January 5, 2015

Don’t Blame The Rat

“So I need you to write a letter to the country club for me,” a prospect told me a couple of minutes into our scheduled call yesterday.

“What would you like me to tell them?”

“Well, I would like you to tell them in a round about way to go F themselves, that they have no loyalty. Make it clear I am not the only rich felon walking around that locker room. Also, make it convincing enough so they allow me to stay in the club.”

“If they are not loyal and they are threatening to kick you out of the club because of your guilty plea for tax evasion, why would you want to stay? Further, how did you respond when they pressed you about your actions?”

Rat, 3 year old on white

“Well, I told them some snitch ratted me out, and that useless was not a strong enough work to describe my lawyer who is trying to squeeze another hundred out of me.”

“I am sorry, but please do not blame the rat! I cannot write your letter and take your money. You see if I wrote the letter it would have to be honest. Blaming others, like your lawyer or this rat you speak of, is not a path to recovery—presuming you really want to recover from this minor setback. At the end you still might get kicked out, but if you do it honestly and from a position of strength at least you’d have your dignity. Isn’t that even better than staying in a club that no longer wants you? Further, moving forward I would try to avoid the prison parlance—snitch, rat and so on—it does not fit you. Next you’ll be saying, “Snitches get stitches”. For me to help, I need to know why staying in this club is so important.”


“You going to put this in your blog?”

“Only if you give me permission, as others do. Most do not. Perhaps my readers can learn from you.”

“Go ahead.”

“Now, tell me why this is so important.”

“This club is my life, my identity. Kids got married there, had my weekly golf game, the picnics, and holidays. Going to Federal Prison is easier for me than dealing with this fallout.You gotta keep me in.”

“Okay, now we are getting somewhere. Let’s get to work.”

Some reading this might think, “Come on. I might lose my job and freedom due to my guilty plea and conviction and this rich guy is worried about getting kicked out of a country club. Give me a break.”

One could draw that conclusion, I suppose, but for the purpose of this blog I would like to focus on a different message. Namely, there is nothing more important than emerging-or working through this experience or our life—with our dignity in tact.

I have clients facing an avalanche of problems that I lack the ability to explain. Some of them might be worse than getting kicked out of country clubs. Some frankly are much better. But because of their response to an adversity they alone created—not some snitch, rat or lawyer—they have managed to find peace and serenity. As a result they have regained their dignity—that can be more valuable than money, and it can even sustain us through some of those dark days in prison.

Dignity Message

I make it no secret that before my surrender to Taft Federal Prison Camp I focused on things that did not bear much relationship to the challenges I would face upon my release. Foolishly, I was joining Lakeside Countryclub to keep up the façade that all was good. I ate double cheeseburgers, chewed that Redman, which I still love but have the discipline to avoid, and I blamed, blamed, blamed. I lacked efficacy and did not feel worthy of the support others so generously bestowed upon me.

Then I went to prison. I worked hard. I mean I really worked hard. I returned home broke, in debt, but had something more valuable than money: my self-esteem and a belief that I could do anything.

That is the message that I conveyed on my call yesterday. For more than 30 years others in this club knew this man as a successful, honest businessman. That respect reverberated around the clubhouse as others looked to him for advice, tutelage. It would be a shame, I told him, to focus on something so badly, namely remaining a member, but lose his sense of self and dignity in the process. Further, crafting a narrative that explains how his lifetime of work and service to the community makes him much more than this bad decision he made would have a better impact than calling them disloyal.

He agreed. I will work with him to write a narrative and letter.

For those in trouble, you too, should consider a narrative that will ensure that those judging you—whether it’s a stuck up board at a country club or a judge or prosecutor—views you differently than a bad, out of character decision you might have made years ago.

Justin Paperny

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