Welcome to the Jungle

Yesterday, I gave my first major media interview about After 3PM. And admittedly, it was a bit nerve-racking. I was contacted by a reporter from the Wichita Eagle who wanted to discuss the book, as well as my life in-general ever since my release. She was very polite and personable and seemed genuine, which was a major breath of fresh air.

I’m a little bit apprehensive when it comes to giving interviews and/or being covered by the media; they’ve burned me — twice.

The first time the media burned me was when I was initially arrested. It was reported by multiple media outlets that I was arrested for “having sex with a student.” This, of course, was completely incorrect. Yes, we kissed, but we never — ever — had sex. And while I fully understand that my choices and actions in that situation were 100% inappropriate and 100% my fault, it was my hope that they would at least get the severity of my crime correct rather than sensationalizing the headline with incorrect information.

The second time I was burned by the media was when I was interviewed by KAKE-TV, a local television station regarding an online article I’d written about the media-driven paranoia surrounding sex offenders on Halloween. A reporter came to my house and interviewed me about my perspective, and I spoke to him in a very calm and collected tone, giving him specific facts and statistics, essentially saying that the fear and paranoia of sex offenders on Halloween was not supported by facts or statistics. Initially, I was going to do the interview with my name and face clearly shown, but my employer at the time insisted I maintain anonymity. Regardless, when the reporter put the segment together, he took many of my statements out of order and out of context, essentially rearranging the entire interview and entitling it, “Sex Offender Complains About Halloween Treatment.” This blew my mind. During my interview with him, I spoke to him in a very level-headed academic tone, providing statistics and factual support for the points I was making and the answers to his question. As he left my house, I felt as though the interview went well. But when it aired on television that night, I was appalled at how the complete meaning, content, and context was altered to fit his incorrect headline. I even said in the interview that I deserved the label I had, based on my crime; that didn’t mean I was to be feared, especially since I’d been through two years of prison, months of treatment, and was deemed “low-risk” by the parole authorities. In this case, fear-fueled sensationalism mattered more than facts, and I faced a significant online backlash.

See, here’s the thing about contemporary media coverage: They allow for viewer/reader comments. Social media is a vocal outlet for anyone with a computer and an internet connection, so enabling any viewer to post anything in the comments section of an article turns online articles into shooting galleries.

And I was no exception. I read every single comment posted about me when I was arrested and I read every single comment about me when I was interviewed about my Halloween article. Every — single — one.

Now that I have given my first major interview about After 3PM, I am essentially re-entering the media spotlight once again. But this time, I am fully-prepared for the backlash. Welcome back to the Jungle.

I felt very confident in the genuineness of the reporter who interviewed me yesterday; she didn’t seem like the type of person who sought sensationalism over accuracy. She was kind and thoughtful and considerate and she asked me very good and relevant questions. And I answered her honestly, telling her that I wrote After 3PM and I am giving speeches to current and future teachers because I want to help prevent what I did from happening in the future. She was very receptive of this concept and she wasn’t afraid to pose the difficult questions, but did so with class and consideration. It was evident from my conversation with her that she is good at what she does. And looking back, I think she attended my sentencing hearing on November 2, 2012.

Regardless, Welcome to the Jungle. There will be people who still will find a problem with what I’m doing. There are people who will still post hateful things about me online, calling me an array of names, casting stones and pointing fingers. But throughout my experiences with this, I’ve learned that some people need that in their lives; they need to point fingers at others and hurl insults. It is much easier to mock the imperfections of others than to address the imperfections within themselves. It’s the classic case of bringing others down instead of bringing themselves up. And I am a convenient target for that.

But to be honest, that’s fine. I deserve to be insulted for what I did, but I do not deserve to be insulted for what I am doing. I am taking the worst choice of my life and using it to keep others from being hurt in the same way I hurt my former student.

I haven’t spoken to my former student since 2012; I don’t even know if she still lives in Wichita, and honestly, I don’t want to know. What I do know is how much I hurt her. One question the reporter asked me was, “What do you think she would think of what you’re doing?” I hadn’t been asked this before, but it was a great question. I replied, “I hope she would see that I’m trying to keep other students from experiencing the pain she experienced.”

And even with that being my paramount goal, people will still have a problem with what I am doing. People will still belittle me for my efforts. People will still mock me, hurl insults, and point fingers.

I suppose that’s just part of being in the Jungle.