May 25, 2014

Memorial Day Sunday in Federal Prison

I got up early today. It is 7:40AM and I ran 5 miles, ate breakfast and am about to play tennis. It’s going to be another tough one today, I think.  After this, I’m going to do my best to block out the outside world to get through today because I miss the Memorial Day festivities. I feel like I have to in order to get through today. A good friend told me, “Remind yourself it’s not so bad. At least I am not a prisoner of war or a homeless guy in Calcutta.” That reality helps me a lot.

As I get further into prison, I am not only looking at people or this institution on the surface. I am beginning to see through that and go deeper into this reality. I see people here from a newer perspective. I am beginning to understand what prison has done to people over the many years of their incarceration. My compassion towards them grows as I have sympathy towards what they have gone through and what I am going through.

I see people who were destroyed by this justice system. I know they played a role in their incarceration, of course, but some of the sentences seem ruthlessly draconian. I live near a 47-year-old guy who was convicted for a securities crime. He could have plead guilty and received 3-5 years. Instead he lost at trial and he was sentenced to a 24-year sentence; he has about 5 years to serve. A difference of 20 years between a guilty plea and losing at trial? Seams crazy, but it is a reality for too many. They practically make it impossible to even exercise your right to a trial–the odds are too greatly stacked against the defendant.

When I hear about those tales it is easy to see how and why so many people take deals, even when they never had criminal intent or intentions to defraud. How could a rational man not take a deal that includes 3 or 6 months in prison when the overzealous government hangs a 10-year sentence around your neck? Many of the men around me are here, due in part, to a simple cost/benefit analysis: Win at trial and go home or lose and get a decade? Instead, they take a short deal, manage their losses and move on. The government gets their pound of flesh, or another notch on their belt, so to speak. When it’s over they issue a press release under the guise of protecting the public and justice.

On this Memorial Day I am grateful. I am grateful that I will be home soon, while many of the good men around me who should have been home years ago, will continue to rot inside a federal correctional institution that is doing very little to actually correct them. Taxpayers should demand more of this bureaucratic system that renders a failure of so many.

Andy Rothenberg

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