All Fall Down

Frank Lee

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following personal account of a group therapy program was written by one of the group members and is based upon a journal he has kept.  All of the names have been changed.  This account illustrates several things.  First, the type of group described is not unusual.  We have heard similar descriptions about group therapy for sex offenders in different parts of the country.

Second, the power of the individual group leader in setting the tone of the group is graphically demonstrated.  Research on sensitivity groups indicates that group leaders whose leadership reflects their own hostility and pathology are extremely harmful and produce not only ineffective therapy but actual harm to the group members (See Lieberman, Yalom, & Miles, Encounter Groups: First Facts, New York: Basic Books, 1973).  This appears to be what may have happened under the leadership of Mike Boggs.

Third, the difficulties presented to a group, the therapist, and the individual when an innocent person is ordered to attend a sex offenders' group is seen.  Not only Frank Lee and the other "deniers" but the leaders and the entire group struggle to adapt to this situation.

The Beginning

In 1989 I was falsely charged with sexually abusing a troubled eight-year-old neighbor boy whom I had befriended.  I was twice offered a nolo contendere plea bargain which I refused and was ultimately found guilty of aggravated assault on a child and jailed.  I was sentenced to ten years' probation, fined $10,000 and assessed 300 hours' community service.

I had no experience with the business end of the legal system and some of what I learned stunned me.  An entire floor of the county jail overflowed with men convicted of child abuse; estimates by the most cynical prisoners were that about half were guilty of nothing but affectionate hugs, applying medications or having vindictive ex-spouses.

I suppose my opinions were formed by Hollywood and the pulp writers; I expected my probation officer to be a squatty man who chomped cigars and tried to entrap me.  Actually, he hurt me little except in the one area I expected least.

The probation terms dictated that I attend a sex therapy program.  Knowing the psychologist who testified for me was an honorable man, I requested his program.  However, the officer insisted on one run by a major university one I'd heard (during my trial) required an admission of guilt.  When I phoned, the coordinator assured me that was true.  "What about those who are wrongfully convicted?" I asked.

"That's virtually impossible," she replied.

But I was ordered to attend this treatment program and I decided to cooperate.  As I took the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), which was part of the screening procedure, I thought, This will make these people understand I am no sex criminal.

The screening interview was conducted by Mike Boggs.  I arrived early and knocked on his door.  It opened quickly.  Dr. Boggs said, "This is the right place and you're early," then slammed the office door in my face.

When Dr. Boggs finally admitted me, I was verbally assaulted.  In foul language, he asked how many times my wife and I had been married, how many of those were "legal" marriages and if I thought I'd (sexually) "had (my) share of the women.  "When I said I'd been a disc jockey he snapped, "Don't tell me about your job; tell me about your sex life!"

When I inquired about his religion, he exploded, "It's not fair to ask me that; I didn't ask you!"  I reminded him that the MMPI asked about religious faith several times in different ways.  "Oh that, I never look at those" (though I was charged for the test).

I told him I was not guilty and had a report from the thorough psychological evaluation which had been done on me.  He smirked, "I'm sure you do" and refused to accept it.

I told him the school's coordinator had said admission of guilt was necessary for successful completion of the program and he accused me of slandering that fine lady.  (When my probation officer asked Dr. Boggs that same question, he denied that it was a policy.

I told him that I twice refused a nolo contendere plea.  Rather than validating my integrity, he said that made him suspicious.  He then gave me a lecture about denial.  According to him, since all child molesters deny guilt, denying guilt proves guilt.

He baited me.  "So would it be safe to conclude that you emphatically, adamantly deny this thing?"  When I agreed it would, be said, "Methinks thou doth protest too much" (though those had initially been his own words).

When I asked about the extravagant on-campus parking fee, he was uncivil, "I pay, you pay, God pays!"

I left that university office feeling so brutalized and filled with dread, I put off my first group session for several weeks.  In the interim, an acceptance letter arrived.  The letter assures participants that if they attend and cooperate during three out of every four meetings for a total of 50, they will be advanced to "follow-up" (monthly rather than weekly sessions) and eventual "graduation."

By the time I did attend a meeting, I had convinced myself that even though I'd committed no crime, it would be a relief to discuss things like the sudden and enormous financial debt and loss of reputation I'd just encountered and my feelings of helplessness in controlling my own destiny.

I arrived for the first session early.  Mike Boggs was absent and the assistant leader, an intern named Sue, was fifteen minutes late.  Sue collected fees, marked an attendance sheet, and gave receipts, then each member introduced himself, stating his name, the crime of which he was accused, and against whom.

The Group

Bart, age 62, molested girls for years, then married a victim when she came of age.  He spent seven years in prison, attends AA meetings (and any others he can) and is sure he has the solution to everyone else's problems.  Because he continually praises group therapy (calling the groups his "family"), in my journal, I labeled him the group-addict.

John, also an AA member, was caught molesting his step-daughter when he threatened to blow his brains out in front of her if she didn't submit to his advances.  After his first encounter with Mike Boggs, he took cyanide, alcohol and a "Jim Jones Kool-Aid" to a motel room to end his life.  Though he has one of the foulest mouths in the room and espouses both lying and adultery, John claims, now, to be a Christian.

Marion is a young homosexual who wears pink sneakers and gay-liberation buttons, and rides a ladies' bicycle to class.  He and his "mate," Gil, plan to have children (through a surrogate mother).  AA doesn't work for Marion because he does not believe in religion and AA contains too much "God stuff."  Since he was both victim and perpetrator, he considers himself the world's leading authority on the rape of young boys; he sides 100% with alleged victims of abuse, no matter what.

Glenn is a wild, young contractor.  When a young lady angered him, he asked her to kiss a certain rounded part of his anatomy.  At her request, he bared his backside.  Months later he was over $3500 in debt to the treatment program and this debt was a focus of discussion in several of the group sessions.

Joe also is in therapy for publicly exposing himself while on amphetamines.  He was sexually abused by a brother for years and harbors much anger.

Jake, a divorced retiree in his 60s, sits in a corner and speaks as little as possible.

Russell was accused of fondling by both his nine-year-old step-daughter and seven-year-old daughter; he denies it.

Te-Lu is from South Africa and was accused, after an argument with a cousin, of molesting the cousin's daughter.  He firmly denies guilt and, though he was persuaded by a court-appointed attorney to plead nolo contendere, says before he'll admit to the deed again, he'll return to prison.

Chris says he was framed by family friends.  Chris is friendly and outgoing, but wants group approval badly.

Through Dan attended for nearly four months after I started, he spoke little and I didn't know him well.

I also hardly knew Billy.  Seeming to be a slow thinker, he attended irregularly, making excuses about money and transportation difficulties.

The First Session

As I arrived, someone announced, "Fresh meat!"  Since Dr. Boggs was absent the intern, Sue, asked for my story.  During most of that session, I was on the "hot seat," relating my woes eagerly and candidly.

I told my story as concisely as possible, noting the inconsistencies and impossibilities, and stating that I was completely innocent.  Even though no one in the group could criticize any detail, they accused me:

"Everyone gets amnesia when they first come here."  When I said I was not inclined toward physical violence, I was accused of "arguing semantics."  When I described why the position alleged for the abuse was physically impossible, Marion, the self-styled expert, said, "It's difficult, not impossible."  Anything that supported my lack of guilt was dismissed in search of one clue to the contrary.

After the session, a couple of the group members made suggestions about parking and warned me not to cross Mike Boggs.  They said that he doesn't just professionally question, he "picks on you" in a manner that is brutal.  They told me that "he has the strings to your life in his hands" and that he often threatens members with a negative letter to the probation officer and "putting (them) in prison."  Dan added that Dr. Boggs is not just thorough, "He is brutal," and "Everybody wants a piece of the new guy; don't give them any ammunition to use against you the only way to divert an attack upon yourself is to lead one against a fellow group member."

Mike Boggs

Dr. Boggs returned the next week and the tenor of the session was angry and violent.  He began by asking me. "What did you do?"  When I responded that I had done nothing, he reminded the group of George, a member who had cooperated and completed the necessary meetings but had, instead of follow-up, been unsuccessfully terminated for not admitting guilt.  Dr. Boggs insinuated that that man (and all other "deniers") would be imprisoned.  Though he said, "I'm not threatening (me) but ..." it was obviously a thinly veiled threat to me and two others who deny guilt.  (Later I spoke with George; he was successfully released early from probation.)

Much of the evening was spent in trying to browbeat a confession from me but old Bart was also ordered to have sexual intercourse with his (female) apartment manager.  From the discussion, I gathered Joe had, in times past, followed those same directives.

Chris seemed upset at the expulsion threat.  After the session, I told him and Te-Lu of another program, which does not demand admission of guilt for participation.

Before the next weekly meeting, I posted on a cork bulletin board a cartoon that mocked the absurdity that denying guilt proves guilt.  It went unnoticed.

Dr. Boggs began by announcing that the program would no longer accept deniers.  (I asked expectantly if that were retroactive.)  The entire meeting was dedicated to ridiculing and threatening prison for those who continue to deny guilt.

Admittedly from fear of the threats, Jake "confessed" to tying a young neighborhood girl to a bed (to make her realize her self-destruction) and for "poor judgment."  While drinking he allowed her and some friends (about 13 and 14) to photograph him in "muscle-man" poses.  While he modeled, one pulled down his shorts and another photographed him.  He was sharply criticized for trying to be a "peer" to teenagers.

Bart was also criticized for failing to have sex with the apartment manager.  John accused, "Faith without works is dead."  When Bart said he was not sure he could perform sexually, Boggs told him, "I've never known a woman to be mad for someone blowing her head off by (performing oral sex)."

Russell was harshly questioned about his alleged offense and bitterly mocked when he said he had not asked his wife (or daughters) for details about the accusations.

When the group could not refute my story, Marion demanded, "Make him bring that report" (as though such a group had legal authority).  But since I'd wanted the details introduced anyway, I complied, though I was beginning to have doubts about the title, "therapy."

I offered to read the detailed paper at the next session.  It was, instead, handed to Marion (a young man I soon learned was illiterate) to "scan."  After several pages of reasons why I either probably didn't or could not have committed the deed for which I was convicted, he summarized, "This is just some accusations about the other people."

With the report was an original poem that suggested that the heartbreak of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane was caused by the treachery of his ex-friend, Judas.  The group read such compassion and concern as sexual lust, and considered it positive proof of guilt (when, indeed, it suggests a social caring that precludes such iniquity).  I finally began to understand why Dan had warned against giving ammunition.

That night, I wrote in my journal, "I have begun to ponder what I perceive as a major failure of the sex therapy program. ... (The falsely convicted) have undergone tremendous trauma involving public scorn, legal restrictions and loss of civil rights, loss of control over their own lives, loss of their family, friends, finances, jobs or businesses, reputation and in some cases, their own self-esteem and self-confidence, and don't even have the burden of guilt with which to rationalize what has happened to them.  I cannot help but wonder what is being done to the psyche of these already-traumatized people when they are constantly bombarded with, 'We can't accept you, we can't listen to you, we can't believe you, we can't befriend you, we can't help you until you admit you did it! ' ... I cannot help but wonder at the failure of any 'therapy' that must reject and eject guiltless and needy victims of a system gone awry in their quest to 'help' the guilty, especially when that 'help' (rather than self-control) involves channeling the sex drive into masturbation, fornication, homosexuality and other forms of perversion."

(I later wrote the intern, Sue, before she left, "Like the jokes about those who see 'all those dirty pictures' in a Rorschach test, even a poem that expresses social concern and caring about others was interpreted as lust by Mike Boggs' pet circus.")

The following week, Russell noticed (apparently for the first time) that Dr. Boggs walks with a severe limp from a permanent handicap.  When he asked, "What did you do to your leg?" Boggs snapped, "Aw, shut up!"

Dr. Boggs began session with, "Let's talk to somebody we can help instead of wasting time on someone we can't."  I and other "deniers" were ignored all evening.

Bart said he still was "not comfortable with" the apartment manager.  Dr. Boggs told him all he'd ever be "comfortable with" was molesting little girls but "your job is to force a round peg into a square hole," whether he liked the woman or not "even if she had sex with jackals."  He ordered, "Everyone in this room says you must (have intercourse with) her."

When Bart said she was still married, I tried to protest the unethical and immoral edict, but Dr. Boggs cut me off:  "That's right, he could get shot but then, so could you, so could I," portraying my conscientious opposition as fear.

When Jake said he was "seeing" some women at bingo games, Dr. Boggs said it's not enough to "see" women; he would never have gotten into trouble if he'd had a woman living with him.  "Even if she weights 800 pounds and has no vagina, you can't spend the rest of your life sitting in your room talking to kumquats."

In trying to browbeat a confession, Dr. Boggs said if a patient with a hurt knee won't admit it, the physician can't render aid.  That logic is, of course, absurd.  If the knee is purple and swollen, and an X-ray shows a fracture of the patella, it makes no difference whether the patient says he's in pain or not.  By the same token, if the knee is normal, the X-ray clear and the patient has no trouble walking, hypochondria won't change that, either.  But by then, I was learning to keep my own counsel.

The next week, Bart said he perceived that I was "in love" with the boy who lied about me, which he could understand because he'd been "in love" with his victims.  John said he found my poem "very revealing."  Others tried to impute their own weaknesses onto me.  Marion announced that he "knew" all the deniers were guilty.  (I thought, how wonderful to have such a talent; we can now stop development of the polygraph!)  When I refused to take the bait, Bart pled with "deniers" to "listen."  I told him we heard him just fine.  Boggs said, "F      it don't waste time on (them)."

By then, I'd lost all hope of any support from the group.  "Therapy" had come to mean punishment to be endured but I'd survived boot camp and Viet Nam.  When Dr. Boggs asked what I would do (about confessing guilt), "Roll with the punches?" I answered, "I always have."

Billy was severely berated and ridiculed for erratic attendance and lack of participation (and payment) when he was there.  The backward youth said by the time he had a question, someone else had already posed it so he just listened.  Dr. Boggs said there was no use wasting time on young Billy because "He's out of here, anyway."

Dr. Boggs mentioned his impending departure and John, who had completed the required 50 weeks of group treatment, was anxious to get Boggs' recommendation for release so he could meet with the department head.  Dr. Boggs promised to supply it.

The dependent Marion, however, who had also completed the necessary requirement, wouldn't talk about release from mandatory attendance, though Dr. Boggs explained that he could continue forever as long as he pays.  Dr. Boggs announced that in his new-job interview, he had cited Marion the hostile, effeminate, alcoholic doughnut cook who uses therapy sessions to "get even" with a society that mocks him and talks of "having our baby" with his homosexual lover as an example of a "job well done," the subject he was "most proud of."

Bolstered by such flattery, Marion (who despises all things Christian) initiated a new attack upon me.  "Didn't you say you grew up in a religious home or did some missionary work?"  I answered, "My dad was a pastor and I have done missionary work."  Dr. Boggs snapped, "That's right, don't mince words, short and sweet."  I added, "And it's five minutes to (dismissal)."  When Joe questioned the time's accuracy, I told him I reset my excellent digital watch at least weekly with NBC.  Dr. Boggs quipped, "Such accuracy is frightening."

In an attempt to win Dr. Boggs' favor, Chris asked if, though he refused to admit guilt, Dr. Boggs did not think he had received benefit from the group.  Dr. Boggs said, "If you don't have cancer, the chemotherapy doesn't help."  I thought to myself that in truth, it can severely damage healthy cells without cause but the patient's admission or denial of cancer has nothing to do with treatment.  Should we assume that a cancer patient should be locked in a room, then bullied and browbeaten until he or she admits to having cancer before treating?  However, any comment can cause an avalanche of vindictiveness and not wanting to endure another attack, I said nothing aloud.

Dr. Boggs closed with a reminder that the group has the "right" to eject those they feel are not making satisfactory progress.  When he looked at me to wish "good luck" to everyone "even those who are coasting" I was unable to return the blessing upon the vile, manipulative therapist who uses human suffering to bolster his own damaged ego.  By then, I considered him an enemy and an opponent.  I was glad to see him go.

Group Sessions

The following week, Billy did not return and was, of course, expelled.  Though he did not (and probably could not if he 'd tried) express it, I cannot help but feel he had decided that the punishment of prison cannot possibly be more dehumanizing than the torment of the inquisition that carries the misnomer of "therapy."

Sue, the intern and the only remaining therapist, did not attack with the same vigor or satisfaction Dr. Boggs demonstrated but the technique was the same: Slash and stab to get a confession, then offer no solutions except fornication.

Glenn arrived slightly late and it was necessary to take a vote about whether to retain or expel him.  (The vote was unanimous to keep him.)  When he thanked us, I teased that in voting to retain, we had all voted against him.

Jake reported that the girl who accused him had shot the glass from his woodworking shop windows.  He began by calling her "my little girlfriend," suggesting quotation marks with his fingers.  John and Marion labeled that a "Freudian slip."  When I said I heard sarcasm and factiousness, Jake said that was his intent but having tasted blood, the wolves would not relent until they were sated.  Marion, particularly, relished a chance to inflict pain, waxing eloquent about the helplessness of the young girl strapped to the bed against her will.  (I thought that Jake must have experienced the same feeling of helplessness they said traumatized the girl; he hasn't spoken in group since.)

Chris tried to divert the attack against Jake and came under fire himself.  Marion informed him that compassion was a character flaw and "taking sides" with someone under attack delayed the "process" (whatever the process is).

Sue said because Te-Lu was so quiet, she didn't know what report to give him.  Very calmly, with his resonant accent, he said he still had the same "gal friend" and job, and no major problems.  He had accepted a nolo contendere plea to get the matter behind him but if therapy meant he must confess to something he did not do, he would go back to prison.  When asked how he felt about being in a "room full of rapists and child molesters," he said he'd had apprehensions at first but then realized they are people, too, and was comfortable.

That caused a volcanic eruption.  Bart said, "That's a false impression.  You're stealing my G     -d       time; I want to talk about me!"  John said, "If you're comfortable, it ain't working; we're supposed to tear you apart and then build you back, again.  You're just sitting there saying what you want Sue to hear."

Later that night, I wrote, "I don't know why it has not occurred to any of them that a few healthy role models with normal ideals and family life might have a positive influence on the ... group but while fornication, promiscuity, homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, lying, deception, and profanity are encouraged, being normal ... seems to be the worst sin possible because normal people can't 'identify' with their feelings of guilt."

Bart offered oblation to therapy groups and announced a plan to host a reunion of his prison therapy group.

Russell was again roasted about his lack of interest to know exactly what was accused.  Marion again announced that he "knew" the man was guilty.

After dismissal, I told Glenn whose only offense was "mooning" the sessions reminded me of the old physicians' practice of bloodletting with septic leeches in the interest of the patient.  He related that when he first joined, Mike Boggs had pinned him against the wall and called him a bastard and a m              f          ."  Glenn had run away from the harshness.  When he returned (under duress), he was admitted only on the condition that he never miss a single meeting.  Mike Boggs told him the only excuse he would accept was "when the neurosurgeon comes into this room with his fingers still dripping with your blood."

During the session, John had again brought up my poem.  I told Glenn all good poetry is reflective; the same poem John and his associates interpreted as twisted lust had been read by several other people, including my wife, a federal judge, attorneys and a therapist, and they saw only human compassion and social concern.  When he suggested I bring it up in group, I said I'd learned my lesson on that.  The group doesn't want truth, they want only to condemn others to sharing their own personal torment.

Another entry for that evening: "The underlying premise that therapy is a barbaric game in which the only objective is to force or trick or browbeat a confession of guilt is obscene.  The assumption that fear, hatred, ridicule and hostility are healing tools is too absurd.  The very profanity used by the group and its leaders is a forced assault upon civilized ears ... From the start, I have doubted that any real help can be obtained from a hostile inquisition in which every statement is automatically assumed to be a lie, in which every fact is labeled 'fabricated' or distorted,' in which any detail supporting innocence is inadmissible, in which social compassion is twisted into lust and sympathy is condemned, in which every sarcastic expression of bitterness is interpreted as a 'Freudian slip,' in which members are berated for not speaking, then when they speak, are called liars, threatened with ejection and told they are stealing time from 'more serious' (admittedly guilty) participants, in which mention of the serious questions of loss of confidence and control of lives, loss of reputations, family problems, dire financial disaster, fear of further realization by accusers and other genuine burdens are not permitted, in which the only successful way to escape is to mimic the sadism of the group leader.  Now I seriously wonder if such malpractice is not doing irreparable harm to the more immature and impressionable members.  Many have run away from the destructive bombardment and knowing they are under court orders and the alternative is prison, some never return, choosing incarceration over the traumatic devastation (euphemistically) called 'therapy.'  I wonder if such inescapable abuse will not directly lead to suicide or unnecessary imprisonment. ..."

The following week, Jake announced that his middle-aged only son had been decapitated in a motorcycle accident the previous Wednesday.  When asked why he was at the meeting, he said it was due to fear of Dr. Boggs' threats.  "I'm not going to prison, no matter what!"

Joe expressed anger at the brother who raped him for years but when asked why he'd never exposed him, said, "Why mess up whatever years my mom and dad have left?"  Sue said the anger was appropriate but the loyalty was not.  I told him if he ever needed to just scream at someone, we were there and we cared.  Perhaps because of the subdued atmosphere due to Jake's tragedy, no one challenged that.

Bart was disappointed in the reunion of his old prison therapy group.  "Everyone wanted to tell old war stories about prison" but he could "see problems" in their lives that he wanted to help with.  Someone pointed out he likes to interfere in other people's lives entirely too much.

John was absent the next week.  He'd had an appointment with the department head so we assumed he'd been "graduated."

In my journal notes written that week, I compared the behavior of the two group members who had been in group the longest with that of Patty Hearst, who sympathized and empathized with her kidnappers, taking on their own characteristics, values and causes.  Like her, they mimic their captors' abuse.

I also compared the therapy group to "a quasi-religious cult."  The department head is the pope; speaking of him without awe is tantamount to blasphemy.  Instruction given to those rewarded with a personal audience warns not to (incur his wrath) because if he hears one (unfavorable) word, he may banish them forever.  Mike Boggs is the high priest, who chastens and rewards (according to personal whim) for compliance with the Commandments of the Program (foremost of which is 'Thou shalt conform to group standards regardless of personal conviction or beliefs') ... If any subject does not behave as he sees fit, the priest may scream 'pedophile' or 'baby-raper' to reinforce his superior, sanctified position over the sinners and threaten excommunication (which, according to him means automatic banishment to the hell of prison and unspeakable torments of eternal rape and abuse) to assure blind obedience.  Weekly tithes and confessions are taken, and specific penance of sexual acts assigned by the priest must be performed and duly reported.  One evening, there was even (joking) talk of ... stained-glass windows."

The next week, Marion announced that since he and Gil had found a home near Gil's work, he could take a job making less money (than frying doughnuts) because of the money Gil would save on bus fares.  Why anybody wants to move down in the world was not explained.

John returned and Sue expressed surprise.  He described his interview with the program head.  When that man asked why he had done such a despicable deed in the first place, John answered "bondage to self" (apparently a stock AA principle).  When asked why he thought he was ready to leave, he said "prayer and a higher Power."  When asked why he wanted to leave, he mentioned the fee, gasoline and parking costs.  John felt that even though he had been highly recommended for release by both Dr. Boggs (who called his progress 'phenomenal') and Sue, the program head decided to deny on the basis of two questions: "How long did you spend in jail?" and "How long have you been on probation?"  It seemed that even though he had complied with every requirement of the program (including eager confession and brutality toward other members) the program head who had known him only for that ten-minute period decided he hadn't been punished enough.

Sue said nothing but her face showed hurt that her professional opinion was considered worthless.  Bart said his terms of parole didn't specify any particular program; since he was legally and financially able, he'd resign the group because of the broken word.  Dan said nothing but never returned.

A discussion followed that compared the therapy group unfavorably with AA.  Bart said he'd been dissatisfied for some time.  Marion criticized those who "run interference just when things are getting emotional."  Bart and Marion both dislike being with members who deny guilt.  Since there is no anonymity, real child molesters don't feel free to express themselves in front of the others.

Marion described the only two types of members as those who admit guilt and those "in denial."  I said there is a third alternative: those who really aren't guilty.  He snapped, "There may be some who are not guilty but I don't believe you are one of them."  I said, "I don't much care what you think; I know what happened and what didn't, and that's all that really matters, isn't it?"  Sue stopped our debate by informing me it does matter what the group thinks.

Russell said he might have unconsciously been "indecent" with his daughters, setting them between his legs on the floor while he combed their hair.  Bart and others ridiculed that there was no such thing as unconscious indecency.  He said he'd never been sexually aroused at such times but was usually dressed only in undershorts; he didn't think so at the time but upon reflection, perhaps it was improper.  He was mocked again.  When he said he bottled his feeling inside, John said, "All child-molesters do."  John also informed him he was in "subconscious" as opposed to ''conscious'' denial.

There followed (without my participation) a discussion about the characteristics of a child-molester.  They were listed as: (a) being abused as a child), (b) a dependent, addictive personality (alcoholism), (c) inability or refusal to communicate or express feelings and (d) severe guilt or depression and thoughts of suicide.

Sue announced there would be no meeting the following week, then at the next, she would introduce the two new "therapists" (interns).  After that, she would be gone.

That night, I wrote, "If any victim of the therapy meetings ever imposed the kind of torment inflicted upon them during 'therapy sessions' upon spouses or offspring, they'd be (rightfully) imprisoned for mental and emotional abuse."

In a letter to Sue soon after, I wrote, "In one-size-fits-all therapy, all participants are assaulted equally, without regard to personality type or test results.  Even I can see that guilty group members have certain traits in common, which the innocent lack, The guilty (and proud of it) are dependent, psychologically addictive, repressive and depressive (even suicidal).  They are indecisive, needing group approval or guidance even for minor decisions.  Most are divorced; many are alcoholics.  They are not being transformed into independent, decisive, forceful human beings; these cripples merely swap their dependency upon alcohol, drugs, deviant sex, etc. for dependency upon group therapy meetings (AA, weight watchers, sex-addition groups etc.).  Old Bart sang the same hymn to his god for weeks and couldn't even decide to date someone until the group gave him a directive.  Marion doesn't want to try for graduation; he needs his weekly 'fix'."

Bart returned to the next meeting; though he'd enrolled in private therapy, he didn't want to "lose touch" with the group so he requested permission to attend only monthly.  The departing Sue refused to commit for future therapists.

Russell was the evening's first target.  He was challenged for his vagueness and on some seeming contradictions, then John said everyone in the room knew he was lying.

Sue asked if I ever see the pair who accused me.  I said since I live across the street, I see them almost daily.  John asked, "How does that make you feel?"  I told him I could have moved a year ago; I want to stay where I am so that woman must face her own guilt every day of her life.  John said, "It sounds like you have some hidden resentment in there."  I told him, "No, it's not hidden at all."  He answered, "Well, you haven't let it out."  I said I let it out almost daily.  "Well, you haven't been able to let go of it."  I said anger seemed normal and appropriate enough to me.  John had "never seen it help."

Marion could not resist joining in.  "Maybe seeing nothing happen to you for what you did is hard on that little boy."  I repeated I had done nothing, and said he won't always be a child; when he realizes the truth (because of physical evidence, if nothing else), the fact that I was not imprisoned may be his greatest salvation.

Marion said, "Well, I think you did it."  I said, "I know, you always immediately jump to a hasty conclusion and no facts will sway you from it."  He asked if I thought he was wrong about Russell.  I said, "Yes.  You feel it's your obligation to bully and abuse him into a confession.  He should be allowed to share what he wants, when he wants, how he wants; it isn't your duty to beat it out of him."

When John claimed no one would ever admit guilt without pressure, he was reminded that both he and Marion had done so.  John said he'd been under pressure for seven years before he got to the group, so he was ready to confess.

Te-Lu interjected that since some members are guilty, they assume everyone is and if one who does not admit guilt speaks, he is told to shut up, that he is stealing time.

John said he wasn't sure about Chris or Te-Lu but (indicating me), "You brought that poem in."  I replied, "that poem" was read by many people who saw only compassion and concern; not one had ever seen what he saw.  He smirked, "Experience."  I said, "That's exactly what I mean (like the ink-blot test), what you see is coming from inside yourselves not from the poem itself."

Sue tried to interrupt, "Everyone is here because at one time or another, they've admitted guilt."  I pointed a finger and said "You're wrong; I did not accept nolo contendere.  I have never said I was guilty because I'm not."  She amended, "You're here because a court was convinced of your guilt."  I was cut off before I could say the audience and guests of an Oprah Winfrey show that very week were people who were remorseful that they had convicted innocent men including several for murder, one of whom was executed.

I asked Marion why it matters if he shares feelings with the guilty or non-guilty, if they are understanding.  Is the reluctance because, rather than genuine remorse, they seek a fish-story swap or vicarious thrill sharing in a private for-perverts-only club?  Marion sarcastically snapped, "Maybe this should be a support group for those who were wrongfully convicted."  I said, "I'll buy that."

That night, I wrote, "(The) therapy sessions are much like college fraternity initiations in which through seniority, guilty members earn the right to cruelly haze pledges for their own sadistic pleasure except that the consequences for failure are more dire than just non-membership.  It seems the lack of human compassion that makes guilty members capable of such a heinous offense in the first place also makes them so vicious in 'therapy'."

Before the next session, Bart, complaining that he didn't want to "get so involved" with women (who immediately wanted to move in with him), joked, "Old Marion over there is looking better all the time."  Marion then bragged about a bartender who brought him free drinks and of the many men he had to "beat off' each week.  To Bart, he added, "And some of them like older men."  Though "gay-bashing" is a serious offense in group, I'm sure I winced.

The New Therapists

When the meeting began, two new therapists, Nancy and Linda, were introduced.  When Joe said he hoped (something I can't recall) didn't give them any trouble, one of the young ladies said, "I hope it doesn't give you any trouble you're the one with all the problems!"  To myself, I said, Here we go, again.  Both new interns then left.

When Joe talked about his anger at his brother, again, Sue reminded him that the anger was appropriate (although at the immediately previous meeting, my anger at having my life ruined without cause had been pronounced unhealthy).

John and Bart discussed at length how they coped with a continuing lust for children.  John spoke of a time Dr. Boggs had used "visualization therapy" on him, forcing him to visualize his daughter with a pistol in her mouth and her brains splattered all over the wall; he said when he feels sexual desire for girls, he recalls that image.  Though he is still fighting those urges, he had attended a high school football game that week.  Although Marion has insisted he never feels such desires (for boys), anymore, he assured John the feelings would never go away.  Bart (who is 62) said, "Trust me, both the desires and the guilt will fade with time."

The only thing everyone shared was a discomfort around children.  John said, "It's too bad, I really loved them."

John bitterly inquired about "how many more years" he must attend; Sue did not know.  (The program head promised to tell her.)  She said, "It depends upon the mood 'he' is in at your meeting."  I said, "The word is arbitrary."  She said, "Thank you for that."

The next week, the two new therapists, Nancy and Linda, handed out copies of progress reports.  I do not "admit guilt" or readily accept help (yield to peer pressure) from the group, so mine was unsatisfactory.  Since Glenn had paid his $3500+ debt (ransom?), he was successfully terminated from the program.

Bart asked to attend monthly because he needs the group "input" to guide his life and because "several of these guys are headed for prison; I need to let them know what they're in for."  After a group vote, permission was granted.

Mike Boggs was discussed.  John said when the group first began, it was just men with Boggs and "we got down in the gutter."  When Sue arrived, they felt restrained but it soon passed.  I added that the level of aggression had subsided when Dr. Boggs left.  John described Mike Boggs as abusive, abrasive and an "     hole."  Marion (the only one to defend Dr. Boggs) explained that after his first meeting, John had run away and tried to commit suicide.  The new therapists asked if he now felt such measures were helpful.  John said he did not and that if his suicide attempt had been successful, it really would have helped nothing.

Marion said, "Well, it worked!"  John denied that abusive behavior contributed to any progress.  Marion said Dr. Boggs had a lot of insight into who was "bull         ing" and added that, on balance, he did more good than bad.  Bart said, "No, on balance, he was still an      hole."

When Nancy and Linda asked if Dr. Boggs' job wasn't to confront members, I said, "Perhaps, but there was no reason to do it in such a sarcastic, backhanded way."  Marion said Dr. Boggs believed I had committed a violent act and wouldn't accept responsibility for it.  I said, "Whatever his reasoning, it was very unprofessional."  Others said they refused to open and share because of Dr. Boggs' attacks and that they dreaded coming because "it might be my turn to be put on the spot."

When it was suggested that Marion and John had adopted the same hostile behavior, John said, "I learned it from them."  Perhaps because there were several accusers and only one defender, one intern asked if everyone had been familiar with Dr. Boggs.  (They had.)

When asked about goals for therapy, Bart suggested "education," saying in prison, members studied library books and made weekly reports.  John said he found plenty about victims but little on abusers.  Marion said since victims grow up to be perpetrators, they were one and the same, so keep reading.

There was another conversation about the foremost attributes of a child-molester (inability to communicate and alcoholism).  John said an unwillingness to talk proved there was something to hide.  Bart disagreed, saying alcoholism, inability to communicate, and child molestation were all symptoms of a deeper problem.  He said, "You can't kill us, you can't lock us up for the rest of our lives so you'd better start trying to understand us and help us."

When Nancy asked Russell how he felt at being questioned, he said, "On the spot."  When he was told that was not a feeling, he added, "Uncomfortable."  She asked if he didn't feel better after questioning.  "No."

Sue had repeatedly asked my opinion of sessions.  After several unpleasant confrontations, I learned not to answer these questions.  However, at her departure, I gave her a lengthy analysis.  Among the points I made are the following:

Group members who merely memorize stock question-and-answer routines or play expected roles in a structured environment to please jailers and thus escape further torture have not experienced heartfelt repentance.  I found it enlightening that John was so quick to accuse another of "saying just what you think (she) wants to hear."  Was he not judging from his own heart and mind?

The guiltless are constantly assaulted with "confess or be thrown out; compromise your integrity or be punished" but as an innocent victim, I have no hope for anything positive from the group.  The innocent are offered only a menu of (a) violating their consciences by surrendering or (b) being punished with failure (and thus prison).  Why should we be eager to participate?  Where is the incentive?

I see no redeeming virtue in (that) therapy program.  The only value the program may have is as a deterrent.  Anybody who has been forced to endure it should go to great lengths to avoid a second sentence.  But that's not therapy, that's punishment.

The crime of rape is not that two people have intercourse (millions willingly and eagerly engage in sexual relations daily).  The harm is that human dignity and personhood are violated and victims are robbed of decision making and control over their own lives.

That is exactly what happens to me every week.  By court order, I enter an inquisition chamber with people whose opinions and judgment (based on perverse experience and values) and motives (to divert attention from themselves by focusing it on others) I do not respect to be assaulted and insulted because I won't acquiesce to their need to drag me down to their level, then ultimately be sentenced to expulsion for the crime of innocence for not compromising my integrity by admitting to something I did not do.

In a quest to find the worst in fellow inmates, the group will discuss any topic no matter how farfetched to establish guilt or motive for guilt.  But anything that illustrates innocence is "outside the scope of the group" or "for the courts not us to decide."

There is something unjust about a therapy group in which all pay exactly the same fee to attend but only the guilty are deemed worthy of help and attention while the guiltless are ostracized and ignored, except to be threatened and accused of lying.

There is something abnormal and unsettling about any environment in which the guilty are encouraged to browbeat, bully, abuse, threaten and sit in judgment on the guiltless.

There is something perverse about a situation in which guilt is praised, innocence punished and compassion considered a character flaw.

And there is something stupid in a logic that says continued abuse can produce respect, trust and confidence.

Them Against Us Admitters and Deniers

With the departure of Mike Boggs, the new regime, under Nancy and Linda, grew gradually less suppressive and hostile.  Though the vicious personal attacks decreased and group members grew more open about sharing feelings, there remained the problem of what to do about those who deny guilt.

A few weeks after joining us, Nancy and Linda were given a presentation about the attack mentality instigated and promulgated by Mike Boggs.  I said I was told after the first session that the only way to escape being attacked is to join an attack on someone else; I refuse to live that way.  I added that even though I'd come to the group with needs, I'd been given the clear message that because I won't admit guilt, I am the scum of the earth, not worthy of help, and that while the entire group leans toward a cut-and-slash mentality, the longer the association with Dr. Boggs, the more his tactics are emulated.

Te-Lu repeated what he'd been told about "deniers" wasting the time of the guilty when we speak.  When Marion and John complained about the deniers' failure to empathize with their feelings, Te-Lu asked how innocent men telling lies to win approval would help that.  I added that we could sit around making up stories but how would that benefit anyone?

Nancy closed by saying, "Well gentlemen, there you have denial in action; that's the way it looks."  Such rash statements show why this program can never win the trust and respect of people who actually are innocent.

The next week, Nancy and Linda began by telling us they wanted to deal with business and clarify some "misconceptions" they had detected the previous week.  They first named all those members who were behind in payments, saying regular payments are part of taking responsibility, as were attendance and tardiness.  Any participant who is more than 15 minutes late must give a good excuse and the group must vote about whether he may stay and receive credit for that meeting.  If he is absent more than once consecutively, he must provide an excuse and the group will decide whether to retain or expel him.  After 25 group meetings each group member must schedule an individual session with the program director (though since there is no hope of change of status at that point, no one knows why).  Nancy and Linda emphasized the importance of confidentiality about what goes on in the sessions.

I asked Nancy to describe her method of confrontation.  When she could not, I suggested that she "coaxed" thoughts from people rather than hitting them in the head with a club.  I added that the "them-against-us" mentality (a term by Marion the previous week) that had dominated group was destructive and that calling each other names and attacking personalities was counterproductive; after such stone-throwings, none of us left the meetings a better person.  I said that we need to confront issues and emotions and motivations rather than each other.  Nancy asked the group if they felt the same "them-against-us" attitude and all agreed that they do.

Three weeks later three new group members were admitted.  The meeting began with each person introducing himself and giving some background.  All three of the new group members readily admitted guilt.

Jake reported on his after-25-sessions meeting with the program director and said he'd been "stepped on like a bug."  Though he admits to indecency and tying a neighbor girl up, he denies sexually assaulting her.  The director said he "wasn't buying" that story and told him to deliver a message to the "other deniers" in the group.  The message was that they wouldn't be with the group much longer and he threatened that he'd be seeing them "very soon."  Jake said he seriously considered confessing to something he hadn't done just to escape the constant, vindictive attacks.

One of the new members said he had met the program director four times and that he is a kind, gentle, understanding man.  But several others warned, "Just wait 'til he doesn't get the behavior he wants (which includes a full admission of guilt).  He can turn (instantly antagonistic) then!"

Several members noticed that John had become increasingly bitter over the past few weeks and asked him about this.  He said it is partly the way he'd been treated by the program director but that he also resents the way Nancy and Linda run the group, "analyzing everything to death."  His harsh feelings seem to center on the fact that with Mike Boggs, he was programmed by the hostility and abuse and looked forward to getting even by abusing newcomers.  When Nancy and Linda began doing more probing and inquiring than assaulting, he felt cheated.  He called the initial sessions with Dr. Boggs their "Upper Room experience where (they) were all baptized in the Holy Ghost."

My next progress report was very different from the first.  I didn't see that I had changed my behavior, but the group atmosphere had improved drastically.  The report said:

"Mr. Lee's attendance and payment have been excellent.  While he continues to deny his offense, his recent participation has been more appropriate and instrumental to group process.  It is encouraged that Mr. Lee continue working as he has in the past few weeks to be open to other group members and their feedback."

The group continues to grapple with the problem of "deniers," with the them-against-us mentality, and with the program director's threats.  When the arrival of the new members was announced, the first question was, "Have they admitted guilt?"  (In other words, would there be more "them" or more us"?)  One new member complained that he "isn't comfortable" with those in the room who do not admit guilt and Te-Lu countered that he often does not speak because "they" (admitters) might not like it.

Concerning Te-Lu's question of how to resolve the conflict of not getting thrown out without violating his conscience, one new member said that as long as he knows the truth, just go along to satisfy the program's demands and stay out of prison.  Te-Lu asked how concocting lies is therapeutic or beneficial to himself or others.  Marion said that he would be offended at such an empty ruse.  Jake added that although they'd been told that no information ever leaves the room, if he told such a tale, it would leave the room because he'd carry the lie inside him as long as he lives.  I said that after all the advice, the solution must come from within himself; only he can make the decision and only he must live with it.

Under Nancy and Linda's guidance, group members gradually grow more self-disclosing and supportive.  When confrontation does occur, it is less abusive and hostile, more appropriate and helpful.  Instead of sarcasm and verbal abuse, one way Nancy and Linda try to encourage members' contributions is a 'round-robin" policy of letting each member give a brief summary of "where you are" at the beginning and close of each session.  The splinter of the deniers continues to fester but it is not resolved.

I recently commented, "We keep hearing about denial.  Want to know who's in denial. The university.  They refuse to acknowledge someone can be falsely convicted and put in here unjustly, and that's denial.  I added, "I'm fed up with my word being given no merit when we (deniers) bring our money, ourselves, our feelings and emotions, our ideas, suggestions and help, and even though we contribute just as much as the guilty, all we can look forward to is being thrown out."

At the end of this session, Nancy deliberately thanked "everyone" for their attention and interest, and for the "honest" comments.

Unlike my peers, my after-25-session meeting with the program director lasted some 40 minutes during which I shared the highlights of what had happened to me.  And unlike them, the department head did not try to impute guilt to me or express disbelief in my words.  However, I am retained in the program because, "No one could have gone through such a trauma without having strong feelings" (even though it has been forbidden to share those "strong feelings" without first admitting to nonexistent guilt).

[Back to Volume 3, Number 1]  [Other Articles by this Author]

Copyright 1989-2014 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This website last revised on April 15, 2014.
Found a non-working link?  Please notify the Webmaster.