By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
One after another, they drift into the cramped Dallas offices of counselor Phil Taylor--a half dozen of America's Most Unwanted, registered sex offenders all. Reeking of strong coffee, summer sweat, and stale cigarettes, they have come this Saturday morning seeking group therapy for the same reason they do every Saturday morning: because they are forced to.
They are the moral equivalent of lepers--or at least that's how we treat them. We order them to register with the police so we can know their whereabouts at all times. We post their photographs on the Internet so we can protect our children from them. We don't care if their civil rights are trampled upon--we want them kept out of our parks, our malls, our lives. We use words to describe them that incite outrage and fear: molesters, perverts, predators, sick fucks. Their crimes seem unfathomable, their sins unforgivable, the damage they cause permanent. Yet they have been granted probation or parole, and as a condition, they are getting help for having helped themselves to the most vulnerable among us.
One of them is Eddie, the 400-pound dean of the group who talks the talk of sex-offender therapy as though he were schooled in it. He is edging toward the end of his 10-year probated sentence. He is terrified that his probation officer is going "to jack" with him during his final six weeks. If his probation is revoked and he goes to the pen--a grossly obese child molester--he knows he's a dead man.
"I molested my stepdaughter about 18 years ago. She was 4 years old at the time," he confesses, aware of its therapeutic value. "Did oral sex on her. Had her do oral sex on me. Exposed her to pornographic materials. Exposed myself to her. Fondled her."
Then there is Rusty, a gimme cap concealing his fiery red hair and freckled forehead. He comes across as the boy-next-door: kind, friendly, open...maybe a little too open. "I exposed myself to girls in my car as I drove by," he says. "I was convicted of three counts of indecency with a child."
There is Billy, who sees himself as different from the others. Yes, he dropped his swimming trunks while standing on the diving board, flashing nearly everyone at his apartment-complex pool. But he was out-of-his-head drunk, too shitfaced to notice the 12-year-old girl who noticed him first. He remains perpetually angry about the deal he got. His lawyer didn't tell him what it meant to be a sex offender. That was something he had to find out for himself.
"My name is Cain," announces a late arrival. "I am here on two counts of rape of an adult female. I did eight years the first stint. Got out, and did another eight years the second."
Taylor, who conducts the group with Shari Scott, looks puzzled. "Why did you say your name was Cain?"
"Like in the Bible, Cain was the wandering child," he says, alluding to the way he has drifted between jobs and relationships. "Cain murdered his brother, and he was marked for the rest of his life. I feel like I am marked for the rest of my life."
"So that means you are not welcome anywhere?"
Taylor turns to Walter, the newest group member, freshly released from the pen just three months ago. It's his turn to work, and Taylor asks him to describe a typical day in which he offended--without evading responsibility or blame.
Walter takes a deep breath and a long pause. Choosing the right words is an obsession with him--one of many. "It generally began with a thought. My mind would play with the thought, entertain it, roll it around."
"What kind of thought?" asks Taylor, pulling slightly on his salt-and-pepper beard.
"That I want to expose. That I want the rush. But I couldn't just expose myself to anybody. It had to be an attractive female. And then the opportunity had to be there."
"Some days, do you have to work hard for the opportunity and it doesn't happen?"
"That's right. And I would head home after hours of cruising and have tremendous feelings of self-recrimination, tremendous feelings of, 'How can you be so fucking stupid?'"
"It was stupid, but it was also pleasurable," adds Taylor.
"It was a conflict," Walter says. "My deal was to see how far I could go. What I am working on here is the thrill, the adrenaline rush." The library was his favorite place to expose, he admits. He would hide behind a book or a magazine, walk up to his victim--child or adult--and position himself in such a way that they could see him, or not. That way he could blame them for looking, not himself for exposing.
Taylor is quick to jump in. Did he see how he was shifting blame, letting himself off the hook?
"I would tell myself I'm not really hurting anyone. Never once in my entire history did I ever have verbal or physical contact with any of my victims."
"So where's the harm?" says Scott.
"That is part of the rationalization," Walter nods.