Caught In the Net
My name is Adam Jennings. I am 38 years old. Four years ago, I was an IT professional with a steady job, a beautiful wife and two small children who filled up my world. Today, I am F.B.O.P. Inmate No. 16652-078. I am serving a ten year sentence. I have lost my wife, my children, my house, and my career. My crime? Recklessly (and stupidly) downloading explicit material from the internet.
While I worked as an IT professional, I had powerful computers, considerable amounts of computer memory, and a very large amount of internet bandwidth at my home. Like many Americans, I became enamored with the Internet, the various file sharing programs found online, and the seemingly infinite amount of media files available for download. I became a voracious downloader of music, movies, games, software, and, at times, adult-oriented material. I soon started "shotgun" downloading files from the internet - in other words, instead of carefully selecting individuals files to download, I captured very large swaths of files (hundreds, if not thousands, at a time) with the intent of reviewing and sorting them at a later time. Over time, given the large amount of hard drive space on my computers, combined with the large bandwidth, my downloading activity created a huge stockpile of downloaded but un-reviewed material on my computers. While sorting through the mass of download materials, I was shocked by the content in some of the materials - including scenes of horrific violence, beheadings, executions, graphic war footage, and, on occasion, child pornography. 1
In March 2009, federal agents came to my house with a search warrant. They seized my computers. I cooperated fully with the agents and answered all of their questions, as I felt I had nothing to hide and was certain that any issue would be worked out. Naively, I thought I was in trouble for possibly violating some type of copyright law. It took the government over one year to analyze all of the files on my computer. Eventually, I was charged with receipt, possession, and transportation of child pornography because my computers, which contained literally hundreds of thousands of files, contained 40 files that were considered child pornography. 2
I am not a pedophile. Indeed, the Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting my case (Ms. Mandy Griffith) candidly admitted that I "do not fit" the profile of a pedophile. Nevertheless, she was under intense pressure to prosecute my case to the fullest extent (rather than appear "weak" on child pornography and/or hurt her conviction rate statistics).
I did not create the files, I did not make them available on the internet, and I did not intentionally seek them out. I have never been in a chat room, or used IRE (internet relay chat), to solicit such material. Nevertheless, these 40 files existed and were unfortunately captured within my mass downloads of hundreds of thousands of other media files on my computers.
These 40 inadvertently captured files (out of hundreds of thousands of files) have cost me 10 years of my life. These 40 inadvertently captured files have cost me my family. These 40 inadvertently captured files, if I were to have taken my case to a jury and lost, could have resulted in me effectively receiving a lifetime sentence.
I write this letter with the hope that you read it with an open mind and begin to understand how our current federal system metes out they very harshest' penalties for these crimes without regard to intent, and makes very little effort to separate the true criminal minds from those who, like me, simply and regrettably failed to recognize the dangers of cyberspace.
I have now spent more than four years behind bars. During that time, I have truly lost everything. I spend every day of my existence praying that our lawmakers will finally see the light of reason. As it stands, our federal justice system pushes towards indiscriminate convictions in an effort to demonstrate that they are not weak when it comes to child pornography. This is a goal that no one can question. However, at the same time, the system pays little attention to the lives that are needlessly destroyed because the laws fail to take into account the difference between those that intentionally seek out child pornography and those that stupidly and inadvertently possess it.
I am not alone - there are thousands of us who have been caught up in a net that has been cast too wide, with a penalty structure that is far too harsh (and a cost that is far too large). The laws as they are currently written and enforced do not readily distinguish between the real threat (those who produce child pornography, seek it out, and inexplicably harm children) and those who have never harmed anyone.
1 Many of the files are named so enigmatically (or worse, labeled as something that they are not) that one cannot determine what is contained in the file until the contents are opened and viewed.
2 If my computers had 100,000 files, that is .0004 of the files. If my computers had 500,000 files (which is much more likely), then that is .00008 of the files. I cannot find the words to accurately portray how small this number of files is relative to the vast amount of files contained on my computer.