Recently, a family friend went completely off the social radar. After a while I noticed that his account had disappeared from Facebook but it wasn’t until he failed to show up at an annual weekend away that a Google search revealed that he was actually in prison, having plead guilty to having numerous indecent images of young boys on his personal computer.
It’s a strange mix of emotions that hits when you discover that someone you’ve known and liked all your life is not at all who you thought they were. And worse.
It’s made me question how well we really know anyone.
And whether there is any way to reach out to someone who has actively sought to hang out in Hell’s Kitchen in such a heinous way, or whether my friends and I could actually bring ourselves to do so, even if we felt that this was warranted.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not sympathising with his actions in any way whatsoever. Whilst it feels like a taboo subject to consider any possibility that there might be scope for some kind of second chance here, it’s been a necessary part of my processing of this news to do so.
Perhaps having lived with his own lies for so long, he has the means to survive and doesn’t need old ties, but secrets like this are easily unearthed, as my simple Google search proved.
I often think about what I did know about him.
Having failed his probationary period as a teacher, we were all pleased to hear he had seemingly overcome his nerves to become a popular Cub Scout leader.
Facebook posts had been fairly scarce before his final disappearance, but they mainly enthused about his weekly Cub Scout swimming class, which I’ll admit to having found a little creepy at the time, given that he is a single man in his thirties. But I brushed my cynicism off, feeling cruel for doubting his charitable nature.
He definitely had his dark episodes, particularly after failing his teacher training. I remember the slightly crazed look that seized him once or twice after too much whiskey. In the moment, I felt scared. And then there was the time he punched a mutual friend in the face for no real reason one Hogmanay. We just assumed this was stress related. There was more to that teaching debacle, even if it was an internal struggle, there’s no doubt of that now.
Then there were the caretaker and warden jobs located in obscure rural colleges. And “that” sacking when there was mix up over him being accused of being a peeping Tom, when all he’d claimed to have done was confiscate alcohol from vindictive minors on campus.
But still, seemingly down on his luck, he kept his Cub Scout pack going strong, stacking shelves in a local supermarket to make ends meet, choosing to live in a dead end town far from family and friends.
An expensively educated graduate: personable, yet with no regular group of mates, love interests or inclinations to note – perhaps the writing was on the wall.
Statistics tell us that they’re everywhere, swarming amongst us and our children in plain sight. What’s a parent to do? Who can we trust?
In spite of all the red flags, it still came as a huge shock that someone I regarded as a nice guy and good friend could turn out to be the paedophile next door.
But he’s obviously not the nice guy that I thought he was. He tricked us. He’s sick (and I mean that in both senses of the word). He has a big problem. And I don’t know how the hell he’ll come back from it. Nor am I sure he should be able to. Or even if rehabilitation into society is even possible.
Or is my anger making me short sighted?
The fact is that we don’t want him in our social circles, near our children. We simply can’t. Even to be a friend to him under a strictly controlled environment would feel like some kind of sick experiment with our kids. Adults only socialising for his benefit would just be weird, why should we.
Yet, we grew up together. Played in the woods, swam in the sea.
How did we not know? Or perhaps we knew something was off and just didn’t say.
A mutual friend visited him in prison. He told this friend that he wanted to be caught, before he gave into his increasingly strong urges to act physically.
A parent had raised suspicions after his interactions on Facebook with his swimming boys. The police came. He was an IT expert but had consciously decided not to bury it. To face up to his crimes. To save him from himself.
He said he was relieved, despite the shame, despite all the beatings on the inside.
He’s out now. Back living with his parents. No job, no hobbies and on the sex offenders register, his image and story up on many vigilante Internet forums as “wanted.”
I feel raw. Confused. Tricked. Sad. Sorry. For not knowing. For everyone affected. For him because of what he is.
But I can’t see a way forward.
I haven’t been in touch with him.
Nor do I currently intend to be.
It’s a jungle out there.