While I do not shy away from talking about my past experiences, good or bad, I seldom express the emotions and trauma packaged with those memories. Rather, I opt to repress those feelings and hide them from others and even myself.
As I have often said, repressing things never actually works. This statement never felt truer to me than it did a few weeks ago, when I found myself in the middle of an existential crisis. For two weeks straight, I lost all sense of self. My mind became a literal hellscape, and the demons within became irreconcilable. I managed to pull myself out of that dark place and began facing my demons. In writing this piece, I am confronting one of those demons.
Prior to March 27, 2015, the idea that I or any of my friends would involve ourselves in something that would result in local, state and federal agents knocking on our front doors was inconceivable.
In my junior year, I lived in an off-campus apartment with two roommates, who will be referred to as Josie and Liz. Both Josie and Liz were students at Hopkins at the time. We had all known each other since the fall of 2012. It was safe to say that we all knew each other well.
On the morning of March 27, I woke up around 7 a.m. on the living room couch to the sound of banging at the front door. We lived in a second-floor apartment of a Charles Village row home, so we shared the main entrance and stairway with another resident. I assumed it was the downstairs neighbor trying to get our attention after locking himself out.
I hurried out of my apartment. Opening the door, I found myself face to face with several officers of the law. I noticed that one of them was holding a battering ram. I don’t think I had noticed just how small that hallway was until it was just filled with me, four Maryland State Troopers, two Homeland Security agents and one Baltimore police officer. I started wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t answered the door in time.
One of the State Troopers began questioning me about my identity and place of residence. He had seen the names on the mailboxes, so he knew who my roommates were. Then the officer asked about the whereabouts of Josie. Still in shock, I pointed them up the stairs to the open door of our apartment. The officer asked me if there were any other people in the apartment, and I informed him about Liz.
All the officers then proceeded to rush up the stairs, leaving me at the bottom. A moment later, they brought Liz down to wait in the hallway with me. I don’t remember how long we waited down there, but it felt like an eternity. Eventually, they allowed us back into the apartment, but they escorted Josie out.
For one to two hours, we sat in the living room, watching the officers search through our apartment and Josie’s belongings. The Homeland Security agents did most of the searching and focused primarily on Josie’s electronics and the internet modem.
One of the officers continued to survey the apartment, and the lead officer questioned Josie in a police van outside. The remaining three stood around waiting to be given a task and kept an eye on us. They joked around, told stories and gossiped. They even engaged me and Liz in small talk and asked us about our studies.
To them, it was like any other day. I didn’t know why they wanted my roommate. Due to their demeanor, I started thinking that Josie’s crime wasn’t that bad. I even speculated that he was probably just collateral in an investigation of someone else. I convinced myself that things would be okay.
The lead officer requested one-on-one conversations with Liz and me. Liz talked to him first. They went into one of the bedrooms and closed the door. After about 30 minutes, Liz and the officer exited the room.
It was now my turn. The officer led me into the room and then closed the door behind me. We sat in two chairs positioned to be facing each other, and then he introduced himself. I don’t remember his name. I don’t even think I listened when he told me the first time.
The conversation began with him asking me a few questions relating to knowledge about file sharing sites and torrenting. I am not a computer savvy person, so I didn’t know much. I assume that, for the most part, my answers were unhelpful to their investigation.
Eventually, the questioning stopped. The officer pulled out the search warrant and handed it to me. He started explaining why they were in our apartment that day and went over the details of my roommate’s crime.
My roommate Josie wasn’t someone you would peg for a felon. He was known to be affectionate and goofy. He was the kind of guy who spent his free time watching anime or playing his Nintendo 3DS. He loved taking care of his fish, two guinea pigs and many plants.
His habits, mannerisms and interests paralleled those of child. He was the embodiment of innocence.
The cloud of innocence surrounding Josie’s childish demeanor dissipated as the words detailing his crime fell from the officer’s lips. When I walked into that room, I saw Josie as a child at heart. When I walked out, I didn’t even want to put “Josie” and “child” in the same sentence.
The officer informed me they were arresting Josie for the possession of child pornography.
Throughout the conversation, the officer periodically asked if I had any knowledge about my roommate’s activities. I said no. He asked if Josie had ever shared or hinted at his proclivities. Again, I told him no.
Eventually, we got onto the topic of Josie’s work-study job. See, Josie worked at an after-school program for elementary and middle school-aged kids. He primarily worked with third and fourth graders, and according to the officer, Josie admitted to being the most attracted to that age group.
Very few things in life can prepare a person for finding out their close friend is a pedophile charged with possession of child pornography. I know for sure that neither I nor my friends were prepared. Our reactions ranged from anger, to dismissiveness, to doubt and to acceptance. It challenged our conceptions of loyalty and exposed diametrically opposed ideologies.
Josie’s arrest broke us and it broke our friendships. Personally, his arrest left me feeling suspicious of everyone around me. Trust became a foreign concept. In the following weeks, I would break down from flashbacks of the police rushing in and bombarding me with questions.
While writing this piece, I found myself racing to finish. Even though I wanted to tell my story, I didn’t like the process of telling it. It is hard to discuss situations that hurt us and tear away our sense of security.
Editor's Note: The headline of this piece appears differently in the print edition of the paper.