On a recent afternoon, I received an email with the subject line: Blast from the past. The sender’s name caused my mind to go blank for a few moments. I then calmly put down the phone and pretended that hadn’t just happened.
The correspondent was Christopher Denton, a romantic interest of mine from no less than 17 years ago, and a conservative Christian man with whom I spent the summer of 2004. (I’ve written extensively about that experience.)
A convicted child molester, Christopher has spent the last 13 years imprisoned by the State of California. He just got out recently. And that’s why he was able to email me. Inmates cannot email, only write letters by hand, speak on the phone, and perhaps have video calls.
I googled him and discovered that he has a website with hundreds of letters he’d written home, initially to his family and gradually his mailing list expanded to include friends and friends-of-friends. I started reading his letters and found myself laughing at his humorous statements about prison life—and occasionally tearing up at his show of emotion and stories of poignant interactions with other prisoners or prison staff.
I also quickly realized that he’s every bit as conservative Christian as he was back when our paths first crossed—or actually more so due to his circumstances. My ears were burning as I read the one reference to me the appears on his site. He wrote about a cellmate of his who…
“…studies books by various Buddhist Lamas, such as Becoming Your Own Therapist and various publications by the Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower Society, such as What the Bible Really Means. He’s supposedly always on a quest for knowledge—of any kind—and he’s tried to convince me that Buddhism isn’t about religion. (“Then why, on the back of your book, does that Lama refer to him as ‘Lord Buddha?’ ”) Unfortunately for him, I’m fairly well versed in that topic, thanks to seven weeks of my life I spent trying to convert a young lady I was interested in.”
I was a bit dismayed to read that description of myself from his point-of-view, but of course that’s what was happening, back in 2004. And (non-spoiler alert for anyone who knows me at all!), I was not one to be converted.
But back to his brief yet shocking blast-from-the-past email. Christopher simply expressed an interest in hearing how I’m doing and sent positive energy. My first reaction was not to reply. After all, he’d pretty much ruined my life (briefly) and blew me off once he’d met (and gotten engaged to) his next girlfriend.
In the most bizarre twist, she called me two years later and let me know that Christopher was on trial for 8 counts of child molestation. They’d broken up. I hadn’t heard anything more about Christopher since then (2007).
I was just in California at the end of May and spent my 41st birthday in Santa Cruz. I hadn’t been there for 17 years. The place brought back fond memories. I had gone once or twice with Christopher. There, out of sight of his friends and family (who view any kind of physical contact prior to marriage as a sin), we were blissfully free to publicly display affection. Prior to him, I’d been involved with a handful of thoughtless losers and despite our drastic differences in belief systems, I’d fallen hard for Christopher.
Anyway, I did email him back the following day. I feigned ignorance, let him know the basics of my life (happy, healthy, married, mom to an 8 year old, living in Guatemala for the past 12 years, freelance writing) and asked how he’s doing.
That’s when he gave me his website link (changedinside.org) and bluntly admitted that he’d just gotten out of prison for child molestation.
So, I wrote him back and admitted that I knew he’d been imprisoned. I also mentioned that I’d had a nervous breakdown/manic episode several months after we broke up which was triggered by my spiritual confusion and heartbreak after having been with him. I expressed gratitude as well. In retrospect, I realize that our short-lived summer of love and lust—which triggered my bipolar disorder, which triggered my brief but terrible stint in the psych ward—ultimately led to me leaving the U.S. and creating a much happier and more stable life for myself here in Guatemala.
He expressed genuine regret, saying he was “stunned and saddened and mortified and profoundly sorry” for how his: needy, self-centered and unbalanced life” negatively affected mine. He asked for my forgiveness.
I gave it to him.
He said: “You have come through so much. You have triumphed and thrived and become everything and more that you had ever planned and hoped.”
And that is true. And I appreciate his recognition of that.
In another shocking twist, Christopher “was told the week before I got out that I have been accused of something I didn’t do in Mississippi. Because I cannot risk the life sentence it carries, I’m having to make a plea deal, which looks like it is a firm 8-year sentence in Mississippi.” He has to turn himself in to begin serving the sentence in August.
I questioned him about this in one email, and apparently there’s no statute of limitations and no evidence needed. A “victim” can simply claim they were victimized, and their statement is considered to be all that is needed as evidence. That leaves him with the impossible task of trying to prove that an allegation from 21 years ago never happened. So, off he will go, this time as a seasoned professional inmate and one who is serving time for a crime of which he claims innocence. I believe him. I feel compassion for him.
And, in spite of everything and because of everything, I am grateful to call him a friend.