“A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes” Thomas Henry Huxley
“As life unfolds, it is difficult to understand the consequences of our decisions and actions. We start from the right principles, having the noblest of dreams and, in time, we come up against our own monstrosity, the vile and cruel consequence of what we have done.” From “The Last Pope” Luis Miguel Rocha
“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13 NLT
Chiseled words of inspiration adorn a low wall on the campus of Penn State University: “USE WELL THY FREEDOM”
A federal prison such as the one I am in is filled with individuals who have failed to do that. However, one does not have to be in prison to fail to use freedom in a manner that honors the lives that were lost in obtaining it in the first place, or the millions that have been lost in battle to preserve it since.
I am sure the Penn State campus is quite large. But still, one has to think that Jerry Sandusky could not help to see those very words many times in all of the years that he was associated with that fine institution. If the charges against him prove to be true, it could safely be said that the meaning implicit in them totally escaped him.
When freedom is not used well, there are victims…..and far too often, those victims of freedom are children.
Children inevitably bear the brunt of many of the bad choices and decisions made by adults in the exercising of the freedoms to which we think we are entitled. In many ways, we certainly are entitled to those freedoms. But the freedom to make our own choices and decisions should also carry with it an obligation to make mature, responsible ones that take our children, spouses, friends, neighbors, and society as a whole into consideration as well.
If that sounds like a lot of responsibility, it is simply because freedom IS an enormous responsibility. Far too often, freedom becomes centered around ‘me’ to the exclusion of anyone else. That is when the victims begin to accumulate, piling on top of one another at a constantly increasing rate until there are so many victims of freedom that is NOT used well that it becomes impossible to count them all or hear their individual cries for help.
In past articles I have written about what I believe to be the over-use of incarceration in this country and I have expressed my opinion that it would be more prudent to implement more effective ways of dealing with the majority of those individuals who do not use their freedom well.
In many ways, those of us who are incarcerated are victims of our own decisions on how to use – or misuse – our freedom. This does not exonerate us, excuse us, or render us innocent. Nor does it alter the fact that we are still victims. We are just not the most important, the most affected, or the most damaged ones.
That distinction, unfortunately, lies with children. The smallest, most innocent, and most vulnerable among us are always the first to fall prey to morals that are pushed aside or freedom that is abused. They are the primary victims of our own selfishness, self-indulgence, and self-centeredness.
Children are also casualties of constant legal battles engaged in to expand the rights of individuals to act in a manner that ignores the basic responsibilities of human decency, human dignity, and human nature; battles fought to prove that we have the freedom to live our lives as we see fit, with no thought or consideration given to the effects our actions have on our children or the children of others; battles fought to give us the legal right – the freedom – to ignore the messages we are sending them as to what constitutes appropriate dress, demeanor, morality, or the respect of themselves or others.
Society today is obsessed with sex. Sex sells everything, so everything must be about sex. We glorify and reward bad behavior and the famous bad men and women who indulge in it. We pay homage to individuals with empty hearts who marry publicly, reap millions in rewards, then shed themselves of what should be a sacred union with the casual attitude one might display in discarding a pair of soiled underwear.
They are the ones who use their freedom in the most empty, immoral, and meaningless of ways and they are the ones we emulate and try to ‘keep up with’.
Society whips itself into a frenzy of misplaced morals, improper thoughts, and questionable behavior which ultimately results in lines being crossed, opening the door through which unspeakable horrors enter.
The children then become the victims of freedom. They are robbed of their childhood, raped of their innocence, and subjected to emotional and physical pain that is impossible to fathom unless one is unfortunate enough to be a victim as well.
Anyone who doesn’t think that television shows such as ‘Shameless’ promote immoral thoughts and behavior is sadly mistaken. Anyone who doesn’t think that the instant availability of ‘adult’ pornography through 4.2 MILLION websites highlights a serious problem in this country is kidding themselves.
Forty MILLION United States users visit pornographic websites daily because that is how they choose to use their freedom and their time. There is a website that promises ‘affairs guaranteed’ by connecting people looking for sex outside their marriages. The site proudly boasts 12.2 million members. There is a Smartphone app that uses GPS technology to facilitate instantaneous no-strings gay hookups in 192 countries.
Are these behaviors what is meant by “USE WELL THY FREEDOM”?
If you think that these pursuits do not contribute to an immorality that promotes child sexual abuse, you are very, very wrong.
As our collective moral fiber decays and disintegrates with each blow to decency dealt by an increasingly permissive society clamoring for still more freedom for ‘ME’, an ever-growing number of children become victims who spend lifetimes in hell – trying to climb out – trying to look in a mirror and see goodness and purity after it has been stolen from them by people who have become obsessed with sex and the pursuit of pleasure because that is what society exemplifies as the best way to use our freedom.
In searching for words to use to convey the nightmare of sexually abused children, I was led to these words written by author Greg Isles in his novel “Blood Memory”:
“Children suffering prolonged and repeated sexual abuse are living in concentration camps. They’re under the power of despots on whom they depend for their very survival. They suffer terror and torture on a daily basis. Their own siblings, and often their mothers, betray them in the struggle for survival.”
Harsh, uncomfortable words, some might say. But I suspect that no one who has been sexually abused would think that this even comes close to the reality he or she is living – or has lived – on a daily basis.
My own insensitivity, immaturity, irresponsibility, and immorality in looking at and possessing child pornography is a personal horror and shame that I live with each day that I wake up in prison. I will continue to live with that shame for the rest of my life, but it pales in comparison to the horrors that the children in those pictures experienced. Perhaps, with proper therapy they can be renewed. Without it, they will doubtless serve a much longer and much harsher sentence than I.
So then, what am I saying, exactly? Am I calling for harsher sentences for those who have viewed child pornography? No, actually – quite the reverse. This effort to imprison the people who have viewed child pornography only diverts billions of dollars throughout this country from where it can actually do some good. The only winners the way this problem is currently being addressed are those who profit from the illogically harsh first-offense sentences this country uses to solve its problems.
To try and keep children safe and stem the flow of child sexual abuse in this country by filling our prisons and sex offender registries with misguided individuals who have viewed child pornography can be compared to the approach the government used in the infamous ‘war on drugs’.
Nationwide, government officials tried for decades to stop the drug trade by ‘picking the low-hanging fruit’ – the drug USERS – and filling our prisons with them, clogging up our courts and costing the taxpayers untold billions of dollars in the process. However, the drug problem remains a bigger business than it ever was. The only lasting impact in that ill-advised ‘war’ has been to leave the victims of drug abuse with no money to fund treatment or provide help.
If you pay close attention to what is happening throughout this country today, you will see that the exact same ‘low-hanging fruit’ mentality is at work once again. This time, the ‘low-hanging fruit’ are the viewers of child pornography and the victims are the very individuals who self-serving politicians and law enforcement officials claim they are trying to protect: sexually abused children.
I’ll explain how this is happening and how sexually abused children can be better protected, better helped, and better healed next time.