“I’ll tell you what really happened that night—what the court never heard.” Michael* leans forward in his chair; instinctively I lean back, away from him. We’re sitting in a conference room in the Los Angeles office of the California Department of Corrections, and although our interview is being supervised by the therapist Michael now sees every two weeks as a condition of his parole, I can’t help feeling nervous. After all, besides being a handsome, charming, 43-year-old building contractor and father of two children—one of them a teenaged daughter—Michael is also a convicted rapist.
“I’m down by the beach, trolling around on my bicycle,” Michael begins, then stops to ask if I know what he means by “trolling.” “It’s a fishing term,” he explains. “You’re out on your boat, you get to a good spot, you let out the lines and drag around some lures until you get hooked up. For me it meant cruising the boardwalk, looking for an opportunity: a woman who’s by herself, locked out of her car, fighting with her boyfriend, whatever. Women are most vulnerable, you know,” Michael confides with an intimate smile, “when they’re going through a break-up.”
He resumes his narration. “It’s nearly midnight. I’m in a hurry to line something up for the evening.” By ‘something,’ I know, Michael means sex—and not necessarily the consensual kind. Until a five-year stint in prison put a stop to his ‘trolling,’ Michael spent many of his nights coercing women into having sex with him. “I’d already had a couple of possible hits on the boardwalk,” he continues. “One who looked good enough to go back to; another one I talked to, who had a house right on the beach. So I go into a bar on the boardwalk to have a beer and consider my options. I see a guy and a girl arguing. I’m thinking to myself, ‘There’s an opportunity here’.”
Michael’s story seems well-rehearsed, and no wonder: he had plenty of time in prison to reflect on it. “The girl storms out of the bar,” he goes on. “I ride my bike ahead of her and sit down on a wall, waiting. I can tell she’s a little drunk—she’s got a pretty good wobble in her walk. There’s all kinds of guys hanging out on their balconies, whistling at her, trying to talk to her as she goes by. When she spots me I decide to throw away the preliminaries, go directly for the kill. No spending money on her, no small talk, just ‘Hey baby, what’s happening?’ A lot of times I’ve scored that way, you know.” Michael smiles again, his blue eyes locked on mine.
“I ask her, ‘How about a little kiss?’ She says yes. But her eyes are saying no.” Michael pauses, glancing deliberately at Dr. Choy, his therapist. Since his release from Folsom State Prison a few months ago, Dr. Choy’s reports to Michael’s parole officer help determine whether Michael remains a free man or returns to jail. “I should have stopped right then,” Michael says and Dr. Choy nods approvingly. “But instead I grabbed her and kissed her. Her dress was so short, it was showing her whole butt. I’m not using that as an excuse, but I must say I was attracted to it. She was young, she was innocent, she was sad. I’m thinking ‘quick swoop…’”