A few days after I began a prison sentence for blowing the whistle on the CIA's torture program, I started a job as a janitor in the prison library. On my first day on the job, a fellow prisoner asked what I was in for and how long my sentence was. I gave him the two-minute version of my story and I asked how long he was in for. "Oh, twenty-two years," he said, as if it was no big deal. I was shocked.
I asked if he minded telling me what he had done. "I got caught looking at crime scene photos," he responded. I asked what that was supposed to mean. "Well, having sex with children is a crime. I was just looking at the photos." I gave him a hard look and said, "You're not the victim here." "What really did me in was that subfolder," he continued. All right, I thought. I'll bite. "What was in the subfolder?" He lit right up. "Well, I like to masturbate while looking at pictures of dead children. I have a friend who works in a morgue ..." I put up my hand. "Don't ever speak to me again. Do you understand?"
The man was a "chomo," prison slang for a child molester. I encountered many of them in prison, more than I care to remember. Many prisoners saw differences between "clickers," those who looked at child pornography online or in videos, and "touchers," those who had physically assaulted children. Personally, I didn't think there was any difference between them. They were all monsters. But clickers generally got mandatory minimum sentences of five years, while touchers had sentences between 15 and 60 years.
Over the course of two years in prison I came to truly loathe the chomos. All of them. None of them ever expressed any regret or remorse for their crimes. They delighted in talking about their cases and reliving the details. And psychologists say that there is no known form of rehabilitation. People who prey on children must be removed from society. The havoc they wreak ruins lives permanently. Our children must be protected from them.
You can imagine, then, my shock when I read in The New York Times that a judge in Montana sentenced a man who had repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter to only 60 days in the local jail. The prosecution had recommended that the man, whose name was withheld to protect the child's privacy, be sentenced to 100 years, with 75 years suspended. The judge, John C. McKeon, also ordered the father to pay for his daughter's medical expenses, including therapy, and to register as a sex offender. He rationalized the light sentence, saying that the man's two sons needed their father, and that the father "had the support of his church." With time served, the father will be released from jail in three weeks. There likely will be no chance to impeach the judge. He retires on November 30.
Meanwhile, a judge in Fresno, California, found Rene Lopez guilty of repeatedly raping his daughter. But in that case, Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. told Lopez that he was a "serious danger to society," noted that Lopez had never shown any remorse for his crimes, and sentenced him to 1,503 years in a state penitentiary. That's more like it.
Believe me, I'm all about criminal justice reform. I hate that the U.S. has five percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prison population. I hate that the so-called "war on drugs" has filled the country's prisons, especially with young men of color. I hate that there are no opportunities in prison for education, training, or even basic rehabilitation.
But we owe it to our children, the most vulnerable members of our society, to protect them. For those who target children, there ought always to be room in our prisons. And for judges who give these monsters a pass, there ought to be a garbage bin where we can throw their careers.
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