August 11, 2014 – Being Sentenced to Federal Prison
“Let me guess, you’re here for US Marshall training?” inquired the elderly security guard at the metal detector entrance of the federal courthouse. Oh, the irony. I hesitated for a moment deciding how to respond to such a poorly incorrect assumption. Having been to the courthouse four times previously, I had never seen a security guard try to make small talk with someone else and I had certainly never witnessed one presuming to know why a person was entering the courthouse.
“I wish…. Today is actually my sentencing date” was my nonchalant response. I could sense his immediate embarrassment and discomfort so I just brushed it off and went along with the business of taking off my belt and preparing to pass through the metal detector. As I noted in a prior blog entry, I guess I really do epitomize the word ‘unassuming’ – not even the security guards suspected me of being a defendant awaiting sentencing!
Standing in the lobby of the courthouse with my wife, I watched approximately 75 people over the next fifteen minutes shuffle through the courthouse and pass through security, all of them taking time out of their schedules to be present for my sentencing. This was very encouraging and made me feel blessed by the quality of people that God has put in my life. Unfortunately, situations like this don’t come without awkwardness. Enter Security Guard #2 looking at me and asking, “We weren’t expecting a big crowd during this time. Why are all these people here?” Maybe I looked exceptionally friendly that day because I couldn’t believe that another security guard was striking up a conversation with me.
“They’re actually here for me. Today is my sentencing date.” Another curt response, from me, another embarrassed security guard.
As each person made it through the metal detector they would see me and my wife, come over to say hi, give hugs and express their support. We would thank them for showing up and direct them to the 14th floor courtroom where my fate would soon be sealed. Picture the most somber wedding receiving line and that’s pretty much what the scene looked like.
Minutes later I sat in the courtroom that was near max capacity. I had already devised a game plan to not look at anyone except the judge, so my eyes were transfixed on her nearly the entire 60 minutes. This strategy was in part so I could attempt to read her nonverbal cues and anticipate her actions (for the record, this worked because I could tell during my attorney’s arguments she was unconvinced by his words), and partly to avoid eye contact with any of my friends and family (especially my wife) sitting about 30 feet away.
I listened to the prosecutor make her case against me, which I knew would be difficult to hear. Then after my lawyer provided his comments, I had my chance to make a statement (which I’ve published in its entirety on my personal blog). The remaining minutes were a big blur – resulting in eventually the judge sentencing me to 24 months in federal prison.
“It’s important that we send a message by sentencing you to prison and you need to be made an example of. You will serve a sentence of 24 months, and this will not be easy for you.”
When I heard these words, was I panicking inside? Was I waiting to erupt in anger and despair? Did those words pierce my heart or was I numbed with pain? I guess no one should be surprised if I reacted in any of those ways, but truth be told I dealt with it well. I had braced for an 18-24 month outcome, so I wasn’t shocked by her judgment. My first reaction was actually a math problem. The annoying song from the musical Rent popped in my head, “525,600 minutes”. I quickly tried to multiply that number by two to calculate how many minutes my imprisonment would be.
Perhaps that’s an unbelievable first reaction but it’s what my brain immediately gravitated towards. The emotional aspect of the sentencing hadn’t kicked in; it had been blunted as I had effectively prepared myself mentally for this outcome – well, it was effective until after the hearing ended and I walked out of the courtroom only to be surrounded by the sullen faces and teary eyes of my supporters. That’s when emotions kicked in.
I don’t need to go into further details. I believe that recounts the day with enough detail. I’m not sure if this day will mark the lowest valley in this journey but I’m reminded of a fortune cookie saying from years ago: “The saddest moment in a person’s life comes but once.” If this ends up being my saddest moment, I will consider myself extremely blessed and fortunate in this life.