ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Halfway —

I’m talking in generalities here, on purpose.

I’d heard about this guy when his girlfriend put up a website about him, asking people to assist where they could with his legal bills or hiring him in the future. It told his story pretty succinctly; busted for software piracy, his life essentially destroyed, and then serving a multi-year jail sentence. Before he went in, his girlfriend had become his wife.

Since I was making a film where I wanted to talk about software piracy on BBSes, I contacted him through his wife, and asked if he was up for being interviewed when he got out, which at the time was coming closer. He’d been released to a halfway house at that point and was finishing up there. All of this was near where I lived. He indicated I should stop by the halfway house and we could discuss it.

One of the most common questions or requests I get regarding my documentary work is something along the line of “why don’t you do something about software pirates” or, even more succinctly “dude whuz with nothin about the scene”.  It presupposes several things, among them that I wasn’t making an effort to do that very thing on and off, and it comes down to this: nobody wants to come on camera.  And people who are willing to maybe do a phone call and get it recorded are either trolling or sociopaths having fun at my expense. It’s one thing to do a phone call and it’s another to let someone into your house, let them record you, and then lie to their face. It’s harder to do the second bit. Usually. I hope.

I definitely got software pirates into the documentary, but all of these guys had retired somewhere between 15 and 20 years previously. A couple decades will give you a distance about the subject that helps a lot when talking about it. And in the interim time, these guys had had plenty of time to come to terms with their activities and what they were up to in the time hence. In other words, the story was great and interesting, but wasn’t still recent.

The guy in the halfway house, was still living the story daily. It was very recent.

The BBS Documentary put me near a prison or corrective facility more than I would have expected. In this case, the halfway house (which is sort of a house of corrections) was located in downtown Boston. In fact, it was located down the street from a college, and if you’d looked at the outside and the people coming in and out, you’d have been hard pressed to think it wasn’t some sort of club or company. I guess they wanted it that way. I’ll bet very few people knew or know that it is what it is. I’ll not make an effort to indicate otherwise.

Inside, I called for the guy via the secretary/guard on the first floor. After a while, my guy came shaming down the stairs, quiet, passive. We shook hands and went over to a lounge area.

We talked about what I was doing, what I was going about, how he was doing. Even I could see this was someone who had been smacked down pretty hard by this whole endeavor and experience. The website indicated a complete loss of life savings, of a life torn apart in general. His demeanor seemed to indicate that as well. Around us, guys in street clothes moved slowly, uneasily, like they were in their own thoughts. Which I’m sure they were.

I roughly scoped out some potential ideas, and we shook hands and I went out the front door, something he couldn’t do without a bit more procedure.

Ultimately, nothing came of it. He was released but we both decided he needed to be forward and not backward looking. This wasn’t a time for likely aggrandizing his activities of the past, but making promises for the future he’d have to keep. I agreed.

I mention this because as a documentary guy or even someone dealing in history, you sometimes have to decide whether you want to be treating someone as a story or a person, and whether the timing of what you are doing will be a detriment or a boon to a person, and for what result. In my case, it wouldn’t have added a whole lot and it would have likely caused him even more trouble as he tried to get his life in line.

Since then, he’s employed and a father. Someday he’ll look back at his history and maybe he’ll want to talk about it and maybe someone will be there to listen. I hope it’ll be me.

Categorised as: computer history | documentary

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  1. Travis says:

    This is the difference between you and most “Journalists” these days. By being concerned about a persons welfare you set yourself apart with good ethics and a heart.

    This is something that is rarely seen in todays world of smear/rating/money journalism (Fox news). I find your attitude to be refreshing.

    I would like to thank you for the BBS Documentary and the time and effort that you put into it. It brought back some very good memories and covers a basically forgotten from of communication that I miss. I would also like to thank you for posting it on the Internet Archive. I will be purchasing the DVD from you really soon because I want it in my collection.

  2. Chris says:

    Yeah, Fox is the only media organization that smears people. The only one. There are no others. Not NBC News, or CBS News, or CNN, or MSNBC, or the New York Times, the LA Times, The Washington, only Fox. Yep, Fox stands alone when it comes to smear/rating/money journalism, as you put it, they are The Only Ones that would ever smear.


  3. A guy says:

    Kudos on this post.