Friday, October 31, 2008

Accepting The Term “Convicted Felon”

Happy Halloween. It’s 2:00 P.M. on the 31st and I’m writing from the Taft Prison Library. One year ago at my Halloween Office party I was feasting on bite size Snickers, M&Ms and Hershey’s kisses. It was not a pretty sight. My sentencing date was approaching and I was using food as a crutch.

Since then, I’ve learned to embrace other ways to overcome difficult challenges by keeping in constant contact with my family and friends. Their support has helped make a once unbearable experience bearable. Their continued commitment to my future is more than I could have ever imagined and I know I’m very lucky. I’ve lost a couple of friends during this life changing event but I’ve also developed new relationships that I’m sure will last a lifetime.

In hindsight, I wish I’d reached out to my large network of supporters sooner but I was embarrassed and ashamed that I was a convicted felon, so I did all I could to avoid discussing my issues. The reality is that my incarceration began long before I self-surrendered to Taft Camp. All I wanted to do was crawl under a rock and hide. I hated my cell phone for fear of who may be calling; I also hated opening my email and grew to resent the nonstop questions from family and friends. “Did you speak to your attorney; did you lease out your home; who is going to take care of your dog,” were just a few of the many inquiries. I had no idea how to behave. I wondered what to tell women. “I’m 33, educated, love golf, love dogs, and have a wonderful family. Oh …. and by the way …. I’m also a convicted felon and probably headed to the big house. When should we meet your parents?”.

It was not until I surrendered at Taft that I began to heal. I finally accepted that I played a role in misleading investors for my own gain. I was a fraud, a charlatan and it was time that I was held accountable. As I accepted my fate and my immediate future, I grew stronger. It became easier to rebuild all that I had crushed and I started a campaign to reach out to all those whom I love so much. I’m grateful that most, but not all, have been receptive.

In my case, prison camp was not the end but the beginning. I’m now convinced I can handle anything that comes my way. I feel better than I have in years and as my sentence winds down, I’m eager to start my life again. I know my family and friends will be there to support me, and this time I will not take any of them for granted.

Justin Paperny

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