September 4, 2014

I’ve been reading about the former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, who are going through a criminal trial. In fact, earlier today I heard they were both convicted of corruption, and as a result they face decades in prison. I empathize with the former Governor, his wife and the rest of their family. Certainly, anyone who endures criminal charges encounters real struggle. It leads to costs that begin in the tens of thousands and frequently exceed hundreds of thousands. A high-profile case like the McDonnell’s will probably yield costs in the millions when all is said and done. That does not include the cost of an appeal which I presume they will file.

Financial costs do not take into consideration the enormous emotional toll.  The threat of imprisonment hangs over a defendant’s head like the sword of Damocles.  Every day feels like a rape, a total violation of the individual. I know exactly what it’s like because I’ve been through it.

My troubles with the criminal justice system began more than nine years ago, when I was a stockbroker at UBS. Bad decisions I made led to an imbroglio with the SEC, and the Department of Justice with a charge of violating securities laws. Years had to pass before I could find my way again. Ironically, I found my equanimity while I served an 18-month sentence at the Taft Federal Prison Camp.

I’m hopeful that the McDonnell’s prevail on their appeal. It’s a shame our criminal justice system would consider handing out a lengthy prison term to the both of them. Certainly, they have suffered enough. Why does our country think that imprisonment represents the only path to justice? Frankly, I cannot see any benefit to incarcerating either of them; whatever their conduct, I cannot comprehend how it would have been construed as victimizing anyone. Sentencing Bob and Maureen McDonnell to one day in prison would be disproportionate to any crime that was committed. It would be unjust. It would be wrong.  It would be stupid.

If the McDonnell’s judge determines that imprisonment is warranted, I have a few suggestions that might help their time inside. In my book, Lessons From Prison, I wrote about what I learned and observed as a federal prisoner. In my second book, Ethics in Motion, I wrote about the importance of leading a values-based life. Both of those books provide insight that those who face imprisonment may find of value.

In working with others who struggle with the challenges that the McDonnell’s are now going through, I strive to provide the type of guidance that I could have used. It wasn’t until I surrendered to Taft Camp that I began to accept my fate. First I had to hit bottom.  Then I used that experience to regroup, to begin building foundations for a better life.

I’m not suggesting that the McDonnell’s (or anyone else) are the same as I am. Yet if anyone wants to discuss the challenges of triumphing through a federal prison system, I invite a call.

Justin Paperny


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