[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series.]
It was among the oddest email requests I ever got. It said: “Please visit: MyShipwreck.com. The blog will either interest you or not.” I was instantly fascinated with the postings from someone calling himself Captain Shipwreck.
The man behind the blog is Mark B., and he’s currently serving a 17½-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute at Loretto, Pa., on charges of possessing and distributing child pornography.
He fully admits he is guilty of consuming and stockpiling porn — a lot of it — but denies he ever distributed porn and says he pleaded guilty only because his lawyer convinced him he could get life in prison if he didn’t take a plea agreement.
Mark types out his thoughts in a small room off the prison library and mails the pages to his brother, who posts his thoughts online. The original email I received came from his worried sister.
“My brother is a good man,” she wrote. “He made a huge mistake and his world will never be the same. I can’t sanitize what he did but I can tell you this: He never touched a child, never bought (child pornography) and never sold it. (It is) all online — for free.”
His “addiction,” as he calls it, started with readily available adult porn. As he clicked on more and more tantalizing pop-up ads, he became ensnared in photos and videos of sex partners clearly not old enough to consent. Mark had no idea the FBI was watching him.
His backstory: A white man raised along Florida’s southeastern beaches, Mark was 52 years old when arrested. He had no police record and was, by all accounts, a hardworking married man with two young children.
Mark loved the water and boats and earned his captain’s license in 1979. When arrested, he was captain of a yacht called A Loan At Last, which the FBI said was the scene of his crimes and where he was taken into custody in October 2010. Not only did Mark use his down time on the yacht to view Internet porn but he also stole Wi-Fi signals from nearby luxury condos to disguise his IP address and avoid detection.
How does a family man with a good job and a clean record wind up convicted of possession and distribution of the vilest type of pornography? What was the attraction to something that repulses the rest of us?
After considerable planning, I was able to talk to Mark in a series of strictly enforced 15-minute prison phone calls over several days.
Why consume and save such revolting images?
“Too much free time, boredom and curiosity,” he said during one of our calls. “I’m a fisherman by trade. It was like cast your net out there, and see what you can find.”
Might it have been a by-product of the molestation he suffered as an 8- and 9-year-old at the hands of the family priest, as his sister suggests? Mark doesn’t think so.
“I always just tried to forget that and get on with my life,” he said.
“You just go click, click, click, and you don’t realize what it is,” Mark explained. “Adult, teen, child — you get it all because it’s all mixed together. It’s like all thrown out in the sea.”
He consistently used nautical terms to describe his Internet experience, saying: “You put your hook down and don’t know what you’ll pull up. … And with porn, you can’t throw it back.”
But Mark did more than just look. He saved thousands of appalling photos and videos on his laptop.
Mark told me he was actually relieved when FBI agents took him into custody. It wasn’t because he feared he might harm a child someday (his two children both told various therapists nothing happened with Daddy — ever). Rather, he said, it had become too big a burden in his life.
As he put it, “I think I was more addicted than a heroin addict.”
Back when the judge announced his sentence, many saw it as particularly harsh. Mark remembers: “One statement that the judge (said) … sticks out in my head as being true and to the point. I put myself here.”
Now, he says, he’s concentrating on rehabilitation and forgiving himself for spending so much time doing what he knew was morally wrong.
It is a bittersweet exercise because he has lost everything. His marriage dissolved, and his wife does not allow him to communicate with the children, which causes Mark immense pain. His daughter turns 17 this month; his son is 10. His savings were wiped out, and his extended family has fractured because of his crimes.
If Mark serves his entire sentence, he will be close to 70 upon release and will forever be a registered sex offender. He will always wonder why the feds don’t crack down harder on those who produce and profit from child pornography.
Next week will be Mark’s description of what prison is like for someone convicted of the sexual exploitation of children and his heartfelt warning to others who find themselves tempted by online pornography.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at email@example.com, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.