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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Child-porn prosecutions climb in Pima County as Internet begets a new kind of offender

Child-porn prosecutions climb in Pima County as Internet begets a new kind of offender By Patrick McNamara

Child pornography was almost unheard of just 20 years ago.

Few outside of an underground community of producers and consumers of the material had access, and law enforcement efforts had driven that community deeply into the shadows.

But with the accessibility of the Internet, the demand for child pornography has exploded and the doors of access to the material have opened wide.

Today, police routinely arrest people for possession of child pornography, and prosecutors are bringing more offenders to court.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office prosecuted 38 people on child pornography charges in 2013, a more than twofold increase over four years.

In 1998, the County Attorney’s Office initiated seven cases against people suspected of child pornography, luring a minor for sexual purposes and related crimes. Last year, the number of new cases hit 51.

Child pornography boils the blood of Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall,who calls it “an extraordinary exploitation of kids.”

The Arizona Daily Star contacted the Tucson Police Department for comment in this story. Despite numerous requests, no one from the department’s unit that investigates Internet crimes against children made contact.

But some psychologists and defense attorneys argue the criminal-justice system should distinguish between child molesters and “non-contact” offenders who look at pornographic images of minors.

Under Arizona law, possession of child pornography is punishable by up to 24 years in prison, the same punishment given for a first-time child molestation offense. The maximum prison term for a first-time offense of luring a minor for sexual purposes is 15 years.

Defense attorney John Sando of the Pima County Public Defender’s Office said that can lead to unfair descrepancies.

Tucson police arrested Sando’s client Michael Ray Hill in January 2013 after an Internet service provider notified them of possible child pornography downloads.

After an investigation, police searched Hill’s home and found child pornography on his computer. He was charged with 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

Court documents said Hill frequented online chat rooms geared toward gay teens, where he asked boys to send him nude photos of themselves. Hill, 28, ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and was sentenced, under a plea agreement, to five years in prison.

Sando called the punishment a “travesty” because of Hill’s disabilities and cognitive limitations. Both developmentally and physically disabled, Hill was nearly homebound and unable to go anywhere on his own, Sando said.

He said Hill recognizes what he did was wrong and feels shameful. But the attorney questions whether locking a man with limited cognitive abilities in prison for five years addresses the problem of child pornography.

“What’s the danger he poses to the community?” Sando asked. “It’s such a ridiculous, illogical sentencing structure.”

The lengthy prison sentences for child pornography possession leave many defendants little choice but to plead guilty to one or two counts rather gamble at trial and risk a lifetime behind bars, Tucson defense attorney Rick Lougee said.

“The jury, if they see these pictures, they would want to convict the lawyer and the defendant,” Lougee said.
Pattern of escalation

In decades past, collectors of child pornography were almost always child molesters, said Dr. Paul Simpson, a Tucson-based criminal forensic psychologist who has treated sex offenders for more than 30 years and conducts mental-health evaluations of defendants for Pima County Superior Court.

They often used clandestine pornography collections as a bridge between opportunities to molest children.

But the Internet has helped create a new class of sex offender: one without a history of abusing children.

With pornography readily available to anyone with an Internet connection, Simpson said many people find child pornography almost by accident.

While noting that understanding the behavior does not excuse the potential harm offenders cause, Simpson said some of the answers could be found in how the human brain functions.

As pornography consumption becomes compulsive, users often fall into a pattern of escalation. He argues that they could benefit from intervention and therapy as part of their punishment.

“If treated early, there is a good chance of successful treatment,” he said.

But left untreated, he said, the likelihood increases that these offenders, too, will escalate their behavior and eventually molest a child.
“Tip of the iceberg”

Whether they molest a child or look at a photo, people who view child pornography helped to create a market that thrives on the abuse of children, LaWall said.

The sentences for child pornography possession are justified when considering the abuse victims of the industry have suffered.

“When I think about what was done to those children it doesn’t offend me whatsoever,” she said.

Two recent high-profile prosecutions exemplify how the market for child pornography has grown, claiming more victims almost daily.

In one, a Tucson man was sentenced to more than 24 years in federal prison for molesting a toddler and broadcasting the abuse on the Internet.

“It’s totally frightening,” La Wall said. “There is no question whatsoever that we are only encountering the very tip of the iceberg.”
The growth of exploitation cases in Pima County

Cases opened in Pima County Superior Court by year*

2013 51

2012 32

2011 27

2010 29

2009 21

2008 26

2007 20

2006 11

2005 13

2004 20

2003 20

2002 21

2001 21

2000 11

1999 8

1998 7

*Statistics for cases with charges of violations of Arizona Revised Statutes 13-3552 Commercial sexual exploitation of a minor; 13-3553 Sexual exploitation of a minor; evidence; 13-3554 Luring a minor for sexual exploitation.

Source: Pima County Superior Court, Clerk of the Pima County Superior Court

Child pornography prosecutions by year in Pima County Superior Court

38 2013

33 2012

32 2011

18 2010

16 2009

Source: Pima County Attorney’s Office


The population of inmates in Arizona Department of Corrections’ prisons having been convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor as of April 30.

Source: Arizona Department of Corrections

Our misguided child porn laws do little to protect children

Our misguided child porn laws do little to protect children
By Jacob Sullum

This Dec. 11, 2013 image from video provided by WJLA-TV, shows Ryan Loskarn, former chief of staff to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., being escorted from his Washington home by U.S. Postal Inspector police. Loskarn killed himself in Maryland, just weeks after the former staffer’s arrest on child pornography charges.(AP Photo/WJLA-TV)

(Note: From time to time, I’ll be inviting writers, reporters, and experts on the criminal justice and civil liberties beat to contribute guests posts. Our first guest post comes from my former colleague Jacob Sullum, a national syndicated columnist and senior editor at Reason magazine. — Radley Balko)

In the letter he wrote on the day he hanged himself last month, Ryan Loskarn talked about the shame and guilt he felt after he was caught with child pornography. Loskarn, former chief of staff to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), did not mention fear of prison, perhaps because he had already resolved to end his life. But for anyone in his position who planned to stay alive, the prospect of spending years behind bars would loom large.

The legal treatment of people caught with child pornography is so harsh that they can end up serving longer sentences than people who actually abuse children. In a 2009 analysis, federal public defender Troy Stabenow shows that a defendant with no prior criminal record and no history of abusing children would qualify for a sentence of 15 to 20 years based on a small collection of child pornography and one photo swap, while a 50-year-old man who encountered a 13-year-old girl online and lured her into a sexual relationship would get no more than four years.

Under federal law, receiving child pornography, which could mean downloading a single image, triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of five years — the same as the penalty for distributing it. Merely looking at a picture can qualify someone for the same charge, assuming he does so deliberately and is aware that Web browsers automatically make copies of visited sites. In practice, since the Internet nowadays is almost always the source of child pornography, this means that viewing and possession can be treated the same as trafficking.

The maximum penalty for receiving or distributing child porn is 20 years, and federal sentencing guidelines recommend stiff enhancements based on factors that are extremely common in these cases, such as using a computer, possessing more than 600 images (with each video clip counted as 75 images), and exchanging photos for something of value, including other photos. Federal agents reportedly found 200 child porn videos on Loskarn’s hard drive when theyarrested him on December 11.

Ninety percent of federal child-porn prosecutions involve “non-production offenses” like Loskarn’s: downloading or passing along images of sexual abuse, as opposed to perpetrating or recording it. As a result of congressional edicts, the average sentence in such cases rose from 54 months in 2004 to 95 months in 2010, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). The penalties have become so severe, the commission noted, that judges frequently find ways to dodge them, resulting in wildly inconsistent sentences for people guilty of essentially the same conduct.

While the original justification for criminalizing possession of child pornography was that demand creates supply (an argument that has been weakened by the shift to free online distribution), the escalation of penalties seems to be driven largely by the assumption that people who look at these images are all undiscovered or would-be child molesters. Is that true? The USSC found, based on criminal records and additional information in presentencing reports, that one in three federal defendants sentenced for non-production offenses in the previous decade had known histories of “criminal sexually dangerous behavior” (including prior child pornography offenses). Tracking 610 defendants sentenced in fiscal years 1999 and 2000 for eight and a half years after they were released, the USSC found that 7 percent were arrested for a new sexual offense.

Even allowing for the fact that many cases of sexual abuse go unreported (as indicated by victim surveys), it seems clear that some consumers of child pornography never abuse children. “There does exist a distinct group of offenders who are Internet-only and do not present a significant risk for hands-on sex offending,” says Karl Hanson, a senior research officer at Public Safety Canada who has co-authored several recidivism studies.

Why would anyone look at this horrible stuff if he was not inclined to imitate it? Troy Stabenow put it this way in a 2009 interview with ABA Journal: “People who watch movies like Saw and Friday the 13th are being titillated by the act of torture and murder. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to go out and commit torture and murder.”

Dean Boland, an Ohio defense attorney specializing in child pornography cases, says a substantial share of defendants were themselves victims of sexual abuse as children and look at these images as a way of working through the trauma. That is how Ryan Loskarn explained his attraction to child pornography. “I found myself drawn to videos that matched my own childhood abuse,” he wrote. “I pictured myself as a child in the image or video. The more an image mirrored some element of my memories and took me back, the more I felt a connection.”

Taking Loskarn at his word (and what is essentially a dying declaration probably should be given considerable weight), he not only had no desire to abuse children; he was not even titillated by the videos he collected. It hardly makes sense to treat someone like that as a criminal, let alone one who deserves to spend eight years in prison (the average sentence for non-production child porn offenders).

In fact, it is not clear why mere possession of child pornography should ever be grounds for locking people in cages. The Supreme Court’s main rationale forupholding the ban on possession was that demand for this material encourages its production, which necessarily involves the abuse of children. But this argument has little relevance now that people who look at child pornography typically get it online for free. Furthermore, people who possess “sexually obscene images of children” — production of which need not entail abuse of any actual children — face the same heavy penalties. “They are not protecting a single child,” Boland says. “They are throwing people in prison for having dirty thoughts and looking at dirty pictures.”

Defending Federal Child Pornography Cases: The Basics

Defending Federal Child Pornography Cases: The Basics

Is it right to imprison people for heinous crimes they have not yet committed?

Is it right to imprison people for heinous crimes they have not yet committed?

They called me a child pornographer

They called me a child pornographer jody jenkins
I took some photos of my kids naked on a camping trip. A drugstore employee called the police -- and my family's life became a living hell.

Topics: Life News

Shortly before Thanksgiving 2004, I took my three kids camping in Mistletoe State Park near Augusta, Ga., with my best friend and his two kids. After six years in Savannah, my family was about to move to France for my wife’s new job as an administrator for an American company. We had all been camping together before and figured the trip would be a great getaway from all of the packing, painting and stresses of moving, and would allow the kids to be together for one last time. Our wives decided to stay home to organize the packing and spend some quiet time together to say goodbye.

For us, camping has always been a back-to-basics experience. We pack in all food and supplies to our remote site and take out trash and whatever is not consumed. For toilets, we dig holes with entrenching shovels and cover our traces. We teach our kids respect and responsibility in the forest. And we teach them to have a good time.

During the three-day weekend trip, we fished and cooked kielbasa, hot dogs and marshmallows over an open fire. We pitched our tents near the tip of a small peninsula jutting into Clarks Hill Lake, where red clay beaches rimmed our site. We scoured the water’s edge for mussel shells and arrowheads and skipped sleek stones on the water. The days were clear and cool, with high blue skies and wisps of moving clouds. Although the nights were cold, the weekend was as perfect as we could have hoped for.

The kids ran from one thing to the next with abandon, one minute scavenging wood for a fire, and the next returning breathlessly to tell us they had spotted a deer. At night, the tall pines sawed in the wind as my friend, whom I’ll refer to as Rusty, melted aluminum cans in the campfire using a tin can as a crucible. His crude alchemy and the sudden sense of the world as laboratory lighted our imaginations as he poured the quicksilver-like liquid over the rocks ringing the fire. The kids grew excited and impatient, studying the metal-coated rocks and waiting for the aluminum to cool into odd-shaped medallions they salvaged as mementos.

Later, after the kids had gone to bed in their tent and the cold descended, Rusty and I sat in our camp chairs, having a beer and warming our boots a little too close to the fire. I still wear that pair of Wolverines with the half-melted soles. And every time I put them on, I think of what happened when we returned from that weekend and how it changed all of our lives.

As usual during the trip, we took several photos. Because I forgot my digital camera, I bought a disposable camera at a gas station on the way to the campground. I took pictures of the kids using sticks to beat on old bottles and cans and logs as musical instruments. I took a few of my youngest daughter, Eliza, then age 3, skinny-dipping in the lake, and my son, Noah, then age 8, swimming in the lake in his underwear, and another of Noah naked, hamming it up while using a long stick to hold his underwear over the fire to dry. Finally, I took a photo of everyone, as was our camping tradition, peeing on the ashes of the fire to put it out for the last time. We also let the kids take photos of their own.

When we returned on Sunday, I forgot the throwaway camera and Rusty found it in his car. He gave it to his wife, whom I’ll call Janet, to get developed, and she dropped it off the next day with two other rolls of film at a local Eckerd drugstore. On Tuesday, when she returned to pick up the film, she was approached by two officers from the Savannah Police Department. They told her they had been called by Eckerd due to “questionable photos.”

One officer told Janet “there were pictures of little kids running around with no clothes on, pictures of minors drinking alcohol,” she recounted for me in an e-mail. “I asked to see the pictures and was told I couldn’t. I explained there must be a mistake. I was kind of laughing, you know, ‘Come on guys. There must be an explanation. This is crazy. Let me see the pictures.’ The officer told me that he personally did not find [the photos] offensive and that he had camped himself as a kid and knows what goes on.” But the officer also told Janet that “because Eckerd’s had called them and that because there were pictures of children naked, genitalia and alcohol, they would have to investigate.”

Janet asked the photo lab clerk what was on the photos and the clerk “replied very seriously that they were bad, that there was one that looked like a child’s head had been cut off, one with children drinking beer and pictures of naked kids.” As she drove to her house, Janet said, “I was in shock and felt sick to the pit of my stomach and was trying to process all of it.” She called my wife, who was driving home, and explained what had happened. Sensing how bad this might become, my wife pulled her car to the side of the road and fought the urge to throw up.

Neither my wife nor I, Rusty nor Janet has a criminal record of any sort. Yet over the next several weeks, the Savannah Police Department and the Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS) investigated us for “child pornography” and then “sexual exploitation of a minor.” We suffered the embarrassment of having DFCS interview our family, friends, employers and our children’s teachers, asking them whether we were suitable parents and what kind of relationship we had with our kids.

During that time, my wife and I, our children and friends, lived in a kind of suspended animation, a limbo of unreality where our privacy was invaded and we were stripped of our sense of dignity and seemingly our rights. To be accused unjustly of any crime is a terrible thing. But to be accused of using your own children for pornographic purposes or sexual exploitation bears a special taint because no matter how highly people think of you, they don’t know you in your most intimate moments, which forever leaves you open to suspicion.

Being investigated for child pornography is so grave that people might assume it has to be based in fact. And yet I would learn, as so many other horrified parents have, that it can begin simply by somebody picking up the phone.

“It’s not going to be a big deal,” Rusty told my wife, not long after we all heard the news. But after Rusty’s initial visit to the police station to explain the photos to the officers, our optimism began to wane. “It was evident the police did not view us as innocent until proven guilty,” Rusty told me in a recent e-mail. “I sought out the officer in charge of the unit that investigates these ‘crimes,’ and when he finally agreed to meet with me he was rude, unprofessional, and very accusatory before hearing from anyone involved.”

The police, however, didn’t file any charges against us. But they had digitized six of the photos and sent copies to DFCS for further investigation, which is standard practice in such cases. The officers wouldn’t let Rusty see any of the photos in the station, and so we had no idea what was on them, as we had allowed the kids to take photos of their own. One of the photos, an officer said, showed a child drinking beer.

After our case was turned over to DFCS, we began what seemed like an excruciatingly long period of waiting to hear what would come next. As the days ticked by, Janet told me, “It was impossible for me to function, concentrate or focus on work. I couldn’t eat, felt sick and scared.” My wife and I began to question even our routine judgment because of a sudden awareness of being observed by some unseen entity that seemed everywhere and nowhere at once. A hug or a quick goodnight kiss with our little girls and boy suddenly seemed questionable. Were my hands in the wrong place? Did that kiss on the corner of the lips of my 3-year-old look more than merely innocent to someone? A pat on the bum as our kids ran past suddenly seemed dangerous through our second-guessing, suddenly all-critical eye.

Each intimate moment entailed a profound searching, an almost paralytic invasion of our deepest privacy. We began to observe ourselves until each moment became one long scrutiny and the pressure it created in our daily lives grew and grew. We feared that if we were found guilty, our children would be taken away and put in a foster home. We worried about my wife’s new job in France because we might have to stay in the U.S. to fight any charges. Everything was pure assumption because DFCS didn’t communicate at all and so we were left to imagine the worst.

Our friend Rusty stood to lose his prominent job in government, which he had held for years, simply from the appearances of the investigation. “I waited in constant anxiety of the wildfire of whispers about my arrest for being a child pornographer, molester or worse,” he said. “It was terrifying.”

At this point, our children, who were already stressed by the upcoming move and leaving their schools and friends, were unaware of what was happening. Like Janet and Rusty, we tried to keep it that way by not discussing the case around them. But our kids knew by our blank stares and depressed demeanor that something was seriously wrong. As the pressure grew, my wife and I began to lose our tempers more often over small, simple things. I would explode when my daughter spilled a glass of Juicy Juice at the dinner table or overreact and deny everything when the kids would ask us if there was something wrong. And then I would be overcome with guilt and shame at my inability to take control of what was happening to us.

At night, my wife and I lay side by side in bed in the darkness, staring up into the ceiling, unable any longer to find words in the face of the vast, voidlike possibility of losing our children based on pure accusation. It was a secret too painful to keep but impossible to talk about to anyone else. We felt ashamed simply by association with the charge. As a journalist, I have lived for weeks in terrible conditions in war refugee camps and been under fire on the battlefield. But those weeks of waiting and wondering what would happen to our family were by far the most stressful I have ever experienced.

On the advice of my wife’s mother, a former Florida public utilities commissioner, we contacted Mills Fleming, a local lawyer who was also a childhood friend of my wife. We needed expert help navigating the accusations. He told us that when he contacted the Office of Child Protection at the Chatham Department of Family and Children Services, the agency was surprised and annoyed that we had retained a lawyer. We were shocked it wasn’t routine.

But that was the least of his revelations. We soon discovered that we had no right to retain a lawyer on our children’s behalf. DFCS would become protector of our children and judge as to the validity of the charges against us. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty had been turned on its head: The burden had been placed on us, not the legal system, to prove our innocence. Our most basic right and instinct as parents — to protect our children — had been usurped by a single accusation.

Over the next few weeks, our only communication with DFCS was through Mills. He told us the agency would call on Thanksgiving and announce what they were going to do about our case. We had planned to leave for the long weekend but stayed home and waited for word from DFCS. They never called.

Afterward, I spent the days taking the kids off to school and preparing the house, climbing up nearly three stories on a ladder to paint. At times I became so lost in an absorbing daydream of sorting through the events that I almost stepped right off the ladder. Terrified at my complete lack of awareness, I would force myself to focus. I would dip my brush into the paint and drift off into the possibility of what might happen if a police officer or sheriff’s deputy appeared at our front door with papers to take our children. As I stroked the brush along the boards, I became lost in intricate, heated conversations that led to arguments that devolved into helpless anger. We had no understanding of the process and the DFCS bureaucracy seemed some large, amorphous beast threatening us from just beyond our view.

I began to feel dangerously angry. When my anger and fear were such that I was having difficulty coping, I called my brother in North Carolina, who knew nothing about the charges. He is two years older than I am and we have always been close. I thought he might help me put things into some sort of perspective. I wanted to call him numerous times but I hesitated because of my shame. I wanted to solve this on my own.

But now I felt I was starting to come apart and feared I might do something that could wind me up in jail. I had no choice but to call. But he wasn’t home and when his answering machine came on, the sudden realization of what was happening to me, and the reason I was reaching out to him, caused me to simply break down and cry. I hung up without leaving a message and he told me later that from the crying on the phone, he was certain someone close to us had died.

As Christmas approached, our lawyer felt that the DFCS investigation into sexual exploitation of a minor was running aground because the agency began airing the possibility of charging us with a lesser crime. Now they wanted to hit us with “endangerment of a child,” the result of letting the kids be near an open campfire. The suggestion seemed absurd, given that nearly every weekend of the year, parents across the country go camping with their children and roast marshmallows over an open fire. My wife, our friends and I felt that DFCS was on a fishing expedition, but one with potentially dangerous consequences.

The agency had requested to interview our children at the Children s Advocacy Center, a safe haven used for questioning children who have been sexually or physically abused, or have witnessed violence. But we resisted because we were not allowed to have a lawyer present and we had heard horror stories from teachers who had witnessed sessions of children being fed leading questions and being directed what to answer by caseworkers. We requested that any interviews be taped. DFCS relented and switched the meeting to the Office of Child Protection.

The change in venue and charge against us was seen by our lawyer as a stand-down. He felt DFCS realized it had a weak case and the interviews were essentially a procedural hoop the caseworker had to jump through to satisfy bureaucratic demands in order to exit the case. I was angry at what appeared to be an absurd game with our lives. But Mills told me I had to get a grip because my anger could undermine our case. Although I heard him, acting accordingly was another matter.

Finally one weekday afternoon, my wife and I, our friends and our kids convened at the Office of Child Protection of DFCS to be interviewed. We had still not been charged with anything and the investigation remained open-ended. When I picked the kids up from school, I explained on the drive back where we were going and why. I struggled because while I wanted them to know everything that was stake, I didn’t want to frighten them. They were full of questions. They wanted to know who these people were, why they wanted to talk about our camping trip and what kind of questions they would ask. The questions were the same ones I had myself and yet hearing the children pose them brought back all the absurdity of the situation and my anger quickly surfaced. I blurted out, “I don’t know! I don’t know! But these people can take you away from us!”

“They can take us away?” one of them asked.

“I don’t know!” I yelled. “I don’t know anything!” And when I looked in the rearview mirror I could see tears running down their faces as they began to cry.

The Office of Child Protection was housed in a new building, recently relocated from downtown Savannah into a poor neighborhood. Directly across the street was Hitch Village, one of the city’s most notorious housing projects in a city that in several recent years has been ranked among the most dangerous metropolitan areas in the country. As we stepped into the elevator — all dressed in our best, all combed and neat because we knew now how much appearances mattered — our families suddenly seemed so vulnerable.

The waiting room was neat and sterile and empty except for us. No window. No attendant. No one to tell us what to do or expect. We weren’t even sure if we were in the right place. But after a moment we decided to sit in the chairs that lined the walls, a surveillance camera with its wide-angle lens staring down on us. Magnetic strip readers were mounted beside each door along the hallways and from time to time someone would emerge from one door, slide their card through a reader on another and quickly disappear into it. I was struggling to find some calm and balance, but I didn’t trust anyone’s judgment anymore and was seething at this moment so lacking in logic.

When our caseworker, Patricia Oney, finally appeared, the amorphous bureaucracy that for weeks had haunted us suddenly had a face. That she appeared gentle with the kids and intelligent and caring gave me a small ray of hope. She explained that we would go one at a time, beginning with the kids, and she and our 8-year-old daughter, Sophie, Noah’s twin, disappeared into the maze of cubicles hidden behind the card-reading doors. As we were soon to learn ourselves, the interviews were not recorded on video or tape.

Sophie has a keen memory for details and when she returned, and Noah went in, she recounted the questions that had been posed. They ranged from whether she could distinguish between “good touch” and “bad touch” to whether, after the kids went to bed while camping, the fathers made sounds outside the tent that, in the words of my daughter, “sounded like things they shouldn’t do.”

When our son returned, he didn’t want to talk about what happened except to question why he was being asked about good touching and bad touching. One after another the kids went in. Eliza, our 3-year-old, has wispy, bright-blond hair. As she disappeared behind the door, I couldn’t help wondering what it was they might ask her and, given what had happened so far, how it might be construed. We sat in the waiting room, trying to occupy the remaining kids while waiting. There was a gravity to the moment that the children were aware of and everyone was mostly quiet. As each of the kids reappeared from their interviews, they seemed relieved.

When my turn came, I followed Oney back to a cubicle where an assistant sat with pad in hand. As we sat down and began to talk, the assistant seemed to take notes. But as it went along, I noticed she hardly wrote anything. Though I was tempted to call her on it because it seemed absurd that this might become the official record, I didn’t want to antagonize them and remembered the lawyer’s intuition that DFCS was looking for a way out. But I was thinking about how accurately she had noted what the children had said.

Oney’s main concern seemed not to be with the photos or with our behavior as parents, but rather if I had any questions about what had happened and about the process as a whole. Although I had nothing but questions, I refrained from asking them. I wanted to put the camping trip in context. Because the police had only sent six photos to DFCS, and not the rest of the roll, Oney had never gotten the full story.

Also, by now, I had seen all of the photos, including the six in question, as the police had allowed Rusty to take them home with him. There were explanations for each one. The photo of a child whose head had been “cut off” was simply one where a child’s head fell outside the border. The photo of a child drinking beer was actually one of Rusty’s daughter carrying a broken beer bottle she had found and planned to put into her makeshift xylophone.

I began explaining to Oney that by camping, our aim was to take our kids out of their normal routine and to teach them to appreciate not only nature but the luxuries our daily life afforded. As I told her that we dug holes for latrines and covered our traces, Oney, who said she had never been camping, seemed genuinely surprised. When she asked me about the danger of my son drying his wet pants with a stick over an open fire, I explained that when I took the picture, I was no more than a few feet away and he was safe.

As I felt my anger rising, I told her I couldn’t believe anybody would find a photograph of a 3-year-old making her way into a lake to skinny-dip titillating. I had wiped my daughter’s bottom thousands of times, and for me that photo was nothing more than trying to capture a fond memory. I acknowledged the difficulty and necessity of her job, but explained that for me this was clearly a case of the system gone astray, and I was angry that it had gone as far as it had.

Oney responded by asking for the names of friends, family, employers, teachers and any others she might interview to discern what type of people and parents we were. We decided it was best to call everyone in advance so they would know to expect a call. I watched my wife break down and cry on the phone with one of our children’s teachers, ashamed at having to explain why DFCS would be calling.

Janet felt the same way. “I was so embarrassed having to tell [my youngest daughter's] teacher,” she wrote. “I was the room mother for the class, did lots of things with all the kids and was very involved at school.” “Can you imagine telling your boss, ‘I’m being investigated for child pornography and child endangerment?’” Rusty wrote. “This was incredibly embarrassing and increased my fears this would get out beyond our control.”

Oney had told me she would be paying a visit to our house. Our lawyer said she could look anywhere — in our drawers, closets, attic — without a warrant or without specifically stating what she was looking for. So before she came, we scoured the house top to bottom, looking for anything that might arouse her suspicion or interest.

On the mantel in our living room was a handmade book of photos done by a friend who is a professional photographer. Besides mundane photos of the kids, it contained a few of my wife in the nude when she was several months pregnant with Eliza. We hid it. I scanned the book titles on the shelves, never having thought until now of their having questionable contents. On the refrigerator, we had 1950s-style magnets with humorous sketches of a man holding up a mug and saying, “Beer: Makes you see double and feel single,” and another of a man holding up a condom and saying, “I’m just two people short of a minage à trois.” They had been given to us years before as a gag gift from a friend. We hid them. We realized we no idea what could be deemed unfit. My wife was born in Haiti and she had a beaded voodoo flag hanging up in our room. I took it down.

Janet and Rusty went through the same nerve-racking process. On the day Oney was to show up at their house, Janet noticed her neighbor’s 3-year-old son playing naked on the swing set in their yard. Janet was so paranoid that Oney would show up right then “that I panicked, went to the neighbor, and told her that I was having a visit from DFCS and could she please remove her naked son from my yard. I was upset that I was put in the situation that I had to tell her.”

My wife and I decided, given my anger at the situation, it was best that I not be there during our home visit. So I drove around the neighborhood and sat in the car until Oney left. In the end, she didn’t even search the house. She told my wife the investigation was closed, that the case against us was unsubstantiated and no further action would be taken. My wife said Oney seemed apologetic but offered no apology. The same scenario was played out at Janet and Rusty’s house. Despite the fact that the case was unsubstantiated, a record of the accusation and ensuing investigation will be kept on file for three years — in case, we were told by our lawyer, other complaints should be filed against us. Our children’s records will show the incident until they are 21 years old.

Shortly after our case ended, we moved to France and I slipped into a depression. Perhaps it was something akin to the helplessness that victims feel. Or perhaps it resulted from suddenly being released from the constant and intense pressures of moving, combined with the fear and anger we had been feeling for so long. But I felt violated and exposed and vulnerable. In the mornings, we would awake and prepare our children and then hurry them to school. And on many days when I returned home, instead of getting to work writing I would go into the bathroom, sit on the toilet and cry uncontrollably.

For months, I felt as though I was moving almost unconsciously through daily life, numb to the world and yet overly sensitive to everything. Finally one day, six months later, unable to bear the sense of helplessness and unjustified shame about what happened to us, I sat down at the computer and began to write about it. And I began to feel something shift inside me, a subtle but distinct change from a sense of powerlessness to taking back some sort of control of our lives. I wrote in a fury, and when I sent the story to my wife, she sat in her office and cried. I sent it to our friends who had gone through this with us. Although seven months had passed, they still had not come to terms with what had happened. Rusty’s boss had been understanding, but they said their children still talked about it in the most unexpected moments. “My youngest daughter will say, ‘Why did they think that, Mommy?’” Janet said. “‘Why did they think we were drinking beer and doing things wrong?’”

I set out to answer those kinds of question myself. As I did, I discovered there are simply no uniform standards for police officers, teachers, childcare workers — or photo lab employees — to tell lewd and illegal photos from harmless family pictures.

Following passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, established in 1974, states established laws that required police, lawyers, and social and medical personnel to make “good faith” reports of perceived child abuse or neglect. It is an important law, having arisen out of the fact that one in 10 children brought to hospital emergency rooms was a victim of physical abuse. But the law, under which child pornography falls, contains no provision for training personnel to identify abuse or pornographic photos. As a result, false and damning allegations have risen by the thousands in the past three decades. In fact, in most states it’s a misdemeanor for law enforcement officers and health providers not to report.

In Georgia, state law defines sexual exploitation of a minor, which includes pornography, as “knowingly to employ, use, persuade, induce, entice, or coerce any minor to engage in … any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual medium depicting such conduct.” Yes, no charges were filed against us. But that somebody could interpret our camping photos as knowingly pornographic, and cause the state to investigate us for intending to exploit our children, was what was so agonizing.

Dr. Douglas Besharov, a child abuse expert at the Maryland School of Public Affairs, and the first director of the U.S. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, estimates that out of the nearly 3 million child abuse reports made every year, seven in 10 of them are without merit. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 60 percent of child abuse or neglect reports are “unsubstantiated.” While there are no separate statistics concerning child pornography, there have been dozens of cases similar to ours documented in recent years.

For instance, in Dallas in 2003, as the result of a complaint by an Eckerd drugstore employee, a 33-year-old woman was charged with “sexual performance of a child,” a second-degree felony punishable by 20 years in prison, based on a picture of her breast-feeding her 1-year-old son. Although the district attorney dropped the charges in the case, the parents had to fight for weeks to get their two children back from the Dallas County Child Protective Services.

I realize no one would argue with sincere efforts to protect children from harm. As a parent, I know all too well the real dangers our kids face on a daily basis and I applaud any efforts to make their world a safer place. But our experience underscores the harm that is being inflicted on children and parents by investigations based on uninformed definitions of pornography or abuse.

“If we get down to the bottom line, there is no clear-cut definition,” said Dean Tong, who wrote “Elusive Innocence: Survival Guide for the Falsely Accused,” after being jailed and then spending 10 years and $150,000 to clear himself of abusing his young daughter. Now a forensic consultant in thousands of false-accusation cases across the country, Tong told me that even most police officers are not well enough trained to interpret the law, let alone photo lab employees. Tong said that when facing the slightest doubt, law enforcement officers “err on the side of the child,” noting the potential results: “I see families stripped and ripped apart in the middle of the night.”

I called Lt. Harry Trawick of the newly consolidated Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department to ask about my own case. He is the former head of the Special Victims Unit, which deals with child pornography. “A lot of times [photo lab employees] don’t know what pornography is,” he told me. Although he wouldn’t comment on any specific case, Trawick said the department is “fairly aggressive” in investigating reports of child pornography and that, “generally, our officers are going to act with an abundance of caution” in favor of protecting the rights of children. He said the department has made a number of important convictions based on reports from photo labs. He added that he’s unaware of any training programs that photo lab employees are required to undergo to identify child pornography and said the employees often call the Special Victims Unit for an explanation of the law.

But Helene Bisson, director of public relations for the Jean Coutu Group, which operates the Rhode Island-based Brooks/Eckerd drugstores, told me that employees had “videos we have to view and information sessions,” though she wouldn’t specify the depth of training involved. “As far as Eckerd’s is concerned we do have very strict guidelines,” she said. “It’s Eckerd policy to report all incidents of child abuse and child pornography.”

“With all due respect, they don’t have a freaking clue,” said Tong. “I’m not saying most of these cases are witch hunts,” he said. It’s just that without strict guidelines for identifying child pornography, photo lab employees must resort to “their subjective discretion and opinion,” and that’s the root of the problem. “If we required the same concern for accuracy in reporting child abuse as other types of crimes, we would see far fewer innocent people falsely persecuted,” Tong has written. At the very least, a pair of trained legal eyes — those of either a lawyer or a public official with specific expertise in child pornography — should look at the evidence and make an informed decision before starting this demeaning, costly and painful process.

Besharov also said that the current law should be amended to grant immunity to those who in good faith deem a situation not to be child abuse or pornography. That way, those who report cases of abuse of questionable merit, simply to err on the side of mandatory reporting laws, might feel less pressure to do so. In our case, maybe the responding officer, who initially commented that he didn’t find the pictures pornographic, would have dismissed the case at the drugstore and not reported us to child services.

It has been over a year and a half since the day we got the call from Janet. Time has finally granted me some distance from the terrible ordeal, and my wife and I have become lost in the immediate demands of life in another language and culture. We live in a small village of about 400 people, what a French friend jokingly refers to as the “bled,” the Moroccan-Arabic word for the “boondocks.” The surrounding countryside is mostly farmland and in the searing summer heat the air smells of rosemary and lavender. The fall brings out the truffle hunters and wild boars. My wife’s commute to work is about two minutes up a steep, stone-paved street that has been worn shiny by centuries of foot traffic. From her office perch high up on the hillside, you can look out across the cherry orchards covering the valley and hear the shouts of the 30 or so children playing in the village schoolyard below. Our kids among them.
The Child Pornographer Next Door byMaggie Gallagher

Lately the phrase "unlimited texting" is taking on a whole new meaning:

"In Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah (at last count) minors have been arrested for 'sexting,' or sending or posting soft-core photo or video self-portraits," The American Prospect reported.

Among the recent cases:

Six high school students from Greensburg, Pa., were charged with possessing, manufacturing and distributing child pornography this month after nude pictures of several underage girls were confiscated from one of the boys' phones. The three 14- and 15-year-old girls who sent the self-made child porn and the three 16- and 17-year-old boys who received it were arrested.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., a teen boy faces felony obscenity charges for allegedly sending a photo of his private parts to several girl students.

Nor is this always kids' play. In a suburb of Phoenix, the assistant principal of Buckeye Union High School faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted on charges that he received (voluntarily) sexually explicit photos sent from a 17-year-old girl student's cell phone.

In Tennessee, the Memphis City Schools system is launching a new task force to deal with "sexting." In Utah, according to the Daily Herald of Provo, Republican state Rep. Sheryl Allen has introduced a bill that reduces the first child porn offenses by teenagers from felonies to misdemeanors, with repeaters subject to felonies.

North of Seattle in Bothell, Wash., two cheerleaders sent naked photos to their boyfriends, only to find that the images rapidly passed through the entire school, ending up in the office of a school administrator who punished both girls for violating the high school code. (The girls' parents are suing the school district for its staff members passing on naked photos of their daughter to several other school personnel.)

No wonder Larry Flynt is standing in line for some government stimulation. Oh, for the good old days when men were actually expected to pay for porn!

By now the way in which modern technology makes the consumption of pornography universally available is old hat. The sexting craze underlines the way the creation of pornography has been equally democratized -- in this case right into the hands of suburban 15-year-old girls pathetically trying to attract or keep the attention of porn-jaded boys.

Why do girls act like this? In his book "Boys Adrift," Leonard Sax writes about asking a 16-year-old girl "as gently as I could, why she was wearing a Hooters outfit to a school Halloween party."

"If you don't dress like this, nobody will even notice you," she told him.

The savvy scholars at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy uncovered the news that more than half of teen girls who send sexy photos of themselves do so in response to pressure from some guy -- usually boyfriends or potential boyfriends. It took an intrepid New York Post reporter to discover these and even sadder reasons why some suburban teen girls cave to ex-boyfriends' pressure for self-made porn.

A 15-year-old New Jersey high school sophomore explained that she fired off 40 naked pictures to her ex-boyfriend in a failed attempt to win him back. One 16-year-old from New Jersey offered a different reason: "(My ex-boyfriend) kept asking me, and it was annoying," so she finally gave in and sent him photos.

Gee, what could possibly be more pathetic than a girl who sends an ex-boyfriend naked pictures to win him back? How about a girl who sends an ex-boyfriend naked photos to make him go away?

Right now we have a decision to make: Is underage porn (these aren't really children) a crime or not? If so, how do we treat girls and boys who engage in it "for fun" and not for profit?

After all, if the thought that their fellow students, their teachers, their employers, their college admission officials, the entire football squad, their mothers and the local district attorney may well see these cell phone photos is not enough to discourage teens -- then we really have a problem on our hands.

Anatomy of a Child Pornographer

Anatomy of a Child Pornographer
Anatomy of a Child Pornographer

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Troubling Consequences of Federal Child Pornography Laws

The Troubling Consequences of Federal Child Pornography Laws
The Troubling Consequences of Federal Child Pornography Laws

Sunday, September 28, 2014

FBI criticizes Apple and Google for giving people what they want

FBI criticizes Apple and Google for giving people what they want

Did you hear the one about how the iPhone 6 will kill us all?Maybe this shouldn't make me laugh, but it did:

FBI Director James B. Comey sharply criticized Apple and Google on Thursday for developing forms of smartphone encryption so secure that law enforcement officials cannot easily gain access to information stored on the devices — even when they have valid search warrants."Even when they have valid search warrants"! Also when they don't. Thanks, Google and Apple, for getting the intrusive security state off our backs! It's much appreciated.
His comments were the most forceful yet from a top government official but echo a chorus of denunciation from law enforcement officials nationwide. Police have said that the ability to search photos, messages and Web histories on smartphones is essential to solving a range of serious crimes, including murder, child pornography and attempted terrorist attacks.Oh, well. Time to go back to real police work, not one that relies on wholesale collection of private date, sometimes with "a valid search warrant," oftentimes without. Since we don't know which is which, particularly with laws preventing technology companies from disclosing such requests and the existence of "secret courts," then fuck you. You've earned the right to be mistrusted. Congratulations!

Funny also, in the article, how the author blames law enforcement's woes on the Big, Bad NSA, as though they are collateral damage from the NSA's abuses. But nope, the FBI hasn't been an innocent bystander. They've all been complicit, and the market (this is still a capitalistic society!) is giving consumers what they want: security from unwarranted government intrusion.

“There will come a day when it will matter a great deal to the lives of people . . . that we will be able to gain access” to such devices, Comey told reporters in a briefing. “I want to have that conversation [with companies responsible] before that day comes.”

Oh, we're back to mushroom clouds, are we? So the government can pry into your devices, or we'll all going to DIIIIEEEE? Fuck you again.
“Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile,” said John J. Escalante, chief of detectives for Chicago’s police department. “The average pedophile at this point is probably thinking, I’ve got to get an Apple phone.”People want privacy and security, therefore PEDOPHILES! Fuck you again.
Comey added that FBI officials already have made initial contact with the two companies, which announced their new smartphone encryption initiatives last week. He said he could not understand why companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”Simple reason: because the government placed itself beyond the law. Fact is, technology has given law enforcement far more tools than they've ever had before, allowing them to track criminals, eavesdrop on their conversations, and tap into social networks to catch scofflaws (like the Philadelphia group who viciously attacked a gay couple last week). Rather than celebrate that, they complain about their inability to pry even deeper into our personal lives. And we're supposed to feel sorry for them, because mushroom clouds and pedophiles?

Thanks, Apple and Google, for working to restore some balance between our own rights and the police state's intrusive efforts.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Child Pornography Crusade and its Net Widening Effects

The Child Pornography Crusade and its New Widening Effects, Melissa Hamilton

How to Survive in Federal Prison

If you have been sentenced to federal prison, you will become the property of the Bureau Of Prisons (commonly known as BOP). If you have been given a federal sentence, then it is likely that you'll be spending several years behind bars, but if you know what to expect right away, your life in prison will be much easier. If you want to know how to prepare for federal prison and how to survive in your new environment, just follow these steps.

Part 1 of 2: Getting Ready for Prison

Bite your tongue. If the judge doesn't allow you to self-surrender to the prison where you have been designated, you will be handed over to the U.S. Marshal services. Do not speak to a Marshal, or let him overhear a conversation, about your case or anything else for that matter. Nothing you can say will make the situation any better and it might even make things worse: just because you have already been convicted doesn't mean that you can't be charged with something else.
Don't ever forget that anything you say can be taken down in evidence and used against you. So, keep your mouth shut as much as possible.
Take advantage of medical care outside of prison if you have time. The choice and quality of care is significantly better outside of prison. Certain treatments that you take for granted might not be available in prison, or won't be as good. After all, if you're in prison and you don't like the prison dentist, where else are you going to go to have your teeth fixed? So, if there's time to do it, consider having a dental check-up before you self-surrender, and get anything important fixed.
Also, if you wear glasses you may want to have an eye test and get new lenses, assuming you need them. As with dental care, you've got a better choice of lenses and frames outside prison.
If you're lucky enough to have some time before prison, get a check-up or address any medical issues you've been having. Though you'll get medical care in prison, it's better to get medical attention before you're locked up.
Line up some reading material. Most federal prisons allow magazines and books to be sent to inmates - on condition that these are sent directly from the publisher or a retailer like Amazon. If you're self-surrendering and you know which prison you're going to be in, consider taking out a subscription for magazines/journals, and order a couple of books from Amazon to read. Do this a couple of days before you self-surrender.
Alternatively, give your friends and family a shopping list of books/magazines and let them take care of ordering things. There's no web access in prisons, so make your selections before you enter prison.
Though choosing reading material may be the last thing on your mind before you start your time in federal prison, being prepared for reading material (as soon as you're allowed to have it) can help you feel less lonely and more comforted when you begin your sentence.
Keep your guard up if you are sent to a hold-over facility or a prison camp. If you are placed in transit to prison, you may be sent to a hold-over facility. The facility you are sent to may be determined by whether you are designated for a low, medium, or high-level prison. Some of the living conditions in these facilities are not ideal, such as being placed in a two-man cell with up to three other inmates for 23 hours a day, being allowed out to rec in an enclosed area for one hour, and only being allowed to shower for five minutes twice a week.
Each facility has its own rules -- just be prepared for the extreme conditions you may face.
Be especially cautious during this time. You will be with other people who are in a state of uncertainty and are more likely to be volatile than they will be once they get settled in to the prison routine.
Learn the rules. Try to find out as much as possible about how the system works in the prison you will be living in. If there is an official rule-book for the prison, read it. You can be punished for breaking a rule that you didn't know existed. Breaking the rules will not only piss off personnel but inmates as well. It makes life harder for everyone. Ignorance of the rules is no defense. Information is power.
Bring the maximum amount of money that you are allowed to take to prison. You may be allowed a certain amount of money (up to $500). This money will be used to buy supplies you may need while incarcerated. This is called putting "money on your books." You will need money for supplies such as stamps, envelopes, snacks and also hygiene supplies.
Cash is not necessary and will be confiscated. It's best to go in with a US Postal Service money order as they are widely accepted in all prisons (federal and state).
Additionally, don't let anyone know that you have money. Pretend that you're poor and penniless. That way there's no danger of other prisoners trying to extort money from you.

Part 2 of 2: Surviving in Prison

Don't trust anyone. That goes for guards, other prison officials, and the person in the cell next door. If someone is being nice to you, ask yourself "What's in it for him or her?" They almost always have some hidden motive that you don't know about. In prison, nothing is free. For example, if someone gives or loans you something, you will probably have to pay it back with a hefty rate of interest added. If you can't pay, they may demand a favor that could get you into big trouble, like hiding contraband in your cell.
Hide your emotions. If you want to look tough, do not show fear, anger, happiness, or pain. Emotions are your worst enemy because they reveal your weaknesses. Both inmates and guards prey on weakness. Don't give them the opportunity to do so. If someone can figure out what makes you angry, they can use that knowledge to manipulate you. In the same way, if someone knows what makes you happy, they can try to ruin it for you. And because they are around you 24/7, they have unlimited opportunities to test their manipulative skills on you.
Make use of your cellmates. Do not be overly friendly with your cell mates but do ask some questions. Many have been in prison before and will be able to give you information about the prison you are being sent to as well as the system itself. You will have to judge for yourself whether to believe any of the information. Use common sense and try to figure out if that person has a reason to lie or mislead you. Some convicts will try to intimidate new inmates or mislead them for fun. Be careful.
Choose your words carefully. Potentially, anything you say to guards or prisoners, no matter how innocent you think it is, can be used to hurt you, manipulate you, or be taken out of context. Avoid discussing dangerous conversational topics. Otherwise, it can easily get you into trouble. Obvious subjects to steer clear of are religion, politics, racial issues, or your own personal feelings about someone or their family and friends.
Some of the prisoners you'll encounter may have a short temper, or are mentally ill, of low intelligence, or just plain bad. Prisoners like that don't have a warning written on their forehead - they look like regular guys.
You can easily be misunderstood or deliberately misquoted by someone who's trying to stir up trouble. What starts out as a petty argument over a trivial issue can turn into someone bearing a strong personal grudge against you.
Don't be paranoid. Just be aware that things may not be what they seem, such as the prisoner who tells you that gay or black people are just like everyone else, then asks what you think may in reality hate homosexuals or black people - he's just testing your attitude or yanking your chain.
Always be polite and respectful to guards and other prison employees.If you give them a reason to hate you, they can make your life even harder than it already is. So, don't give them a stick to beat you with. It's true that some prison employees are better than others. Even so, never forget whose side they're on - it certainly isn't yours. You need to get it in your head that the staff are always right and you need to do what they say. Even if you know it is wrong at the time, it is best to just follow the order, and if you have a problem with it, you can address it at some later point.
For example, if you work as a server in the kitchen and a staff foreman tells you to go clean tables in the dining room though you know it's not a part of your duties. The best thing to do is to just go clean the tables, because you are an inmate and you are not going to win an argument with a staff member.
Don't do anything that makes staff feel challenged or intimidated; they have various ways of making you pay for that mistake.
Don't stare at the other prisoners. Although you're simply curious about them, the other person can completely misinterpret what's happening. In prison, if someone stares at you it usually means they feel intense hostility or disapproval towards you. Alternatively, staring is a way of showing sexual interest. It's OK to look at people, but don't stare at them. There's a difference between looking and staring.
When you're walking to your cell, do not stare into the other prisoners' cells. This is considered an invasion of privacy and can get you in big trouble.
Don't be a snitch. People who tell tales to the guards or other prisoners are despised by everyone and can be physically attacked. The best thing you can do in prison is to see everything, hear everything, and say nothing. If the guards ask you for information about some incident involving other prisoners, claim that you were looking the other way and didn't notice or hear anything. While this may irritate the staff on some level that you aren't willing to snitch, they will likely understand.
Avoid being seen talking to guards in a friendly way because other prisoners could assume (wrongly) that you're a snitch.
Don't talk to prison staff any more than absolutely necessary, because while it may be just innocent conversation about the weather, other inmates won't perceive it that way.
Don't ask the staff to solve your problems. Truth is, you can never go to staff for assistance with issues you may have, or else you will have problems with inmates if you do. If you go to staff with a problem, the only thing they can do for you is put you in the SHU as a protective custody inmate, and that will cause you trouble throughout your entire incarceration
If you complain to staff, you're stuck out in no-man's-land between the staff and inmates. Neither group will help you. Try to get used to the fact that you have very few human rights in prison, and that you're largely powerless to change your circumstances.
Ask to be placed in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) only in extreme circumstances. When fights occur in prison, the participants may be punished by being put in a segregation unit or be moved to a higher level of confinement, but it is extremely unusual for them to be charged with a crime, as long as all the participants were prisoners. Your legal protections in prison are severely curtailed by the system. The guards and administrators do not want anyone to make waves.
Prison employees will punish you for making waves much more quickly than they will come to your aid. Sometimes the punishment will be official, in other cases it will be more subtle e.g. "forgetting" or "misplacing" something that you need.
You always have the option to ask to be put in the hole for your own protection. The hole is unpleasant, but it is relatively safe. Don't ask for this kind of protection unless you fear for your life because if you go to the SHU you'll spend 99.9% of your time locked inside a cell.
Don't join a prison gang. Just like in the real world, in prison there are gangs. But in prison, gangs are far more prevalent. These gangs work very differently on the inside than on the outside. Be mindful of gang members, but avoid joining a gang; gang members are soldiers, and gang leaders demand absolute loyalty. If you join a gang, you may be ordered to do something that will keep you in prison a lot longer; a gang member has no choice, because aside from getting out of prison, there's only one way to quit a prison gang while in prison: to die.
All prison gangs are separated first and foremost by the races they are typically associated with. Bloods/Crips/Black Guerilla Family (African-American); the Mexican Mafia (Mexicans); MS-13 (Salvadoran/Honduran/Guatemalan/Nicaraguan); White Supremist/Nazi (Caucasian), etc. There are many different divisions.
Show allegiance to your race. It is crucial to your survival in the prison system to immediately show your allegiance to your race -- though this doesn't mean you have to join a gang to do it. If you are some white suburbanite 19-year-old kid that pledged yourself as a crip, and you used to buy the dope you got busted selling from your crip homeboys in the projects, that doesn't mean you can link up with them in prison. If you're white and you walk in slapping high fives with the brothers before you shake hands with the white dudes, you're going to send a rift through the whole community.
This doesn't mean you have to get a swastika on your forehead or "Blood for Life" tattooed on your chest. It simply means whichever race you are associated with, you seek them out first and introduce yourself.
You get to know inmates of your race first. Especially the "important" figures within your race. You can be "friendly" with people of other races after that.
In prison, blacks, Mexicans, Chicanos, Asians, and whites all look after their own. This isn't the time to be colorblind.
Seek out people from your hometown. In most federal facilities, there are inmates from all over the country. You can do an inmate search prior to turning yourself in. You'll be able to look through the prison inmate listing to see if you know anyone or where their home state is. When you get to your designated facility, you need to find other inmates who are from your city or state; these are your "home boys" and they will usually help you with things you have an immediate need for, such as basic hygiene items and shoes.
But beware of your home boys if there is anything wrong with you or your case, like if you are an informant, sex offender, or anything else frowned upon by inmates, in which case your home boys will probably be the ones that will confront you on it. This could include assault, stabbing or whatever else they think you deserve.
Respect the personal space of the other prisoners and don't let them invade yours. You will be tested and if you allow others to get too close to you for comfort, they will just get closer and closer until your subservience is obvious. Have respect and never reach over someone else's plate at the mess hall for the pepper, salt, etc. Don't allow others to reach over your plate either, or you'll look like a pushover.
Personal possessions like photographs, letters and other stuff are very important when someone is in prison. So, never borrow or use something that belongs to another prisoner unless he's told you it's OK to do it. Touching someone's personal possessions without their permission is a no-no.
Get used to the new rules. Above all, remember that the normal rules of the outside world simply don't apply any longer. When you're in prison, you're living on a different planet where all that matters to you is surviving the experience with as little damage as possible.

Start eating like a horse, workout and study/practice street fighting techniques. At some point soon you are going to be tested and you'll need to show that you can look after yourself.
When you enter prison, try to concentrate on what's going on inside prison, because time will seem to pass faster that way. It's difficult not to think about the things you're missing out on in the outside world, but torturing yourself with it will just make you miserable. It certainly won't get you out of prison any faster. Instead, concentrate on the things you can control in prison, not the things that are out of your reach outside the prison fence.
Don't forget to get vaccinated for everything possible before sentencing, your county health service will do it at a reduced cost and it could save your life.
Bear in mind that anything you say, especially on the phone, is likely to be overheard by both prisoners and guards. There are snitches among your fellow inmates that are looking to trade information for favors with the staff (this is encouraged by people like case managers). Be especially careful about criticizing another inmate as you can pretty much guarantee that it will get back to him.
Letters and phone calls going in or out of a prison are routinely monitored. That's because the prison authorities are always looking for "dirt". If they spot something interesting, a copy or recording will be made for future investigation. Warn your friends and family that there's no such thing as privacy when you're inside prison.
Keep a low profile and try to blend into the background when you are in prison. Stay under the radar of guards and other prison employees. Basically, don't draw attention to yourself if you can avoid it. Remember that the nail that stands out gets hammered in. Watch and learn.
When you have to go to the showers with 12 to 20 other inmates, wear boxers.
Inmates who are homosexual are usually looked down upon and are ostracized by other inmates. If you are gay, you best keep it to yourself while in prison, because it will only cause you problems. Inmates who are unusually young or cute-looking may be approached sexually by others who are testing the waters. If you are approached, it is best to decline; you do not want to become the property of some other inmates.


Be careful to never call anyone a "punk" or "bitch", as they have a much different meaning in prison. If you should ever call someone either of those, be prepared for a nasty fight. If the attack doesn't come immediately, it doesn't mean it's not coming. If someone should ever call you a "punk" or a "bitch", it may seem logical to be the better man and walk away; however, while in prison, you have to show that you won't allow yourself to be punked, and it is almost certainly expected of you to put up a fight when called either one of these two names. Prison is a violent place; watching what you say can save your life.
This may sound weird and uncomfortable, but could be life-saving: If you are concerned about getting attacked, sit when you go to the bathroom, and take your pants off completely. Since many attacks happen when you are using the toilet, it's easier to defend yourself without your pants around your ankles, so you would not trip.
Hopefully you will never be physically attacked during your time in prison. However, if you are, here are some points to bear in mind. You can be attacked anywhere in the prison, though usually it will happen in a place where there is no direct surveillance by guards, e.g., a corridor. Obviously, you could be attacked in a cell, though a classic place for an attack is the toilet or shower, when you are distracted. An attacker can seize a time-window of just 30 seconds to attack you, then walk away nonchalantly. So, watch their hands because that's where the attack comes from. If someone has their hands in their pockets or behind their back, they could be concealing an improvised weapon such as a home-made knife. Don't let yourself get backed into a corner where you have no escape route away from your attacker.
Don't bend over in the showers.
If you're in for something like a sex offense, don't lie and tell anyone that you're in for something like drug dealing. If you truly were a dealer, then someone in prison is bound to know someone on the outside who should know of you. They will ask you for names (street aliases) of certain individuals in the area that you claim to deal, names that you should know (and who should know you) in the local drug scene of your area. Don't bother making up names. Prison will be filled with people who know the drug scene and even the little people in it. If they can't pin down anyone who recognizes you (regardless of them probably not knowing your real name, which is common in the drug scene), then they will suspect you are lying and the consequences will be dire.
On that note, you should be aware that sex offenders are never eligible for Federal Prison Camps which are minimum security and exclusively house non-violent offenders. You will be restricted to higher or maximum security facilities, where you will be interacting with lifers and other genuinely dangerous convicts. If you are truly worried for your safety, then you should ask for protective custody. In most institutions, you are not automatically segregated unless it has been demonstrated that you are in danger. This would normally involve having already been attacked and seriously injured. However, protective custody (or Special Housing Unit aka SHU) in most facilities is typically the same as solitary confinement where you are confined to your cell almost 24 hours a day with about an hour for solitary recreation in a small cage or concrete enclosed area. You will no longer be able to visit the yard, gym, chapel, or library, watch television or movies, receive visitors (other than attorneys or other legal representation) or have a paying job. You will no longer have regular access to books and magazines (you are no longer allowed to order music, book or magazine subscriptions). You will also no longer have access to commissary, telephone or packages from home. No commissary or packages means that your diet will be solely limited to the three unappetizing prison meals that are served in the chow hall. These are delivered to your cell on a tray and slid through a slot in your door. The hot meals may often be cold by the time you recieve them.