Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ugh! (Or The Friend Who's Going Away For A Long Time)

I wrote recently about a friend of mine who was charged with aggravated sexual assault for sleeping with one of his 17 year-old students when he was a drama teacher. When I last wrote, he hadn't been sentenced yet. Now he has.

The judge sentenced him to up to 15 years in prison. It breaks my heart. I feel sad for him, for the student he had sex with, for her family, for his family, for his kids, for the people he has let down. The whole thing just sucks.

I am not angry at my friend or even disappointed in him. I'm just sad that he now finds himself in this position. I do not know the full circumstances of his relationship with the student. I am under the impression it was consensual. That doesn't make it right, nor do I feel the 17 year-old had the maturity necessary to enter into a sexual relationship with my friend, nor do I dismiss the fact that my friend should have known better and that being both a 31 year-old man and the girl's teacher should have clued him into the fact that this was not only a recipe for disaster, but that the legal repercussions would be very serious. And indeed they are.

Now my friend loses up to 15 years of his life in a penal institution. He loses 15 years with his kids. He loses his career. He tarnishes his reputation. And think of the lives he has negatively altered. I understand the girl, who once was so active in theatre, has completely dropped out of it, partly because some of my friend's former students somehow blame her instead of my friend because he was a popular teacher. The girl's relationship with her parents seems to be tenuous, at best, right now, she;s likely in counseling, and my friend's actions are largely to blame for that. And I'm sure my friend's actions have had a major effect on her. And what about the influence this has had on his former students? It's all just so sad and was so unnecessary.

I do think the sentence was a bit harsh, but that may also be because I know my friend as a person. But I also understand why the judge meted out such a long sentence. My friend had previously been warned by his superiors that he seemed a little too chummy with another female student and that it looked bad (that relationship was non-sexual). My friend promised to set better boundaries, and at the same time he was carrying on this affair with this other student. He had sex with her at least 10 to 15 times, once on school property. He manipulated a vulnerable teenager with his own needy behavior. He was in a position of authority over her. He should have known better.

Choices have consequences, and I guess these are the consequences my friend has to live with. I guess another thing that makes me sad is that people are calling my friend a "monster" or that he should "rot in jail for the rest of his life." What my friend did was undoubtedly wrong, but I just know him as my friend. Needy, immature, selfish, made a really stupid and thoughtless mistake, but he's not a monster. I don't see him as a predator. I just see him as an emotionally immature and depressed guy who left his better judgment behind. I certainly don't think spending the rest of his life behind bars is what is best for him or society. The girl's parents probably do and justifiably so, but I don't.

I do think my friend needs to pay for his selfish behavior. I hope he uses his time in prison to better himself, and I hope he truly realizes the consequences of his actions, not just to himself, but to those whose lives he's altered.

I saw a photo of my friend on the Utah Department of Corrections' website. My friend has such a sadness and weariness in his eyes. I'm sure this is never where he thought he'd end up. I certainly didn't.

I wrote my friend a letter offering my support and love. I know this will be a very challenging time for him. I hope he comes through this okay.

So sad.

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