If you’re lucky, you’ll experience one moment in your lifetime when the clamor and clanking of everyday life culminates. Almost poetic in its timing, when you think you can’t listen for another, split second to the excruciating noise around you, it becomes – in an instant – the most harmonious, exquisite, clear stream of sound you can imagine. It is in moments like these – fleeting though they may be – when any surrounding chaos becomes orderly. The difficult feels easier. All that was murky comes into crystal clear focus. The overwhelming is somehow made simple… and everything that comes afterward is changed.
That moment, for me, came on a cool “MLK Day” in 2012 – the day I was supposed to begin my prison sentence – but for the holiday. The uncomfortable “life noises” I longed to escape were all ones I had created; ones that started out only faint creaks in the background of a successful law practice I worked hard to build from scratch. Too hard, in retrospect.
Ambitious by nature, my childhood dream of one day becoming an adoption and surrogacy attorney was an almost foregone conclusion. I started my own, private law practice right out of law school. A “twenty-four/seven” schedule, lots of energy drinks and a few, vacation-less years later, I stood tall as a prominent attorney with a thriving business. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself addicted to the feelings and luxuries that accompanied my success; and, as with any addiction, the successes never seemed to be quite enough. Though I hadn’t traditionally been motivated by money itself, the lines between money, status and success eventually melded together until they were only blurred smears across my daily life.
The laws surrounding some of my practices with clients were equally blurry, so I was able to justify them to myself. With near-tunnel-vision on outcomes, my dream to one day act as a passionate advocate for others had transformed into something altogether different. It had become an obsession. My hyper-focus on finish lines caused me to lose sight of the moral boundaries that once governed the roads leading to them. Put simply, I began to cut critical corners with clients. I wasn’t aware my actions were blatantly illegal; but I routinely ignored whispers in my gut urging me to reconsider what I was doing.
In time, an FBI investigation surrounding my practices with clients developed. Driven by a deep sense of shame (as blindly as I had previously been driven by my own success), I dodged reliable, regarded legal representatives and reached out – via Google – to a crooked, far-away attorney. In what I can only now view as irony, through negligence, counterintuitive advice and sheer conning, the attorney I had hastily retained might as well have led me blindfolded to the front doors of the prison in which I would eventually serve a sentence for my wrongdoing. While I felt deeply angry, betrayed and abandoned by the attorney at the time, I later realized I had ignored the same, gut messages attempting to redirect me with clients by stubbornly pursuing this far-fetched legal representation. My desperation, shame and determination not to be “found out” were stronger driving forces than the good legal sense I’d developed over many years. I would eventually seek out a legal team that – through compassion, integrity and hard work on my behalf – restored my glum view of a system I’d built my life around. Unfortunately, the extensive damage done while following the advice of Google Guy couldn’t be undone.
Now a client at the mercy of my own attorneys, in an act of painful punctuation to end a long, legal journey, I plead and was found guilty. I lost my license, my law practice, my reputation, friends, a sliver of my humanity (by flagrantly disregarding clients who had placed earnest trust in me), and I lost the sense of physical freedom I had always enjoyed.
But on that Martin Luther King Day in 2012, the day I’d have otherwise begun my sentence, all came into clear focus. I was an intelligent, hard-working, productive person, about to head to prison. I would be stripped of the only mental, physical and emotional comforts I’d ever known and had taken for granted. On that day, the anxiety, despair and guilt I’d been feeling for months leading up – was calmed. The clamor I’d created in my life – all the various, self-inflicted discomforts I was facing – were infinitesimal when I reflected on the man that day was celebrating. Martin Luther King had stepped up daily and bravely to promote peace; to overcome every imaginable type of adversity; to fight for those who didn’t feel they had a voice. He did so without knowing where the road might lead. He did so without thoughts of money or power or prestige. He did so because he “got” what it meant to be an advocate. He did so because every day, to him, it felt the right thing to do.
I didn’t have any way to know what prison life would bring, but I knew this: like Martin Luther King, I wanted to be both led and driven by that which was right. I should have feared what lie ahead at least as much I had feared failure, loss of status, and loss of respect all those years in my private practice. For the first time since I could remember, though, I felt free. MLK Day. It was the day I committed to bettering myself mentally, physically and spiritually for as long as I would be gifted the opportunity; the day I would begin to welcome the chance to take accountability for past and future actions. MLK Day. It was a good day to feel “free at last.”