Monday, August 17, 2009
I’ve Been Released From Prison: I’m Free!
It’s 12.15 a.m. on Monday morning and I’m sitting in my bedroom, feet resting on my couch as I write atop a spiral notebook on my lap. In a little more than 4 ½ hours at 5.00 a.m. I will be a free man. For 15 months and 21 days I have lived as a federal prisoner. I remember laughing back in April 2008 when my prison counselor handed me a progress report indicating that my sentence would not expire until today, the 17th of August 2009. I thought it was some made up date in the future that would never arrive. But arrive it has, and I am very excited to begin the next phase of my life. I will leave my mother’s home at 4.30 a.m. and report to Vinewood Halfway house in Hollywood to sign my release paperwork. Freedom is finally within my grasp.For my final blog as a federal prisoner, I’m returning to my roots. Just as I did with my book Lessons From Prison, I’m writing in longhand, with nothing but a pen, paper and my thoughts to accompany me. And for the last time, I will ask my wonderful mother to input my work.So what exactly does this freedom mean? That means that I’m finished with my time at Taft Prison Camp, with my time at Vinewood Halfway House, and with my time on home confinement. I must comply with the rules the probation officer who supervises my release imposes, though such restrictions ought to be far less than what I have experienced since April 28th, 2008, when I reported to prison.

I’m thrilled to begin building my career as a speaker on ethics, and the criminal justice system. I feel both fortunate and grateful to begin working with Walt Pavlo, who is a national speaker on ethics. Walt had been an executive at the corporation formerly known as WorldCom. In that capacity he became involved in a fraud within a fraud, and as result Walt served two years in prison. During his incarceration, Walt made considerable efforts to reconcile with society. He co-wrote and published, Stolen Without A Gun, and has since traveled the globe sharing his story with others. Walt, along with my good friend Michael Santos, encouraged me to handle my incarceration with dignity and strength. Surprisingly, I had a letter waiting for me the day I surrendered to prison. Walt wrote to wish me well, and challenged me to spend my time wisely. His timely letters throughout my prison term buoyed my spirits when I needed it most.

Besides speaking, I look forward to offering my experiences of thriving through prison to individuals who anticipate a struggle with the criminal justice system. Lawyers have an essential role in our system and I would never presume to disperse legal advice. My attorneys were terrific and they did the best they could, considering it took me so long to come clean. Prisons, however, are different social structures entirely. A dynamic exists inside prison boundaries that is absent in any other American community. I asked my attorney what prison would be like. He couldn’t answer in a way that would prepare me for the journey. I read a book about climbing Mount Everest. Yet if an aspiring mountain climber wanted to climb the world’s largest mountain, he would do better to speak with someone who had reached the peak rather than seek information from someone who had only read about someone else’s experiences. A good prison consultant will help their clients do more than just survive prison. I’m tired of visiting prison consulting websites only to see expensive “prison crash courses” teaching ostensibly proven techniques on how not to get raped or killed. My clients are not going to the penitentiary. Madoff got 150 years and he is serving time in a medium facility. Yes, prison has subcultures and rules both unwritten and written. My clients will be prepared to handle these issues, including: showers, TV room, commissary, visiting, jobs, etc. Lessons From Prisons also covers these areas extensively. More important, I will help others remove the boredom associated with confinement by working on tasks that have a real relationship to the challenges they are certain to face upon release. Too many men, I observed, walked into prison boundaries and served time by the hour. They watch the hands on the clock turn, always waiting for something. They wait for the next meal, for mail delivery, for one week to advance into the next, or the marking of another month. Others are stuck on the legislative watch, waiting for lawmakers to bring reform that will release them. Such a capitulation to the system did not work for me and I don’t recommend it.

I learned from observing others who have thrived through the adversity of imprisonment for many years. These men who thrived through prison, convinced me that to make the most of confinement an individual had to make decisions that were similar to those who lead optimal lives in any setting. They don’t wait for life to pass them by. They create their own opportunity for a meaningful existence. By leading a proactive adjustment an individual can use the time inside as a kind of sabbatical that enables him to prepare for richer experiences on many levels. He sets the strategy by envisioning the manner in which he wants to emerge. That focus on an end goal enables him to chart his own course, to determine how he must devote his time. Such a strategy, I have found, changes the equation of confinement. Instead of serving time, I can honestly say that time served me. I’m convinced, Lessons From Prison, available through my website, and soon Kindle, will serve others as a useful resource, as it shows the steps I took to emerge stronger through my odyssey.

In preparation of this career, I’m distributing dozens of books to Universities, law firms, and others who may provide assistance. It pleases me to announce that DePaul University has added Lessons From Prison to their course curriculum for one of their undergraduate business classes. DePaul has also invited me to speak on September 30th. I’m also lining up speeches at local high schools and business organizations to help launch my career as a speaker. Last Tuesday, August 11th, I made a presentation in front of my friends and associates from Sotheby’s International Realty during our annual legal meeting. I opened up describing the humiliating consequences of my crime with the hope that others will learn from my mistakes. I look forward to sharing my experience with other real estate and mortgage offices to help others better understand the consequences that follow lapses in ethical behavior.

Now that I’m finished with the restrictions of confinement, I’m able to resume my exercise routine. While I was at Taft I exercised every day. In the halfway house, I did not have access to the gym, and the tight restrictions of home confinement necessitated that I limit myself; I had to be available for random telephone check-in calls. There were also no less than two calls during the middle of the night. Those who struggle with submitting to authority, self-discipline, and accountability issues may want to reject the halfway house placement. I appreciated the quasi-freedom, but there were definitely some benefits to the easy schedule I arranged in prison.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be working to revise my website, and to announce my consulting services. I’ll be speaking with law firms, bail bondsman, pretrial services officers, and making direct contact with individuals who face their own troubles with the criminal justice system. I’m also looking forward to my first national radio interview on Monday August 31st with host Michael Sweig. “In Judgment: Comments on Law and Culture, WHPK.org, 88.5 FM airs Monday’s from 1-2 p.m. pacific time.

Mostly, I’ll be acclimating to this wonderful privilege of freedom. I suppose it’s still a quasi-freedom, but after my experiences over the last few years, it’s a gift I will cherish. In a few weeks, I will return to my home in Studio City. I will buy another dog; I have an affinity for cocker spaniels. And finally I will seek out the woman with whom I will spend my life. I do not know who she is or when it will happen. What is she doing right now, I wonder? Will she mind that I was in jail? How will we tell her parents? Maybe by thinking so much about the woman who will one day become my wife, I am strengthening my ability to appreciate her more. I look forward to feeling the breath of her words, to watching the elegance of her movements. I may still be alone, but I take some solace in knowing that our day will come.

I’m grateful to my parents, my stepparents, my brother, my sister in law, my close friends Brad, Sam and Louie and every one else who so generously gave their support. I have the rest of my life to prove worthy of the love I’ve received, and I look forward to not only living up to expectations, but exceeding them. As I wrote from Taft Camp several months ago, I am where I am and I am who I am because of the decisions I made yesterday. I’m on the right track.

When my schedule is clear, I’ll post some updates. For now I’m just happy to announce that I am free. Well almost. First I must place this blog on my mom’s keyboard and then report to the halfway house!

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