IN EARLY MARCH 1991 half a dozen police officers arrived at the East Dallas YMCA and handcuffed a young child-care employee named David Wayne Jones. At the time, the nineteen-year-old's arrest could not have come as more of a shock to parents and his managers. Jones was known around the Y as a bubbly, tireless worker whom kids referred to as Super Dave and whom moms trusted enough to hire as a babysitter after hours. But when a seven-year-old boy accused Jones of touching him inappropriately in the bathtub, an investigation revealed that he was an unrelenting child predator, one who, almost daily, took advantage of the kids he cared for. Included in the allegations made by more than a dozen victims were claims that Jones used tickle games and play-wrestling as opportunities to fondle them, that he would become aroused when they sat in his lap, and that he would sometimes show up to babysit without wearing underwear. Jones would eventually confess to molesting more than forty children, pleading guilty to nineteen charges, including two first degree felony counts of aggravated sexual assault, making him one of the most prolific pedophiles in the history of Dallas County.
That was thirteen years ago. These days, Jones insists he's a different person. "A lot of how I've changed has nothing to do with sex," he told me one morning last spring at the Goree Unit, in Huntsville, a few months before he was scheduled for release. "I've grown up." Indeed, sitting across from me in a cramped visitors room, Jones, now 33, looked more like an ambitious young advertising executive, or maybe a congressional aide, than an infamous convicted pedophile. His hair and Vandyke beard were perfectly trimmed. His hazel eyes were clear and sparkled with energy behind small wire-rimmed glasses. Occasionally, he would lean forward in his chair, in the time-honored manner of the salesman, and make his case in a fluid baritone. "I've reached the point where I don't have confidence in my lies anymore," he said. "And I know I can no longer find comfort in a child fantasy." Jones talked about the rigorous treatment protocol he'd been through, the years he'd worked in therapy to alter his sexual desires, and the compassion he now feels for his victims. He said he felt sure that, whenever he was free, his days of seeking out children for sexual gratification were finished. And just to be certain, he'd even decided to have himself castrated. "I talked to the one guy here who's had it done," he said. "He said it took the edge away. I hear you're hardly motivated to follow through. That's what I want: If I get in the world and I have this urge, I want it gone."
Though it's comforting to imagine that convicted pedophiles like Jones are all locked away somewhere indefinitely, that is rarely the case anymore in Texas. The Department of Criminal Justice, charged with keeping the inmate population at an affordable level, releases roughly 200 convicted sex offenders every month, some with rap sheets worse than Jones's. Even more frightening is the condition they're in when they leave. Of the 29,000 sex offenders currently behind bars, about half of which had child victims, only 30 percent will receive any kind of therapy or education before they walk. For the remaining offenders who get out, we are left to hope for two scenarios: Either the inmate will have found God or some form of willpower while behind bars or, once released, he will violate his parole with some minor infraction and be sent back to prison before he can commit another horrific act.
Would we be better off spending more money on treatment? Consider the case of Jones, whose own recovery has been a realistically bumpy journey since arriving in prison, in 1991. He began as an inmate who felt little remorse for his crimes, believing that he had done his victims a favor. "All along," Jones said, "I had known it was wrong legally, but part of my fantasy was 'This is love. This is acceptance. This is nothing bad. I'm helping these children.'" He said it wasn't until 1996, when he was confronted in therapy by a fellow inmate who'd been repeatedly raped as a child, that he began to finally understand the consequences of his acts and to feel regret. "That was the first time I realized that what I had done does hurt children," he said. "I had never had that thought before." Since then he has committed himself to changing.
For a year, as his release date approached, Jones allowed me to observe him as he worked on his treatment. Over the course of a dozen or so visits, he shared, in sometimes excruciating detail, his formative years as a molester, his mind-set in the days leading up to his arrest, and the "thinking errors" that he said led him to commit his crimes. He knows some people will never be able to forgive him, but he repeatedly asserted that he could manage himself in the real world. You might think that trying to rehabilitate a pedophile is a waste of taxpayer money. But what if it could protect your child from a guy like David Jones?
IT IS SOMEWHAT OF A perpetuated myth that most child molesters were sexually abused themselves as children. Certainly some of them were—one of the most reliable studies, conducted by therapist Jan Hindman, placed the statistic at about 30 percent—but childhood abuse is not prerequisite to developing a sexual obsession with children. According to abuse experts, the most common thread among pedophiles is having suffered a personal trauma of some kind, often in the form of extreme neglect or physical abuse. Over time, their deviant sexuality evolves as a means of coping with the emotional abuse or the failure to attach to at least one parent. "One of our strongest drives is to attain attachment to our primary caregiver and to develop