a Saturday night in the summer of 1998, an undercover officer logged in to a child-pornography chat room using the screen name Indy-Girl.
The first time he saw nude models was in middle school, when he discovered a copy of belonging to his father.
He was surprised and disappointed that the models weren’t his age.
John’s mother was a member of the local Day Lily Club, and spent much of her free time in her garden, where she had seven hundred and fifty varieties of lilies, whose growth she documented in scrapbooks.
Warm and self-deprecating, she said that she identified with John’s tendency to become compulsively immersed in his hobbies.
“I was supposed to be the successful child,” he told a prison psychologist. “When asked to describe adult relationships with women,” the psychologist wrote, “he appeared to be making up details of these as he spoke.” On the Internet, John said, “I can be whoever I want to be.”John’s father, an engineer, said that he would have disowned his son if he had been the one “standing behind the camera, taking the pictures.” But he forgave him for “acting like a schmuck.” In 2003, after completing his prison term, John moved into his parents’ suburban home and began a three-year term of probation; he was not allowed to use the Internet or to go places where children congregate.
He got a job at a bakery but chafed under his legal restrictions, complaining to his case manager, “I am not allowed to use my skills.” (After his arrest, he had been “other than honorably” discharged from the Army.) To comply with the terms of his probation, his parents put their computers in one room of the house and padlocked the door.
By twelfth grade, he noticed that the girls at school whom he found most attractive were freshmen.
But his desires seemed academic, his classmates having nicknamed him Fungus.
His downloads became increasingly explicit, but the procession of submissive young females proved monotonous, and he found himself looking on a news group called Youth and Beauty for images that were more extreme.
John couldn’t quite get himself to believe that he would ever get caught.
In the anonymous chat rooms, he felt free to adopt a persona repugnant to society. They arrived early, spread a blanket on the grass, and waved at John, who was sitting at a picnic table, writing in his journal.