Wednesday, February 29, 2012

how not to serve a search warrant

This story illustrates why a crowd of armed cops storming a residence is a bad way to serve a search warrant: because people get killed.
This is the same narcotics task force, by the way, that shot and killed a man wielding a golf club five seconds after breaking down his door during a botched meth raid last year. That cop was forgiven for his mistake. Heat of battle, volatile situation, mistakes were made—you know the drill.
I don't care if the cops are searching for porn or drugs. When our home was invaded by a dozen armed cops, I had no idea that search warrants are routinely served this way. Until more people understand that police operate this way, it will continue.

Monday, February 27, 2012

lifetime sentences

The July 2011 issue of Reason magazine focuses on criminal justice issues. Jacob Sullum's article, Perverted Justice, examines the sex offender registry. States are required to keep a registry of sex offenders or the state will not receive federal funding for law enforcement. Needless to say, states comply.

For our family, the idea of the sex offender registry is frightening. If my husband were to be convicted, he would be required to register for the rest of his life. Not because he is a danger to anyone nor because someone decided that he is likely to become dangerous--simply because he looked at pictures.

Politicians like to be seen as tough on crime and the best way to show how tough they are is to pass a law. Most bad stuff--murder, stealing, assault--is already illegal, so what is a legislator to do? He can make new laws that make punishment for a crime worse if a robber carries a gun or if a murderer kills someone in a protected class. When the prosecution was unable to convince the jury of Casey Anthony's guilt, some legislators saw that as an opening for new laws. Murdering a child was already a crime, of course, so they decided to create a law that could be used to make someone like Casey Anthony a felon if they were unable to convict her of murder. The idea is that sometimes we just know that the accused is guilty. OJ Simpson, for example, Casey Anthony for another.

In Nebraska, someone thought the law against procuring alcohol for a minor was pulling down insufficiently tough sentences, so they recently upped the ante by making it a felony under specific circumstances:
Under the former law, procuring for a minor was a misdemeanor that carried a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Now, when procuring leads to injuries or death, the supplier could face up to five years in prison.
The same kind of thinking is what led to the sex offender registry so sex offenders, no matter what the offense was--sex with an underage girlfriend or looking at pictures--end up with a lifetime sentence. A lifetime of registering with law enforcement, a lifetime of humiliation.

If you think that the sex offender registry is something you will never need to worry about, think again. Your son could be convicted for having sex with his younger girlfriend or for receiving a naked photo from her. Your brother could download something from a porn site and be surprised with an iillegal image. Are these truly crimes, let alone crimes that deserve a lifetime sentence?

Sunday, February 26, 2012


During one of my lunchtime parking lot sessions when I sat in my car and called the attorney, he answered one of my many questions. I said, "Oh, that makes me feel better." He said, "I'm glad you feel better--but nothing has changed to make you feel better." After he heard my small, dejected "Oh," he added, "...and at two in the morning when you can't sleep, nothing will have changed to make you feel worse."

Common sense is hard to remember when I am in the middle of a full-out panic--but remembering those words has saved me from at least a few sleepless nights.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

fragile hope

Lately, I have decided to assume that ICE will not bring charges against my husband. It has been nine months and we have heard nothing. I cannot think of a reason that they would need nine months to sort through the computers and hard drives they took from us. Maybe they found nothing. I imagine them watching their monitors, waiting for his IP to appear. It won't.

Do I have any solid reason for my "decision"? Nope. It feels good, though, to think that nothing will happen.

I told my husband that optimism feels good. He said he doesn't want to feel optimism because if it comes crashing down around us, the disappointment will be even more painful. It doesn't matter if we are optimistic or pessimistic. If charges are brought against him, it won't matter how we were feeling the day before. It will be devastating.

Friday, February 24, 2012

protect and serve?

The morning they invaded our home, the ICE agents told me what they were looking for and then they "suggested" that I go ahead and take the kids to school. I had no choice. All I could think was that I needed to get the kids out of there. The car was barely out of the driveway when the kids both asked what the cops were looking for. At first I said, "I don't know," but they knew I had been told. I blurted, "Child pornography." My son said, "What's that?"

I blame the ICE agents for anything my son knows about porn. He didn't learn about it from my husband, he learned about it because of the ICE agents.Does he need to be aware of child porn? No, there is no earthly reason children need to know that something that ugly is out there. 

In their zeal to protect children, they have exposed my son to something vile. How can they justify that? 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

perspective, please

My husband called me one day at work, furious. He had just received a bill from a department store and was horrified to see a late fee. He has probably paid a total of three in his whole life and he can remember the details of each one. He really hates late fees so he yelled at me over the phone for not paying the bill when I said I would.

I let him finish and then I said, "Hmmm... a $35 late fee vs. thousands of dollars for the lawyer's retainer?" Nothing for us to do but laugh about it. I think we both felt relief to be able to find something--anything--funny. Laughing with him again felt wonderful.

The department store waived the late fee when I asked them. So there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

life without Internet connection

When the ICE agents walked away from our house that morning, we were left with no Internet connection. It was immediately obvious to us that life would be more difficult without it the first thing we needed to do was to find a defense attorney. We dug up a phone book and started in the yellow pages. The problem with phone books is that they no longer hold all the information; real information lives on the Internet. Many businesses don't even bother listing in the phone book anymore. Finding a defense attorney is not something we knew how to do and now we were unable to use Google to find "how to find defense attorney." We found the attorney in the phone book, however--we went with a defense attorney we'd seen interviewed on TV.

We explained to the kids that we were going to be without Internet and they took in the news with no complaint because they understood why it was necessary. We told them that the attorney had advised us to keep the Internet out of our home and none of us were about to argue with that advice.
Since then, we have become accustomed to going to the public library when we need to use the Internet. The kids like going to Starbucks once in awhile, and when we realized that the cost of an occasional frappuccino would still be less than the cost of Internet access at home, we agreed. Even after adding in the cost of printing articles at the library, we come out ahead financially. It will take several decades of this cost savings to offset the attorney's retainer, though.

Like most people, we were used to using Google maps or Mapquest when we needed to drive to a new address and we can't do that anymore. No more quick looks at a restaurant menu before we decide where to go for dinner. No more quick searches for the best price or for movie showtimes. No more email! No more videogames played online. By the end of summer, we were adjusted to the idea of waiting until the next day when the library opened to find out what a kinkajou looks like. We make lists before we go to the library to make sure we don't forget which bills to pay or which question to answer.

When school began and all the clubs and organizations told us they would use email for communication, I panicked. How could we possibly manage without easy access to email? What about last minute announcements from the band director? Or club meeting cancellation notices? I called the attorney to explain our predicament and asked if a data plan on my cell phone would cause any problems for my husband's case. He, in turn, asked the prosecutor who reponded that he didn't care about what we did with cell phones. That made no sense to me; can't porn be downloaded on a cell phone as well as a computer?

We have one phone we can use to access email and that seems to work okay for us. My husband likes not having the temptation of the Internet, I like not spending the evening on political blogs. We both appreciate the time freed up for reading books. The kids don't complain often, bless their hearts. There are times when the frustration is too much and they let me know that they hate not being able to Skype their friends. The Internet is such a big part of entertainment for kids that not having Internet is as big a deal as not having TV when I was a child.

The kids worried that their friends wouldn't want to come to our house because it would be boring but their friends take it in stride that our house doesn't have Internet access. We still have TV and movies and, yes, board games are still fun.

All in all, not having Internet at home has been an inconvienence, not a disaster. If you had asked me a year ago if I would do without Internet access, I'd have thought you were crazy. Now, I can see how it has been good for all of us. Less time on videogames for our son, fewer distractions from study for our daughter. More reading time for all of us. I'm not sure I'd go back.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

everyday courage

My husband thought--and still thinks--about suicide. He thought that with him gone, our family would never have to face public humiliation, never have to deal with the restrictions of the sex offender registry, never have to visit him in prison. What we would have had to deal with, though, would have been much worse. He can come back from prison; there is no coming back from death.

A friend told me that her husband also contemplated suicide but when he realized that his suicide would increase the possibility of his children committing suicide at some point, he made the decision for life.
A first-degree relative -- a parent, sibling or child -- of a person who has committed suicide is four to six times more likely to attempt or complete a suicide...
 I watch my husband get out of bed every day, do what needs to be done, even though he thought death was a better place for him. Every day. That is courage. He was--and still is--facing the unknown. Every day, he does something that tells me he is serious about staying with us, serious about leaving porn behind. He attends therapy sessions, 12-step meetings, he reads books about sexual addiction and recovery, he continues to be husband and father. Is he perfect? Nope. Not even close. Am I? Nope. Not even close.

Monday, February 20, 2012

home invasions are illegal, aren't they?

Armed invasion of a home to serve a search warrant should be illegal unless there is some danger indicated. In our case, the agents could have stopped my husband when he was outside mowing the yard or getting the mail. It wouldn't have been difficult at all to avoid the need for drawn guns.

I remember asking for the names of all the agents who were at the house that day. They looked at each other and I knew I wasn’t going to get names. One of them gave me the name of the lead investigator. Cowards.

I suspect that armed invasions like the one at our house are used to keep the agents "sharp," as practice sessions for times when a search could actually be dangerous. Oh, but the unknown makes every search potentially dangerous, you say? So is every traffic stop. Every time a lone cop approaches a car for a traffic stop, he is facing the unknown and yet cops do that every day.

The home invasion approach to serve a search warrant on a non-violent crime is itself a crime. Bringing a dozen guns into a house, acting as if the agents were in danger when they most certainly were not…all that makes for instability, insecurity, and more likelihood of a mistake. The judge who signed the warrant should be held responsible for approving the home invasion.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

a thought experiment

Someone  asks you to watch a video of the Daniel Pearl beheading. The video makes you sick, makes you turn away because it is so violent, so ugly, so wrong to watch a man die that way. Your friend, though, doesn’t turn away and you can tell that he is excited by the video. He leans into the computer to watch, to be closer. When the video finishes, you breathe more easily, even though you can already tell that the images are not something you can forget. Then your friend says, “Now let’s find the Nick Berg video!”

Does this make you think differently about your friend? Would you want him dating your daughter? Surely you recognize that there is something twisted in him that lets him enjoy such horrific images. Something sick. You know that his reaction to the video is wrong and not something you want to be around. His enjoyment of that violence is perverted. The images are extremely disturbing but the videos are not illegal. That is about the only difference between the beheading videos and child porn. Both kinds of images are photos/videos of horrible crimes, both make people sick because they recognize how wrong the actions depicted are. When someone enjoys either the beheadings or child porn, we recognize that something in that person is sick, twisted.

Why is one illegal and the other is not? Are we punishing people for their thoughts when they view child porn? Thought crimes are a little too 1984 for my tastes. If the person is sick, they need help. It should be possible for a sick person to get help without having to face imprisonment.

The crime is the act of victimizing/molesting a child. Should it really be a crime to look at images of a crime? It isn’t a crime to look at videos of a robbery or photos of a murder scene. I worry that someone will think I am excusing child porn. I am not. I read parts of a stranger’s sentencing memo in which the images found on his computer were detailed. I read the description of one image and part of another before I had to stop. Even the descriptions are horrifying. Child porn images should be illegal, as they are. The crime of looking at them, though… Can we punish people for owning the images and not for what they think when they view them? And not for fear that the offender will do something worse? We don’t throw a robber in prison for life because we fear that he will go on to commit murders.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

secrets and fears

In the fall, we attended a high school football game. As friends and acquaintances clambered to their seats around us, toting popcorn and hotdogs, I realized that their cheerful hellos would be a thing of the past once they all knew. The grief was overwhelming. Grief for easy friendships become wary, grief for trust become suspicion. I don't know what their reaction will be. All I know is that the world will change. People will never see our family the same way again.

Now, whenever our family attends an event, I look around and wonder which people in this group--church, school, neighborhood, family--will remain friends with us. This makes me wary of them before I know they deserve it.

At work, I stop going out for lunch with friends. Instead, I get in my car and drive. I find a park where I can sit alone and think. I use the time to talk to the attorney, arrange appointments with therapists, read articles I printed off the internet.

I am isolated.

Friday, February 17, 2012

what will friends think?

If I tell friends, will they be supportive or will they be so completely appalled that they will avoid us? Will they be angry that we haven't told them before now? Will they worry that their children have been victimized? Will they see my husband as an evil being who deserves prison?

I told a friend that we have had a tough time lately because my husband has been struggling with depression and immediately felt guilty when she was sympathetic. If she ever learns why he has been depressed, will she think I manipulated her into feeling sympathy for him? This makes me not want to tell anyone, ever.

Thursday, February 16, 2012 easy

The Internet makes  pornographic images and videos available with the click of a mouse. Chat rooms can point you toward something you had been unaware was available. Peer-to-peer file sharing makes it a simple thing to see what other people have on their computers. The world is very different from when you had to send for dirty things in the mail.

Easy availability and anonymous, too. Not so anonymous, as our family has learned. The feds are watching...and they don't care if you downloaded only once or if the contents of the zip file you downloaded were a surprise to you. While it may seem as if it would be too much work to track you down--you, a nobody who isn't really a criminal--there are whole task forces dedicated to finding you. If it is difficult to find you, they have all the time in the world in which to do it.

What would you do if you looked at illegal images and recognized a child? Would you think of that child differently than you think of the anonymous faces in the images you look at? Would you be afraid for that child?  Would you be outraged if you knew the man or woman in the photos with the child? I think most people like the anonymity and the sight of a known child would be a shock. 

So, if you were shocked and outraged at the mistreatment of this particular child, who would you tell? Could you tell the police without being arrested? I don't think so. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

this isn't exactly what I thought I would be saying

I have been keeping a journal since the ICE agents came to search our house; I thought blogging would be a bit like that. It is not. Writing blog posts is like trying to fill a bud vase with a fire hose. I try to concentrate on a narrow area and find myself blasted backward by the force of tangents jostling for attention. The focus is gone and I'm left trying to mop up the mess.

family sentence

Is prison the best way to punish someone for looking at illegal images? That takes the father away from the family and exposes the whole family to speculation about the extent of our involvement with porn. Isolating him from society seems like a perfect way to encourage him to re-offend. Social isolation is what sent him to porn in the first place.

When you learn that someone is into child porn, if your first reaction is, "That's sick," congratulations. Yes, it IS sick. There is something wrong with someone who can look at those images and find any reason to return to them. Do sick people belong in prison?

Do we send them to prison because they looked at illegal images or do we send them to prison because we fear what they might do?

Without their father, what happens to children in these families? I suspect that the children are more vulnerable to sexual pressure from others. Perhaps from assuming that the children know more than they do about sex, or from assuming that children who have a dad in prison, bad characters may think these children are fair game. I don't know. In all my research, I have found nothing about this. That there is no research on this is not comforting.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Happily, my husband found a counselor that he trusts and he has had a mix of individual sessions and group sessions with her. The group sessions continue. She has been able to help him focus on why porn was so attractive to him, and is able to help him stop obsessing over what a bad person he is. Without that change in focus, he is unable to be the husband and father he has been. Without that change in focus, he thinks more frequently about suicide. She encouraged him to attend some 12-step meetings and he attends at least two meetings a week.

Twelve-step meetings may not be for everyone but they have proven useful for many. I have begun attending 12-step meetings for family members of a sex addict. I was glad to hear that phone meetings are available for people who live in an area without a meeting...and for people who are unable to get away to a local meeting. When your family goes through a crisis like this, the chaos can extend to all aspects of family life, making it difficult to get away to a meeting. The phone meetings allow you to talk to others who will understand your situation. Anonymously, of course. That is essential. Go here to find a meeting or to get information about the 12-step program.

You may have mixed feelings about whether "addiction" is the proper word for what was going on but I am not sure it matters. If my husband can get support for his efforts to stay away from porn and if I can find people who know what I'm facing...count me in.

Monday, February 13, 2012

do the courts sentence these men because of what they did or because of what we fear they contemplate doing?

If convicted of receiving child porn, my husband faces a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison. This article discusses the increase in severity of sentences for this crime.
The average federal prison sentence for individuals who possess, receive or share child pornography jumped to roughly seven years in fiscal 2006 from about three years in 1994, according to Justice Department data. In federal cases, the mandatory minimum for downloading images is five years in prison without parole. Defendants who download particularly lewd images, possess a large number of images or share some of them with others often get sentences of 15 or even 20 years.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

from my journal

It finally dawned on me that the questions I send the attorney are all about trying to prove that the law is a bad law. That doesn’t matter, so that small hope has been stripped.  The attorney is patient with me; he answers my questions and discusses the law with me. That doesn’t matter. My husband will go to prison. Even if, by some fluke, he doesn’t go to prison, there is no way to pull back to the sparkling lives we had. And they were sparkling. I was a little smug about how great things were for us—such a great husband, such wonderful children. I still have the great husband and the wonderful children but there is no way anyone will believe me if I tell them that. I don’t know how long this shadow will last but it seems likely to be forever.
I say that I understand addiction, that I understand that my husband's choices were not free and clear. But I don’t. How could he not know? How could he risk it all for…for what? A thrill? And somewhere there are children who were photographed or videotaped doing I don’t know what. Such evil. And to find my life and my family smeared with it…too much to think about.
So, gratitude is best. What am I thankful for? I do have a wonderful husband. I do have hope that he can kick this vile addiction to porn. I do have hope that we will grow old together. My children are intelligent, sensitive, good people. I have a good job and I have friends who will stick by me when they find out.  Which friends will they be? I don’t know. Gratitude. I need to focus on that. This list seems meager. 


When this began, it seemed wise not to have the kids' friends at our house. Our family all knew that the friends were in no danger but I was afraid of parents' reactions once they realized that their sons or daughters had spent the night at our a time when I knew. How would you feel if your children spent time at the house of someone accused of looking at child porn?

As time went on, I realized how awful it was for the kids to be unable to invite friends over. They didn't mind going to their friends' homes but that meant they were gone too often. I missed them and their friends. Slowly, we began to encourage them to invite friends over. My daughter was reluctant because she had told her friends about her dad and they felt odd around him. Also, so much of entertainment is online now that it is awkward not to have an internet connection. Our house is definitely an internet-free zone.

My daughter carpools with a friend who knows. When I heard that the friend's mother also knows, I called her to make sure she knew she could come to me with any questions or concerns. My husband, after all, is the other half of the carpool. The mom said she was concerned at first but then realized that her daughter would never be alone with him. She listened to me, which was the important thing. Since then, she called once to say that she would be out of town, and could her daughter spend the night at our house? I cried with ridiculous gratitude.

The other night, my daughter had two friends sleep over. The next morning was not a school day for them but it was a work day for me. That same mom texted me at the office, asking if the girls were awake yet so she could pick them up. Immediately, I was in a panic. Would the mom be upset to learn that my husband was home with the girls? Would she think I was being irresponsible, leaving them with him? My daughter wasn't answering her phone so I knew the girls were still asleep. My husband and I knew that he could not go to the basement to wake them. The danger is all for him. We do not dare put him in a position where anyone can say that he even looked at them funny. My panic is for him, for me. But never for the children. They are in no danger whatsoever.

I texted the mom, telling her that the girls were still asleep and because my husband would definitely not go down to wake them, she may need to wake them when she arrived to pick them up. I asked if she was upset that I left the girls home with my husband. She said that she wouldn't have let her daughter sleep over if she was concerned. I cried again.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Telling a friend that my husband is under investigation for possession of child pornography feels incredibly risky. His counselor has told me that I might be surprised at how supportive people will be. Yes, I will be surprised. I have told very, very few people; I began with people I am sure of. I told my neighbor, my brother, two pastors. What I have found is that people have no idea how to reach out to us. The pastor has come through with the right thing to say a couple of times, including a time when my husband was struggling with thoughts of suicide. He is a wonderful pastor--a genuinely kind spirit--but this situation is not one that pastors are routinely prepared for. How could he possibly be prepared?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


The first question our attorney asked my husband, "Are you thinking of suicide?" made me sure we chose well. The answer was "yes" as it is for too many men in his position. Try to put yourself in his position: Think of your absolute most private sexual fantasy and imagine it published in the newspaper. Perhaps your fantasy doesn't involve illegal images but are you willing to have even that made the subject of public attention? My husband faces much, much worse. I understand why suicide seems like a solution. If death comes before charges are brought, the family is spared the public humiliation. Of course, it leaves the family with something much worse but it is hard for people like my husband to to see that when all they can feel is overwhelming guilt and shame.

So far, my husband is still with us. Most of the time now, I think he is glad of that. I am glad all of the time.


I write these posts when I can and as quickly as I can. We don't have an internet connection at home which means we depend on the library. My intention is to post something every day. I haven't been able to do that yet.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Our house was searched months ago and we have heard nothing since. No charges have been brought. The ICE agents still have our computers, including everything on those computers. Financial records, family photos. We would like to know if anything will happen but we also don't want to poke the bear.

The police seem to have no duty to inform us of anything. They came into our home, took our computers, and we have to live with that. I don't know how they do.

The waiting is difficult. At first, we were so certain that we would get the call at any moment, and the horror would explode. As time went on, I was happy to realize that some days, I could go for several hours without that thought hammering in my mind. Today, months later, I can have days at a stretch without dread weighing me down. Never a day without thinking about it, though.

I still cannot tell the story of the invasion without crying.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

what I fear

Some days, I nearly suffocate with the fear of my family falling apart. If I need to be a single parent--if my husband has to go to prison--will I be able to do it well?