Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Seventy-Seven Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp

Many years ago, when I was a sophomore at USC, I played in an important baseball game. We were the top-ranked team in the nation and I was scheduled to start at third base. The game was against the Korean national team, and it was being held at Dodger Stadium. My family was there to support me, along with several thousand fans who were cheering us on. Television and radio was covering the game. It was one of the biggest games of my life. At the end of the day, however, I suffered the worst performance of my baseball career. I went 0 for 4; left more than 10 runners on base; and I made at least one error at third base. When reporters later asked me how I felt about the game, the only answer I could give was that we won, and although I was disappointed in my performance, I was happy for the team.

Life was filled with disappointments. In person, those disappointments seemed to keep coming. The attitude that worked for me required that I kept focus on the broader perspective, just as I did during that baseball game more than a decade ago. More important than my own dismal stats during that game was the advancement of our team’s efforts.

Today was a disappointing day. I watched the Dow Jones Industrial Average drop to levels not seen since 1977. I knew that millions of Americans were losing value in this market, and my own retirement account was being crushed. Yet I had to keep my perspective. Instead of dwelling on what I could not control, I had to find strength and gratitude in the blessings I had. Like the miserable baseball game of so many years ago, current financial conditions were transient. I believe in America and my experience convinced me to believe in myself.

I had endured more than 300 days in confinement. There was a time when I couldn’t conceive the end. But now I’m in March. The spring is here and in only 77 days I will walk from the prison boundaries of Taft into the loving arms of my family and community. My parents are in good health; my brother and sister-in-law brought my little niece into the world; I am 34 years old and fully capable of thriving in any environment. I’ve often heard the cliché that what doesn’t kill a man makes him stronger. Now I know the meaning of that maxim. Prison has made me stronger.

Those who expect a struggle through the criminal justice system must keep perspective. I learned that lesson, among many others, from this experience. There will be ups and downs and adversity from outside forces we cannot control. Yet we do control our attitudes. We control the manner in which we respond to all that comes our way. From this experience, I have learned the power that comes from virtues such as tolerance and acceptance. Rather than feeling crippled by adversity, I’ve learned to empower myself with confidence and gratitude. I look forward to sharing these lessons with others.

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