By Daniela Rocha
On March 18, 2010, College Voice reporter Daniela Rocha conducted an interview with a 27 year old sex offender named Kurt Werner at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, NJ.
Werner volunteered to talk to the Voice in conjunction with an article on the fifteenth anniversary of New Jersey's landmark sex offender registry and notification law known as "Megan's Law."
The following is a transcript with video clips of the actual interview. Please use discretion as content includes descriptions of sexual violence.
VOICE: Why did you agree to do this interview today?
Werner: I felt that being that I am an inmate at a state facility, we really do not have a voice for ourselves, and I felt like this was the only way. Being that I am close to the door -I am getting out and being released- this was the only way to advocate for myself. [I want] to show that the process here does work; it works with every individual person. I think that this is my only opportunity to really show that, because there is a screening process that happens before you leave and the total outcome of that is pretty much taken by the Attorney General. She pretty much has the last say so on whether you go home or you get committed. I just feel like this is a chance for me to speak on my own behalf.
VOICE: Have you been through that process yet?
Werner: No. Not yet. That doesn't usually happen until one to two months from the door.
VOICE: You are due to be released in January?
VOICE: What have you been convicted of?
Werner: Sexual assault. I molested my girlfriend's daughter.
VOICE: How old was she?
Werner: She was four.
VOICE: Tell me about your childhood and your teenage years?
Werner: I lived with my grandparents because my mother had physically and sexually abused me as a [young] child. I would see my father on the weekends and during the summer. My sister lived with my dad. My dad didn't have the money to raise me and my sister at the same time, so they thought it would be better for me to be raised by his parents, my grandparents.
From the age of eight to ten I was then molested by his wife's son. He was two years older then me. He molested both me and my sister. Being that I was raised by my grandparents when I used to go to school I would get picked on a lot. "Where's your mom at?" "Where's your dad at?" Typical things that other kids will say to hurt somebody's feelings. But it caused me to kind of push my grandparents away, even know they were there, they loved me and they cared for me. I pushed them right away because I didn't feel comfortable where I was at, and I chose to basically live on the streets and do whatever I could to fit in with the in crowd, the crowd that I thought was the party, just so I felt accepted. Drugs, alcohol, running around late at night, that was pretty much what I did for my teenage years. Then I got locked up at the age of 16 for a previous sex offense.
VOICE: You said you were molested by your mother. How old were you?
Werner: I was about the age of two.
VOICE: Do you remember that at all?
VOICE: How did you find out?
Werner: I started asking questions about my mother, because I remember a specific incident when I was sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table doing some type of kindergarten or first grade work. I don't even remember it, but I remember a woman coming to my grandmother's front door and taking my sister. I asked "Who was that?" and my grandmother told me it was my mother. I wanted to get up and go see her. [My grandmother] told me I couldn't. So from that point on I just had a lot of questions but I didn't know how to go about asking.
When I turned about 14 I started asking a lot of questions. So my grandparents and my father sat me down and we talked about it and they gave me the court documents and the photos and [explained] what was actually done and what was said in court by everybody. That's how I found out about it.
VOICE: Did your mother serve time?
VOICE: You were molested by your step-brother. How long did that last? Tell me what happened.
Werner: It was about a two year period, it happened from [when I was] the age 8 to 10. Because at the age of 10 my father divorced his wife after all of this was found out. My sister told on him.
I always wanted to hang out with him and his friends. One night I was watching T.V. with him and he put on an adult film, and we started watching it. I liked what I saw. It was arousing, but then he started playing with himself in front of me and eventually it led to him making me do things to him that I really didn't feel comfortable doing. But after I had done it the first time, I was allowed to hang out with him and his friends, and I felt accepted. So at that time I didn't know that what I was doing was wrong. So I continued to do it for about two years until my sister told on him and everything came to an end.
VOICE: How did your sister find out?
Werner: My sister was being molested too, by him.
VOICE: Was there ever an occasion in which you and your sister were molested at the same time?
Werner: No, he would molest my sister when I wasn't there.
VOICE: Did you know about it?
Werner: No, I didn't know about it until my sister told on him. I didn't know anything about it.
VOICE: When this came out, did you step up and say he is also molesting me?
Werner: No, I kept it to myself because I was scared of how I was going to be perceived as either a gay or homosexual person because my family kind of raised against it. But they are accepting. They know I am a bisexual person today and it doesn't bother them anymore.
VOICE: When this was happening you say you felt like it wasn't wrong. Do you feel like that today?
Werner: Yes, I do. I am comfortable with who I am. I understand that there are attractions, but there are certain ones that are healthy and certain ones that aren't. Like my crime was very unhealthy. I was trying to fill a void within myself that I couldn't fulfill with anybody else. Nobody else was going to fill it but me. I was running from everyday life. I didn't want to deal with the pressure of bills, trying to survive, because I just wasn't ready for it at the time.
VOICE: What were you arrested for at the age of 16?
Werner: For a previous sex offense. I was 16 years old and I sexually assaulted a 12 year old. I was hanging around with a bunch of my friends, smoking and drinking, and her and her friends came up to me and started talking. I asked her if she wanted to take a walk. We took a walk and we started kissing and everything was fine, but I took it to the next level and she said no and I kept going. So I did three and a half years in Jamesburg for that.
VOICE: What do you mean when you say you kept going?
Werner: I penetrated. I raped her.
VOICE: How did you get caught then?
Werner: She told right way. She had her mom call the cops.
VOICE: Did you deny it?
VOICE: You served three and a half years in Jamesburg for committing this crime at age sixteen. Did you register then as a sex offender?
Werner: Yes. After I was released from Jamesburg I was on Megan's law.
VOICE: You have one count for failure to register?
Werner: Yes, I was locked up for a disorderly person charge, just before this crime, just before I got locked up for this. I went to county [jail] for that. When I got out of county I was living at my dad's house. [I went there] because I got kicked out of my apartment, because I was locked up, and I never went to the police station. A couple of days later I was arrested for this, I had only just gotten out of county. I just didn't go to the police station.
VOICE: Did you always go back to the police station?
Werner: Yes, every time, every year.
VOICE: How many times did you go back to the police station to register?
Werner: About five years. I was home about five years.
VOICE: Do you plan on registering every time once you are released?
Werner: Yes, I am going to be living with my father. My family has already started going through counseling, so they can understand me and when I get out I plan on doing family counseling with them, as well as coming back here for after care and whatever else they ask me.
VOICE: You are labeled by society as a sex offender. How do you feel about that?
Werner: It's conflicting because society labels you based upon your past and not what you have done to change yourself in the future. I understand how society feels. Do I agree with it? No, not all the time. Sometimes I think it's biased. You are judging people… basically you are judging people by its cover not reading the contents.
VOICE: Do you understand what a sex offender is?
VOICE: How do you define sex offender?
Werner: A sex offender is somebody who has certain urges, certain feelings that are going on and they don't know to cope with it. Their only way out is by using any types of sex means necessary. A sex offender is somebody who doesn't know how to control themselves. This is what this place helps and teaches. Teaches you to be who you are, instead of trying to be somebody you are not. I feel like most of us in this facility are always trying to be something we weren't. We try to live a double life style, and that is part of the reason why we do what we do.
VOICE: How do you plan to handle society's judgment once you are released?
Werner: I am okay with it. I understand that society and people are going to have their opinions. I just have to prove to them that I am not who you think I am. I am not that same person anymore. I am not that person that you can't trust. Because I see that society is… It's a double edge sword. Society has a problem with a sex offender living door to you, but they don't have a problem with a three-time murderer living next door to you. You know what I mean? It doesn't make sense. They want to commit sex offenders: commit them, commit them, commit them! But yet you have guys who kill people, you have guys who are repeat drug offenders, and you are not committing them.
VOICE: Do you think their fear is justified?
Werner: To an extent. I think everybody has fears about anybody who commits any crime. I think that right now this is the target; this is the focus of states and government: sex offenders. They are saying we are the worst of the worst. I understand that what we do is horrible or what we have done is horrible. But you know what? Just like anything else, just like the alcoholic or the drug addict there is rehabilitation. I think that is one thing society fails to realize.
I think that what would be good is that instead of spending money on doing certain things to keep sex offenders off the streets, when there are a lot of them that should go home, the state should spend money on educating society on why [sex offenders] do what we do. [They should train people] to look out for certain signs and the way people act so they can understand and be aware of their surroundings. I believe it works both ways. Because we have to constantly work on ourselves as well.
VOICE: How old were you when you molested the 4-year-old [girl]?
Werner: I was 23 years old.
VOICE: You have been convicted twice?
VOICE: What [registry] tier are you in?
Werner: Probably a tier two. (moderate risk to reoffend)
VOICE: Were you in a tier two the first time?
Werner: No, I was in a tier one. (low risk to reoffend)
VOICE: Summarize what was going through your mind [from the time you were molested to the time you molested someone else]?
Werner: When I was being molested it was very confusing. It felt good. I felt scared… In some ways it felt wrong and it felt right…
VOICE: What felt good and right and also wrong and scary?
Werner: What felt good about it was the sexual feeling. I don't know how else to explain that… The sexual part of it is what felt good about it. What felt right about it is that I felt almost comfortable with doing it.
But there was the other side that says this is wrong. What I felt wrong about it is that I was being sneaky. I was young and I wasn't sure if this is what I should be doing.
What felt scary about it was the fact that I wasn't sure if I knew what I was doing or how to do it. Also, the fact of being scared and getting caught while doing these things.
VOICE: How did you know at that age that what you were doing was wrong?
Werner: At that age I just had that feeling. I was raised by my grandparents and it was always said to me that certain things that are okay and some things that aren't, and if anybody ever crosses your boundaries… it was kind of implanted as a child as you grow up that that is not supposed to happen. I believe that schools teach that as well. At that time they had sex-ed. I don't know if they still do. School and my grandparents kind of implanted that into me mostly because of what happened with my mother. They were very protective of me.
VOICE: [With your stepbrother], did you feel like you were being molested? You made it seem like you enjoyed it to a certain extent.
Werner: I did. That was part of what was confusing too. Like I said, it felt wrong, yet it felt right because I enjoyed what I was doing. Yet I didn't think that I should be doing it. The only reason of why I did do it was so I could hang out with him and his friends and play football and be accepted. That behavior of wanting to be accepted by anybody around me started at a very young age. It just continued as I got older, because I never knew how to just be comfortable with who I am instead of focusing on how other people view me or how other people accept me. have to accept myself first. So the age of 8-10 there was a lot of secrecy and that felt wrong, I had never kept anything from my grandparents. I kept that from them and that was painful to do.
VOICE: Were you ever asked not to tell?
Werner: Yeah. Not in so many words. There was more of reverse psychology. [He said] "Don't worry I won't tell anybody." So that kind of told me why I shouldn't tell either. It was very tricky, but that is how it was said to me.
VOICE: Did you know the word molested meant? Did you ever use that word when you were 8?
Werner: No, not at all. Those words never came into my head. Just the words this "feels good but something doesn't feel right about it." That is just the only thing that came into my head, technical terms I didn't know anything about that.
VOICE: Do you think that what you did to that little girl was wrong?
Werner: Yes, I knew it was wrong. At the same time I was in a bad place. I was running from life, running from a relationship with her mother. I wanted to get mine. I wanted to satisfy myself, through sex, through sexual acts.
VOICE: What did you do to her?
Werner: I pretty much did the same thing my stepbrother did to me. I went to the bedroom. I put on an adult movie. I was home alone with her. I knew that eventually she would come into the room. So when she did I was in there playing with myself. She asked me what I was doing. I told her I was playing. I asked her if she wanted to play. I showed her how to masturbate me and…uhm…lick me, and then I would lick her and go in on her.
VOICE: Did you ever think you didn't want to do it, that you needed to stop?
Werner: Afterwards, I said to myself "this can't happen."
VOICE: Did it happen once?
Werner: It happened 3 times.
VOICE: Why did you not stop yourself after the first time?
Werner: Honestly I had control of the situation. I was out of control in life. I felt like I didn't have any control in the relationship. I didn't have any say so. So I was looking for a way to feel powerful. That was my way. I was able to do what I wanted. It was almost exciting to me because it brought back a lot of questions. Maybe exciting wasn't the word, intriguing. It brought a lot of questions about my mother. I would ask "why?" all the time. In a way I was looking for the answer through what I was doing to this four-year old, why my mother did it to me. I was looking for the answers in all the wrong ways.
VOICE: Did you rape her?
Werner: No, there wasn't any penetration vaginally, there was penetration orally, where I would have her lick me, where I would lick her. But I never actually penetrated with my penis.
VOICE: Did you at any point have fantasies of having this type of sexual contact with a child.
Werner: Yes, I did.
VOICE: Before this happened?
Werner: Yes, not that young though. I did have fantasies if I was watching T.V. or something and I saw a teenage girl or a pre-teen on T.V. I would feel aroused. Arousal is more of a mental thing then physical. I would be attracted to what I saw. I guess I always wondered what it was going to be like.
VOICE: Did you think you would get caught since you said you had control over the situation?
Werner: I had control not over the situation but over her. That fear was definitely there. After I got locked up for a disorderly person charge I pretty much knew it was going to happen then. Her mother had gotten locked up as well and the kids were taken away from her. So I pretty much knew that sooner or later it would have come out.
VOICE: Did you know that she would tell about what happened?
Werner: Yes, because she had told her mother before while we were still together, but I convinced her mother she was lying.
VOICE: You sexually molested her three times?
Werner: Yes, three times in a six month period.
VOICE: Did she tell her mom after the first time?
Werner: Yes, after the first time. I convinced her mom that she was lying due to the fact that…um… this is the key part --I always had the feeling of what it would be like, this helped me do it. It was the fact that her mom told me that when they used to live in Florida her daughter had accused somebody of touching her and nothing ever happened. That kind of gave me an alibi, so when she told her mother after the first time, I used that against her saying that "she has done this before, she is lying" to build up a defense for myself. I think that if the mother had never said that to me, now I am not placing the blame on her mother, but if that comment had never been said to me I wouldn't have had the balls to do it.
VOICE: Did you think the little girl was lying the first time about the incident in Florida?
Werner: At that time I didn't care. When I first heard that all I thought was wow, she is just like me. Next thing was: I wonder if I could get away with it.
VOICE: So you thought you were just like her?
Werner: Yeah, because I was young [when I was molested], she only had one parent, she said she was molested, nothing ever happened. I still feel like nothing ever happened to my mother. She didn't do any time. She got a slap on the wrist and the kids were taken away from her, but yet she was still allowed to see my sister. I had a lot of ill feelings towards that. So I related [to my girlfriend's daughter]. I felt for her, [because] I felt the same thing.
VOICE: I am sure that you have enough time to think about it after being here for three years, now that you think about it, do you think that she was lying the first time?
Werner: No, I don't think she was lying. I think she was being honest. I have been over and over this since I have been going through therapy for this amount of time. There was so many signs of the way she would act, and things she would do that was a tell-tail of being abuse in a child. It was always there in front of my face, whether I just chose to not see it or I just was that oblivious at the time...I definitely believe that she was telling the truth.
VOICE: How did you get caught?
Werner: She was with her foster mother and the foster mother caught her playing with herself in the tub and she asked if "anybody has ever touched you?" She used to call me dad, so she said "yeah my daddy did." She showed her with a pill bottle what I would do to her. Personally after being here for a while I think that wasn't very bright for the foster mother to have her show what I would do to her with a pill bottle. I think that was a little extreme, I think that words are enough. That aside, that is how I got caught. The prosecutor's office came to my dad's one morning and asked me if they could ask me some questions...At first I denied it, I tried to blame it on the guy in Florida. Then I was like screw it, and I did I just came clean.
VOICE: Are you going to reoffend?
Werner: That is a tough question. The reason I say it's a tough question is because no one knows what can happen in the future. I can only be aware of my surroundings, be aware of what is going on inside of my head and inside of my heart, and let me know how I feel about certain things… I don't want to reoffend. I don't want to hurt anybody ever again. Because not only am I hurting this individual I offend against, I am hurting my family, their family, myself, everybody else that is connected to me. [They end up having to come] here, having to take time out to come see me, to spend money for me to talk to them on the phone, and send me money so I can order the commissary. It hurts everybody around me and I don't want to do it anymore. I am tired of hurting people; I am tired of hurting myself. I care about them. I care about me today and within that it helps me care for other people, because when I was committing my offense I didn't care about anything but what I wanted and what I needed.
VOICE: Are you not confident that you are not going to reoffend?
Werner: I am not saying that I am not confident. I am confident enough to say that it won't happen, because I won't let it happen.
VOICE: Given the opportunity, if you happen to babysit?
Werner: I would never put myself in a position that I am going to have to babysit. Let me put it this way: I have a seven year old daughter. I am sure that her mom would not have a problem letting me see her, but I plan on going thru DYFS (the Department of Youth and Family Services) to get supervised visitations, so nothing could ever be said. Say I was at the mall and I was walking past the stores or the arcade…I am telling you right now I am leaving the mall and going home.
VOICE: Have you ever have any sexual fantasies about your daughter?
Werner: No, not at all.
VOICE: You said you are confident enough that you are not going to reoffend. Where does that confidence come from?
Werner: That confidence comes from this place. It teaches you how to accept yourself, how to love yourself, how to have the mind state that you can do anything that you put your mind to. A lot of us thought we really would not amount to anything, we didn't love ourselves. Having empathy for yourself gives that feeling for others, because once you start to care for yourself then you know how it feels to get hurt, and how to feel those feelings, how to just love yourself. If you cannot love yourself you cannot love anybody else. That is my opinion. That is what I live by today.
VOICE: Do you want to be supervised?
Werner: I do not want anybody to have any type of thought that I would want to do this again, I don't want to hurt anybody ever again. This jail lifestyle ain't for me. I am tired of it. I have a family that cares for and loves me and I need to embrace that, that I think it is the most important things in anybody's life, to have somebody there for you. Unlike me, not having my mother in my life, I want my child to have both of her parents in her life. I think every child needs it. I see a lot of kids turn into a life of crime, drugs and alcohol, and most of them are raised by a single parent. I don't want that for my daughter.
VOICE: What is the number one tool that you are going to use to stop yourself from reoffending and also to do the things that you have planned on?
Werner: Trust. I am learning to trust other people. I am learning to trust my therapist, so if I ever have a thought of anything I can pick up my phone and call my therapist anytime. Or I can pick up my cell phone and know that they can help me. It is things that I didn't do, I didn't trust anybody.
I think that had a lot to do with the molestation, what my mother did… I always had a thought that if my mother didn't love me nobody does. Trust is really big. I also think that one of the biggest things for me is to understanding myself, and understanding the things around me. Because if you don't know who you are you are not going to know what to look out for, what you want in life, you are not going to be able to decipher between the two.
This place helped me a lot in learning who I am and what I want in life. I have picked up two new crafts that keep me busy and keep my life at ease where I can sit down and crochet all day long and feel at peace. I work out to keep myself busy, when I am not doing that I am working on therapy.
I have done a lot of work in this place; I went to NA group and completed that process. I just think that people who do a lot of work here deserve to have a second chance...I don't think it will be up to one person to make that decision. I don't think it should be up to the Attorney General. I think that it should be your therapist. Who knows you better than your therapist who sits with you in here every week?
VOICE: What are some of the plans you have to move on with your life, other than therapy?
Werner: I would like to go back to school, I would like to go to DEVRY, and get some type of engineering degree, whether it be in automotive or computer technician…At one point in time I would like to my own company, a landscaping company. I have done landscaping with my grandfather since I was 13. It is just a passion of mine. It is something I would like to pursue starting a landscaping company. Whether I am just cutting grass or not. It's something I love to do.
VOICE: Because of "Megan's Law," your crime is going to hang over your head for the rest of your life. How do you plan on handling that?
Werner: That is right. I have no problem with it. I have done this to myself. I can't complain about that. I don't mind if I have to go to the police station every 90 days to register. That is fine with me. It doesn't bother me because I know I will. I can go every other day because I know tier two is every six months, and tier three is every ninety days, whatever the case may be. I have no problem with "Megan's Law." "Megan's Law" doesn't stop me from living life. One day out of the year that I have to take time to go to the police station it is not a big deal to stay home.
VOICE: College officials will be notified if you decide to go to school, and your picture could be posted depending on the tier you are in. Would that stop you from going to school?
Werner: No, not at all. I can't let things on the outside and people's perspective and things that I can't control stop me from what I need to do, not even what I want to do. In order for me to prove that I can be a good member of society I have to do things I need to do, not what I want to do. They can post my picture up on telephone poles. I don't really care. I am already on the Internet. Anybody wants to see me go on the Internet, and it is no different.
VOICE: You have 9 months until you get out of here. What is going through your mind?
Werner: I am scared to death. I am scared of going home. I am scared of not going home. I am scared of being committed.
Like I said I don't think the process is very fair sometimes. You have people that maintain a level of therapy in this facility that have passed the SCRP board. You have guys who act out and sexually molest other inmates and they go home. It really doesn't make sense. I have stopped trying to figure it out. There is a lot of anxiety about that, whether I am going home or not. But I will tell you one thing, my family is ready and prepared to hired a lawyer if [the Attorney General does] commit me. I am not going to just sit down and let them take my life away. I have done a lot of work to just let them take my life away.
VOICE: Do you ever think about how is it going to be once you get out of here?
Werner: It is going to be difficult. I believe that the first month is going to be the hardest. Not because of anything criminal. It is because a lot has changed in the last four years. It is going to be hard to try and get a job. That is why I want to go to school first. Anybody that does know me is going to see me. Word is probably going to get around that I am home. It is just something that I have to deal with.
VOICE: Sex offenders are a great target for politics, law enforcement, human rights advocates and the community is general. Some would argue that sex offenders deserve a second chance and that treatment is the answer, many would argue that the only solution is a life sentence. There are those who believe that once you serve your time you should be free to go. How do you feel about that?
Werner: My opinion is put those on "Megan's Law," give them a second chance. There are some that deserve to be committed though. They just don't care. They do whatever they want in this place, let alone what they would do in the streets. I am not against "Megan's Law." I am against how it is being run. I am against how they choose who should [be committed] and who doesn't. That I am against. I was at NJN not too long ago as a part of a process and everything they said was right. That person said that 8 percent of those people deserve to be committed. Give you a rough number of 300 people, 24 of those people deserve to be there, that is a big difference. My opinion is they are trying to fill the beds because they need money, everything revolves around money. Politics, anything… everything revolves around money. But I do feel they should put us in Megan's law, give me an ankle bracelet and a GPS tracker I don't care. I am not coming back here, I don't want to.
VOICE: You don't think you are coming back here?
Werner: No. If they allow me another chance I will prove to them that therapy works. Therapy is not only while you are locked up either. It is a lifelong process. I will be coming back here for aftercare therapy. It's free. I don't have money to spend on therapist.
VOICE: Some people say that sex offenders will only tell you what people want to hear [when they are being evaluated for a tier]. What do you think about that?
Werner: It is funny you say that, because that is what politicians do all day long, they tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear. I don't think there is anything wrong with most of the process of tiering. I think that depending on the crime I really can't say, because to me it doesn't matter what tier I am in. I think it is only a problem for sex offenders who want more freedom. I can't speak for other people, but it doesn't bother me. Like I said, therapy works in this place. It is not therapy that makes you work, it is the individual. If you don't want to change, you can sit in groups for ten years. It is like an alcoholic…if you don't want to stop drinking you are not going to. It is as simple as that.
VOICE: Is there anything else you want to say?
Werner: I just think that I would love to prove to society that I can make it, that I am not the same person that they see in that paper.
That is another thing. In the screening process they are going by your past and paperwork. They are not going by who you are today. They are going by who you were when you got locked up. It may not seem like three years is a lot, but when you do nothing but constantly work on yourself and think about yourself and the things that you have done and how you can change your actions, there are so many things that you can do in order to change.
I remember not too long ago in NJN the Attorney General made a statement that I think was a very biased statement…She said, "I am trying to commit as many sex offenders as possible." That is a politician for you…They give you what you want to hear. I think she was premeditated in what she wants to do. Nothing is going to stop her. It is my opinion.
"The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly." - Abraham Lincoln