Saskatchewan·Special Report

Former inmate disturbed and disgusted by Rodney Barras's past

A former American inmate says she’s disturbed that she unknowingly built such a close friendship with a Regina man who has a history of sexually abusing children. Rodney Barras ran a pen pal site for female American prisoners and she corresponded with him regularly.

CBC's iTeam has uncovered ‘a significant threat,’ says retired police officer

Rodney Barras (left), creator of Babes-Behind-Bars.com, sorts through letters he received from Marie Bryant (right), a former inmate released from an Arizona prison earlier this year. (CBC/Facebook)

A former American inmate says it's disturbing that she unknowingly built such a close friendship with a man who has a history of sexually abusing children. 

Marie Bryant, who has an eight-year-old daughter, was released from an Arizona prison in January, after serving more than six years for aggravated identity fraud. 

While in prison, the 36-year-old started corresponding with Rodney Barras, who has been running a pen pal site for female American prisoners called Babes-Behind-Bars.com from his Regina home.

Just last week, CBC's iTeam revealed to Bryant that Barras has been convicted of sexual offences against two little girls and was acquitted of sexual assault charges against two boys. 

"And what's even more disturbing is I sent him pictures of [my daughter]," Bryant said. 

"And now I'm finding out that he's a child molester. It's crazy."

Barras gains Bryant's trust and friendship

Marie Bryant said she is disturbed to learn of Rodney Barras's sex offender record and worries because she sent him photos of her young daughter. (CBC)
More than a year ago, Bryant decided to place an ad on an inmate pen pal site, because she was desperately lonely. 

"You feel like nobody cares about you and you just want somebody to reach out," Bryant said. 

Barras started writing to her. She said he was charming and helped brighten her days. 

"He was hilarious from the beginning," said Bryant, "And I loved writing him."

When first contacted by CBC's iTeam, Bryant said Barras had been a "support system" for her. He even sent her $25 so it wouldn't cost her anything to write back.

"I would love to meet him and give him a big hug, just because he put so much joy into my life," she said at the time. 

She said their relationship wasn't romantic. She just felt comfortable opening up to him because he consistently wrote to her when so many other pen pals dropped off after a few letters.

"And he was like, 'You're going to eventually end up believing that I am what I say I am and you'll be able to trust me'." 

CBC's iTeam initially reached out to Rodney Barras for an interview about his website, which connects American women in prisons with people on the outside. (CBC)
Barras said trust is just what he wanted from all of the women he corresponded with.  

"I will not be one of those people who just disappears from them," Barras told CBC's iTeam. "And I have told them that. Which is why, when they are released, I am like their little safety net."

Bryant said she regrets trusting him now that she knows about his criminal record. 

"It makes me think that he's a frickin' creep. Honestly, like it disgusts me," Bryant said. 

She said that as a little girl she was sexually abused by a series of men. 

"I was molested from the age of three to five by babysitters, and then when I got older— just different people," Bryant said. 

She said in her letters she told Barras about the abuse she suffered as a little girl. 

"And I hope he felt like a piece of shit when he was reading my letters because I was degrading all men that do that."

Retired police officer believes Barras is 'a significant threat'

Curtis Kemp, a retired police officer who specialized in child sex abuse investigations, said Barras appears to be a significant threat to the community. (CBC)
CBC's iTeam shared the findings of its investigation of Barras with Curtis Kemp, a retired police officer with 26 years of service.

During much of his career he focused on child sexual abuse cases, often conducting forensic child interviews and interrogating sex offenders. 

Kemp said it's worrying that Barras, a child sex offender, has set up a website through which he can build relationships with vulnerable single mothers. 

"It would certainly cause me to go 'hmm' and as an investigator look a little bit deeper into the facts surrounding this individual in our community."

"You've identified a threat in the community — there's no doubt about it in my mind," Kemp said.

Kemp said he finds Barras's record troubling, even though the charges and convictions against him are old. 

"The best predictor of future behaviour is always past behaviour. Always," Kemp said. 

"It's not a guarantee, but it's the best predictor." 

'Grooming behaviour' common among child sex offenders

The mother of an alleged victim of Barras, whom we'll call CP because her son's identity is protected by a publication ban, said at the start of her friendship with Barras he was kind and helpful.

"Just the nicest guy you would trust around your children and yourself. And that's what I was looking for, without realizing I was looking for it. Someone I could trust and someone that would be there for me," CP said. 

Eventually Barras was charged with sexually abusing her son, though he was later acquitted.

'The best predictor of future behaviour is always past behaviour. Always.' — Curtis Kemp, retired police officer who specialized  in child sex abuse investigations 

Kemp said the friendly behaviour shown to CP and Bryant is known as "grooming." 

"It starts with small kindnesses. It starts with encouragement and then gently and gradually crosses the line between propriety and impropriety, until you've got a circumstance where the compromise occurs and can continue for an extended period of time," Kemp said. 

At this point, Babes-Behind-Bars.com has only focused on American inmates, though Barras said he was planning to expand into Canada at some point. 

Kemp said Barras's criminal record would likely make it difficult, though not impossible, for him to cross the border and connect with these women face to face. 

Despite that, he said an offender could still find gratification through connecting online. He said offenders often find pleasure merely from the chase. 

"It's trying to get as many balls in the air as possible, trying to get as many things in play as possible, looking for the best option," Kemp said. 

And he said much of the sexual abuse of children happening today occurs over the internet. 

Child abusers are patient and strategic

He pointed out that most sex offenders are known to the children they abuse. 

He said that during his years of investigating child sex abuse cases, he found that abusers often obsessively strategize their way into the lives of potential victims, sometimes over a period of years. 

"They have their eye on the ball the whole time. And the vast majority of their daily lives and what preoccupies their mind is developing that relationship — cultivating that relationship," Kemp said.

"They will expend large amounts of their own time, their own money in order to be in a situation where they can have unfettered access in a trust relationship." 

Bryant said her friendship with Barras is over. 

"I'm definitely not going to talk to him now unless I cuss him out," she said. 

"Everybody should be made aware of predators, because it's not cool."
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      About the Author

      Geoff Leo

      Senior Investigative Journalist

      Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work as an investigative journalist and documentary producer has earned numerous national and regional awards.

      With files from CBC's Roxanna Woloshyn

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