The City of San Francisco County Jail is a large, austere building that looks like something the East Germans might have built in the 1960s. It was with some apprehension that I passed through the metal detectors and found the visitor sign-in desk. I had come unannounced and was not at all certain I'd actually get to talk to Terry Childs. After discussing the visit with the deputy, however, I was placed on the list and told to come back in a few hours.
I'm not completely sure why I went. Maybe it was the fact that for the past seven months, I've been closely following the Childs case and have become a focal point for the IT aspect of it. I've been doing this as a blogger from 3,000 miles away, never having met Childs or anyone connected to this situation, and gleaning all my information from clandestine e-mails, non-technical news stories, and pure conjecture. I needed to actually meet the guy.
[ Follow the Terry Childs saga with the InfoWorld special report: "Terry Childs: Admin gone rogue." ]
Two hours later, along with a smattering of other visitors, I was escorted through a heavy steel door and into a room devoid of personality that plays host to a few dozen telephone handsets, clear acrylic separators, and interior booths. This serves as the inmate visiting area. There are no seats in the main section -- all conversations are conducted standing up and by talking through old telephone handsets bolted to the walls.
Five minutes later, Terry Childs appeared on the other side of the glass. We found one of the many unoccupied booths and began a 30-minute conversation surrounded by the shouts and babble of the other visits in progress. At times, I had to press the handset hard against my ear to hear him.
I was immediately struck by Childs' upbeat, energetic demeanor. His side of the conversation was peppered with "dude," "whack," and "bro," sounding more like a California surfer than a CCIE. He certainly didn't fit the stereotype of the introverted, brooding network administrator. He knew about me through printouts of this blog delivered by his lawyers and was both surprised and pleased that I had come. We both knew that any discussion of the particulars of the case would be off limits and that I could not record the conversation anyway.
Childs maintained that he did nothing illegal during his tenure as the City's head network admin. He insisted that his actions were in line with network security best practices and that the charges brought against him are the efforts of those that have no frame of reference for the job of a network administrator. Obviously, the City of San Francisco, which has charged him with felony computer tampering, disagrees.