Wednesday, July, 28, 2009

Quasi-Freedom

Some may wonder why I’ve been so incommunicative with my blogging responsibilities since leaving Taft Camp on May 20 of this year. The truth is, although I’m not in prison, I’ve still struggled with inconvenient restrictions. One of them has been my lack of access to the Internet, or even computers, for that matter. Things are loosening up now that I am moving into the final weeks of my sentence, so I’ve asked my dear mother, Tallie to post an update.

Instead of returning straight home, I had to report to Vinewood Re-Entry Center, aka halfway house for the final three months of my sentence. After leaving Taft, I drove with my mom and my brother Todd to his home, where I met my sister in law, and my niece Clover. Clover was born on January 22, my birthday, and we finally had our first visit. I wish I had the ability to describe how it felt to see her for the first time. Then my family and I had lunch at the Pacific Dining Car in Downtown.  I couldn’t believe that it was my first real meal in over a year. It felt strange to hold silverware rather than plastic, to eat off real plates instead of trays, and to drink from an authentic glass. I felt as if I were in preschool with all the plastic silverware in prison.

The living arrangements in the halfway house, surprisingly, lack the sanitation levels of Taft. I’m an expert at adjusting, though, and I’ve made it just fine. At first, the administrators gave me a little trouble about authorizing my employment, and I found that peculiar in light of the tough economic climate. Rather than working in an office where others were sponsoring me and showing a vested interest in my success, the wise folks at the halfway house wanted me to secure employment elsewhere.  In time, they acquiesced, and I appreciated the privilege of employment.

Each morning I waited in line to use the toilet and shower. The bathrooms had just one shower and one toilet for eight men. While waiting to use the shower each morning, I finally finished two books I started reading at Taft Camp: Altas Shrugged and Anna Karenina. I reported to the office every day at 9am, performing clerical and support duties for professional staff. The halfway house confirmed several times a day that I was working, through: calls, surprise visits, and daily telephone conversations with my supervisor. Despite the stigma that follows a felony conviction, and the inconveniences imposed by the halfway house, which at times can challenge a person’s equanimity, most every one welcomed me back with open arms. The love and support bestowed upon me has, at times, brought tears.

The halfway house imposed numerous restrictions and the ramifications were severe for those who choose not to obey the rules.  Deviating from the approved itinerary and or not calling in at the designated time could lead to severe repercussions, including: extra duty, denial of home confinement and or a return to prison.  Drug tests were common and each inmate, upon returning to the halfway house took a mandatory breathalyzer test. At least 5 residents were escorted back to MDC (Metropolitan Detention Center) in Downtown, LA for violating the rules. To better describe the scrutiny, the following was my routine when I left for an appointment.  I called the halfway house when I left the office, when I arrived at the appointment, when I left the appointment, and when I returned to the office. I suppose a jealous wife would make similar demands. It didn’t matter. Appreciating my quasi-freedom I complied.

I’ve been enjoying some success with the efforts I’m making to build a new career as a speaker and prison consultant. With halfway house restrictions, however, I am not allowed to promote or extend my services to others. I must continue to comply with all rules until my sentence expires on August 17. The success I refer to was a result of friends and executives promoting my services to their spheres of influence.

I have had numerous conversations with others about my experience and the inherent value that comes with living a principle centered life.  Most are responsive; others remain reluctant to change. I’m convinced that both stubbornness and arrogance, if not curbed, can have ruinous effects. Part of the problem is that habits are very tough to break, even when you know the change will be for the better. Some sacrifice and a great deal of fortitude may be required to make that change. Moreover, those that are prepared to deal with the inevitable obstacles and inconveniences of change position themselves for success. It wasn’t until I was on the wrong side of prison boundaries that I decided to look inward and address all that was wrong with my life. I want others to learn from my mistakes, or profit from my losses, without having to endure the disgrace and suffering that followed my unethical and illegal behavior.  There is just a goodness and wholesomeness that follows a life centered around humility, tolerance, and respect for others. In retrospect, I know that my stubbornness and arrogance while working in the brokerage business hindered me from being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil. My view of the world became twisted and in so doing I deluded myself and set myself up for failure. The most successful people, in my opinion, from Warren Buffet to Jack Welch, embrace the concept of openness: humility to do what is right versus what you want to be right, and courage to implement the change.

I’m looking forward to promoting my book, Lessons From Prison. The publisher has informed me that 500 more books are on the way. Shortly after my sentence expires, when I am allowed to work on my website, Lessons From Prison will be available for purchase on my website and Amazon.com.  The feedback thus far has been positive and my message appears to be making a dent. I’ve spoken with professors who will incorporate Lessons From Prison into their coursework, and I’ve enjoyed a meeting with professor Jana Schrenkler, form St. Mary’s University in Minnesota. A federal probation officer has invited me to discuss proactive prison adjustments to offenders preparing to enter the prison system. And, Eric Sondheimer, a journalist from the Los Angeles Times, wrote a brief story about Lessons From Prison.

Upon the completion of my prison sentence, when I’m released from the restrictions of the halfway house, I’ll focus considerable amounts of my energy on the prison consulting aspects of my business. As I described in Lessons From Prison, I not only mastered the ins and outs of thriving through prison, I gathered information and learned from scores of others. I want my fellow prisoners to do more than just survive prison. Our prison system releases nearly 700,000 people a year; they all survived prison, however, it’s a pitifully small number of people that thrive through prison. Nearly 70% of offenders return to prison within 3 years of their release. Our country’s recidivism rates are deplorable and I’m prepared to do my part to help fix the problem.

With white-collar crime rates skyrocketing prison consulting has become a booming business. I spoke with someone before I surrendered to Taft Camp and the advice was invaluable. I’m bothered, however, at some of the strategies employed by prison consultants to procure business. It’s both unethical and disingenuous to earn a living under the guise that you are going to teach others how to avoid getting raped or murdered.  These concerns, while valid in higher security prisons, are not realistic concerns for white-collar offenders planning to surrender to a Federal Prison Camp. Certainly, there are sub-cultures in prison and rules- both written and unwritten. I’m as equipped as any to address these issues. What matters most, however, is how an individual chooses to use his time.  By understanding the environment, and understanding the way he wants to emerge, the individual could chart a course that would lead to success. That course, for me, required contemplating how I wanted to emerge from prison.  As I wrote through my blogs, and book, my mastery of imprisonment came through deliberate efforts. I set goals and I buckled down day after day to reach them.  While the prison slept, I was up early, working with pen in hand.  The record exists as a road map for anyone to follow.

To those people who anticipate a possible imbroglio with the justice system, you need to accept the following fact: Felons, perforce, face tougher lives. We’re supposed to.  Public pillory, coupled with pain and shame are part and parcel to breaking the law. Despite the stigmas that follow convictions, however, it is possible to overcome. We can emerge from prison stronger, better, more capable of evening out the vicissitudes of life.  Please note, however, that it will not happen by accident. You’ll have to work harder than you have ever worked before. What should you do first? Start the healing process.  Healing, for me, only began when I started dealing with my shame, which I was drenched in.  Before I could write a blog or book or do anything productive, I had to accept the past and start to prepare for the future as best I could. Through introspection I learned where I went wrong, and used it to grow and now plan to help others.  On the flip side, those prisoners who refuse to address their weaknesses, refuse to prepare for the long road ahead and who continue to blame everyone but themselves for their predicament set themselves up for a continuing cycle of hardship. That is why nearly 70% of offenders fail upon release.  I look forward to sharing what I learned with individuals who anticipate their own journey through confinement, as I’m certain they will find value in the lessons I have to share.

On a personal level, I would like to send my best wishes to Michael Santos, who will begin his 23 consecutive year of incarceration on August 11. I do not miss being a prisoner, although I do miss Mike’s friendship.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone who helped make my return home as wonderful as I dreamt it would be.

It is never too late to start preparing…Download Lessons From Prison Now to discover what is truly possible in federal prison.

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