July 11, 2014
I understand the irony of writing books on ethics and being a convicted felon. For many the disconnect is startling. Why? It is simply because I served time in prison. Regardless of efforts I may make to become something more than the poor decisions I made at UBS, I am constantly judged by my prison term. I understand it, though.
Rather than complain, I take action. Those long days in federal prison provided an opportunity to better understand how every decision I made related to the rest of my life. Studying failure and my tendencies helped me get back on track. Through those studies I also understood that I had an obligation to live honestly, transparently. There is no other way to overcome the stigma. It is easy, however, to write about honesty and integrity in prison. We are fed, clothed, warehoused–we have practically no responsibilities. All of our needs are met. I understood the test would come upon my release. The pressures to earn my reputation back, earn a living, and more would test my resolve. I had to be ready.
That readiness meant preparing for my career as a consultant. Shortly upon my release from Taft Federal Prison Camp in May 2009, I would be put to the test. Defendants and their families (many of them wrought with anxiety) were coming across the daily blog I wrote from prison. Documenting the journey immediately paid dividends as I had educated white-collar offenders offering to pay me tens of thousands of dollars to help them prepare for their imbroglio through the system. But as quickly as they called I realized how quickly my resolve to live a life of integrity would be tested. I learned through our conversations that other consultants, charlatans if you will, had practically purloined their precious funds after making promises they could never keep. They used words like “guarantee” and said if you do not hire me there is a chance you would not “survive” prison.
It took about 2 seconds to learn that I could wield more power as a consultant than I ever could as a stockbroker or real estate agent. The people who call me are in many cases vulnerable, scared. I get it. I was there. I was them. Consultants, I learned through these calls, were charging up to 20K to write papers that supposedly would guarantee placement in a particular prison or guarantee an “alternative sentence” like home confinement or half way house. Additionally, many would guarantee one’s acceptance in RDAP or Residential Drug Abuse Program. In 1994, Congress granted the Bureau of Prisons to give up to a one-year reduction of a prisoner’s sentence, and authorize 6-months in the halfway house or home confinement. This provision was for non-violent prisoners who successfully completed a 500 hour Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program. RDAP is the only program that provides for early reduction. It does not take a genius to realize the program is heavily sought after.
In future blogs and videos I will continue to write and talk extensively about alternative sentencing strategies, prison placement and RDAP. That work will not include the word “guarantee”. In my career as a consultant I have walked away from tens of thousands of dollars because I would not–as others do–exploit or leverage off someone’s vulnerability. As I wrote in Ethics in Motion, my integrity no longer comes with a price. Many of my clients, of course, have benefitted from alternative sentencing, RDAP, and so on. That success, however, stemmed from having a plan rooted in transparency, honesty and reality.
The prison consulting industry has a sordid reputation. Through my work I will continue to change that perception. I will continue to thrive by helping my clients create a plan that is realistic. I will help them define their purpose, then take immediate action to implement. As I remind every prospect before they hire me, “wishing or hoping is not a strategy. And hearing me lay out the blueprint or strategy is not enough. This only works when you implement the strategies and put them to work. Writing a check is not enough. Do not hire me if you are not ready to work”. Such an approach, I have learned, engenders trust, it holds each of us accountable, and it sets expectations. It is the reasons many of my clients have turned out to be very good friends.