Silent Killer

Back in January of 2011, my therapist game me a checklist of preventative measures to follow should I ever think about molesting a child. I said, "But I don't think about molesting children," and he said, "Yes, but this checklist can apply to any harmful behavior—such as downloading pornography.

"We went through the steps together. There were about five or six of them, but most were redundant and served only to spell out some catchy acronym—REACT or REASON, or something like that. The list could easily have been condensed to three: Recognize the thoughts which lead to the harmful behavior, Evaluate all possible decisions and their consequences, and Act on the best decision, the one that doesn't lead to prison or exploitation of a child.

"What about masturbation?" I asked.

"Excuse me?"

"The urge goes away after I masturbate. So if I just get it out of the way, I wouldn't be tempted to look at porn." I wasn't trying to be cute. I see my urges as something physical, a chemical in need of release, something a checklist couldn't fix.

The therapist looked skeptical. "Well, er, this checklist will provide you with an …alternative to masturbation.

"Point taken. I guess the only "cure" for addiction is learning to make better decisions, something a good jerk cannot replace.

I've been thinking a lot about addiction lately. It was never an official diagnosis; neither of my therapists ever mentioned the word. It was a term I adopted because it seemed to fit and because addictions are more socially acceptable than perversions. It made my situation easier to explain to people, and to myself.

Addiction has other things going for it, too. For example, it easily lends itself to the passive voice. When a friend asked why I was going to prison, I began by telling her that I had "developed an addiction" and that "it led to some bad decisions." It was the addiction that made the bad decisions. Not me. I had nothing to do with it. Politicians love the passive voice. During his 1987 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, conceded that "serious mistakes were made" during the Incontra scandal. He never said who exactly made the mistakes. The mistakes simply made themselves.

Speaking of grammar, notice the verbs often associated with addiction: Peter is fighting obesity; Paul is battling a coke habit; Mary is a recovering alcoholic. What brave, downtrodden soldiers we are! Better to be an addict than a person who lacks self-control. Or a pervert.

But as convenient as addiction is, I can think of no other term that adequately describes the intensity and single-mindedness of my weakness: the downloading porn from five in the afternoon til four in the morning, forgetting to eat, forgetting to use the bathroom; canceling plans; declining phone calls; preferring porn to sex and masturbating until my dick would bleed. What else do you call it?It's a shame pornography isn't a more mainstream addiction. If I were addicted to something more glamorous—alcohol, pain meds, heroine—things might have been different. I might have been sent to a clinic or beach-side retreat instead of prison. I could sit in a circle with other addicts and listen to them talk about their absent fathers and how they felt misunderstood as children. I could wake up in the morning and practice yoga and learn to find my center. And in the afternoon, I could go out to the stables and feed horses and learn about trust.

Here in prison, we learn how to make a fire using a battery and foil paper. We learn how to make hooch and how to hustle. And we learn to always keep our sneakers on in case of a riot.

I tried to stop. I thought I could stop. Isn't that what all addicts say? There were several times I resolved to stop downloading pornography and put myself through a sort of detox regimen. Like a dieter purging their pantry of carbs and trans fats, I'd wipe my computer clean and rebuild it again with something nature-inspired and more in line with my mainstream values—dew drops on a blade of grass or acres of green pasture.

Addiction is the same no matter what the vice. An addiction to porn is no different than an addiction to food. The struggle is great; the chance of success small. Temptation leads to justification—Well, I didn't really mind have a few extra pounds and Nobody's perfect—and it's not long before you're bringing on KFC drumsticks. My own justifications were similar: Well, it did feel good and I wasn't really hurting anybody. And within two or three weeks, I was back to my old stomping grounds, but instead of Colonel Sanders, it was GigaTribe, ImgSrc, and MilkBoys. And in a matter of minutes, that beautiful photo of a Caribbean sunset would be overlaid with pictures of teenage boys exposing their naughty bits. And I didn't even have to get in my car.

Pornography is one of the cheapest, most accessible addictions there is. Even better: there are no noticeable ill side effects. No smell of liquor on the breath. No extra pounds around the waist. Pornography doesn't make people loopy or cause them to go around plowing their cars into pedestrians.

Pornography is the carbon monoxide of addictions, the silent killer. You're dead before you suspect anything's wrong.