LOS ANGELES — The letter came about two weeks ago.
"Concerning your request to visit me, you are all set and can come down at your convenience," it said. "Friday nights are the best, and if you get here at 5 o'clock, you won't have to wait more than a few minutes."
This was good news, since I'd been waiting for more than three weeks after filing the proper form for the Bureau of Prisons to notify me that it was okay to visit Paul Little, aka Max Hardcore, and when it seemed as if the permission would never arrive, I wrote to Paul and asked if there was any way he could find out on his end if I'd been okayed?
So last Friday afternoon, I drove down to 535 N. Alameda St., the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) here in Los Angeles, approached the guard desk and asked to visit Paul Little.
"Is he designated?" she asked.
I had no idea. So she looked him up on her computer, then handed me a form to fill out and a plastic tub in which to place my belongings.
"Take everything out of your pockets and put it in here," the guard said.
"But I brought this program booklet [for the XRCO awards] to give him," I replied. "Can't I just take that in?"
"Nothing can be taken inside," she affirmed.
"How about just a pen and paper?"
After stowing my belongings in a locker behind her desk, she stamped my hand with a fluorescent chemical, had me sit in a waiting area for a few minutes, and then pointed toward a steel door at the end of a corridor.
"Show the guard down there your hand," she ordered, indicating a window with a blacklight bulb beneath it next to the steel door.
After being let through the barricade, the guard inside the large reception area double-checked my stamp, then said, "Take table number 3."
The center of the room contained the visiting area: 16 tiny, low plastic tables, each numbered and each surrounded by four plastic chairs bunched tightly together. Around the perimeter of the open area were what appeared to be visiting rooms, which I suspected were reserved for meetings between attorneys and clients, since they had doors that could be shut for privacy. Some of the table-and-chair clusters were already occupied by other visitors, and I joined their vigil.
After a few minutes, Paul appeared through a doorway near the guard station and came over to sit down.
His hair was shorter than when I'd last seen him; he was dressed in prison-issue brown military-style pants and shirt, neatly pressed, and he seemed healthy. He later told me he'd given up smoking, and of course, no alcohol is allowed in detention.
We chatted for over an hour, during which he told me that he'd been made a trustee, and worked as an orderly in his prison block, designated "5 North."
"One of my jobs is to take care of the ping-pong table," he said. "What I mainly do is sweep and mop and just generally take care of the area around the cellblock."
He noted that his block in some ways resembled the visitors' room: It has a large open central area, though with two levels of cells ringed around the outside. Each cell has a wooden door rather than bars, and each also has a window about two feet tall and six inches wide, though there were bigger windows on an observation deck - but those were equipped with bars to prevent escape.
"I can see my house from my cell window," he said. (Knowing where his house is - Altadena - I found that a little hard to believe.)
Cellblock 5 North houses 130 inmates, all of whom are "designated," or "cadre," meaning they've already been tried and convicted (or pleaded guilty) and had been sentenced specifically to that block, or are awaiting transfer to another facility such as Lompoc or Terminal Island.
"One of my cellmates is a guy they called the 'backpack bandit ,' because he always used to carry a backpack when he robbed banks," Paul said. "He robbed something like 30 banks that way, although they didn't convict him of all of them. He got about the same sentence I did - 46 months. And another guy, a real computer genius, commandeered a Defense department satellite for a couple of hours, then gave it back to them, and when he did that, they managed to trace how he did it and they caught him. He got even less time than I did."
(In my head, I did the calculation: Making five porn movies equals robbing 30 banks, and is even worse than taking over a Defense Department satellite.)
The levels above 5 North are generally used for those who have committed violent crimes and are either awaiting trial or are already on trial; few serve out their full sentences at the MDC.
"On the seventh floor, there's this thing called the SHU," he told me. "You really want to stay away from there."
The SHU stands for Special Housing Unit, and is the MDC's equivalent of solitary confinement. It's the punishment area for prisoners who commit offenses on the other levels, and its inmates are confined to their cells for 23 hours per day.
Paul didn't say much about his daily schedule; only that he gets up with "reveille" at 5 a.m. for breakfast, and unlike other inmates in his section, he stays awake after that and performs his orderly duties. He said he'd had dinner just before coming down to see me, and that in general the food wasn't bad. He also mentioned that just about everyone knew who he was when he arrived, and that he's become something of a hero on his cellblock.
For recreation, he plays ping-pong, pool or one of the board games available, or watches television. The block has four TVs, two of which are always tuned to Hispanic channels. He has no computer access, but is able to use a "really, REALLY old" typewriter to write letters.
Most of the visit, however, was spent discussing his case, and the status of his appeal to the Eleventh Circuit. His attorneys' brief has been filed, the government has responded, and his attorneys have replied to the government's response. Paul took his attorneys to task for, he said, failing to note either in the appeal or the reply to the government's brief that his work was not sado-masochistic in nature - an allegation that had led to additional months being added to his sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines - and that none of the players in his movies were portrayed as underage - a particularly sore point for Paul since he had been accused of that several years ago in Los Angeles Superior Court, when California's laws still considered adult actors who appeared to be minors to be child porn.
But most of all, he expressed his frustration at being "held captive" by a government that had violated his rights of free expression and had hauled him all the way to Tampa, Florida to "prove" it because they knew they could never get a conviction if they had tried him in southern California.
Paul said he would place some of his thoughts on the subject in a letter, and we parted amicably. A few days later, I did receive a letter from him, containing the following:
"As I was saying during our meeting, I AM NOT a Criminal. I am the VICTIM of a Crime. And although I've been kidnapped and am currently being held against my will down at the metropolitan Detention Center, I want everyone to know that when I do finally emerge from captivity, that I will be bigger, stronger and more focused than ever before. This break has provided me the time I've been needing to re-energize myself, and to step back and take a look at my life and the big picture, and to ponder my future. And from what I can see and imagine, it is bright indeed. When I am finally free again, I will be more successful than ever before in everything that I do."
"I am not happy to be imprisoned, but I simply had to stand up to the monster that attempts to control and consume us. The beast that rams the pornography of American Idol down our throats, while selling ever more useless junk that we don't need in our lives by using sex, while on the other hand condemning the adult industry for showing explicit action, not because it offends the government but because it dilutes the impact and subsequent value of the corporate advertisements and programming. There comes a point where you just have to stick your head out the window and scream at the top of your lungs, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!' Like the announcer did in the 1970s movie Network."
"The government and its supporters attempt to survive by regurgitating the same lies they've been promoting since the debate began: That sex workers are essentially prostitutes being exploited, and also that pornography leads to violence against women. Because they have been taught to believe that sex was somehow dirty, they condemn it outside marriage and can't talk about it with their children or among themselves. It's no wonder there are so many unwanted pregnancies."
"How do we know this is still what they believe? Because it says so right here in a 'Friend of the Court' brief by Focus on the Family and its leader [sic] Patrick A. Trueman, who filed their statements in support of the government's case against me on March 31st, 2009. They also add that in an Australian province (although they don't say which one) when pornography laws were relaxed (although they don't say how much or in what fashion), it resulted in an astounding 284% increase in rape (although they don't say when or even how they came up with these figures)."
"But their facts are flawed as usual. Pornography actually subdues rather than provokes, according to most reliable statistical data. Consuming pornography doesn't lead to rape and violence towards women; it leads to consuming more pornography. Of course, this then takes away from the time consumers would otherwise use to purchase more mainstream goods and services online, and we couldn't allow that in our capitalistic society, now, could we?"
"Big Brother has not heard the last from Max Hardcore. He will be back, and he's going to have one hell of a chip on his shoulder when he gets there. The government may have thought they were solving a problem, when what they were actually doing was wasting taxpayers' money chasing a ghost, a spirit that has no body. Like a tidal wave that can't be contained, my work and those of many others will go on forever."
An analysis of the Focus on the Family brief will appear on AVN.com next week.