The Inner Sanctum

Just before 6 p.m. on a recent, unseasonably warm Thursday, two young girls exit a nondescript office building off Colorado Boulevard and Louisiana Avenue. The girls, who can't be more than twelve years old, are accompanied by one of their mothers; they've just come out of the Glendale Family Resource Center. Five floors above them, in the Teaching Humane Existence office, more than twenty convicted sex offenders are getting ready for group therapy.

The men, who look to be anywhere from their early twenties to their mid-sixties, split into three groups, going off into separate rooms. Diane, a probation officer from Arapahoe County, and Rick, a counselor, watch as the nine men in their session sit in a circle and begin disclosing the details of their crimes, a ritual they perform every meeting to remind themselves of the danger they pose to the public.

Dave has downloaded child pornography from the Internet, peeped in at women in their homes, stolen underwear from female family members, friends and neighbors, masturbated in public, and physically assaulted twenty women and girls. He guesses he's had 200 victims in all.

Mike met a teenage girl over the Internet and coerced her into performing oral sex on him. Chuck molested three of his stepdaughters.

"Are you a danger?" asks Diana, another counselor running the group..

"I'm a danger because I still fantasize over teenagers and objectify women," he answers.

"But why are you a danger? A lot of men fantasize and objectify, so why are you a risk?" she presses.

"Because I fantasize?" he says.

Nope, not the right answer. The other men in the group just shake their heads.

"Am I not getting it? Am I missing something?" Chuck is bewildered. "Because I indulge in it?"

Diana tells him to work on figuring out why he's still a danger and moves on to Larry.

"I peeped in at a neighbor and masturbated outside her house," Larry says. "I'm still a danger because I fantasize about good-looking women, but I'm doing very well on controlling my masturbating."

Mel isn't doing so well at controlling himself. He lives with another offender in a Shared Living Arrangement (SLA), and they recently covered for one another when they went to a bar and picked up women. In addition to the two stepdaughters Mel assaulted and the three ex-wives he beat, Diana now reminds him that he has seventy more victims -- all of the men in T.H.E. whom he's let down by breaking the implied trust at the heart of the SLA concept.

The other men in the group are mad. "We're trying hard to prove our accountability and show that we can live safely in the community, and all you did was show it can be twice as dangerous," Ryan says. "Would it be fair to say that after ten months of therapy, you still don't give a shit?"

Mel mumbles "yes" and looks down at his lap.

Ryan's not done with him. "I need an SLA to live safe. I need a friend who's there to help me be accountable, and if I lose that, I'll be really mad that you fucked it up."

"I'm right there behind him," Dave tells Mel.

Now it's Diana's turn again. "You've verified what the community says -- that sex offenders need to be locked up, period."

"The SLAs are supposed to be safe places for sex offenders to be because the people in them are dedicated to being safe, so you're taking the concept of a safe place and turning it into a place where you can act out," says Aaron. "You've chosen to act out despite the freedom given to you, so if the highest containment in T.H.E. isn't sufficient to contain you, what is?"

"The next step is prison," Mel admits. But he's not ready to back down yet and take the blame for his actions. "I called out many times, and no one would help me," he says.

"Mel, I didn't turn you down," Chuck says.

"If you would have called me, I would have helped -- you know that," Dave adds.

Rick and Diana spend the next fifteen minutes trying to get Mel to understand that colluding with his roommate was his own fault. They try to convince him that he's not the victim here. But Mel doesn't seem to get it.

When it's Ralph's turn to talk, he describes, in graphic detail, how he molested an eight-year-old girl. Then Aaron explains how he assaulted his daughter's sixteen-year-old friend over the course of two years. "I gave her a sleeping pill the first time I touched her to lessen her resistance," he confesses. "I have 22 other victims."

Dave tells Aaron to disclose what he did for a living.

"Oh, yeah," he says. "I was a pastor for twelve years."

Ryan talks about how he sodomized twelve little boys. "I've been here a year and a half, and I still have a lot of issues to work on."

Jack explains that he molested his eleven-year-old stepdaughter.

Two of the men in the group are married. Five have gotten divorced because of their crimes. Six have children of their own.

After their disclosures, the men spend about twenty minutes talking about problems in the group dynamics -- who doesn't like whom, who's too controlling, who's intimidating. Toward the end of what turns into a two-hour session, Rick and Diana try to bring the discussion back to the impact the men's crimes have had on their victims.

"I worry that a lot of my victims are developing unhealthy coping mechanisms," Ryan offers.

"What would you do one day if a victim came to group as an offender?" Diana asks.

"I'd have to leave," he says. "I wouldn't want to face a victim. I don't want to see the hurt I've caused."

Diana asks how many of the men would like to know the harm they've caused their victims.

No one raises his hand.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon