My name is Heather Wagner, and I have been married to my husband Larry for 19 years. During our marriage, my husband has battled a debilitating addiction to pornography. Larry was molested as a child and suffered childhood trauma that scarred him deeply and created troubling and painful parts of his personality, the part that a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation termed “hypersexual male with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
But the Larry I know and love is so much more than that. Over the years, he designed handmade cards for every celebration; he would regularly take my hand in public and kiss it for all to see; and he would perform his happy dance to make me smile whenever I was blue. Larry also worked long hours in the oil/gas industry, never complaining about his 12-hour shifts or having to work in adverse weather conditions. Larry’s demeanor during our lives together has always been positive and optimistic no matter what we’ve faced.
Larry’s addiction led him to an arrest and conviction for viewing child pornography. His crime is an act that he regrets deeply and recognizes as being harmful. He will hold profound remorse for what he did the rest of his life. Now he’s in prison on a 70-month sentence, and I am on the outside here trying to make sense of it.
The day Larry was locked up, I felt lost, overwhelmed, betrayed, in denial, and extremely sad. I lived in a mental fog of confusion for eight months after his arrest.
But my question is: Will prison “fix” him? Does prison help any addict?
But then something changed and I moved into action. I vowed to learn all I could about his situation. To learn about sex and pornography addiction, and to learn what happens to people who are convicted and sent to prison like Larry.
I know Larry is an addict. And I know he did wrong. I know he needs help, and that he needs to face the consequences for his actions. But my question is: Will prison “fix” him? Does prison help any addict?
Sadly there does not seem to be any avenue for rehabilitation or recovery from this addiction and associated crimes. Yet help in recovery is what these people need. So many people convicted of sex crimes were childhood victims themselves, like Larry.
Little is known or acknowledged about these people once they enter the criminal justice system; they are abused in prison and carry a stigma they can’t ever shake once they get out. Sex criminals are required to be on a registry once they are released, having a target on their back even after serving their sentence. Sex offenders are labeled “heinous,” “unsalvageable,” “lost causes,” “disgusting,” and worse.
But my husband is none of these things. Larry is sick, and he needs help. In prison, his only option is to “self-heal.” Does that seem at all possible?
The more we are to learn about those battling a sex addiction, the better we could be at rethinking sentencing laws and creating rehabilitation programs. There is an emphasis on treating drugs and alcohol disorders, but why not sexual disorders?
Our family has suffered greatly because of Larry’s addiction and because of how he is being treated in the system. I have been scorned and mistreated when people have found out about where Larry is and why he is there. For a long time I told no one. But that just made me feel worse – and helpless. I want to show people that my family’s pain is just like their pain. And I want to show people that education is key.
Larry and I are not alone. And instead of remaining a victim of his choices, I continue to rise up and get stronger, using this uncomfortable and unfortunate situation to better myself and others.
Do you want to help FAMM advocate reform that includes rehabilitation and recovery from addiction, not simply punishment? Join FAMM, and like Heather, start getting educated, speaking out, and taking action.