Kid Rock

It was April 2008. I was working on a final piece of furniture in the prison woodshop, trying to finish it before my imminent release. The radio was blaring as usual, alternating between country and classic rock. Over the noise of machinery, I heard the upbeat intro to Kid Rock’s new hit “All Summer Long.” Across the shop someone gave a whoop and began to loudly sing along.

It was 1989, my thoughts were short my hair was long
Caught somewhere between a boy and man.
She was seventeen and she was far from in-between…

I hummed along too. It was a catchy tune. But something inside said, “hey, wait a minute”. Just how many times had I heard variations on that line? “I wasn’t the first.” “She knew what she was doing.” It was a common excuse early on in sex offender treatment.

“Cognitive distortion,” Ron, our therapist, would say. “That’s a thinking error, guys. The law doesn’t recognize the category ‘young, but experienced’ and neither should you. A minor can’t legally give consent for sex. Anyway, just because you weren’t the first person to take advantage of that girl, it doesn’t excuse your behavior.” 

We spent a lot of time learning to recognize the thinking errors that led to our offending and to counter them with the hard truth. The guys who couldn’t get past the excuses didn’t make it out of the program.

“So why is this song okay?” I asked myself. Despite his adolescent name, Kid Rock is pushing 40. I guess he thinks he’s just reminiscing about two teenagers having casual sex, and that may be immoral, but it’s not illegal…Or is it?

We were smoking funny things
Makin’ love out by the lake to our favorite song
Sipping whiskey out the bottle, not thinkin’ 'bout tomorrow

Singing Sweet Home Alabama all summer long.

“Well, that’s certainly illegal,” I thought, and not just the marijuana.  Having sex with someone who is high or drunk can get you arrested. I recalled a 20-year old guy in treatment who told us he had gone upstairs to find the bathroom at a party. There he also found an attractive woman.  The two of them ended up in a bedroom. Everything was going fine, he thought, until her husband opened the door. A few weeks later he found himself indicted for sexual assault.

“He took advantage of me when I was drunk,” she told her husband and the police.

“I guess she’s right,” he had to admit. “We both had a bit too much to drink that night.”

That guy was doing five to ten years and will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. So much for not thinkin’ ‘bout tomorrow.

Now nothing seems as strange as when the leaves began to change
O how we thought those days would never end…

A lot of guys are mystified when the leaves begin to change. Mid-life is hard on men. There’s the stress of work and family and finances. Maybe life hasn’t turned out the way they expected. There’s a temptation to regress to adolescent patterns of thinking and acting – a fantasy escape from the daily grind.

One day Ron asked the group, “How many of you thought you were in love with the victim of your crime?”

At least half of us in the circle raised our hands.

“We call that magical thinking, guys. Wake up!” Ron slapped the back of one hand into the palm of the other. “You can’t go back to being a teenager again. You’ll only hurt yourself and others by trying.”

The song was winding down. 

Sometimes I'll hear that song and I'll start to sing along
And think man I'd love to see that girl again.

I put down the dovetail saw and did some mental calculations. “Now there’s the really dangerous thinking error,” I thought. I’m sure Kid Rock isn’t fantasizing about getting back together with some 37-year old woman who’s a little worse for wear from years of drinking whiskey from the bottle and having casual sex. Mid-life can be hard on women, too. No, he wants to see that seventeen-year old again, or someone who looks and acts just like her.

And, believe me, indulging in those longings are a recipe for disaster. Go down that path and you’ll be singin’ Sweet Home Alabama Penitentiary for a very long time.