What I am about to tell you is no laughing matter. I’m quite certain opinions will vary and be as diverse as justice is disproportionately served. I want to share with you Bryan’s Story because it demonstrates (how poignant with emphasis on “demon”):
- The devastating and catastrophic effects that addiction has on us
- The cruelty that addiction plays on us
- The inequitable distribution of justice served upon us
On the early morning hours of April, 2017, Bryan awoke to a most loud and obnoxious noise entering his home. Awoken from a deep sleep, he immediately grabbed his weapon lying on his bedside table. Unbeknownst to him, he was being served with a no-knock search warrant, the purpose of which is the element of surprise. The warrant? Bryan was placed under arrest for distribution of child pornography.
Bryan had never been in trouble with the law before. A chemist, a pilot, and a novelist, his background was as remarkable as it was diverse. Layer on top of that a keen sense of humor and a propensity to mimic not only the expressions of others, but their voices too, and what you have is a recipe for a life filled with success, joy, laughter, and fulfillment of his pursuit of happiness.
But Bryan also wrestled with an internal demon long before he was ever arrested for the charges he was about to face. Bryan suffered from depression. Bryan was suicidal. He had sought help and medication for it before. And obviously, Bryan was addicted to pornography.
UPON HIS ARREST
Bryan was what you would call a very cooperative witness with police detectives. He explained to them in great detail where and how he obtained the inappropriate images. He spent several months in jail as his bond was set to $1M. Initially arrested on state charges, the federal government decided to pursue the case in federal court. Ultimately, in September, 2017, Bryan was released from jail as the Court granted him permission to seek treatment at a sex addiction treatment facility in another state. In theory at least, the perception was that in doing so, it would help minimize the impact of any of the impending legal consequences. As a condition of his release, he was outfitted with a luxurious black, with as much cynicism as I can possibly muster, ankle bracelet courtesy of the US Marshall’s office.
While Bryan was at this treatment facility, unlike most other patients, he was not allowed unsupervised release to leave the premises. He had a set curfew, established by the US Marshall, such that he was confined to his room between the hours of 10:00 PM and 7:00 AM every day. The ankle bracelet, attached to him as a permanent fixture, served as a constant reminder of the depth and gravity of the situation, and the severity of his crimes.
As Bryan delivered on many of the required components of his treatment program, his Timeline contained significant details surrounding numerous episodes of trauma he endured throughout his life. His Trauma Egg solidified it as lives were forever changed. Lives were lost. It demonstrated to his treatment team the need for treatment for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in addition to an Offender Specialist.
But there was one thing that affected Bryan worse and more so than all others combined. His daughter! A beautiful little girl who was oblivious to his charges and the nature of his crimes. Bryan, in spite of his addiction to pornography, was your quintessential loving doting father who absolutely adored his little girl. And at her tender young age, you follow Dr. Phil’s philosophy:
“You never ask children to deal with adult issues and you do not burden them with situations they can’t control”
It certainly didn’t help that the child’s mother was quite an obstacle to the father/daughter relationship, and between her and her live in boyfriend, created an atmosphere of animosity, hostility, and fear that rendered it impossible to maintain any relationship. Her boyfriend even said to Bryan “you should just go kill yourself.” This toxicity was and became more than Bryan could carry on top of all of the other burdens he was dealing with. He was so filled with embarrassment, guilt, and shame, that often he would be assigned exercises specifically to address it. As these types of group sessions go, there were many instances of deep pain that culminated in Bryan crying, screaming, shaking uncontrollably as he came to terms with “what have I done?”
Addiction is a very nasty ugly painful uncompromising disease. Yes, it is a disease as empirical scientific evidence has so demonstrated. For Bryan though, as his 90 days of treatment came to an end, he returned home where he was immediately placed under house arrest and continued to remain there under the watchful eyes of US Marshalls. He couldn’t even step outside the kitchen door into the garage. They knew of his whereabouts at all times.
UPON HIS RELEASE
What began as a hopeful release from treatment quickly evolved into a personal hostage situation as he became hostage in his own home. The rules as dictated by the US Marshal prohibited him from going to necessary meetings and appointments that were designed and necessary to help him in his recovery process. Bryan began to isolate which he sometimes did at the treatment facility. He wouldn’t reach out and talk to anyone, nor would he make any attempt to respond when anyone reached out to him. He became completely despondent living a life of solitary confinement in a state of self imposed isolation in his bedroom. The only time he even left his bedroom was to eat, pee, poop, and every once in a while, take a shower. If he wasn’t doing any of those things, he was sleeping. And when he couldn’t sleep, he was consuming alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Bryan had numerous doctors and therapists, including one who normally acts as a witness for the prosecution, state in so many words and amongst other things:
“Bryan is a danger to himself and has a propensity to self-harm and/or to commit suicide.”
Bryan’s friends and relatives agreed. I personally called Suicide Prevention on his behalf on more than one occasion. And as luck would have it, or lack thereof as the case may be, as the old cliche’ goes “I called Suicide Prevention and they put me on hold.”, that’s no joke. That really literally actually happened; for 30 minutes until I became frustrated and contacted his treatment facility and had them take charge of the situation. Bryan’s threats to commit suicide were very real as he barricaded himself in his bedroom with a large butcher knife with the intent to plunge it into his chest should anyone attempt to storm his door. Bryan acted like an animal trapped, not only in his bedroom, but in his mind as well.
When Bryan’s case came up on the court docket, he was presented with a plea bargain agreement that had mandatory minimum prison sentences that he simply stated from the onset “I can’t live with that”. Everyone knew what that meant. The United States District Attorney’s office had stipulated that all criminal cases would seek the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines in pursuit of the worst offense charged so as to exhibit the appearance of being “tough on crime”. The day Bryan went to court, he pled “guilty” to the two counts as stipulated in the indictment in order to avoid any more prison time. After all, the evidence was overwhelming. He was immediately taken into federal custody, and transported to prison to await formal sentencing.
SENTENCED TO PRISON
It didn’t take long, hours even, for Bryan to be subjected to an intense physical beating by another inmate that landed him in the Emergency Room. As big as Bryan was, he was pretty docile. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He didn’t even have it within him to fight back. After treatment, he was returned to prison where he was placed in solitary confinement. In theory, it was for his own protection. But for someone who is suicidal and has a tendency to isolate himself anyway, this was a dangerous recipe for disaster for Bryan to be there.
Everyone was aware of Bryan’s propensity to commit suicide; the District Attorney, his Attorney, his Therapists and the court’s appointed Therapist, the Judge, the Warden. Everyone knew, yet no one took any countermeasures to insure that Bryan wouldn’t harm himself or make an attempt to commit suicide. After much coercion by prison officials, and much resistance by Bryan, he was finally moved out of solitary confinement into the general population. It was at that time, Bryan said “Goodbye” to his fellow inmates, with hands and ankles shackled together, took a flying leap over a 50 foot balcony onto the concrete floor below.
Bryan suffered massive TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) that required multiple surgeries to relieve the pressure on his brain. He fractured his ankle which was largely immaterial considering his other injuries. His spine now looks like a long piece of metal with multiple spikes sticking out of it with all of the screws utilized to hold it together on the X-Ray. Several days, then weeks, then months went by as Bryan was in recovery in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit. He was in a coma, yet guarded by two guards, shackled to his hospital bed 24 hours a day. As such, atrophy quickly set in rendering it virtually impossible to recover.
When he finally woke up, what was left of Bryan was a very small shell of the man he once was. He can’t walk. He can’t even move his legs. He has very little very choppy motor control of his arms and hands as if he were a newborn infant learning how to use his hands and arms for the first time. Those fine motor skills are gone. He can’t drink. He can’t eat. He can’t even swallow. So he has a permanent feeding tube delivering nutrients to his body. He can’t pee, so he has a catheter. He can’t defecate, so he requires a stool softener, and sometimes, manual evacuation of his bowels. What little he can speak, it is but a very faint whisper, and oftentimes, you can’t even understand what it is he is trying to say.
Bryan has zero mobility. He cannot move, let alone take care of himself. Yet because of his plea, he is once again outfitted with an ankle monitor by the US Marshall’s office. And to add insult to injury, while he is totally immobile, he must register as a sex offender. How absurd. Bryan will forever be dependent on round the clock nursing care for the rest of his life; however long that may be. Where do these people think he is going to go? He couldn’t if he wanted to. It defies any semblance of common sense. But then again, “common sense” is an oxymoron anyway, for if were common, it would be much ado about nothing.
Beyond that, I think that what breaks my heart more so than anything else is that for the love of a child, he doesn’t even know that she exists anymore. The child’s mother won’t even allow her to see her father. I’m not even sure what trigger that would impose on him if he were to see her. He hasn’t asked about her, nor has anyone said anything to him about her. It’s like she has disappeared from his memory and existence.
THE DISTRIBUTION OF JUSTICE: HOW JUST IS THE JUSTICE SYSTEM?
Bryan always took great exception with his judgment and consequences.
“Why should I have to serve two consecutive 5 year prison sentences that cannot be served concurrently for forwarding 7 naked images of children that I found on the internet to a friend while I know people who actually went to make physical contact with a child, and even, albeit consensual, had sex with a teenage child?”
The individuals in question received a one year prison sentence, probation, and 60 days in jail respectively. His argument is that all he did was receive pictures, forward them to a friend, while each of the other men either made physical contact with a child or attempted to do so.
“That’s hardly distribution of child pornography.”
Should this be construed to interpret that physical contact with a child is less consequential than it is to look at and forward pictures of it? He also argued that he forwarded the pictures to a friend; one friend on two separate occasions.
I am painfully aware of many kids who have sent and shared naked pictures with one another. None of them ever received a criminal complaint, let alone any jail time. If a young girl takes a picture of her vagina, and sends it to a boy who in turn takes a picture of his penis and sends it to a young girl, both are guilty of distribution of child pornography. I am not by any stretch of the imagination condoning their behavior any more than I am excusing his. I do concur, however, that there is a very disproportionate and inequitable distribution of justice.
The Bryan I once knew and loved is gone. He no longer exists anymore. I don’t know what’s in store for Bryan, but I know it’s not going to end well, and it is now certain to be short lived. All of the players knew that a suicide threat was imminent, yet pleas to take necessary precautions were grossly, recklessly, negligently, and carelessly ignored from the top down. Everyone knew. A few of us cared.
You may be of the opinion that there is no place in society for anyone who watches, or has watched, child pornography. And you certainly are entitled to that opinion. A lot of us don’t put much thought into it until it affects someone we know and love. Are you willing to crucify everyone? What if it was your father? Your brother? Your husband? Your own child? Where do you draw a line in the sand? To be fair, I too once thought that way myself until I discovered the human being beneath the disease that now owns them. There is this Eighth Amendment to the Constitution that states in summary:
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Was Bryan’s $1M bail rather excessive? Was his punishment “cruel and unusual” given that it was a non-contact crime as compared to those who were contact crimes? It certainly doesn’t bear the appearance of “the punishment must fit the crime”. Bryan lies in a hospital bed just shy of a persistent vegetative state. He whispers that he knows who I am, yet I’m not totally convinced. He isn’t aware that he has an ankle monitor. He can’t feel it, let alone run away with it.
Bryan’s story demonstrates a need for justice reform. But then again, we already knew that didn’t we. It’s no wonder there are significant grass roots efforts for justice reform. The United States leads the world’s population with 724 per 100,000 incarcerations. Regardless, it is imperative to understand that in numerous instances, the consequences are sometimes far more severe than the alternative which makes suicide the only perceived option available to them. Don’t let Bryan’s story become your story. Reach out for help:
*Permission granted by Bryan’s legal guardian to tell his story. Pursuant to my commitment of honesty, integrity, and confidentiality, Bryan’s name was changed to protect his identity. Components of his story may be slightly altered consistent with my own understanding if it differs in any way from that of his own.