The Polygraph

The continuance my lawyer filed was accepted by the court. Sentencing is now scheduled for Wednesday, March 30. The postponement gives me enough time to take the polygraph test, which I did this past Thursday.

The polygraph administer was a Vietnam war soldier and former FBI agent—a no nonsense kind of guy who didn’t mix words. When we sat down in the small, windowless testing room, the first thing he said to me was, “So how did you get mixed up in kiddie porn?”

Actually, he was a pretty nice guy and came highly recommended to me by my court-appointed counselor. Unlike many other administers I’ve read about, this guy genuinely wanted to see me pass the test. We sat and talked about my situation, our families, the war, life—all in the effort to calm my nerves and help me relax. And before the test began, we went over the questions together so there’d be no surprises.

First we went over the questions pertaining to sexual offenses: Have you ever had sexual contact with a minor? Have you ever solicited sex from a child? Have you ever produced child pornography?

Then we came up with a few questions designed to prove to the court that I’m a person of good character: Have you ever intentionally made a promise you knew you couldn’t keep? As an adult, have you ever lied to avoid taking responsibility?

The questions related to sexual offenses were easy to answer. There was nothing to hide, therefore nothing to worry about. But the “character” questions had me feeling uneasy. Friends, family, and myself included would all vow that I’m a person of good character, nevertheless, everyone lies and breaks promises from time to time.

Have I ever lied to avoid taking responsibility? Of course. When I was 10-years-old in day care, I snagged a ten-dollar bill someone had left lying beside the sink in the bathroom. Later, when the boy who had misplaced the bill discovered his money was missing, I flatly denied ever having seen it. Does this make me a bad person? No. But I couldn’t stop these silly lies from running through my mind, and they were making me all the more nervous. So together, we massaged the questions so I’d be able to answer each with absolute truth and certainty.

Therefore, “Have you ever lied to avoid taking responsibility?” turned into “As an adult, have you ever lied to avoid taking responsibility?”

When we finally agreed on the questions, he hooked me up to the stack of equipment behind my chair. Two coiled wires went around my upper and lower chest, essentially strapping me to my seat. Next, two metal clips attached to wires were fastened to the pointer and ring fingers on my right hand. My left arm was fitted with a blood pressure cuff, and in the seat of my chair was a pressure pad that detected movement.

The questions were randomized, and the test was performed three times. After each response, the administer paused allowing the equipment to measure my reaction to the question. I tried to relax as best as I could, but it’s impossible to control involuntary functions such as blood pressure and heart rate. So I came up with a crazy idea. After each response, I recalled my favorite scenes from past Seinfeld episodes.

“As an adult, have you ever lied to avoid taking responsibility?”

I answered “no.” Then I replayed in my mind the scene from The Airport episode where Julia Louse Dreyfus opens the bathroom door on the airplane and throws her head back to avoid the wall of stench left behind from the previous occupant.

Now, I don’t pretend to know what the hell I’m talking about, but at the time, it seemed like a good idea.

When the tests were finally over, the administer scored the results using the least stringent scoring method. I asked if the scoring method mattered to the judge, and he said that judges neither know the difference or care to know the difference. For five, grueling minutes, he stared at his computer screen analyzing the results. I kept glancing over at his face to see if I could discern some telling reaction, but his eyes stayed fixed to the screen. He didn’t so much as blink. While I knew I had answered everything truthfully and had nothing to hide, I couldn’t bear the possibility of failing. How accurate are polygraph tests, anyway?

Finally, the printer behind my chair spit out a sheet of paper. The administer held it carefully in his hands, looked it over from top to bottom, and declared, “No deception detected.”

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