November 7, 2014

As I’m nearing the two month mark of my incarceration, I continue to have more interesting conversations with other men in here that found themselves operating on the wrong side of the law. I’m always curious to find out their reasons for why they committed their crime. What lead them to make the decision to commit the illegal activity? Was it all about the money? Were they even aware that they were breaking the law? Were they hoping that what they were doing was so insignificant that it would never hit the government’s radar? Even now, do they consider themselves guilty of breaking the law? When they’re back on the street, will they resume the activity that put them here?

Every story is different, including mine. But in particular with the white collar guys, I continue to find common threads amongst our situations. More specifically, I’m detecting a few behavioral patterns that contributed to our respective downfalls. While not true to each of us, the following list tends to be the rule rather than the exception:

1. Lack of awareness of the laws
2. Viewed activity as a minor thing (i.e. not egregious)
3. Strong sense of rationalizing away the wrongfulness of their actions and quick to justify the activity
4. No prior run-ins with the law or any other illegal activity
5. Didn’t think they’d ever get caught
6. Never in a million years imagined that, in the event they were caught, they would go to prison
7. Severely underestimated the government’s reach, resources, resolve, doggedness, etc.
8. Of those who viewed their activity as a ‘gray area’, each was convinced that they could reason with the government if they reached that stage

By interviewing these guys and learning more about their individual circumstances, I’m always asking myself the same question, “How could this have been prevented?”

Is there something that could’ve stopped these guys (including myself) from committing folly? Are there barriers and/or corporate policies that would have made it much more difficult for us to succumb to our respective temptations? That’s where the title of this blog entry fits in — how can we, or better yet, how can I play a part to help prevent and/or curb instances of fraud and other white collar crimes? Could these instances of fraud even have been prevented or mitigated?

As I’m building out this line of thinking and the resulting framework for it, I know there’s something of value here. How can I use my experience, use the experience of others to stop this from occurring in the future? True, some people will do bad things just because they want to. But predominantly the people I’ve met aren’t “bad people.” Similarly to me, they were respected and contributing members of society before being imprisoned. They had loving families, contributed to society by paying taxes (well, everyone except the tax evasion guys), and volunteered in community service projects. They got caught up in something illegal and ultimately paid the price for it, but 95%+ of these guys aren’t life long criminals. I know the overall recidivism rate (the odds of a felon reoffending and ending back in prison) is very high, between 60-70%. But I don’t know what that rate is for white collar criminals. I would expect it to be very low, perhaps even in the single digits. This should signify that the mistakes that have been made by these individuals truly were aberrations in their character rather than defining who they are.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to attempt to tackle each of the above eight areas one by one. This is a fluid process and will evolve over time but I’m confident that after things have been fleshed out, much good can come from this. Perhaps I’m unknowingly building my curriculum now for future talks to help compliance groups for corporations, small business owners and everyone in between to avoid getting caught up in this destructive, nonsensical behavior.

Stay tuned in the coming days for Parts 1 and 2.

Brian Jorgenson

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