By Tony Casson
“Seek to do what is right” Zephaniah 2:3b NLT
“Courage is that virtue which champions the cause of right.” Cicero
Those who choose to serve the public are often confronted with unpleasantness and difficult decisions. Oftentimes those decisions, in order that they be correct ones which benefit society as a whole rather than one small segment of it, must fly in the face of public sentiment.
The issue of child pornography is a highly volatile, emotionally charged one, but where it is the right of parents to be emotional where children are concerned, it is the DUTY of those who serve the public to look beyond the raw emotion and examine the full impact of the decisions they must make regarding how to deal with the issue on all of its complex levels.
The United States Sentencing Commission (U.S.S.C.) is considering changes to the sentencing guidelines relating to many issues. Possession of child pornography is one of them. As distasteful as this whole business is, it has become a plague upon this nation that cannot be ignored. The U.S.S.C. is accepting public comment on this topic. I encourage all who read this to offer their own opinion in the matter, regardless of what that opinion may be. My own letter to them follows so that my opinions, and the basis for them, may be known.
You can visit cautionclick.com for more information and to obtain contact addresses. The deadline is July 23rd.
Here, then, is my letter:
To Whom It May Concern:
I would think that the volume of letters containing arguments both for and against the reduction of sentences for possession of child pornography is formidable. With the following words, I shall try to do my part to help turn the tide in favor of compassion, common sense, and commitment to working towards a sensible approach to dealing with the epidemic that has gripped our nation and threatens to squeeze the very life out of it.
My name is Tony Casson and I am a 58 year old man who has served 28 months in federal prison in Oakdale Louisiana for possession of child pornography. With ‘only’ 23 months remaining, I am considered to be one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Most of the men who occupy space here with me for similar charges have longer -some MUCH longer- sentences to serve.
None are more aware than those who serve on this commission that there is no empirical data or substantive reason to support the length of sentences imposed upon those convicted of the crime of possession of child pornography. The public outcry against men like me is justifiable on a purely emotional level. All of the anger that is directed at those who would sexually abuse and exploit a child and then exacerbate that abuse by making a digital record to forever preserve the pain, humiliation, and horrific loss of innocence is brought to bear on those who would willingly participate in the abuse by viewing and possessing those digital records.
On the surface, this would seem fair. I certainly cannot put any ‘spin’ on child pornography that will make it anything less than the horrible permanent record of innocence stolen and child sexual abuse that it is.
At the same time, it is evident to many that the wholesale incarceration of anyone and everyone who has downloaded images of this abuse is as wrong and misguided as the abuse itself.
The merciless mass jailing of ever-increasing numbers of those who possess child pornography without first affording them ANY opportunity at redemption is inconsistent with what justice should stand for in this great nation of ours. In fact, many on the commission and in the courtrooms of this country realize this. It is now time to send a strong public message to Congress that their insistence on condemning tens of thousands of otherwise hard-working, contributing members of society to destroyed lives, broken families and bleak futures will ultimately create a problem with more disastrous consequences than the problem of possession of child pornography itself.
Many victims of child sexual abuse captured in digital images that circulate on the Internet have been identified by the authorities. They all have names. They are all living, breathing human beings. They have all been severely mistreated and they are ALL deserving of all of the physical, mental, and spiritual help that they require as they struggle to put things back into a perspective that might give them peace and dignity and restore their self-esteem and their ability to trust and live normal, happy lives. They are entitled to see those who perpetuated the abuse and produced the record of it be dealt with severely.
Those whose lives are destroyed by curiosity or an addiction to pornography that leads them down this well-travelled road of looking at images that shouldn’t exist in the first place – those individuals all have names as well. And so do their children, their spouses, their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.
Their names are Stanley, who received 25 years for receipt, possession, and distribution of child pornography. The FBI showed up at Stanley’s house looking for a computer that Stanley had bought for his 12 year old grandson. In a misguided attempt to protect his grandson, Stanley laid claim to the computer and all that it contained, thinking that he might get a year or two in prison. His prosecutor said that they were going to ‘make an example’ of Stanley. They ‘stacked’ his charges and sentenced him to 25 years. Stanley is now 61 tears old and has been incarcerated for 7 years. During those 7 years, Stanley has had a quadruple bypass and a stroke. Stanley’s wife has cancer and emphysema and will most likely not survive until the end of Stanley’s sentence. But that’s ok, because it is highly unlikely that Stanley himself will live to the end of it. While Stanley had a few scrapes with the law during his younger, friskier days, he lived a quiet existence for 30 years before this epidemic of indecency invaded his home, destroyed him, took all he had worked a lifetime for and condemned those who love him to live without him.
Their names are also Jason, who is 20 years old and a recent arrival, sentenced to serve 7 years. Jason has been addicted to pornography since he was 13 years old. Back then, they were his peers he was looking at. At 20, it is a crime punishable by 7 years in prison, labeling as a sex offender, and a future destroyed.
Their names are Ken, 29, sentenced to 17 1/2 years because he went to trial and lost and that angers ‘them’. He is a father, a son, a brother, and a business owner.
Their names are Rob, sentenced to 9 years. Rob is 47, a homeowner, a father, an uncle, a brother, and was a long-time employee of an airline.
Their names are Aaron, 32, sentenced to 6 years. He is a very smart man who did a very stupid thing. His daughter is growing up without him but but she loves him and is waiting for Daddy to come home.
Their names are Derek, 29, sentenced to 9 years. His mom passed away recently. They were very close. He is a former member of the Air Force and is a talented artist.
Their names are Rob, 56, a retired naval officer with years of service to his country, doing jobs he can’t even discuss. He was sentenced to 5 years for fragments of images found on unallocated space on his hard drive by NCIS. He is a father, a husband and has given this country more than most of us can imagine.
Their names are also Pete, 62, 15 years; Ben, 28, 9 years; Steve, 68, 7 1/2 years; Michael, Randy, Dave, Jesse, Phillip, Alan, Floyd, and the list goes on and on and on.
What were we thinking? Obviously, we were not thinking at all. We were, for the most part, wrapped up in a cloud of confusion where decency was not allowed to enter and common sense was left outside. We all acted as if we were devoid of the intelligence, the heart, and the morality that God gave us. We were all caught up in something immature, irresponsible, and reprehensible. Our punishments, however, far exceed anything that begins to make sense or contribute to solving this terribly invasive problem that has reached into more households in this country than we can possibly imagine.
Congress must stop making laws that act as an emotional salve and are designed to gain favor and votes. Congress must start looking for answers and those answers do NOT lie within the confines of a razor-wire enclosure. The answers are not in a sex offender registry that hides those who need watching in the midst of those who need God.
Somewhere, the courage to stand up and say, “STOP!” must be found by someone who is truly looking out for the PUBLIC good. This frightening trend of locking away this country’s future must be reversed. At risk of losing votes, Congress must stand up for what is right, not for what is easy. Congress must look for solutions to build a healthier country, not for stepping stones to a brighter political future.
In his book, “Profiles In Courage”, John F. Kennedy wrote, “It may take courage to battle one’s President, one’s party, or the overwhelming sentiment of one’s nation; but these do not compare, it seems to me, to the courage required of the senator defying the angry power of the very constituents who control his future.”
May God Himself guide all of you and give you the courage to address this horrible thing that eats at us and to recognize that incarcerating people, while it may make good business, does not make good sense.
Let us seek, resolution, not retribution. Let us fix something that is broken and not just discard it. Let us save families, not destroy them.
I thank you for your time.
If you publish this letter, as you have so many in the past, there is no need to redact my name. I have made things right with God and He and I know that I am not what some would have society think.
We are not all monsters. Most of us are men who made mistakes.
Anthony E, Casson
Oakdale, La 71463