When did contemporary culture become more interested in the person conveying information than the information actually being conveyed? In a world that seems to (on the surface) crave intellect, this indisputable phenomenon is the most nonintellectual approach to obtaining information imaginable. In the same way that we used to idolize men like Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, we now seem to take a sick pleasure in watching the downfall of people like Keith Olberman and Brian Williams. And now, incontrovertible facts are called into question, merely due to the individual relaying the fact. And I suppose I never really grasped this concept until I experienced it first-hand. Read more
I love those days when a song randomly cycles through my iTunes shuffle — a song which perfectly encapsulates the fleeting thoughts rushing through my mind. It’s happened to us all: a song on the radio, a song on a television show, a song on a commercial, etc. And for a moment, it seems like everything in our emotional scope is perfectly encompassed in a song written by another person, in another place, in another time.
During the nearly four years I’ve been home from prison, I’ve learned numerous life lessons, but one of those lessons keeps re-presenting itself: Friendship is a myth. Read more
With all due respect, I hope Corbin Breitenbach dies in prison — slowly, painfully, and without mercy.
Of course, I — along with 95% of the population of Wichita, Kansas — am pretty certain, based on the available evidence, that Corbin Breitenbach is guilty of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl on June 11, 2017. As far as I’m concerned — speaking as a father — the only brand of mercy this man deserves is leniency regarding which circle of Hell into which he shall be cast. Read more
I don’t wish I was dead, and I’m certainly not suicidal, but I often find myself preoccupied with my own funeral.
In addition, I’ve also come to a very difficult realization: If I were to die tomorrow in a terrible accident, it would not be considered a tragedy. Some would consider it unfortunate, but not tragic; some would consider it justice served. Read more
People are often prone to be “thankful” on Thanksgiving for the tangible and intangible things in their lives. Oddly, it seems materialistic to be thankful for the tangibles, yet admirable to be thankful for the intangibles. But what most people fail to acknowledge is the simple thing that brings all things together; the simple thing for which we all fail to be thankful: Time. Read more
“When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. This misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that the other people will eventually see the truth, just like you did.”
Eliminate the toxic people from your life. They do nothing but spread negativity, strife, and discontent throughout the lives of those around them, all spawning from their own insecurities, self-doubt, and low self-esteem.
There is a reasonably simple way to identify a toxic person. Scroll through their Twitter or Facebook pages. Look at their Tweets. Do they spend an inordinate amount of time posting negative content? Do they seem to enjoy the unhappiness of others? Are their posts and Tweets riddled with insults, complaining, or veiled attempts at heightening themselves above others?
This is what toxic people do, and admittedly, attempting to fight this battle is completely and utterly useless. We all know that one person (or more, perhaps) who only seems to be speaking negatively about someone, critiquing someone else, or comparing themselves to others with insults and put-downs.
I encounter these people often, and in my context, they are quite easy to spot. With regard to how I am treated, a toxic person cannot get beyond the person I used to be; a genuine person appreciates (or at least understands) the person I am now.
I have eliminated the toxic people from my life, and I am so much happier as a result. Toxic people pollute their environment with bitterness, discontent, and negativity. A toxic person is a person who takes pleasure in the misfortunes of those they see as beneath them. And now that I no longer deal with these people, I feel as though I live in a much more positive context, and I am a happier person as a result.
Toxic people are the way they are because they writhe in their own buried worlds of discontent. Their lives are unfulfilling, leading them to chip away at the lives of those around them in a superficial attempt to level the playing field. Unfortunately, most toxic people are the way they are because they’ve been hurt somewhere along the road of life, and now they see no other remedy than to lash-out. And until they seek help for their wounds, nothing will change; they will consistently and continually reject others’ offers of assistance in their lives, and will sometimes perceive offers of help and generosity as insults or accusations of weakness.
There is one thing which absolutely angers toxic people: Grace. I may not be a hands-to-the-sky Christian, but I willfully subscribe to Christian theology. And Grace is one of those things which makes Christianity unique. Unconditional forgiveness is available to anyone who has done anything – including me. And yet, I have asserted this fact on several occasions, only to be promptly mocked and ridiculed by those who seek to only quantify me by my past transgressions, not my current state of faith, life, or well-being. Apparently, it is easier and much more dramatically satisfying to cast insults than to understand, forgive, or accept; those are three things a toxic person cannot (or will not) do.
In the 1983 classic film WarGames, a supercomputer attempts to teach itself strategy, first by playing Tic-Tac-Toe, then by playing Global Thermonuclear War.
In both instances of the computer playing against itself, trying to find a strategy for victory, it finds – every time – there is no winner. Every game of Tic-Tac-Toe ends in a stalemate; every game of Global Thermonuclear War ends in world-wide destruction. And when the computer (which the programmer has named “Joshua”) comes to the realization that the games cannot be won, it says, “Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”
This concept, in its essence, is exactly what it’s like to deal with toxic people. To them, it is a war, and there can be no winner. Never explain to a toxic person their misconceptions or errant assumptions; they except no reasoning and will only create a backlash. They love to gossip, they love to ridicule, they love to be the center of attention by tearing others down. Saying anything to a toxic person about his/her behavior will only make you a target. It is better to simply eliminate these people from your life. Because what toxic people do not realize is that genuine people can see what they are doing, and avoid them; the only people drawn to toxic people are other toxic people. These individuals have a tenancy toward turbulent relationships, rocky friendships, and difficult work environments.
And nothing is ever their fault. A toxic person will rarely (or never) stand up and say “I was wrong” or “It was my fault.” Any unsatisfactory outcome or result is typically the responsibility of someone else, and a toxic person is usually the first to lay the blame. And trying to reason with a toxic person on this issue (or any issue, for that matter) is another exercise in futility which will only lead to retribution.
It is best to just walk away from these toxic people (both figuratively and literally). A disagreement with a toxic person will only make you the target of their next vocal or online gossip diatribe. Be a genuine person. Be a positive person of integrity, responsibility, and encouragement. Genuine people are the people who make the lives of those around them better.
Someone once told me that my wife has a “very positive online presence” after seeing her Facebook page. Makes perfect sense. What would someone say about you, based on what is posted on your social media pages? Do you post positive content, or do you spend time online tearing others down? Because while you may not notice, I guarantee that others have. And if you know someone who is a toxic person, do yourself a favor and walk away. It’s not worth the headaches, the arguments, or the frustration. A toxic person rejects reasoning for the sake of conjecture, so don’t even bother trying.
“The only winning move is not to play.”
The educational community is light-years away from actually solving the problem of teacher-student relationships. After everything that has happened, the correct and appropriate people are still not asking the correct and appropriate questions. It is easier to hastily and hatefully point fingers at teachers who cross those fateful and tragic lines, but when it comes to preventative measures, there is simply nothing being done, even by those who are responsible for protecting the well-being of students.
“Just be careful…”
Here is a perfect example of how school districts are not attempting to prevent this problem: My wife is a teacher and during her first year of teaching, all new teachers spent an extra week before other teachers were required to report, going to in-services and trainings for New Teacher Orientation. And, being conscious of the issue herself (after all, she’s my wife), she kept waiting and waiting for something to be said about the issue of teachers and students becoming “too close” or having inappropriate relationships. Days and days of trainings and meetings and in-services passed, and nothing was said.
Finally, someone in a meeting managed to circle around to the issue. The speaker, nearing the end of his presentation said, “And you high school teachers, you’re not that far apart from the students in age, so, you know, just be careful.”
That was it.
That was the only thing she, as a new teacher, heard from anyone — at all — during her orientation. And here’s the kicker: It wasn’t even a school district employee who said that; it was a guy from the Teacher’s Union. He did not make this statement as a representative of the school district; he said it during his pitch to get new teachers to join the Teacher’s Union. So, essentially, the school district itself — the largest school district in the state, the same school district where I taught when I committed my crime — had nothing to say to new teachers about teacher-student relationships.
The one remark I hear the most regarding this issue is, “Well, it should be common sense for teachers not to have relationships with students.” I agree; I completely agree; I couldn’t agree more! But clearly it’s not, because it’s still happening — all the time. So if the mere assumption that it “should be common sense” is the extent of school districts’ attempts at preventing this from happening, then they are, by default and neglect, putting students at risk.
The First Question
But what can be done? How does a school district prevent teachers from pursuing inappropriate relationships with students? That’s the million-dollar question, but it’s not the first question that should be asked, and that’s the problem. School districts, principals, and even other teachers are seeing a problem and are asking how to solve it. But that cannot be the first question.
The first question must be: Why is this happening?
The problem is not that teachers are having relationships with students — that is the result. The actual problem is much more in-depth, much more complicated, and much more uncomfortable than that. Teachers and school administrators can no longer afford to assume that this is an insulated or isolated issue, specific to only the weird, sick, bizarre, mentally-ill teachers who happen to become mistakenly employed.
It is easier and more comfortable to cast horrific labels on horrific acts and only assume it is because horrific people are making horrific choices, plain-and-simple. Countering upon the possibility that good people can make bad choices makes many people uneasy, uncomfortable, and unusually anxious. After all, if good people are capable of evil, then anyone — any “normal” person — is capable of evil; this is not a comfortable notion to consider. So the human comfort zone includes the instinctive reaction to casting horrific labels on horrific choices.
But why? Why would casting these horrific labels on horrific acts actually be “more comfortable” for a person who perceives themselves as “normal?” The answer to that is simple, and it’s an answer I learned in prison.
Racism in prison is rampant, but oddly enough, it’s not about race — it’s about behavior. When I was in the county jail, spending several weeks waiting to be shipped off to prison, a guy in jail with me (who’d been to prison before) said, “If you’re not racist before prison, you will be after prison.” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, seeing as how I grew up with black friends and didn’t have a racist bone in my body. But then again, he’d been to prison and I hadn’t so I just figured I’d wait and see. But when I got there, I noticed something: Whites hated blacks, but blacks didn’t necessarily hate whites. But after talking to some of these racist white guys in prison, they expressed that their hatred of black people was based on their behavior — things black guys did which these white guys found disagreeable. So one day, I flat-out said to one of these racist white guys, “You don’t hate those guys because they’re black, you hate them because you don’t like what they’re doing or how they’re acting; so what you’re doing is, you’re trying to find a way to conceptually separate and distance yourself from them so that you can take comfort in the fact that you’re as different from them as possible. And the easiest way to do that is to find the most obvious manner in which you differ from them, which is, in this case, the opposite color of your skin. Basically, you’re taking the main difference between the two of you — skin color — and making it the main reason why you dislike them.” He didn’t quite track this logic, and frankly, I wasn’t surprised. “You don’t like them,” I said, trying to simplify the issue, “so you’re taking the most obvious thing that separates you two and making it the reason you don’t like them.”
He still didn’t get it. Oh well. But my reasoning was sound, and it is the same logic behind the reasons people are comforted by shouting “pedophile” and “pervert” at teachers who have relationships with students. By seeing their actions as the biggest difference between them (rather than the underlying problems and issues), teachers and parents can put up a social and moral barrier between themselves and the offending teacher by using these terms of extremity. However, the truth is actually much more unnerving. And that’s where Cognitive Distortions come into play.
In the contemporary American workforce, workplace sexual affairs have almost become commonplace; I should know, I had numerous affairs with numerous other teachers when I was teaching and many of my peers were engaging in similar behavior. Teachers often become engrossed in their teacher social circle, blending their social lives with their professional lives by having drinks with co-workers after work or meeting up on weekends for social functions. And of course, there is nothing wrong with this behavior and it can be very beneficial to creating a comfortable and cohesive work environment.
However, there comes a point when the lines and perspectives begin to blur — and it all begins with social acceptance. Teachers, like most professionals, want to be respected and appreciated. However, teachers often seek respect from their students as well as their colleagues. There have been many studies which support the hypothesis that students learn better from teachers they like and respect, both as educators and as people. Fostering a positive personable image as a teacher (rather than merely being a rigid educator) can be a valuable teaching tool for teachers. But it is certainly a slippery slope. Gaining “likability” from students and connecting with them on a deeper level opens the door for non-curriculum conversations such as sports, music, movies, television, etc. All of this is innocent bonding; discussing things like pop culture with students can be beneficial and many studies would indicate that it is actually encouraged — students will often refuse to learn from a teacher who is perceived as “out-of-touch.”
When I taught, my students knew that I was an avid runner and a baseball fan, they knew what music I liked, what movies were my favorites, what books I read, etc. As an educator, it provided a personal depth beyond simply being a teacher, and students were responsive to the notion that they were learning from a “real person” and not just a robotic educational statue, programmed to recite facts about Shakespeare and grammar.
As far as teachers are concerned, students should be viewed as one thing — and one thing only: A product of their occupation — a work product. Student achievement and student success is Priority #1. “Getting to know” students is not a necessity beyond knowing what is needed to help them succeed in academia. Students are work products. Being viewed as a “regular person” should be used simply as an academic strategy, not a social status mark.
However, for some teachers, the script flips. As teachers seek to be viewed by students as “regular people,” those same teachers sometimes begin to view their students as “regular people” as well. The social discourse is a two-way conversation, so as students learn a teacher’s likes and dislikes, the students express their own, adding depth to themselves as well. And the slope grows more slippery by the second.
Peer to Peer
When students start seeing teachers as regular people, studies indicate they are more apt to learn from them. But when teachers start viewing students as regular people, history has shown they have a tendency to view them as peers rather than work products. The adult sees the teenager as an adult peer rather than a subordinate student. And this line is only further blurred by the multiple mediums of communication.
Teachers begin giving out their cell phone numbers and allowing students to text them; teachers begin “friending” students on Facebook and allowing students to “follow” them on Twitter; teachers begin allowing students to send them messages on Instagram or Snapchat or any number of social media outlets. At that point, the student has ceased to be a student and has become a peer. So why is it any surprise that so many teachers blur the line between teenage peer and adult peer, subsequently viewing these teenagers as adults? And when two peers, perceived as adults to one another, become attracted to each other, why is society shocked and surprised when that first kiss happens, a relationship ensues?
In the day and age when emails reach our phones just as quickly as text messages, there is really no feasible reason for a student to have a teacher’s personal cell phone number. The teacher may see it as only a means of communication with little-to-no differentiation between text messages or emails or Facebook messages, etc. However, the student does not see it that way. The student sees access to a personal cell phone number or a social media connection as a deep and personal view into the life of the teacher. They live in a time when social media is as personally intimate as a face-to-face conversation, whereas many adults view social media as a simple way to connect with people and post a few vacation photos.
Therefore, assuming the teenager can view these things through the same lens as an adult is to assume the teenagers are adults themselves — this is another tragic cognitive distortion. Perceiving teenagers as peers (or adults) through social or peer-like interactions only precipitates the possibility of inappropriate contact.
Another significant predicating factor which leads to the crossing of boundaries between teachers and students is the teacher’s insistence on being a part of the students’ social hierarchy. It is human nature (for the most part) to want to be liked, respected, even admired; however, many teachers take this concept beyond logic by wanting to be viewed as the “cool” teacher by the students in their classes (or even not in their classes), and this mindset is one of the first variables which begins to murky the waters of propriety.
In researching the many cases of unlawful teacher/student relationships, this was a recurring theme of many of the disgraced educators. They were well-liked, popular, and “cool” teachers; rarely was the disgraced teacher “odd” or “creepy” or “weird.” Far more often than not, it was a respected, well-known, attractive, young teacher who crossed the line of propriety with a student.
Essentially, this is the other end of the spectrum. Rather than the adult cognitively distorting the teenagers as fellow adults, they are distorting themselves as teenagers. For some teachers, it’s their chance to be popular in high school again, or for the first time. In this instance, the teacher isn’t attracted to the student because the student is a teenager, but rather the teacher is viewing him/herself as a teenager, part of the social hierarchy of the high school status quo. But again, the teacher is not attracted to the student because of age, but despite it.
When a teacher inserts him/herself into the students’ social hierarchy, the teacher crosses from professionalism into personalism, which is an area no teacher should be, with the exception of very few extenuating circumstances. However, understanding that there are no absolutes, it is safe to say that a high school teacher has no place in the friend zone of his/her students. And while it is fine (and even beneficial) for teachers to provide their students with a little more depth of personality, when a teacher begins to seek status with students, that is the beginning of the gray area.
The fact of the matter is this: Right now, for all of those “social” things, a vast majority of teachers, principals, school officials, and school districts turn a blind eye to social interactions; nothing is done, and no one seems to care — until that first kiss happens.
The unassuming fact school administrators need to realize is this: Anything beyond basic teacher-student social normality is off-limits. There is no viable reason for a student to send a teacher a text message. There are always other alternatives. And there is absolutely positively no reason for any student to have any social media interaction with any teacher at any time. If this is not the policy of a school and/or school district, then that school district is practicing gross negligence and should be liable for legal repercussions.
Admittedly, I was guilty of breaking all of these norms. That’s not to say this is why I did what I did — I made my own choices — but as far as perpetuating circumstances go, it was certainly on the list. But one important lesson can be drawn from this: This is a warning sign — an indicator — that a teacher is either having an inappropriate relationship with a student or is setting him/herself up for the possibility in the future, either perceptively, intentionally, or inadvertently. When teachers begin viewing students as peers rather than work products, the chances of an inappropriate relationship increase from improbable to possible.
 …other than the remarks directly ridiculing me for my own choices regarding this issue…
 Obviously, the quantity of these occurrences did not make them permissible.
 Male or female. It is important to note that the disparity of numbers between male teachers and female teachers who cross the lines of impropriety with students is not as wide of a gap as media coverage would imply.
 For instance, favorite sports teams, musical preference, marital status (if married), children, etc. These details add depth to a teacher, making him/her more relatable.
I don’t typically get really pissed off anymore. Today was an exception.
As I sat in a waiting room today awaiting an appointment, I scrolled through my phone for something to occupy my attention until my name was called. I opened the KAKE-TV app and began reading the local news, as I often do with the apps of the three local Wichita news stations. And as I scrolled down, I saw a headline that prompted me to click. The headline read, “Former Eureka teacher & coach pleads guilty in child sex crime case.” Obviously this type of headline caught my eye, considering in 2012, a similar headline ran about me.
As the story stated, an attractive female teacher named Kourtnie Sanchez admitted to an inappropriate relationship with three high school boys. And the result of her sentencing hearing today? What was her punishment for haphazardly inviting three high school boys into her sex life? Probation. Fucking probation. I was pissed! I was charged with one girl, she was charged with three boys; I went to prison for two years, she received only eighteen months of probation! She received less probation than I received prison time! And my inner-monologue spoke loudly in my head with the voice of Chris Tucker screaming, “What kind of shit is that?”
I’m not saying I should have been given probation – I’m saying she should go to prison.
This trend is scary, but this trend is sickeningly normal. Scroll through the website comments on these stories and you’ll see the clear discrepancy I’m talking about. In the event that a man commits these actions, he’s a “sick” “twisted” “predator” “pedophile” and should be promptly executed on the school yard lawn (all of which was said about me). However, when a woman commits nearly identical crimes, suddenly it’s the “lucky boy” and “where were those teachers when I was in school” and “she was just teaching him sex education,” and inevitably, some douche bag posts lyrics from Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” (shit, I fucking hate that song).
There is a well-known (yet seldom-remedied) inequality in the punitive measures taken against male teachers and female teachers when a relationship with a student occurs. As I’ve pointed out in “American Horror Story,” teacher-student relationships happen all the time – A LOT. It is the absolute worst and most under-reported problem plaguing the educational system. And when a teacher is caught sending naked pictures like the ones Kourtnie Sanchez sent to numerous male students; or if a teacher is caught having a year-long sexual relationship with a student, as was the case with former Clearwater teacher Cathleen Balman who, in May of 2013 admitted to having a full-on sexual intercourse relationship with a 15-year-old boy that lasted over a year. And her punishment as well? Of course, she was granted probation as well. (For comparison’s sake, my relationship with my former student lasted a mere four weeks, and we “made-out” only four times – we never had sex).
I’m not saying I should have been given probation – I’m saying they should go to prison.
We were teachers. We were mentors, leaders, role models – we were entrusted with the safety and security of these students, and we violated that trust in the worst possible way. How the hell can any parent trust the school system when teachers are taking advantage of students, school districts are sweeping instance-after-instance under the rug, and the judicial system (on which these parents depend for justice) selectively allows some teachers to simply walk away with probation? Explain to me how the fuck probation is supposed to deter this sort of crime. And explain to me this not-so-subtle distinction between the sentencing guidelines for men and women and how they differ in this situation.
The Balman case really does piss me off. This woman had a year-long sexual affair with this boy, exchanged sext-messages with him, and she’d even groomed him since being his junior high English teacher from several years prior. When it comes to logistical severity, her crime far exceeded mine. And here’s another kicker: We both were prosecuted by the same Sedgwick County Assistant District Attorney: Justin Edwards. Granted, this pear-shaped troglodyte was not just incompetent, he literally embodied the bumbling moron lawyer who would, in any cinematic circumstance, be considered moronic comic relief. But as it was, he was simply moronic. And this dolt couldn’t manage to send a woman – a teacher – to prison who admitted to having repeated sex with a 15-year-old boy, after having me sent to prison for just making-out with a 15-year-old girl a few times (but then again, my sentencing hearing was on the Friday before the 2012 Election Day, the courtroom was full of television cameras, and my judge was running for re-election – fucked by fate, I guess).
I’m not saying I should have been given probation – I’m saying she should go to prison.
A newspaper in New Jersey did an investigative report about this issue. They found that male teachers do indeed received harsher sentences than female teachers who commit the same crime. In fact, the study examined nearly 100 cases and found that 54% of men received prison time and only 44% of women did, and the duration of those sentences differed as well, men getting an average sentence of nearly two-and-a-half years, while women averaged just over eighteen months. So clearly, an imbalance exists.
My prison sentence was appropriate. In fact, I probably deserved more time. The pain I’ve caused is unforgivable. I let more people down than I will ever truly know, and I carry that guilt with me daily. Anyone who was once a student of mine is now in college or beyond, and some still talk to me – they have forgiven me for my actions and accept (and hopefully appreciate) who I am now. And for that, I am exceedingly appreciative. I’ve made no secret of my addiction to sex and my struggles to live a better life. And here’s the thing: If I’d walked away with probation, the extent to which I have changed the very nucleus of my life would have been to a far lesser degree. I do not – at all – regret the time I spent in prison. I was living an out-of-control lifestyle and prison was exactly the punch in the face I needed to get my shit together. As I’ve written before, right now I am the best possible version of myself. And while I still have struggles, I am not even an afterthought of the piece-of-shit human garbage I was in 2009 – Thank God! Now, I live a life worth living rather than a life worth hiding. And if Judge Philip Journey had given me probation on that day, November 2, 2012, there’s a good chance that I would never have come to the realization that I was a sex addict.
A teacher who has a relationship with a student needs to go to prison. I needed to go to prison. Shit, I should have gone for longer. The severity of Cathleen Balman’s crime exceeded mine; the quantity of Kourtnie Sanchez’s crime exceeded mine. And yet, they both walked away with probation – this is the rule, not the exception, for women. When the justice system applies lighter sentences to female teachers who have the same relationships that would send a male teacher to prison, the justice system fails. Stop considering male students in these situations “lucky guys” while in the same breath calling the female students “victims.” They’re all victims. Stop making “Hot for Teacher” jokes about the female teachers while demanding that the male teachers be locked-up. We all deserve to be locked-up. Lord knows I did.
So as long as the perceptions of these crimes differ, so will the punishments. Cute blonde teachers like Kourtnie Sanchez will continue to sleep with students, get caught, get probation, and change nothing about their lives. And any female teacher seeing these sentences of probation being handed out left-and-right is going to be less likely to second-guess her actions if she’s ever in a situation where an inappropriate relationship can take place. Because, shit, she’ll just get probation and find a new job.
I’m not saying I should have been given probation – I’m saying they should go to prison.
All of them.
I have horrid nightmares about my relationship with my former student. It’s the same nightmare every time, like a false memory that haunts me in the waking hours of my (sometimes) tortured head-space. And the thing is, the dreams have nothing to do with sex (as the cynics would likely expect). The dreams – the nightmares – are about the hours that she and I spent together in my classroom, bonding and conversing and (sometimes) flirting. And while that aspect of the dream happens to mirror fact, the fiction begins in the details of the dialogue.
In these nightmares, the classroom is always dark – it’s an eerie darkness, like a basement or a cellar – and there’s always a faint sound; like the sound of a brisk cold breeze outside of a closed window; or the sound of a match being quietly struck from behind an old matchbook as the sulfur and flame crescendo, then fade to black; or the sound of an old record player, spinning slowly with all the crackles and hisses – but no music..
I don’t ever recall the specifics of our conversation, but what I do remember is her being a completely arrogant and self-absorbed bitch (which was typically my role in the relationship, not hers – swap “bitch” for “asshole”), and how I didn’t seem to mind when she would suggest that I leave my wife (which she never asked me to do in real-life). But then – in every dream – we begin plotting a murder. We begin plotting my murder. Well, specifically, we begin plotting my suicide, but the suicide has to look like murder because apparently there’s some sort of life insurance situation where, if I kill myself, my family gets no money (which is something I think I must have seen on a TV show or something), and she is perfectly willing to help. So then, my former student (who is the literal doppelganger of Taissa Farmiga, known for her role in American Horror Story) convinces me that our plan (which never gets specific) is completely reasonable and – in every dream – I specifically remember her referring to it as “gallant” (which is a word I’m sure she’s never actually used). And this is typically when I wake up, wondering why I’ve had the dream again.
But I know exactly why I’m having this dream – Guilt. No therapist will convince me not to be plagued by the guilt of what I’ve done because I hurt on so many levels for it. From my perspective, my crime was wrong for three reasons: I cheated on my wife, I violated my profession, and “Taissa” was three months under-age. And, in my mind, that is also how I prioritize the severity of betrayal for each aspect. Of course, the hype wants to completely invert it and concentrate on the fact that she was under-age, which was – of course – a terrible act on my part, followed by the fact that I’d been her teacher at one point – the fact that I’d cheated on my wife seems like a mere afterthought in the public eye. But from my perspective (a perspective that is sure to piss-off the powers-that-be at the parole office), my violation of the law does not weigh upon me nearly as heavily as the violation of my profession, or – to a much more significant degree – the violation of the trust and sanctity of my marriage. I mean, let’s be completely honest here: I was having affairs with so many teachers at that school that if they all knew about each other, there would be more than a few verbal disagreements in the Teachers’ Lounge. So when I ended up making out with a former student, it wasn’t because I had some sort of weird attraction to high school girls or something, I was just simply out-of-control. Internet commenters (typically on news articles about me in the local media) want to point at me and assume that there was an “attraction” or something, calling me “sick” or “pervert” or “pedophile” or whatever. But they really have no idea what they’re talking about. They have no idea what’s really going on. They have no idea how many teachers are still teaching who have had multiple relationships with multiple students (and likely continue to do so) without remorse or regret. And they have no idea how much the administration actually knows about what is going on, but which never reaches the public eye or ear. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how many teachers are sleeping together, passing each other around like photo-copies of the annual syllabus.
Teacher-student relationships happen much more often than people think – or honestly, want to know. When a teacher-student relationship is discovered, there’s typically two ways the “discovery” happens. Either the parents go to the police first, and the police inform the school (and district), and the teacher is arrested (which is what happened in my case); or the parents go to the school first, and the school informs the district and the police are never contacted, as the matter is handled “internally” (which is the most common manner in which this issue is “dealt-with”). When the parents go to the police first, these are the instances that typically garner media attention. But when the school is contacted first and the police are not informed, it becomes hush-hush.
How hush-hush, might you ask? Well, it happens enough that the people in the USD 259 upper-level district administrative offices and the Human Resources department all have a “code term” for this – when another teacher is caught having a relationship with a student (most often at one of the high schools), administrators merely say amongst themselves that they “have to buy another Cadillac,” which is their casual and cryptic nomenclature for providing another “settlement” to the family of a student who had a relationship with a teacher. And let’s be honest about the situation: This isn’t a “settlement,” this is hush money – and if the police haven’t been involved in the situation, they merely write a check and everyone moves on as though nothing has happened. The teacher is sometimes “transferred” or “resigns for health reasons” or takes an “early retirement” (the “early retirement” one actually happened at East while I was teaching there), or some other excuse to keep things under wraps. The most ridiculous excuse I heard was when a “staff member” was forced to suddenly resign because of something he’d posted on Facebook – and the administration actually expected people to believe that. However, in all seriousness, if the voters knew how many high school teachers were screwing students, they’d cut funding to education faster than Sam Brownback saying NO! to ObamaCare and Syrian Refugees.
During the summer of 2012 – between my arrest and my sentencing, as my own Horror Story was beginning to take shape – I decided that someone needed to be part of the solution. I’d seen what people were saying about me online, so I figured, if I was going to be a target on the firing range, I might as well say something worth hearing. Because, as I figured (and to quote the great Wes Mantooth), “With the things I’ve done in my life, oh I know I’m going to burn in hell. So I sure as shit ain’t afraid to burn here on Earth.” So I came up with this idea that someone needed to actually stand in front of teachers and speak the truth – out-loud – about what was going on and what happens after they get caught (because I knew). I came up with a catchy name and designed a website and even made a little video to try to get someone to notice that the problem was out there and that no one was doing anything about it. And the result? I was more-or-less given the go-fuck-yourself from the educational community. Somehow, they perceived this as me (somehow) blaming the district for what I’d done. I didn’t quite follow their logic on this, but it was their way of telling me to shut-the-fuck-up because (as they see it) this problem did not need to be publicized any more than it already was. And if I was to stand up and point out how often this was happening (and I had specific examples, if someone had asked at the time), then it would have caused some major problems for the administrations and the powers-that-be; because they’ve been covering it up for so long, paying people off for so long, and keeping these dirty secrets for so long – high-level jobs would be lost; careers would be ended.
So here’s the real Horror Story: USD 259 has been “buying Cadillacs” for decades – and it’s wrong. The parents of my former student were absolutely right for going to the police rather than going to the school or the district. If a teacher is having a relationship with a student, it is a matter for the law to handle, not the Human Resources department of the school district. There are teachers at Wichita East High School who have had relationships with students, and those students have long-since graduated, so those teachers have “gotten away with it” and will never be punished. And with many (if not most) of these relationships, the school administrators knew (or at least suspected) that something was going on.
I am almost certain that the administrators at East knew about me as well (perhaps not the specifics, but they knew). As a teacher at East, I had the privilege of teaching at the high school from which I graduated, and I was extremely popular with the faculty (including the ones I wasn’t screwing) as well as the students and parents. But suddenly, one day, I walked into the principal’s office with my letter of resignation, announcing that I was taking a teaching job in a small town for less money, far away from Wichita. There was an understanding there; he knew why I was leaving and I knew why I was leaving. My wife and I made the decision months earlier after I’d confessed everything to her, and when I announced that I was leaving, I was given the old “Okay, good luck;” and that was it. I would bet my bottom dollar that he knew damn-good-and-well why I was leaving, and he was simply glad that I was moving on, not to be his problem anymore.
About a month before I was arrested and my relationship with my former student hit the news, my (former) best friend (who is now my Archenemy) and I went to the winter East High Homecoming basketball game. I strolled around and said “Hi” to some of my former co-workers, including the “Okay, good luck” principal as well as a few of the assistant principals. The head principal greeted me with a smile and happily shook my hand and asked me how I was doing – all-the-while knowing what I’d done because the police had already informed him of the allegations (and I doubt they expected me to show up on campus). I remember my exchange with him specifically, but I also remember one other exchange with one of the assistant principals very vividly. She was there in a supervisory role and when I walked up and said “Hi” to her, she didn’t seem happy to see me at all. She wasn’t rude, but if I was to describe her demeanor toward me, the term “civilly cold” would aptly cover it (and I picked up on it immediately). In previous years, during my administrative internship at the school, she was the AP with whom I’d worked the most (and who’d taught me the most) so I was very happy to see her. But when she wouldn’t even make eye-contact with me, I knew something was wrong – and on a deep level, I knew exactly what that “something” was. Somehow, I knew she knew. But here’s the thing: I respect her so much more for being cold toward me than I do the “Okay, good luck” principal for being bogus and fake and falsely happy to see me. The AP knew how she felt, and I’m certain she wasn’t at all allowed to talk to me about it (obviously), but the fact that she didn’t give me a fake sense of politeness actually makes me respect her so much more. And if she would ever speak to me again (which I doubt, understandably), I would thank her for that.
Obviously, not all teachers are having relationships with students. There really are many great teachers out there who deserve higher pay and more recognition and appreciation. Teaching is a thankless profession – financially, professionally, and publicly – so maybe there is a silver-lining to the lack of publicity of the teachers who are having relationships with students. Because honestly, when I was arrested for what I did, I didn’t just reflect poorly on myself, I made all teachers and the teaching profession look terrible – thus, I reflected poorly on some amazing educators whose only goal is to nurture and broaden the minds of the future. I will never realistically have the opportunity to ask their forgiveness, so my immediate reaction (in the summer of 2012) was to try to be a part of the solution. But obviously, that didn’t work out. And now, the only thing being done about this problem is a ten minute lecture session during the annual “Sexual Harassment Training” on an in-service day, or a half-assed presentation to future teachers at Wichita State about not being friends with students on Facebook. That’s it. Still, no one is taking the issue seriously, so it continues to perpetuate – and that is the true American Horror Story.
I’ve given up trying to be part of this solution. Personally, I’m a recovering sex addict and I’ve found my place for now, being part of a support system of people struggling with this addiction in the group context of Sex Addicts Anonymous. I regularly receive calls and text message from people in my group who are struggling, and I have embraced my role as someone who can talk people through rough times in the addiction. This is what I do well, and I’m fine with that. And in the meantime – in fact, right now, as you read this sentence – there is a teacher having a relationship with a student. And this teacher will completely get away with this and move on with his/her career, and the public will never know. And since the school principals and district administrators have no interest in finding a real solution to this problem, then the blood is on their hands. So as far as I’m concerned, a curse on both their houses.
This is a real American Horror Story. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Catholic Church.
It’s Halloween again. It’s my first Halloween since being released from prison. And until Monday, I didn’t really care. Seriously, I didn’t. I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween. It was always a pain-in-the-ass “holiday” where it’s socially permissible for kids I don’t know to bang on my door. Annoying. Go away. But if I don’t give them candy, I’m the asshole. And it wasn’t much better when I was a kid. I always felt like a mooch asking people I didn’t know to just give me candy. It was just one of those things I went and did just because it was the social convention. Blah. So as a grown-up and a father, when my wife offers to take our daughter trick-or-treating, I’ve always been totally fine with that. So as far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t possibly care less about Halloween.
However, that’s not how the fear-driven paranoid society we live in feels about Halloween, now that I’ve been branded as a “sex offender.” Halloween is now the “holiday” when it’s socially permissible for adults to go on television and online to scare other adults into being afraid of a problem that does not exist. The overwhelming fear is that, on Halloween, sex offenders prowl the streets looking for a victim to anonymously molest. And since that happens so often, we should all be horrifically afraid because this occurrence is so common, right? It happens multiple times every Halloween, doesn’t it? Aren’t there like dozens of kids every year who are molested by sex offenders while trick-or-treating? Because, with all the hype – with all the fear and media buzz – it would appear that it happens a lot.
But here’s the problem: It doesn’t. Actually, there has never – EVER – been a reported instance of a child being molested on Halloween by a sex offender. “Research shows no evidence of increased child sex abuse on Halloween and no evidence that a child was ever a victim of sexual abuse by a stranger while out trick-or-treating,” writes Emily Horowitz, Associate Professor of Sociology at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York. “This makes perfect sense,” she continues, “because government data shows the vast majority (about 93%) of sex crimes against children are not committed by strangers but by family members or acquaintances.”
So what is there to be afraid of on Halloween? Sure, it’s a “holiday” centered around fear and being scared and creepy things, all of which could easily be applied to sex offenders, but there simply isn’t any reality to support the level of fear being circulated by overzealous fear-driven paranoid parents and ratings-driven fear-mongering media. But we still need to be afraid of something, right?
How about this fictional situation:
Let’s say, between the years of 1990 and 2010, there were 115 children in the United States (under the age of 18) who were molested by a registered sex offender on Halloween Night. What would happen? I would venture to say that the reaction by the public, the media, and the legislature would be even more knee-jerk and reactionary. If, over a twenty-one year period, 115 children were molested by registered sex offenders on Halloween Night, sex offenders would be required to report to their local jail and remain locked-up until the next morning. Sex offenders wouldn’t be allowed to even be seen on Halloween, because, let’s face it, if over a twenty-one year span, 115 children were molested by sex offenders while trick-or-treating, there would be zero tolerance and no sex offender would be allowed anywhere near a bucket of candy on Halloween. Simply put, if, between 1990 and 2010, 115 children were molested on Halloween Night by a registered sex offender, I would understand the fear and the hype against sex offenders.
But here’s the thing: 115 children between 1990 and 2010 is a real Halloween statistic, according to a United States government research study. But those 115 children weren’t molested by sex offenders on Halloween; those 115 children were killed because they were hit by a car on Halloween. Between 1990 and 2010, 115 children were killed by people driving cars. Between 1990 and 2010, zero children were molested by sex offenders while trick-or-treating. Therefore, if you are driving your car on October 31st, you are more dangerous to a child than a sex offender. But for some reason, no one has thought to outlaw driving on Halloween. And yet, on Monday, I was told by my parole officer that I am not allowed to leave my house after dark, that I am not allowed to answer the door, and I am not allowed to have my porch light on. And why? Because nearly six years ago, I had a brief relationship with someone, whom I knew personally, never had sex with, and who was a mere two months from being of legal age. My actions were extremely and certainly wrong, but how does that make me a risk to children on Halloween? And, of course, this assumption is based on the numerous cases of reported child abuse by sex offenders on Halloween, right? Or, wait, no, because those instances do not exist.
Here’s a number: 95. Every sex offender should know this number, not just on Halloween, but the other 364 days of the year as well. It has meaning. Despite what Law & Order: SVU says, the recidivism rate of Sex Offenders (according to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics) is a mere 4.3%. That means approximately 95% of convicted sex offenders never – EVER – commit another sex crime. That is the lowest rate of recidivism of any crime other than murder (and that’s likely because most people convicted of murder never breathe free air again). Another 95: According to a report by the Oakland Journal, 95% of sex crimes are committed by someone the victim was either related to or knew personally. Thus, a mere 5% of sex crimes are committed by a person with whom the victim is not acquainted – and that number includes adult sexual assaults, so the number of children molested by a stranger is actually much smaller than that. But how does this measure-up in the broad spectrum of criminal behavior and overall recidivism? According to the National Institute of Justice, that number is quite a bit higher. In a study they conducted in 2005 of 404,638 people released from prison, they found that within five years, 76.6% were rearrested. As the study states, “Property offenders were the most likely to be rearrested, with 82.1 percent of released property offenders arrested for a new crime compared with 76.9 percent of drug offenders, 73.6 percent of public order offenders and 71.3 percent of violent offenders.” Sex offenders: 4.3%.
But fear-mongering media outlets who love to scare-up ratings won’t let you be swayed by those pesky facts and statistics when fear and paranoia are more likely to make you watch their broadcasts or read their website. KAKE-TV in Wichita is among the worst. Truth doesn’t matter when fear sells more advertising minutes. And truth doesn’t matter when people actually actively seek things to be afraid of because it gives them a sense of proactive security; finding (or inventing) a problem, and then thinking they can protect themselves against it, seems to give the ignorant fear-driven suburbanite self-important populous a false sense of power and control.
So, as KAKE-TV and other fear-mongering media want you to know, there’s a lot to be afraid of on Halloween. And the fear of sex offenders is every bit as justified as being afraid of the guy in the haunted house chasing patrons around with the chainless chain saw. Both are equally as dangerous. So go ahead, check your local sex offender registry for sex offenders living in your neighborhood. Because, statistically speaking, those are the people who are least likely to harm your children. Think about that as you’re driving your car on Halloween.
Thank God for apathy and cowardice.
When I came home from prison, one of my paramount fears and causes of anxiety was facing reality while wearing my newly-assigned (but deserved) scarlet letter. I held a strange but unfounded fear of someone shouting at me in public or spitting in my face or something. But nothing even remotely close to that has happened. In fact, just the opposite. At first, I wondered why no one seemed to care, then it was adequately explained to me by someone who put it perfectly: People are typically too obsessed with their own lives to care about the lives of those in whom they have no vested interest.
It’s funny how people will watch TV and sneer at people like me when I’m on the news, but when it comes to leaving their living rooms and encountering real people face-to-face, people are either too apathetic or too cowardly to say something; and this is assuming that they know at all. In this situation, I’ve never been so happy to be forgotten. I still feel the inclination to be the social person that I was before, but I would rather be anonymous — a face in the crowd — and I pray that anytime I go out in public, I don’t see anyone I know.
This is no way to live, and perhaps it’s partially my fault for moving back to my hometown — the town where I was arrested — my only two options are to stay and adjust or leave. But what few friends I still have are still in my hometown, and I can’t exactly afford to be choosy, and I don’t want to because the friends I have now are the friends who have stuck with me through everything, and that makes them all-the-more valuable to me and to my life. These are the people who love me, regardless of my terrible choices. These are the people who have the courage to remain friends with me, no matter how they think it would make them “look” to the outside world. These are the people with integrity.
These people are my friends.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’ve met God. I’ve come across some interesting characters in my walk through life, and there are days when maybe I think that at some point, The Man Upstairs has covertly paid me a visit. Sounds crazy, right? Is that any crazier speaking into thin air and hoping God not only hears, but answers? Is it crazy to think that God would bother to stop in and see “someone like me” when he could be spending his time hanging out with Billy Graham or Mark Hoover? I guess the answer to that question is specific to who God is to each of us.
To me, God is not a vengeful god, He is not a judgmental god, and He is not a spiteful god. To me, God is a god of the broken. God is a god of second chances, and third chances, and chances of infinity. Perhaps my perspectives are self-serving, since I have more than my fair share of things that need forgiveness, but I can’t help but believe that if God is going to create me with love, then he is going to forgive my repeated transgressions, no matter how many times I fall to my knees and beg His forgiveness. That’s the beauty of the God I worship. He cares more about repentance than He does about what I am repenting. The song “Better Than a Hallelujah” describes this perfectly for me. God loves me, not because I’m broken, but because I’m broken at His feet.
The “Religious Elite” snub at me, and that’s fine. By their standards, I am an unforgivable sinner. The funny thing I’ve learned about “church people” is that if I don’t fit into their very narrow definition of what a Christian is supposed to be, then I am automatically a hell-bound lost cause. They are so self-important that they set unattainable standards for their own lives, then pretend that they meet (or exceed) them and others do not. Self-important people are mad at grace. These people hate that God could love and forgive me just as much as them. Simply, these people hate me. And I’m fine with that.
I can see their perspective. I really can. They spend their entire lives trying to live right, look right, speak right, be right, and yet, here I am, a criminal who has been publicly and professionally humiliated and ostracized, and I get the same brand of God’s grace that they get. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? But that’s the beauty of God. He’s cool like that. I honestly believe that God doesn’t obsess about the little things in our lives (like how often we go to church or whether or not we use profanity or when we enjoy a little too much chocolate), instead, God cares where our heart is, and how much we want God to be in it.
Nothing I can do will change how much God loves me. And nothing I can do will change the way church people despise me. Lucky for me, one of those means everything and the other means nothing. Regardless, I will continue to keep my low public profile, wearing sunglasses and hats and whatever else can keep anyone I once knew from giving me a glance and saying, “I know that guy.”
At the gym the other day, I ran into a guy I coached years ago. He’s in his twenties now, but he still looks the same. I was getting a post-workout rest when he walked in and stopped, giving me an awkward “Hi.” I’ve never had anything against him — in fact, he’s a really good guy — but I didn’t want to have to talk to him, simply because I knew it would probably be awkward for him. I wanted to politely let him know that he didn’t need to talk to me, that he didn’t need to feel obligated to offer any salutation. I obviously wouldn’t have meant that in a rude way, I would have just wanted him to know that the social contract that binds two former acquaintances and requires us to converse with social pleasantries wasn’t necessary. This I wanted to say, but I didn’t. I upheld my end of the social contract and exchanged a “Hello” and a “How are you,” then resumed my workout. He went about his way as well, and that was that. I haven’t seen him since. I wanted to tell him what was really on my mind, but the fact of the matter is, I needed to be social and I needed to be nice. Speaking my mind was not an option, even if it would have been aimed at keeping someone else from feeling socially awkward.
I hope that if I ever meet God, I can be honest, and speak my mind, and abide the social contract. Although, I doubt I could ever make God feel awkward. He knows everything about me, and face-to-face, he would never blush.
“Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” -Mark Twain