foster parents who also beat him sometimes watched and encouraged. The other children also sexually molested and fucked him but not when their parents were present. He didnt mind that so much. When a social worker became aware of the physical abuse he was placed with a farmer who would beat him savagely if he didnt work hard enough but otherwise left him alone. When he left the system he became very close to his sister and she had a daughter by him. He was convicted of molesting his daughter and did jail time. After he returned to live with his sister as man and wife. Recently he was convicted of molesting his granddaughter. Eddie was remorseful for his behavior and plans to live with his sister and stay out of trouble.
Aside from Geoffrey and Eddie I didnt get to know very many of the sex offenders partly as I refused to take the regular SOP. Some may have wanted to avoid me because of my notoriety. I would have liked to have talked to a young Asian inmate sentenced for child pornography but he kept to himself. Those convicted for child pornography are given the same treatment as those convicted of sexually assaulting children. This is part of a broad trend in law promoted by activists, psychocops and judicial bureaucrats to equate thoughts and acts; fantasy and reality.
I tend to believe most of what the sex offenders said about their charges but understandably prisoners are notoriously unreliable and selective in their accounts. I understand that those in the program have to make detailed confessions of their crimes. It could have been interesting. A man in the regular program I worked with, a Native guy in his fifties, told me he had been forced to plead guilty because of various pressures. Hed been to jail previously and possibly saw it as a refuge from other troubles. I cant be sure but spousal assault and incest seemed the most common sexual offences. Another man I worked with who had a bushy white beard lamented that he could never be hired as a Santa Claus again. He thought the ban was unfair because hed never molested other peoples little girls. In a way he had a valid point. Incest is different from other kinds of sexual assault, but theorists and clinicians have stubbornly refused to recognize this. The conventional understanding of sexual assault as developed by David Finkelhor, the leading American sex abuse authority, and promoted by mainstream feminists everywhere, is based on the incest model. All child sexual assaults are seen as variations of fathers raping their daughters, and just as traumatic.
I only met two inmates that I knew of who were in for offences involving boys. One man said he was having an affair with a teenager and subsequently hired him to work in his restaurant. The boys mother who knew about the affair had him charged as he was now in a position of authority. He was concerned about what the police and social workers had done to make the boy testify. He expected to get together with his young friend again as he would soon be eighteen. The other was a Native man who had lived in a trailer park and liked to give blow jobs to boys who visited him. He told me that the judge explained or justified his 18 month jail sentence on the basis of protecting him from an irate and violent father. Again I wondered if the boys interest had been served. I made a couple of fancy cocobola feather boxes with carved lids for him. We often walked together in the evening and became good friends. The three men I knew in the Sexual Offender Awareness Program, SOAP, two blamed malicious and jealous women for their problems. The other had picked up a woman in a bar who later claimed he had forced himself on her.
There was one slim, younger sex offender, Ill call him Patrick, whom I can see re-offending and not just because of alcohol, which he blamed for his current offence, or as what led him into it. I happen to know people who know him, his family and the young female victim. Initially he was a tablemate in the Kitchen but moved perhaps partly not to be associated with me, but more importantly to sit with big guys. He planned to work out and put on sixty pounds, but never did. I dont know many details of his offence, except that he claims that he was also convicted of sex with an animal. This way, fucking the dog was a cover for a more serious offence. Patrick fitted into jail quite comfortably, adopted its culture and values, and hung with the tough guys he seemed to admire. I found him a spineless, insubstantial man, full of promises but unable to keep his word. He has a wife and child but I can see him turning to a young girl if he has personal problems in the future. I can see him getting caught and returning to jail and its culture.
Mack lived in the house next door through much of my incarceration. He liked to talk, mostly about his theories of psychokinesis and the power of pentagrams. He had a website but no way to manage it. He spent much of his time writing a book about how he saw things. He was often ignorant but eager to learn studying through an encyclopedia he had borrowed from the library. He was cynical and apathetic about jail and shirked his job assignments until the guards just let him stay in his room. He was always polite. He said he would be perfectly happy in jail as he was, if he could access the Internet. He was bitter about his former wife who made "false allegations" concerning their daughter. He denied the allegations and refused to take the regular SOP. At one point he was thinking of joining Dr. Foremans group. His malingering cost him some remission time but he got it back before he was released. Last I checked Macks site is operating. The number of SOs I met was a tiny fraction of the total and but for my notoriety I would probably have met more.
While treatment or therapy may help some sex offenders understand and control their behaviour, it is doubtful if incarceration itself is helpful. (This probably applies to most kinds of offenders.) Other inmates, probably a substantial number, including I believe people like Geoffrey, do not require any treatment to prevent them from re-offending. Treatment may just be rubbing their noses in it. For some, treatment would not only be ineffective and but also counterproductive. Incarceration for them, it may be argued, will simply keep them off the street for a while. This line of reasoning is behind the extreme sentences handed out in some American states for sex offences. This hysterical reaction to sex offences is shared by many in Canada, and has become a populist political issue. Lengthy sentences discourage inmates from attempts to rehabilitate. For those striving not to re-offend, a supportive community is important. For Geoffrey, it would include his church and family. For others an on line support group for those attracted to minors, chat boards and self help groups, and even activist groups would serve a similar purpose.
Outside mandatory reporting laws limit the assistance therapists can provide those wanting and needing it. These laws provide penalties for not reporting possible indications of sexual abuse. People are not allowed to use their personal knowledge common sense and perhaps effectively deal with the concern on the spot. The belief is that any possible instance of abuse becomes the monopoly of the criminal justice system and their psychocops. The possible victim is disempowered. The law is black and white.
While morally correct, mandatory reporting is a vicious and counterproductive policy. Mandatory reporting means that many situations which could have been resolved without the intervention of the criminal justice system now lead to destructive charges which may benefit neither the offender nor the victim.
Sammy is back for the third time. Sammy is the native carver I came to Ford Mountain with. He was discharged, came back after five hours on the street and released after a few months. I dont know how long he was out this time. He is well liked and seems happy here. I think drink is his main problem but it may be untreatable.Jail Journal menu
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