Aug 21, 2023, 05:55AM

A Terrible Secret

I’ve no idea what to do.

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A few days ago, I ran into a friend, “Jimmy.” It'd been awhile, so we spent about 15 minutes catching up. I told him I’d recently become acquainted with his cousin, “Jake,” which Jimmy said he'd heard about. He said he wanted to go fishing for mango snapper, and I told him to call me and we'd go out.

It was a normal chat between two friends, but the unspoken background was far from normal. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, I found out a few months ago (from Jake), that he'd spent five years in a Florida state penitentiary, beginning when he was 18. I can handle that, but the problem is that his conviction, to my shock, was for downloading and sharing child pornography online using peer-to-peer software. I did some research, and an official statement says that detectives determined many of the file titles suggested the content included sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of children. This disturbed me, but there's some ambiguity to this official statement. What really matters is the actual content of the files, not what their titles "suggested." Why would the detectives be so imprecise?

I found an official notification online that Jimmy’s registered as a sex offender in the area. A photo was included, and it appeared to be fairly recent one. The notification, stamped with a date in May, lists him as a "transient resident" living near a gym I'm familiar with. The spot was marked with the image of a tent, indicating homelessness. I know Jimmy’s lived in an apartment above a garage for the past two years, which leads me to suspect that he hasn't registered his new address with the authorities, which could put him in legal jeopardy. Many believe sex offenders must go door-to-door to inform their neighbors of their status, but in Florida the authorities do this with a postcard.

I can speculate on why Jimmy hasn’t made his change of address official. Jake told me that his cousin lived in his car after he was released from prison, because after returning to his family home and the neighbors got notified, they raised a stink. Jimmy had already told me that he’d lived out of his car at one point, and that he parked in a gym's parking lot so he could have use of its locker room. He said he had to drink a bottle of whiskey a night just to go to sleep on summer nights. I remember asking him why he didn't just stay with his family, who he was living with at the time. He shrugged and looked uncomfortable. I didn't press him.

Updating his address would've put Jimmy's new residence in danger, as it had already done once before. Moreover, the apartment's owned by the son of a woman he works with. I'm doubting that his boss, who I know, is aware of the convictions. He doesn't conduct background checks on his employees.

Jimmy also revealed that at 18, his 17-year-old girlfriend had sent nude photos of herself to him. His story was that her father discovered them, and the cops ended up busting his house and confiscating his computer. That sounded unfair, and I sympathized with him. I've heard of similar cases ruining young people's lives—they get convicted of possessing child pornography and have to register as sex offenders—but I didn't ask what the final outcome was. I waited for him to tell me, but he didn't.

When Jake told me about Jimmy's arrest, he said the cops originally thought the culprit was Jimmy's father, so they seized his computer before figuring out the situation. He was vague about the facts, and didn't seem to think the offense was serious, but told me the conviction was for distributing illegal photos, not receiving them from his girlfriend and possessing them. Jake also told me some of the photos were of Jimmy's sister.

Further research produced disturbing results. Several felony convictions for Jimmy are listed on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website. One's for possession and distribution of photos "showing sexual performance of a child." Was the "child" his 17-year-old girlfriend? This fits the legal definition of a "child" in Florida. That's a mitigating factor, but there's no excuse for distributing such photos. If the photos are of much younger children, then we're in despicable territory. Another conviction is for "promoting a sexual performance by a child." A newspaper article said that police had found more than 32 images containing children. Is the plural—children—used because there was more than one photo, or because more than one child was depicted?

Jimmy got five years in prison, which tells me that this wasn't just about his underage girlfriend. He was downloading and distributing forbidden images on a peer-to-peer network, which my research shows are known sources of child porn. Jimmy didn't tell me the truth, and now I have to figure out how to deal with it. He's been at my house a number of times when I've had people over, and he's a great guy—a sweet man who doesn't seem weird or creepy at all. He brings his guitar and sings a few songs. A friend of mine who visits me in Florida has also become friends with Jimmy. He's been to his apartment, which I haven't. I haven't told him about this situation yet. I don't know if I should.

I don't know what to do about all of this. I don't think I'll call Jimmy to go fishing. He's got it bad enough without his friends dropping him, but it’s a delicate situation for which I haven’t any answers yet.

  • I have a friend with similar background (including length of sentence) who's told me his story but doesn't generally tell people. My friend poses low risk of recividism (in my view and that of authorities). I have more reason to trust than the situation you describe, but there's enough murkiness there that I wouldn't jump to conclusions.

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