[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series. Click here for the first column.]
Imagine the windowless rooms in which unspeakable acts are done to children by profiteering adults. Imagine the terror and pain inflicted on innocent children as criminals capture the sordid action on video or in photographs.
This is at the core of what is believed to be a multibillion-dollar worldwide child pornography 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 the Federal Correctional Institute in Loretto, Pa., Mark admitted that 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, a longtime captain of private yachts in Florida, is serving a particularly harsh 17½-year sentence. There he has discovered many more inmates who, like him, were professionals with no prior criminal 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.”
Mark says they are derisively referred to by other inmates as S.O.s, or sex offenders, and are ostracized and subjected to violence by prisoners who might very well have been victims of childhood sex abuse themselves. He writes about this on his blog, MyShipwreck.com, which his brother maintains as an archive for his children to read someday.
For example, in the chow hall, the inmates segregate themselves. There is the Latino table, a section for the Italian inmates, etc. 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. He 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.”
Because Mark had saved so many child porn images on his computer, his sentence was “enhanced” for each transgression. He says that today he sees younger men newly convicted of similar crimes coming into Loretto with 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 seven 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, a grassroots advocacy group with a mission to change sentencing guidelines by educating the public about the pervasiveness of Internet porn 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, 10,000 images but didn’t save any might get less time than someone who saved 100 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 people who regularly find themselves searching for porn.
“People think they won’t get caught,” he said. “They are fooling themselves. 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 counseling!”
And to the feds who investigate this: Let’s hope you can locate more of those secret rooms in which this awful product is born.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.