Saturday, February 21, 2009
Eighty-Seven Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp
As a prisoner, I feel humbled in ways that I never expected. Sometimes, those feelings are more profound than at others. It is surprisingly easy to adjust to the daily living patterns inside the Taft minimum-security camp, and the ten months I’ve served have passed well. Yet sometimes I feel shaken with the reality that I am a convicted felon, and that I owe a great debt to society.
Those thoughts came to me yesterday, as I was walking back toward my housing unit from the visiting room. My friend Brad had driven up from Los Angeles to visit with me and we enjoyed a wonderful few hours together. He has been a close friend of mine since childhood, and he has been extremely supportive of me throughout my ordeal. While we were visiting, another prisoner introduced me to his wife, and she told me how much she enjoyed reading my blog postings. The day before, I sat for an interview with representatives of a university who wanted to talk with me about my case and my journey through the criminal justice system.
All of that attention, with visits from home, compliments from strangers, interactions with universities, camouflaged the seriousness of my predicament. As I walked back into prison after my visit, however, I realized that I was not some kind of celebrity. I was a felon, a prisoner, a convicted criminal. It was my duty to atone, to redeem the troubles I had caused.
As I thought about the very different status I would have in society upon my release, I understood that these final 87 days I was serving may be the calm before the storm. I feel prepared to navigate my way through the challenges ahead, but new concerns are creeping into my conscience. For the rest of my life, I must accept that others will look at me as if I am a bad example. That stings. It is the shame I have brought upon myself as a consequence of my criminal behavior.
When these anxieties come over me, I feel sobered, as if I no longer have the right to smile, as if I should hold my head down in disgrace. I want so badly to live as a part of society again, to make my parents proud. Will that be possible? I don’t know, and I’m struggling with the likelihood that regardless of what good I strive to do or contribute, I will forever live with the stigmas associated with my criminal conviction. I will be the stockbroker from Bear Stearns and UBS who facilitated a Ponzi scheme.
I was once an athlete, a man who lived with a sense of honor, dignity, and integrity. Knowing that I had forfeited the right to be characterized by such virtues was my real punishment. That knowledge was far worse than the year I was serving in prison, far more substantial than the six-figure costs associated with my crime. People might shake my hand and smile upon greeting me, but what would they say behind my back? “He was in prison,” I presume. For the rest of my life, I would carry this stigma. Like Sisyphus endured, it was punishment without end. I earned it, I suppose.