Wednesday, March 31, 2010
My past experience of having grown up as a privileged Jewish kid from Encino, and going on to play baseball at USC before beginning a lucrative career as a stockbroker may make it easy for university students and business executives to identify with me. The part of my personal story that distinguishes me from others was the diversion I took through the criminal justice system, the lessons I learned from prison, and the perspective that I have lived with since my mother, Tallie, drove me home from Taft Camp on May 20, 2009.
I’ve come to call that perspective ethics in motion. Since my release I have worked assiduously to ensure that this new perspective contributes to our society. It’s not always easy. At times I’m forced to recognize the contradiction that exists between the man I am today and the man I am striving to become. My greatest challenge may be living up to those words I wrote inside that quiet room at Taft Federal Prison Camp. Despite my character flaws and stubborn tendencies, I remain committed to daily introspections. Such introspections should help me stay on course; as exercise would improve my physical fitness, contemplations would help me cultivate character. This is my message and I share it proudly.
Not everyone agrees that I’m worthy of sharing such messages. In the fall of 2009 I participated in a radio interview with Frank Mottek on KNX 1070 in Los Angeles. Frank invited me to speak with him and his listeners about ethics, morality, and the consequences that follow when we crossed the line. Somewhat surprisingly, within a few days of my radio interview with Frank I received my first two pieces of hate mail. The letters, in summary, clarified the writers’ view that felons forfeited the right to speak about ethics or morality. These two men berated me as scum, expressed hope that others abused me in prison, and wrote that as a convicted criminal, I should recognize that I am an outcast in society and that I should act accordingly by remaining in the outskirts.
Let’s get some specifics:
1- “I heard you on the radio today. Well rehearsed, well scripted, but pure bull….. You are just a dirtball, not a consultant on ethics or morality.”
2- “You are just another failed USC punk with an unearned sense of entitlement and the evil to leach the blood of money of other people.”
3- “I hope you were beaten, even raped.”
4- “You should choose a profession more befitting your skill set.. like cleaning sewers.”
5- “Your kids lives are ruined and they aren’t even born yet.”
Receiving these letters can be sobering. They remind me that regardless of my efforts to reconcile and to atone for the bad decisions I made as a stockbroker, some would never accept that I had any value to offer. Reading such hateful comments made me feel very alone. In my mind, they put me right back in prison, where correctional counselors would speak condescendingly to me, or ask questions such as whether this was my first crime or simply the first time I was caught.
Here’s the bottom line: If I were to hide from the bad decisions of my past I might lessen my exposure to such slaps in the face. Hiding from my past, however, would be more like wearing a band aid that simply covered up my character flaws, and I want to redeem them. Others who have never been convicted of a felony may think of themselves as being better than me, and maybe they are right. But in telling my story I am convinced that I can help others embrace the practical aspects for acting ethically at all times.
In Lessons From Prison I wrote a wise man is one who is secure in judging himself, yet tolerant in the judgment of others. For some reason, it’s just easier to judge and find flaws in others. I believe that my experience through the justice system fulfills the need to show the consequences that could follow a lapse in ethics. This need has existed since the beginning of recorded history.
In prison, I read excerpts from The New Testament. The New Testament told us that when Jesus was urged to condemn a woman for immoral conduct, he responded by suggesting that he who was without character flaws should cast the first stone. None of the accusers were without flaws and all walked away. Although my background may be from the Jewish faith, I understood Jesus’s message. Despite everyone’s capacity to make bad decisions, some people in society would be inclined to ignore their own character flaws and potential downfall.
I understand that in failing to make honesty, integrity, and the other virtues that constituted good character a part of my every decision, I invited lifelong consequences. Regardless of how many good deeds I try to sow through society, daily reminders, like hate messages, will keep my criminal conviction as an indelible blemish on my life. I will continue sharing my message, however, despite hate mail that castigates me as scum or trash or whatever else others elect to call me.