After my husband, Paul, was dragged off by the Feds and arrested for possession of child pornography, his lawyer, Bill Westcott, told me that the government was looking for a way to arrest me too. I listened to this young lawyer tell me that the Feds thought I was possibly/probably/certainly guilty of misprision of a felony. Never having heard this legal term, Bill patiently tried to explain it, but instead, I mentally and emotionally left the space for somewhere else. Bill’s voice seemed far away and the only thing I heard was an unpleasant whine.
This took place in the early days and months of, what I refer to as, The Invasion. Even later, when I researched the legal meaning of misprision of a felony, the explanation didn’t make sense. It was as if the Feds had dragged out an obscure legal term to arrest me. I imagined a group of men sitting around, trying to dream up some way of incriminating me. They had to be clever enough to create some charge that would stick, so their jobs could be justified.
Bill tried to reassure me that even if they arrested me on misprision of a felony, it was unlikely they could get a guilty verdict, because Paul and I were married. I stopped short when this scenario was discussed. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to bear being arrested and need to prove myself innocent.
There were many steps along the way in this multi-year brutality that I thought I couldn’t endure, but of course, I did. I’m still here. I didn’t die. People didn’t shun me. My name never appeared in print in the local papers.
It was psychological pressure put upon me by those who had power to do whatever they wanted. After all, they represented the Federal government. I was the innocent bystander, the wife who should have known what was going on, but didn’t.
The Federal prosecutor and his cronies couldn’t believe I didn’t know about Paul’s illegal activities. They even imagined that I was involved with collecting and selling child pornography along with him. They didn’t know me. They only recognized my name, age, address and where I worked. The only thing they focused on was trying to discover how I was involved with him and his crime and how they could arrest me. It would be a bonus for them; two people arrested for one crime.
To the prosecutor, being married meant sharing thoughts, experiences, observing one’s partner and being aware of what the other was doing. Paul and I resided in the same house, but communication had dried up. We existed together, silently passing by one another, sharing nothing.
Before his arrest, when I attempted to question Paul about a photo I glimpsed, for just a second, on his computer, he would quickly minimize the image and deny that there was anything suspicious. The photos were never of a nude, and were gone so fast I could never really see what they were. I was more concerned that he didn’t want me to see the pictures, than wondering what they were. He would turn his denial into an attack on me, accusing me of being nosy about what he was studying. Studying? I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. It turned out that he was studying child pornography, but for what end, I never found out.
In the April 30th issue of The New York Times, there’s a story about a man charged with misprision of a felony. It’s the first time I can remember this accusation being in the news. Omitting information or lying about things you know can put you in big trouble with the legal authorities. Where does responsibility for not stopping a crime begin and end?
I never considered that Paul was receiving child pornography. He never sold it, but did trade with a few other men who were later arrested on different, but similar crimes. It wasn’t until the Feds charged into my house and announced that they were looking for child pornography that I realized what Paul had been doing.
It was a tough time, but it’s over. I’ve survived well and have a good life. But whenever there’s a story that pops up in the news about child pornography, federal authorities or a term like misprision of a felony, it brings back the fear that held a vise grip over my life for two long years.