It's not the kind of thing one talks about in every day conversation, but sometime this year, possibly at the Tamalpais High School "Class of 78" 30th reunion, I'm sure that it might come up. I doubt the story below will make it into the Tam "100 Year" Anniversary documentary that plays this weekend in Mill Valley, although I did say it out loud for the camera.
Just over thirty years ago, when a group of students would gather in the hallway outside of the office of Donald Inman, a guidance counselor at Tamalpais High School, there would often be snickers that inside his office - behind the closed door and the hand-scrawled sign that read "conference" - that something wicked was going on.
Usually the conference sign would be up for an hour. And then, like clockwork, a teen-aged girl would come out, and things would get back to normal for students that needed add and drop slips signed, or some other bit of official school business. But when we left, the topic of conversation was definitely about what was going on behind that door, in the darkened room with an over-sized chair, and a red-faced man who I would say was sin his late fifties, ostensibly there to lead the way for students wanting to get to college, or to be the voice of assurance to the sobbing girls that we imagined must be having huge family problems to be emerging from Inman's office in such distress.
Once, I think the year was 1976, I was picked up hitchhiking on the way home from school by two women who were about ten years older then I was at the time. The driver looked at me in the rear-view mirror and said. "Whose your counselor?
"Inman," I replied. At which time she looked to her friend in the passenger seat, and clearly said, "He's the first man that ever put his hand up my shirt."
The last year that Inman taught at Tam, after a thirty year career, was 1978. His absence at the beginning of the semester was a mystery - the school nurse said that he was in the hospital. Some interested students located Inman at Kaiser Hospital in Terra Linda and he told them that he was there recovering from alcoholism - and that he would not be back.
Fast forward about three years and an item appears in the Marin Independent Journal stating that Donald B. Inman of Novato had been arrested on suspicion of molesting a child in his Novato neighborhood. A later article reported that Inman was sentenced to one-year in the Marin County Jail.
A year or so later, I ran into Inman - on the street in San Rafael. My friend, Melina, and I, asked him about what happened in Novato, and he said that it was all because of the alcoholism. The good news, he said, was that he was now sober - no more alcoholic blackouts. And, by the way, would we like to come over to his house for a beer?
Another couple of years went by before our paths were to cross again, this time about thirty miles north, in Sonoma County, where I had moved. It was my first night on on job at Full Circle, a residential treatment center for troubled boys. My task that night was to take the boys from the ranch, which was nestled in the rural hills outside Sebastopol, into Santa Rosa to the Orenda Center, where the boys - many of whom came from families that were rife with alcohol and drug abuse - to their weekly "Alateen" meeting, which is basically a support group for teenagers with friends or families that are alcoholic.
We walked into the building and into a room where a group of rowdy teens were starting to assemble into a circle. A minute or so later, the adult moderator of the meeting came in. I was horrified to see that the person running the Alateen meeting was Donald Inman! I asked what he was doing there, and if he should be working with kids, given the business in Novato. He assured me that everything was fine, and that he was in a local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, and volunteering to lead the group was his way of giving back.
The meeting got under way, but I was sick to my stomach. I sat in the lobby of the Orenda Center waiting for the meeting to end, and then waited with the kids, engaging Inman in conversation, until the parent of every kid in the room had shown up and taken their child away safely. I then drove the boys back to the ranch, and filed an incident report about discovering a convicted pedophile running the Alateen meeting.
The very next morning, I thought of calling the Santa Rosa Police - none of whom I personally knew - and instead opted to call in a friend - Detective Sergeant Jeannette Prandi of the Marin County Sheriff Department. Jeanette was the juvenile investigator for Marin and I knew she could get this handled in Sonoma. I asked her to please, please look up Inman in the records, and to let someone at Santa Rosa know. Meanwhile, the boys home opted not to send the kids back to the meeting.
A couple of months later, it was front page headlines in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat when Donald Inman, the man who victimized dozens of girls at Tamalpais High School without being detected, was arrested and charged with thirteen counts of felony child molesting involving many of the kids at the Alateen meeting. Shortly thereafter, Inman was sentenced to 42-years to life in Vacaville State Prison.
Things got even stranger in 1993, when I worked at the Pacific Sun, in Mill Valley. Apparently, Inman subscribed to the Sun from Vacaville. He would send me cards and letters in the mail, admitting all that he had done, but insisting that he should not have gotten such a stiff sentence. He asked if I would write articles on his behalf in an effort to get him freed. At the very least, would I come and visit him?
No, I wrote back to him, you got exactly what you were supposed to get. The 42 years to life wasn't just about a handful of students in Sonoma County - it was about decades of students at Tamalpais High School. Many of whom, I later found out, had become anorexic, and some who even tried to take their own lives out of the shame that he had caused to them.
Are there more Inman's out there? I don't know. I do know that I asked several administrators from the time (one of whom would visit Inman at Vacaville) if they had any inkling at all of what had been happening. They all concurred that suspicions were rampant, but that back then, no one talked about those things.