Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Eighty-Four Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp
The stock market dropped another 250 points during yesterday’s trading session. I have always been a buy-and-hold investor, never paying much attention to the daily fluctuations of share prices. Yet I have seen this economic crisis decimate the value of my retirement portfolio. It has lost more than 40 percent since the day I self-surrendered to Taft Camp, and only 300 days have passed since then. The Dow Jones Industrials have sunk to levels not seen since I graduated from the University of Southern California, more than 11 years ago, in 1997. I did not anticipate this financial disaster when I began serving my prison term.
Setbacks were what prisoners had to prepare themselves to endure. Booker T. Washington suggested that we shouldn’t measure success so much by the positions we reached in life, but rather by the obstacles we have overcome. I had to embrace this concept as I served my year in prison. Like every other investor, I would have made different decisions if I had had the gift of a crystal ball. The uncertainty of life, I had to accept, was the only certainty I could count upon.
I met with one prisoner who told me that he had liquidated his entire equity portfolio before he self-surrendered. Since he knew that he wouldn’t have as much ability to respond to changing market conditions, he didn’t want to serve his sentence with the added stress associated with market vicissitudes. That may have been a more prudent decision for people who expected to serve time. I certainly suffered some ancillary setbacks as a consequence of my separation from society.
Despite what was going on in the world, I understood throughout my imprisonment that the responsibility would be mine to prepare. I could not control what was going on outside, but my adjustment as a prisoner would influence how I emerged. I now had only 84 more days to go. Although financial markets have crumbled, unemployment rates have soared, and I have grown another year older, I felt stronger than ever before. I felt convinced that I had overcome the obstacles wrought by confinement. Instead of dwelling on the possessions I had lost, I felt empowered by Booker T. Washington’s measurement of success. I was ready to walk out of prison as a better man.