interior sign of a prison reads keep hands in plain view at all times


My Life As a Parent and Grandparent Changed When I Started Working with Sex Offenders

May 11, 2020

It sneaks up on a guy. 

One moment they are babies, then children.

Then they become women.

That’s when I could see that they reaped what I had sown. I taught them how to think for themselves, and that’s exactly what they did — both of them.

It was great when they agreed with me and hell when they didn’t, and it certainly got more complicated when boys started calling.

Then came the conversations about parties. Which conjured thoughts of potential drinking. Drinking and driving. Sex. Safe sex.

“Be home by 10,” I'd say.

“Eleven,” she'd bargain.

“OK, 10:30,” was the settlement. 

You’ve probably had similar conversations. And maybe they too were met with eye rolls. And condescending agreement.

Then came the surprises.

A suitcase sits in the front hall.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“To Toronto to live with Jeff,” was her response, as if the spontaneity wasn't shocking.

“You’re only 17!” I protested. 

Even though I said the door was always open, she said she didn't need it. According to her, she was almost 18 and was going no matter what. 

They are still together after 25 years.

‘All men are scum’

Both the girls went through their “all men are scum” phase, especially when they’d broken up or changed boyfriends. 

Because of where I worked, I had a hard time disagreeing with them. 

Each day I’d leave the house and enter a whole new world when I walked into the prison. At first, I was the principal of the school.

But then the psychologist asked me to help him deliver sex offender programs. 

My New Gig

It was a much better gig than one might think. 

I had always liked forensic psychology.  

My boss insisted on daily debriefings. At first I didn’t understand why, but I soon figured it out. 

"I began distrusting teachers — especially men — who taught elementary school."

Over the months and years, the pathology crept into my bones. Reports I’d read and the disclosures I heard were graphic and I couldn’t help but think of how I would feel if the victims had been my girls. 

The fancy term is “counter transference.” 

All it means is that constant contact with horrible things causes damage to your soul. When you deal with offenders every day, some of what you tell them has an effect on them (you hope), but some of what they tell you rubs off on you.

It gradually had an effect on my relationship with the girls. 

The Work Changed Me

I hugged them less, never kissed them and didn’t like being left alone with them or their friends — who were always around. 

Things intensified when several of my former pre-prison teaching colleagues were convicted of sex offenses against children.  

I began distrusting teachers — especially men — who taught elementary school. I looked askance at boy scout leaders, youth group leaders and Catholic priests.  If I were out at a restaurant and needed to use the washroom, I’d leave immediately if a young boy was inside. It became phobic.

Things came to a head when I was visiting my now-grown daughter and her husband for a few days while I took a course at the correctional staff college. My wife and I were working in Northern Alberta at the time. I had flown back east alone and was sleeping in my daughter's guest room on a mattress on the floor. At about 3:00 a.m., I was startled awake. My two young granddaughters were standing above me, their blankets and teddy bears in their arms.

"Even as I felt touched by this childish gesture of love, I felt my throat tighten and began to sweat."

“Hi,” they whispered. "We’re here to sleep with you because nana’s not with you.”

Even as I felt touched by this childish gesture of love, I felt my throat tighten and began to sweat. The girls climbed in and were soon asleep. One particular report I had read the previous week came into my head in all its sordid detail. A grandfather had been convicted for abusing his young grand children under circumstances very similar to this one. 

I eased out of bed, careful not to wake the girls and I slept the rest of the night on the couch. At breakfast the girls asked me where I had gone. Their mother turned a puzzled face to me and waited for my answer. I tried to speak but couldn’t. My daughter shooed the girls away and I explained what I was going through. She listened carefully and then said:

“Holy crap, dad, you gotta either get over this or quit working where you are working! Can’t you see you are missing out and the kids are missing out, too?” 

My throat tightened again. I told her I would deal with it.

Out in the Open explores what it's like to be a registered sex offender in Canada — read that here.

Facing My PTSD

I fessed up to my boss. In addition to our daily briefings, I started seeing another psychologist, who told me about PTSD and inquired about my upbringing. She determined that despite the toxic environments I had grown up in, I had developed very healthy boundaries and she articulated my deepest fear: that perhaps I had somehow “caught” some kind of perversion and it was one day going to emerge. 

She reassured me that my fear was totally groundless. I meditated after each group therapy session that I ran to clear my head of the difficult stories I had heard and in time things improved to the point where I had no anxiety about hugging my grandkids. 

When they were a bit older, I told them what had been going on and I explained that this was the reason I had abandoned them in the night. This was the reason I had not hugged or kissed them when they were young. They were very understanding and often assure me they love me and always will. 

Life is good.

Article Author Frank Blanchet
Frank Blanchet

Frank Blanchet is a freelance writer and street musician who lives with his wife and guitars in Brighton, Ontario. Raised in Toronto, he has had many adventures including teaching in Australia and in a one-room schoolhouse on an island in the St. Lawrence River.

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