Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When the 12-Steps Lead to Prison

When William Beebe began his Twelve Step program as an alcoholic, he probably didn't plan on ending up in prison, but that is exactly what happened.

He sent a letter of apology to a Liz Seccuro, a woman he had raped 22 years ago at a college frat party. She took the ensuing email exchange to the police, who reopened the case and prosecuted Beebe for rape. He plead guilty and received a two-year sentence.

Here is the ABC News story:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. Nov 15, 2006 (AP)— A man who sexually assaulted a fellow student at a fraternity party in 1984, then apologized to her two decades later as part of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program, pleaded guilty Tuesday and could go to prison.

William Beebe calmly entered a plea to aggravated sexual battery as his victim, Liz Seccuro, bowed her head and wiped away tears.

"Twenty-two years ago I harmed another person, and I have tried to set that right," the real estate agent and former University of Virginia student said outside court.

Under the plea bargain, prosecutors asked that Beebe get two years in prison when he is sentenced in March.

Prosecutor Claude Worrell said authorities agreed to the deal in part because the investigation revealed that more than one person may have sexually assaulted Seccuro at the Phi Kappa Psi party. Beebe agreed to cooperate with the investigation into exactly what happened to Seccuro that night.

"We believe that the matter doesn't end here," Worrell said in court.

Beebe, 41, of Las Vegas, had been awaiting trial later this month on charges of rape and object sexual penetration and could have gotten life in prison if convicted.

The ninth step in AA's 12-step recovery program calls on alcoholics to make amends to those they have harmed. Last year, Beebe wrote Seccuro a letter of apology, and an exchange of e-mails ensued, in which he wrote: "I want to make clear that I'm not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you. I did."

In December, Seccuro called Charlottesville police to report what had happened. Beebe was arrested in Las Vegas.

It was unclear whether Beebe knew he could still be prosecuted for the crime in Virginia, which has no statute of limitations on felonies. Beebe and his attorney refused to answer questions outside court.

Seccuro, now 39 and living in Greenwich, Conn., said she was given a drink at the party that made her feel strange. She said she vividly recalls being assaulted by Beebe and passing out that night. She reported the assault to university officials but said a dean and the campus police treated her dismissively, and the case was never prosecuted. After a few years, she said, she gave up.

First of all, Beebe deserves to do some time, no matter how long ago it was. Secondly, he should be commended for coming forward, for taking his recovery seriously enough to own up to his past and take responsibility for his actions.

BUT, how will this impact others who are working the 12 steps and their willingness to come clean on crimes that may send them to prison? This is a tricky area for the recovery world. If people who are otherwise good citizens end up in prison for past acts when the do the apology step of their program, it might stop some people from doing that step as completely as they need to get themselves right.

Any thoughts on this case and the questions is raises?


Anonymous said...

What an interesting problem. In the faith based world from which 12 steps comes the idea of repentance is not just saying your sorry. To say that you are sorry surely has its own benefits but that is not the path to true prepentance and forgiveness. There must be some action attached. Because those that are truly sorry would not be able to only give words. He deserves what he gets. Any punishment that she feels and the law allows. Now as for the other people if fear of penal repercussions keeps them from making repentance then they are not truly seeking forgivness. They are simply going through the motions and trying to get something for nothing.


lxr23g56 said...

I found this post to be interesting for several reasons, first and foremost is that I'm a recovered substance abuser (alcohol) and secondly is that I was involved with AA intensively for the first year of my recovery.

I myself never made it to step nine simply because I thought doing so would create more harm than good. However any half decent sponsor would walk somebody through making this type of amend carefully and I'm sure this was discussed as a possibility. Trying to look at this from an optimistic perspective regardless of whether one's a Buddhist or a theist I think what he has done is spiritually appropriate.

As a side note before I continue I'd like to note that I began recovery as a person practicing Buddhism but as a result of step work return to Judaism. The reason that I bring this up is that in terms of purification and forgiveness from a Jewish perspective G-D can only forgive transgressions one has made against him/her/it/us in cannot forgive anyone for transgressions made against another. So his course of action was the appropriate one from a Jewish context at least in my opinion.

As for acting as a deterrent to other people step work specifically the ninth step this is not his concern he did what was appropriate for his spiritual development which is all he's responsible for in terms of his own step work. Others will have to make their own decisions with regard to their amends and they should not be looking to this guy but rather their sponsor, themselves and their higher power however it is personally defined.

Lastly from a Buddhist perspective two years in jail is plenty of time to do some Vajrasattva Practice and that's not a bad thing!

Ultimately in my opinion it's better to clean up as many loose ends as possible while you're still breathing but that's just me.

Be well

Dharma Kelleher said...

Making amends when it involves having committed a crime is often a touchy area. AA does not have any hard and fast rules about this.

Part of what no one seems to have mentioned is the second part of the ninth step which says, "except when to do so would injure them or others". "Others" is commonly interpreted to include the person making amends.

There are a lot of ways to make amends. If making amends directly to the person harmed would injure them or others, alternatives can be considered. These would include doing some kind of service work to help people who have been similarly harmed by others.

Ultimately, each person in recovery must make their own decisions about what the steps mean to them and what their Higher Power is leading them to do.

I commend Mr. Beebe for making the decision to come clean legally and pray that his recovery continues. I pray also for the woman who was raped, that she too may find healing and peace.

Peace to us all,

william harryman said...

Having also done my share of substance abuse (drugs and drink), but not having done a 12-step recovery program, I can still see the benefit of coming clean and facing the consequences of one's actions. Fortunately (or not) for me, my actions mostly had immediate consequences, although I certainly owed some people more profound apologies for my actions.

I think what this guy did is a major clearing of his karma -- and a chance for the women to get some closure and healing around the trauma. It's to be commended.

I think all three of you -- and me -- agree that this guy did the right thing. And I certainly see that he is not responsible for how anyone reacts to his fate. Let's hope more people follow his example. Even those of us who are recovered or never were addicts can still clean up our karma by owning past mistakes.


Anonymous said...

Here is the text from the AA Big Book from the 'Into Action' chapter.

"Perhaps we have committed a criminal offense which might land us in jail if it were known to the authorities...Although these reparations take innumerable forms, there are some general principles we find guiding. Remind ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail but we are willing. We must not shrink at anything.

In the next paragraph, the Big Book does advise that the practitioner be aware of other persons.

'Before taking drastic action which might implicate other people, we secure their consent. If we have obtained permission, consulted with others, asked God to help, and the drastic step is indicated, we must not shrink.'

(AA Big Book--from the chapter, Into Action)

Unknown said...

My problem here is that I think of American prisons as being particularly bad places to "punish" people and rather useful places to house people, keeping them away from a society they would further harm.

If someone is truly redeeming himself -- or making that effort -- there is a dark irony in a result where he ends up in prison where he otherwise would not have gone.

We give people 'space' to get themselves right with society or the Lord by legally making inadmissable conversations Beebe or someone in his situation might have had with a wife, a pastor or a psychiatrist.

I don't think that we should think that justice is pain received in payment for pain given. All we are creating then is a world of pain.

lxr23g56 said...


Yup I agree that willingly facing the music is (IMHO) the best way clean Karma.


Although I agree with you on principle regarding corrections in the US. However when one has committed a wrong such as in this case and is trying to make amends from a spiritual place as is the case with step work, you got to take what G-D, Karma, or the universe sends your way.

E-mail: said...

I should be as fortunate as Seccuro in that my rapist confess his crimes of rape. Let me tell you all a brief story:
A string of skillfully executed rapes occurred in the early 1960s by an upperclassman living on fraternity row at Georgia Tech where the bond of Greek brotherhood remains every bit as unshakable today as it did in the sixties. Like Seccuro, I was a virgin. It was set up in advance (twice!) by a person I trusted. I was drugged. My life was derailed, but I would not tell (jeeze, it was the "sixties"). I could not even bring myself to confront the rapist. Nobody can imagine what I went through ... depression, repressed memories, flashbacks for 43 years. This monster belongs behind bars for the malevolent tactics he used to dehumanize me and other unsuspecting women. Instead, he golfs, plays gin and sips his scotch. And with much arrogance, he recently said to me (after I finally confronted him), "You've gotta be joking!".

As with any rapist, lies the incessant need to overpower, but Jim Dickinson's single most compelling reason for the degradation of women:

"the constant and overwhelming struggle to convince himself that he liked girls (in that way), and to prove his masculinity to the brotherhood"

Aww, the good ol' days in Atlanta! Dodd Stadium, the Varsity Drive-In, Hank & Jerry's, Witts Inn, Aunt Fanny's Cabin. Such innocence. Date rape drugs didn't exist back then? Wrong! How about Special K. Nice respectable frat gentlemen at Georgia Tech robbed vets to get it.

Thank you for the opportunity to post this comment. Anyone can contact me at