After having just released THE YELLOW, the second book in the Carmen Novels Series, I’ve been thinking more about the role models for my character, Carmen Carillo. And while I have talked more generally about the women who work in the sex offender treatment field (Women in The Heads of Men), today I have the good fortune of interviewing one of the best in the business, and an individual who also happens to be one of those character role models. Terry Peterson has been evaluating and treating both adult and juvenile sex offenders for 25 years and tells me she is finally going to take the plunge and retire this year. But, before she does, I thought it might be interesting to pick her brain about her work over the last quarter century. In spite of the title of this post, this woman is definitely not crazy, although given the work she does, some might think so.
EA: Welcome Terry. It’s so nice to see you again. Have you missed me?
TP: What was your name again?
EA: Oh God, it’s starting already?
TP: You bring it out in me, I guess.
EA: I thought we could start with the question that is usually on everyone’s minds: Why would you want to involve yourself in the treatment of men who have done such horrendous things?
TP: Well, first of all, let’s expand the question a bit. When I first started doing the work, it was with children, meaning adolescents who had committed sexual offenses. And women as well. It’s not just men we’re talking about. That said, I do understand the question and I get it a lot. I think I can safely say that I fell into the work. Before, I had been focusing on the victim side of it, for Child Protective Services, for a sexual assault center, that sort of thing. Although I had always had some minimal contact with the perpetrators back then, in family sessions or in the field, over time I began to notice them more and how they didn’t seem at all like the big bad bogeymen I was raised to believe.
EA: Hold on. You started to feel sorry for sexual deviates?
TP: Clean out your ears. I didn’t say that. I said I started to notice the differences between what the myths about sexual offenders are and the reality of most of these folks. If I told you the stories of some of these guys and left out the part that they were sex offenders, you’d think what miserable, horrible and sad lives they’d led.
EA: If that’s how you got into the business, what makes you stay?
TP: I’m not staying. I’m retiring. Yay!
EA: Will this dancing take long?
TP: Sorry. In answer to your question, I’m in a helping profession, and I believe that I’ve helped people. I get rewarded by the work I do. It doesn’t happen every day and the work is full of moments when I tear out my hair, but in the long run, I truly believe I can help make a difference in people’s futures.
EA: People who see this are going to think, “Oh boy, here we go with another Pollyanna.”
TP: I don’t care if they think that way. It doesn’t stop me from working. And if they knew me, they’d know I have a ton less sugar in my system than Pollyanna ever had.
EA: What’s the hardest part about doing your work?
TP: Seeing the client’s fail for no good reason. Like forgetting to come to sessions. Failing polygraphs. Denying they have problems. Being unable to make a good connecti0on with their probation officer. I’m kind of old fashioned in that I want my clients to be honest with me. I don’t ask for a whole lot more. In this business, if you’re honest from the get-go, you’ll find it’s much easier to make it to the other side.
EA: And what does the other side look like?
TP: Mostly healthy. More human, caring, trusting, understanding. Skilled enough to keep from getting to the same bad point again. More optimistic and motivated.
EA: So, that brings us to the million-dollar question. Can sex offenders can be cured?
Tune into the next installment where Ms. Peterson addresses the issue of cure and what to do when an offender comes on to you. See you then.