Not until the end of my tenure in the unit had I realized it had become a ritual. It was always too late at night, considering what was set to happen in a matter of hours. There were months, sometimes even years, of work to get here, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never get to bed before midnight when we were going to execute a search warrant before sunrise.
Four hours of sleep was the norm. Five was a luxury. Six? Unheard of. Each time, on those late nights, I’d take a shower before laying down and setting three alarms in succession (oversleeping on a search warrant is a professional death sentence).
I’d come to refer to it as “The Last Shower” because it signified my acknowledgment of the suspect’s “lasts.” It was their last “normal” night on earth before their entire world, and their place in it came crashing down around them. Choice and normalcy, in these few remaining hours of freedom, were the last this person would have for the rest of their life, and they didn’t even know it. And not just them — maybe that’s what bothered me most — but their families as well. The ones who had no idea, deep down, who their loved one was and what they had been hiding. Or for how long.
As the water ran over me during that last shower, those were the things I thought about.
One time, standing under the water, I was listening to music (Jane’s Addiction), and for the first time, I actually listened to the lyrics to a song I’d only ever heard as background music whenever it played.
“Camera got them images / Camera got them all / Nothing’s shocking … / Showed me everybody / Naked and disfigured / Nothing’s shocking … / And then he came / Now sister’s … not a virgin anymore …”
As a child exploitation detective for more than a decade, I always despised child predators for who they were and what they did, but I was always taken aback by the fact this was literally the last day of the rest of their life, and they had no clue. In a few hours, we would kick open doors and pull the rug of life right out from under their feet.
I’d think about how they might reflect on this lost day, months and years from now when they were incarcerated. At how lackluster and pointless that last day had been, and if they had only known, would they have lived it differently? Would there be regrets for not having done something more symbolic and meaningful that day? I’d imagine the inner conversation they’d have, deciding whether or not to do something and thinking, “I’ll do that tomorrow.” But tomorrow was the beginning of the end of their life.
The freedom to do something as trivial as going to the grocery store or choosing where to have lunch would be a cherished memory. All those little things, taken for granted on a day-to-day basis, things that would have been a mindless chore, would become their version of the lottery now. As the water ran over me during that last shower, those were the things I thought about.
After their arrests, maybe I was as successful as I was in interviewing them because I was mindful of those little things, and though I wouldn’t leverage it over them, I was aware of them, and perhaps that was the difference. Maybe they could sense that glimmer of sadness I took into each and every one of those interviews, knowing a life was over.
It’s a bizarre feeling, even to this day. In my eyes, they — those who harm children — were, and are, the scum of the earth and in almost every case, in those early stages, as the evidence developed and the details of what they had done were revealed to me, I especially hated them most.
Working through cases like these, I wrote an endless amount of reports and search warrant affidavits, where I would all too often be forced to view their crimes, so they could be accurately described for the court. It’s an element of that job and justice that brings with it a rippling, cancerous shockwave of collateral destruction for all involved. Nothing sickened or made me hate them more than having to view their disgusting crimes and having to bear witness and relive those victims’ terrifying moments.
Over and over and over … It’s why there isn’t a single thing on this earth that surprises me anymore and how a portion of me has died because of it. I don’t think anything will ever measure up to the Holocaust, but I feel like I’ve seen the worst humans can possibly do to one another. As the water ran over me during that last shower, those were the things I thought about.
I’ve often had very deep, dark thoughts of what I would physically do to someone who hurt my children or anyone I loved like they did. The inner rage was real, as it would be with almost anyone. Yet, whenever I walked into the interview room and looked at them as I slowly closed the door behind me, an unexplainable calm would come over me, and that hate was forever suppressed.
I stifled it because it was counterproductive, and it would be a disservice to the victims if I ruined this moment because of my own selfishness. I had no right to jeopardize their chance at some measure of justice and reclaim a shred of their stolen dignity. There was far too much hinging on my ability to remain focused. The victims were allowed to be angry … not me. The only thing I was the victim of was time. The deck for those victimized by child sexual exploitation is exponentially stacked against them for life. There are rarely, if ever, witnesses to these crimes. There is no trail of evidence, and time is almost always on the side of the perpetrator, as these crimes often go undisclosed for months or even years. Justice for them depends on our ability as investigators to obtain it for them. The sheer weight of this responsibility strips your soul. It’s something I shouldered for more than a decade and something I have to work through and past for the rest of my life. I’ve known, more times than I can count, that I was their last hope of getting justice and some measure of validation for what they endured. It’s a burden even those within our own profession don’t realize or understand — the compounding toll it takes on those who investigate these awful crimes. For that, we need to do better. And as the water ran over me during that last shower, those were the things I thought about.