My name is Steve and I’m sixty eight years old. I never dreamed I would be spending my “golden years” behind the chain link and razor wire fences of a federal penitentiary.
I had the great fortune of being successful in two separate careers; first in radio where I was credited as the inventor of the soft rock format in the 1970s. Later, I turned my efforts to television and feature films where I worked for the better part of twenty years as a writer and producer. I officially retired in the late 90s and in 2007, I moved with my wife and son to Little Rock, Arkansas. My wife had a daughter there who was spitting out babies like popcorn and we wanted to be a part of those grandbabies’ lives.
Life was good there. We adjusted from the hectic pace of Los Angeles to small town southern living. I had intended to spend my retirement years devoting my time to my writing. But I fell into a malaise that seemed to keep me from those creative endeavors. Instead, I gave over more and more of my time to Internet chat rooms and the endless explorat10n of the world of online porn. I had done something similar some ten years previously but had managed to break the cycle by joining Sex Addicts Anonymous. Unfortunately, I did not have the good sense to remain active in the program and over the years, I drifted back into this self-destructive behavior.
In the chat rooms, I channeled my aesthetic energies in to the creation of dark and frightening characters. I made up scenarios in which I portrayed murderers, rapists, wife-abusers and pedophiles. It seemed as though I was interested in depicting any behavior that society considered taboo. I reasoned that since this was all made-up and worlds away from who I truly am, there was no reason to place any limits on whatever behavior I could imagine and, in those chat rooms, claim to have engaged in them.
As these less-than-healthy activities progressed, I was sent some child pornography. This should have had the effect of being doused with ice water. It should have functioned as a wake-up call. But in the state of mind I was in, it only served to spur me forward. After all, what could be more taboo than child pornography? I had had a brief brush with it a couple of years earlier but I scared myself away from it. This time, however, such common sense did not prevail and I soon found myself searching for illegal images and trading them with others. The content of the pictures themselves was not what attracted me to this behavior. It was the raw excitement of the hunt. Indeed, I never kept the pictures I collected. Every few days, I would purge the flash drive of all its contents and I would invariably feel all the better for having done so. But a few days later, the cycle would begin again. At this point, I had lost my moral bearings. To my way of thinking, the children in those photos weren’t real. They were merely pixels on a screen. It was all still just in my head and I wasn’t hurting anyone. I failed to see that trading in those awful images was not an act of the imagination. It was real world behavior.
On January 19, 2009, I traded photos online with someone who called himself “Mike.” In truth, he was an undercover sheriff’s deputy in Missouri and the wheels of my destruction were set in motion.
Just before 6:00 a.m. on April 15, 2009, my wife and I were awakened by the insistent ringing of our doorbell. I stumbled downstairs to find our front window bathing the living room in flashing red and blue lights. I opened the door and ten uniformed police officers stormed in, their guns drawn. My mind was clouded by both sleep and denial and my first reaction was that this was one of those misbegotten drug busts where the police had the wrong address. It would all be cleared up in a few minutes and we could go back to bed. But when one of the officers announced that they were from the Little Rock Police Department’s Internet Child-Abuse Task Force, reality hit me like a sledge hammer. I could barely breathe as I was presented with a warrant to search our house. My seventeen year old son was awakened and he and my wife were placed in separate rooms and questioned. Of course, they were totally blindsided, unaware of any of my activities. In an act that I still feel was morally and legally wrong, they showed the pictures to my minor son, askin? if he knew anyone in them. Why they felt the need for this step, I 11 never understand since they had already determined that all of the pictures in question already existed in the FBI database. Needless to say, my son was traumatized.
For five hours, we sat in those rooms while they searched every inch of our home. They then carried out all of our computers, cameras and iPhones. I was read my rights, handcuffed and frog-marched out of my home. I never saw the inside of it again.
I was arraigned later that day with my lawyer son-in-law representing me. It was determined that I would be placed under house arrest but I would have to be housed outside the home because of the presence of a minor, my son who would turn eighteen in one more month. I spent two nights in county jail while an apartment in my son-in-law’s offices was readied. It was the most frightening two days and nights of my life.
Once I was in my temporary home, fitted with an ankle bracelet, I began to shake off the horror of the past forty eight hours. I first located a twelve-step group; Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and secured permission to leave the apartment for meetings four times per week. I then found a therapist and began meeting with him twice a week, desperately searching for what led me to such insanely destructive behavior. It was at this point that the therapist, a sensitive and caring man, succeeded in getting me to view the children in those photographs as flesh and blood human beings. I was utterly shattered as I came to realize that these girls and boys were all too real and had been abused, violated and exploited, sometimes by the very people who were supposed to love and protect them. Worse yet was the realization that I had participated in their exploitation by continuing the cycle of their photos being exposed to new eyes. I still think of those children often. Some of them probably aren’t even children anymore. But they will bear the emotional scars of their abuse and exploitation for the rest of their lives.
I still shake my head in wonder that I, a person who has always loved, nurtured and protected the children in my life, could have sunk so low. I hold out hope that someday I might be forgiven for what I have done. But I must first find a way to forgive myself and I’m still not there yet.
After my nine months of house arrest, I pled guilty to a single count of distribution of child pornography and was sentenced to seven and a half years in a federal prison. Following my sentencing, my case was publicized nationwide because of the high profile jobs that I had held in Hollywood. Worse yet, the local paper in Little Rock quoted liberally from chats that my computer had saved unbeknownst to me and that had been recovered by the FBI. The paper never bothered to clarify that the content of those chats was complete fiction nor did they report that the prosecution had stipulated in court that there had never been any improper actions with a child by me. Those who read the front page of their morning paper were left with the impression that there had been a monster living in their midst.
So now I spend my days and nights living in a bizarre world dominated by career criminals. These are people who, for some sad reason, never developed emotionally beyond the level of small children. If they see something they want, they take it. If something upsets them, their first instinct is to hit someone. As I watch them jostle each other and engage in physical horseplay, it’s like watching little boys in the playground.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel like a stranger in a strange land. It is only at night when I close my eyes and drift off to sleep that my soul can soar over the chain link and razor wire as my dreams carry me back into the free world where my life can feel normal once again. And then I awaken the next morning, taking just a split second to realize anew where I am and then go through the motions of living another day.