155,125 Days of Pain

For over 425 men and women who have attended one of the three hundred meetings put on by Jeff Grant and his White-Collar support group, this is a meaningful number. For those who have been indicted, convicted, and served some sort of sentence for White Collar Crime, every waking minute of every day is filled with worry and pain.

The worry centers around: how will I pay for a criminal defense lawyer? Will I be able to survive incarceration mentally and physically? How many years will I be away? How will I support my family financially? What will happen to my spouse and family relationships while I’m away? How will I rebuild my professional life after my release? What is wrong with me that I have been able to commit a crime? Would it be easier to take my life?

As brutal as these questions seem, every one of them and more fills the obsessive mind of the convicted White-Collar Justice Impacted individual. In an instant, the problems of yesterday that seemed so significant, turn into ones of basic human survival and what seems like life and death at every turn.

The negative effect on one’s psyche is immeasurable. Often time, hopelessness and depression set in, daily tasks become difficult, and it is near impossible to imagine a future with anything but the present pain. Life seems like it’s over and that you are alone as no one has experienced exactly what you have.

Fortunately, for the over 425 attendees of Jeff’s group, although we have collectively experienced over 155,125 days of pain, there is hope. Every Monday night, a group of White-Collar Justice impacted individuals gathers by zoom. The individuals in attendance range from those with recent arrests and indictments, to those who have been out of prison for more than twenty years. We have our routine of prayer, the introduction of new members, resource sharing, then a new topic relative to the challenges we all struggle with. Often, much of the session is dedicated to supporting those who have an upcoming sentencing hearing or are soon to report to prison.

Those who have attended one of Jeff’s meetings can tell you that the impact on their lives is immediate. Attendees get questions answered, receive encouragement that they will make it through this difficult time, receive advice on how to handle their stage of the process, and realize that they are not alone in their crime, nor the collateral damage associated with it. One after another, attendees state that they are ecstatic to have found this resource and express gratitude for the care and concern of everyone.

Although much of what the group is experiencing are a few years past for me, I can say that the meetings remain the safest, least judgmental and accepting space I have available. There is something about commonality, shared experience and true acceptance that brightens the human spirit and allows one to move forward knowing, I am not alone, there have been many before me and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As Jeff and his group move toward the 300th meeting, the days of pain will continue to pile up. But thanks to Jeff’s selfless dedication and the caring hearts of the group’s members, those days will be more manageable. Those experiencing them have a resource and friends to reach out to and in the end, all will find a renewed life of hope and acceptance.

A holiday in hell- and I’m thankful for it.

I dont know how I can best communicate this experience.

Although my efforts will fall short, I have to try. So, here it goes.

As a kid, like others, every Christmas season felt like it was supposed to be a magical time where every dream would come true. I would watch all the holiday shows, count down the days until a break from school, lay under the tree watching the lights, and look forward to playing non-stop, all day. I felt as if our house was an isolated world where only I mattered and was to serve me the perfect Christmas. There is no perfection on earth, but kids certainly wish for it on this holiday.

As I got older, the realization sunk in that, although it is a very special day in religious terms, it was just December 25th on the calendar. I tried to fulfill the magical hopes and dreams of my own kids, but the day passed with less wonder as each year rolled by. After all, we are human, so each year human-like events occur that reduce any remaining hope for an out-of-body transformation. Once my own kids were past the age of believing in the magic themselves, it became even more difficult to avoid letting this time pass with minimal fanfare.

It wasn’t until I was fifty-two that events shifted in order to give me a holiday wake-up call. On August 21st of 2020, due to my criminal conviction, a judge sentenced me to spend a week at Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in the county jail. At the time I thought, this reinforces that the magic I always hoped for came from a delusional kid that overestimated any power of a specific day.

I have never been so wrong about anything.

By the time I reported for my third “retreat”, as my family had grown to call it,(not because it was in any way easy, but because we had agreed to use it to help others as I did in church retreats), I was used to the dehumanizing procedures. Waiting to be booked, handcuffed, strip-searched, checked by the nurse, requesting needed meds, changing into “inmate” clothes, and sitting in a small room that was dirtier and smelled worse than any gas station restroom you will ever visit. All in preparation to be transferred to two more pods/cells, before my final twenty-one-man unit for the week.

It was Dec. 21st and I would get out the morning of Dec. 27th. So, I would be detained for the whole week of Christmas. Because we watch TV shows and movies about prison life, people tend to think that everyone is a heartless thug, a degenerate that needs to be removed from society, often violent, and can’t be trusted. Since this was my third stint in county jail, I already knew this wasn’t true. But, I certainly didn’t spend any time fantasizing about anything above a week of misery.

But, after the usual entrance procedures and making it to the final pod/cell, I was surprised at what I first saw. The powers that be at the jail had decided to plan a decorating contest to see which pod could put forth the best effort to transform forty years of peeling walls, cement floors and picnic tables into a construction paper and tape, winter wonderland. The motivation for each cell to engage would be for the top three cells to get pizza or fast food of their choice for dinner. Certainly a delicacy for anyone that has ever tasted the food in a county jail.

By the time I arrived though, the contest was over and my cell had not won one of the top three prizes. None the less, I was blown away by their efforts. There were the same paper snowflakes we have all cut in elementary school hanging from every part of the ceiling. A makeshift green paper Christmas tree with a brown trunk standing on one of the cement tables while leaning against the wall. But what was most impressive to me was the Santas sleigh and reindeer that sat on the metal TV cabinet. The details of each reindeer, Santa’s body and face, as well as the sleigh and scenery, had to take at least six to eight hours of effort. It was not rudimentary in any form. It had to be completed by a few inmates with extensive art skills that gained joy from putting their talents to work

Activities that create escapes are invaluable amongst the slowest time one ever faces in county jail. The inmates who spent the time doing the decorating know that, in jail, the rules change by the minute. Who knew who would judge the decorating contest and the reward can be taken away in minutes because of one “cellies” negative behavior. Everyone knows any kind of reward in jail is a long shot at best.

In my opinion, the inmates didn’t work hard on the holiday decorations for pizza. They did it because they are the same kid that I once was, hoping to have the pain of life removed and replaced with magic during this one week of the year. It takes a lot more than being incarcerated to remove that from the human spirit. So, creating decorations across a dank, old jail cell held only intrinsic rewards. For me, their efforts were the first of many blessings to come. Much of my time that week was spent looking at the decorations in detail. Appreciating the efforts of those who we often think don’t have anything positive to offer, another reminder of how wrong we are.

My pod/cell was made up of a diverse group of men. By geographic location racial, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. The range in age was eighteen to sixty-five with crimes that were largely due to drug possession or trafficking, breaking and entering, kidnapping, aggravated assault and others that are meant to economically feed their addictions. Therefore, the talk during downtime (which there is a lot of) is about each persons criminal case, their chance of getting out soon, the length of their eventual sentence, and of course, the loved ones and family they miss the most.

The majority of men had children at some age that would spend this holiday without them. Board and card games, as well as bartering for food trades, takes up as much time as possible. A slight bonus, there is a small TV playing, with limited channel options. The guards control the TV during their head-count routine, as the batteries in the remote could be used to smoke by the most “talented” inmates.

Coming in on this holiday week, I thought the TV shows of choice would be the usual sports or crime scene dramas that played eternally throughout the days. At any given time, five to seven of the twenty-one men in the pod/cell would watch a show. So, there was always a lot of room in front of the TV. But this week would prove to be different

As was always the case, the mainstream channels never fail to play old classics like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, or A Year Without a Santa Clause and so forth during this holiday week. 2020 would be no different. A few days before Christmas, around 8 PM, a commercial informed us that two episodes would be broadcast soon. As the shows started and word spread across the cell, at least 15-17 men crowded in front of the TV. More than I had seen for any other viewing event.

It is amazing, no matter where we watch the shows that are so tightly knit to our childhood, we can’t help but regress in our hearts and minds. As I saw the same 1960’s, rudimentarily manufactured characters that always made me happy and hopeful, watching them in county jail didn’t change that.

Closely seated together next to others on the cement picnic table, I looked at the smile on the face of the inmate next to me. This remote stranger and criminal enjoying the same show as I. It occurred to me, I would never have usually “mixed” with this group before. It brought a stirring awareness of equality to mind that would continue through the rest of the week.

Remove the skin color, the place of birth, the socioeconomic status of our parents, and other dividing factors, we are the same kid. None of us planned to be in a county jail at this time of our lives. Missing our families, county the minutes to be free. Yet, here we were, glad to have each other and heart full that together, we might be able to escape in our minds for a few minutes of magic once again. I learned that the human spirit seeks that at any level possible, regardless of the situation.

Due to the grind and routine of a county jail, days undoubtedly go by slowly. I had made it through the majority of the week and could begin to taste how good my release day would feel. As Christmas Eve approached, I had hoped that I could just ignore the family events I would be missing in order to pass time even faster. That is easier said than done.

It was Christmas Eve and I was able to get a few minutes on the pay-phone to talk to my wife and daughters. Which was the moment I had been most dreading since I learned the timing of my sentence. My wife had worked all day and as I had noticed looking out the windows, it was beginning to snow. She would have to drive and pick my daughter up from work, something I would have usually done when the weather was bad. As I got off the phone with them for what would be the last time on this Christmas Eve, I felt like a failure in every area of my life.

Walking across the cell and approaching the mostly frozen over windows, I gazed out at the falling snow and thought about the weight of this moment. Away from my wife and kids on Christmas Eve. That was bad enough, but I also had an additional challenge. One of the largest fears, stemming from my past life events and traumas, was the fear of not feeling safe/secure in my environment. It was something that I had discovered had permeated the majority of my life. It is also something that created an external focus and need for validation that led to the events that brought me here on this night. The lack of security didn’t stem from a threat on my life or violence. But it came from where it always had, fear that I wasn’t capable of relying on the internal strength that I had within myself.

Despite my best efforts to ignore the surroundings and the the voices replaying in my head of my wife and daughters, I had slipped into the lowest emotional level that I had hoped to avoid this week. I felt overwhelmed by sadness so I retreated to my bunk. I fought back the stomach pains and tried to pass time.

Whether it’s Christmas Eve or not, time in jail is one of the slowest humanity has witnessed. This night, time was extra slow and my anxiety was unusually high. My wife and daughters would soon be celebrating the holiday without me. I had always viewed the protection I provided them as contribution to make up for all the other foundational, healthy traits I lacked.

Deep down I knew that a time would come when my shortcomings would catch up to me, everyone would know that I was a fake, an empty vessel outwardly projecting confidence and intelligence with little substance to back it up. On this night it had not only caught up with me, but the family I loved would suffer as well. As I laid back in the rusted metal bunk attempting to ignore the back pain and lack of sleep, I looked around the cell at the activity of the other inmates.

There is no place that creates equality like jail. No matter what race, socioeconomic standing, religion, nationality or family support system… everyone is the same, societies most judged and deserving of whatever we get. After all, we all did something WRONG. So the one good thing was that, on this unexpected night I wasn’t alone. The events to come would not only change my belief in myself, but a belief in the kindness of humanity that I could never imagine.

Doing my best to pull myself from grave hopelessness, it was 8:30 pm and I remembered that an inmate had said that the movie “A Christmas Story” was going to be on TV. I heard a slight ruckus as many of the men were making themselves a viewing space in front of the small TV. When I had entered the pod/cell days earlier, a twenty-something-year-old man, who had told me he had been in and out of prison since he was thirteen for drug addiction, insisted I have the bottom bunk. He had witnessed my difficulties in climbing to the top one and said that he’d never make his dad climb up for the week, so he certainly wasn’t going to let me do it. That was only his first act of kindness to me that week.

Noticing my sadness after my earlier phone call home, the same young man had made me a makeshift chair in front of the TV from a plastic tote. He made me get out of bed and come over in front of the TV. Since the only thing to sit on in the cell is cement picnic tables bolted to the floor, inmates are adept at creating any semblance of comfort that they can. He and a few others had moved their ½ inch thick bed mats onto the cement floor in front of the TV as well, in preparation for the holiday film.

After making sure I was seated comfortably, he approached me and said he had saved a treat for me, a chocolate milk and candy bar. He said he knew it would be a tough night for me. The chocolate milk was given to us at breakfast as the only “treat” that represented any recognition of the Christmas Holiday. So, sacrificing his chocolate milk and nutty bar purchased at commissary was a gift of significant kindness. As with many other times where God speaks/acts through another human to one of us, I experienced an immediate feeling of love with an accompanying mood change.

The extreme sadness of being away from my family lifted due to the recognition of the power of the generous human spirit. There would be no return gift from me to the twenties-something drug addict that had spent most of his life incarcerated. I had nothing to give besides a sincere thanks and recognition of his act. On this holy night, God had spoken through him in the most glorious and unexpected way.

The rest of my Christmas Eve of 2020 was one I will never forget and will always be thankful for. I had never seen the movie The Christmas Story before, yet many of the men around me had. Regardless, near all of the men brought their bed mats in front of the TV. Some had saved treats as well in hope of finding something to celebrate on this day. Throughout the movie, I looked around me in order to look into the eyes of those who I was once afraid of and considered so different than me. Each face represented a different story that started with childhood dreams of Christmas magic, yet culminated with incarceration.

As the snow continued to fall and accumulate outside, the movie brought joy and nostalgia equally around the room. Together we laughed, talked about scenes that reminded us of our own childhood, and for at least a portion of the movie, felt like normal human beings.

One of my favorite parts of Christmas has always been going to bed feeling the satisfaction of giving and receiving the love that accompanies the holiday. What makes it even better, is to do so amongst family and loved ones. On this night, I felt the same. It wasn’t my immediate family I was with, nor anyone I would probably ever see again, but it was one of the greatest lessons and gifts I have ever learned. Humans take care of each other.

I also learned that, not only am I capable of building my own internal security and safety, but that God ALWAYS provides us with what we need in the gravest of situations. More importantly, he uses every person as an instrument to love and serve. From that point forward, I made a pact with myself that I would forever see value in every person, regardless of their background and circumstances. Also, I would open up myself to be the same instrument of love for others regardless of the time, place, or circumstance.

I do not intend for my Christmas story to pale in comparison to those who spend years incarcerated or in much worse circumstances. Instead, I hope that in reading it, others take away the same lesson that I did. The magic of this holiday will always be there, just as we wished as kids. The reason being the magic is God’s love. It never leaves because his people are always there.

Please think of those incarcerated and/or the less fortunate this holiday season. But don’t worry, they will take care of each other as will you and I.

Why Ted Lasso is the Ultimate, Modern Day Man

Vulnerability

For the last few years, Jason Sudeikis has blessed the watchers of the show, Ted Lasso (on AppleTV), with a new kind of leader. Called on to be the coach of a middling football club in the U.K., he is expected to fail and do so in a way that embarrasses himself and the organization. That’s what the owner wants as Ted’s only coaching experience is a small college and the club is the pride of her hated ex-husband.

When his inexperience and lack of knowledge of the sport begin to show in the form of mounting losses, he takes criticism from the players and coaches, personal attacks by the media, and becomes the laughing stock of the town. The owner thinks she got exactly what she wanted.

In this scenario normally, A “real man” would fight back, right? He’d lash out in response, attack his haters, deny his failures, and tell everyone that he’s actually great. He may even deflect the negativity by pointing out his other areas of strength. This is what a man is taught to do in most cases.

Shocking to everyone though, Ted does none of these things. He surprises by admitting his vulnerability from the onset, acknowledges that what he lacks in experience he makes up for In relationships with the players, and speaks to everyone he meets with respect to the level he’s been their lifelong friend. He pretends to be nothing but who he is and isn’t afraid of losing his self-esteem if rejected. His interactions with everyone are honest and heartfelt.

Taking this counterintuitive approach to the age-old persona of a “tough” coach, Ted actually finds success.

What does this say about vulnerability for a man in modern society?

Being vulnerable is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”. That is something all of us want to avoid at all possible costs. Therefore, it takes more bravery to be vulnerable, than it does to avoid and deflect reality.

For years media and society have portrayed the highest level of bravado for men to be emotionless, hide weakness, portray significant expertise, and present an air of infallibility. But challenges (and sometimes failures) in the areas of business, marriage, mental health, and leadership have caused a shift.

Recent interviews with those in the sporting professions reveal that Ted Lasso’s style is more successful with the modern-day player, as well as in other leadership positions. I see that as growth in the realization that vulnerability is not weakness, but instead the type of strength others respect and follow.

It took me many years to be self-actualized enough to be vulnerable. Most likely because the other way led to pain and failure. Amazingly though, being vulnerable is an easier way of life. You don’t have to hide from any truths, you can speak freely of your strengths and weaknesses, and you attract like-minded friends when you are real and open.

It doesn’t mean that one is perfect. After all, Ted Lasso hides the fact that he is suffering behind the scenes with situational anxiety that begins to affect his coaching ability. He seeks the help of a professional therapist.

Being vulnerable doesn’t mean we won’t suffer or face the human condition. It does mean that we will do so with openness, acceptance and kindness and have an appreciation that everyone is struggling with something.

Now, when I see social media posts of people touting their successes, seeking external validation, or boasting, I have a different view. I am not impressed as I know where that comes from. Afraid to show that they aren’t perfect, life is hard and external accomplishments are sure to protect them from vulnerability.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. At some point, everyone has to choose to be vulnerable or to put on false bravado. There is no other way through life.

My advice is, be brave…let others see who you are whether imperfect or tarnished. The same counterintuitive approach used by Ted Lasso may lead you to a place of success and happiness defined only by you. A place no one can take from you that feels safe and secure.

You Make Me Afraid of the WORST Part of Me

Forgiveness and where it comes from.

Some things are easy to forgive while others seem near impossible. Every sin or wrong doing against us brings pain, loss of trust, loss of faith in others, and can turn our world upside down.

So, its no wonder some events eat at us and we hold onto them for years or decades. But, is it the damage that was caused to us we can’t forgive or is it the reminder that, within each of us, lies the possibility of causing the same harm to someone else?

I know a lady in the community who experienced the ultimate act of pain and suffering against her. While away at college her son was murdered and tortured by other young men. Who basically said they did it to “feel what its like to kill another human”.

You would think that this act would never be forgiveable. Instead, she visits her sons killers in prison regularly and has started a foundation and after school program for low-income kids, in order to provide the security and safety the killers never had.

Her response to pain and suffering is the ultimate example of courage. Because, it takes courage to again believe in people and a world that can be trusted and secure.

The courage to forgive means;

Just because someone committed murder, doesn’t mean their soul shouldn’t be attended to for retribution.

Just because somone is/was dependent on drugs/alcohol, doesn’t mean they should never be given the chance to be chemical free.

Just because someone stole money, doesn’t mean they can never be trusted with it again.

Just because someone received a speeding ticket, doesn’t mean they should never again be allowed to drive in a school zone.

The list could go on and on. I believe that is not always the action we can’t forgive, but instead the feeling by association;

You Make Me Afraid of The WORST Part of Me.

I have experienced this treatment repeatedly as a White Collar convicted felon. Because all of us have had that moment where we have made the wrong choice, the moment we are ashamed of, the moment our most evil, hurtful side was revealed. I have been shunned by a siginificant number, because I represent the choice they never want to make. The person they never want to be. The life everyone knows they are one action away from having.

It’s easier to turn our heads to all who have wronged us, committed a crime or brought pain and loss on society. To do otherwise takes courage many of us can’t muster. Because, if we forgive them and live along side them, we will be reminded of how bad we all can be. The human condition escapes no one and we are guilty by association.

I suggest we choose courage, forgiveness, acceptance and 2nd chances instead of disassociation. If not, our circle of friends and colleauges will become very small. There are humans all around us and part of being human is sinning upon others.

WILL NO ONE HIRE THIS MAN? (Plus, tips for surviving prison.)

Wonderful story by Jane Wells- Will No One Hire This Man (Plus, tips for surviving prison). on Wells Street Bulletin regarding the challenges myself and others face in our journey to return to productive citizens after a criminal conviction. If you don’t already follow her bulletin, do so soon… you will love her unique slant and writing style on mainstream and other news stories of interest. A fun fact about Jane, she played herself in the last episode of Seinfeld.

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” ~Pema Chodron

For the last six years, this saying has made me very angry.

I felt I had been taught lessons that were more painful than I could imagine but were occurring repeatedly. I thought, only I can judge `when I was ready to be done with whatever lesson I was supposed to learn, and I was positive that the time had passed.

A string of years of difficult life events can weigh on you until there’s only a portion of you that belives an equilibrium will ever arrive. For me, hope returned multiple times, only to be quashed by a never-ending trail of negativity and judgement tied to my past mistakes.

Life became a matter of searching for anything positive that couldn’t be blocked by the lesson. I felt suffocated by failures that refused to let me breath.

Although, we have all seen the feel-good movie where a hero or dramatic experience rescues someone from their fate and life turns around, I no longer believed that these movies or stories were possible. Feeling there was no purpose remaining was a significant challenge to my religious beliefs.

Unlike the movies, I found that a hero doesn’t show to rescue you just once. But instead, during each one of those miserable days, you’re growing a little bit at a time. The growth is occurring without realizing it, as it does when you were a kid and getting taller. Instead of a bone or muscle, it is your faith, integrity, resilience, determination, and hope that is expanding, while simultaneously shedding the negative skin of shame and guilt.

As I move to “the other side” of the painful lessons of the last six years, I now believe Pema Chodron’s saying is true. But it is not a magical force that appears with a bang and removes the painful lesson, it us up to us to do it. We are responsible to take the event, internalize it, take responsibility for the behaviors that led to it, make significant personal changes, and attack the world again.

What I have learned is “nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know”, but it is up to us to define the lesson, grow, and move on. The power is within us and with dogged determination, it eventually does “go away”.

When Trauma Destroys Confidence- How Do We Rebuild?

After several years of intermittent work and jobs I lost for a multitude of reasons related to my damaged reputation, I have finally re-entered the professional workplace.

I always imagined that building the confidence and trust would be most difficult in the eyes of the employer who finally hired me, but I was wrong.

Instead, because of the trauma of a criminal conviction, the justice process, the bad press, and the destruction of self-worth, my largest challenge has been trusting and believing in me. I have quickly learned that before I can function at the highest level the employer deserves, I need a solid foundation.

During a recent White Collar Support Group meeting with Jeff Grant, the topic was the challenge of finding work. Many of us laid out the strategies we have used to face our story, take ownership, stop beating ourselves up for the past, and approach employers with confidence and self-esteem.

To the person, we stated that we left our conviction and punishment with an “empty tank” of self-worth and perceived value. The topic led us to a deep, long discussion on, how do you rebuild after experiencing professional trauma?

Because it’s a self-reflective group with vast experience in recovery, there were many strategies presented that are applicable to anyone’s story.

The first, and often overlooked, is volunteering. Many of us began by getting out in the community, at the lowest level of positions, to create an impact again. Much of job-related self-worth comes from being a part of something larger than ourselves, while having a peer group, and contributing to a cause. Volunteer work is key to begin the healing process and interact with others in a way that plants the seed of renewed confidence. For me, this came in the form of multiple opportunities available at my church.

For those of us fortunate to progress to our first, post-conviction, paid jobs, it was noted that any level of employment gives one a sense of purpose. The experience of being counted on and needed, starts refilling the tank of self-worth and confidence.

Although the hope for each of us is to return to a professional level job, those are difficult to find for our group. One after another we are turned down in interviews and it wears and beats down on your self-worth. To combat it, we separate our self-esteem form employability and focus on the other value we have to others.

Satisfaction must be gleaned from whatever position is available. Many of us described positive results from jobs that just got us out of the house, engaged and bringing some form of income. But is that enough to prepare for the time an employer finally gives us a second chance in a professional level position?

Because of the post Covid-19 economy, the relative advancement in Fair Chance hiring, and the persistence of job application efforts, more of us will soon be given a chance in a professional level position. As I have began my new role, I can look back and see the importance of the incremental steps I used to rebuild my confidence. Although I thought I was ready to return long ago, the first steps were key in where I am now.

When trauma comes, the largest enemy is eventually going to be yourself. Volunteering and incremental work opportunities are the building blocks for the day you get the professional level job and can look in the mirror and say, “I deserve to be hired and they can trust me, because I have faith in myself”.

I am guilty and so are you. A call to action.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are outraged as those who are”. Benjamin Franklin.

Throughout most of my life, this statement applied to me. I had a framework of the criminal justice system, jails, and prisons solely from TV, movies, and a brief mention of a charitable visit to a prison from an individual at my church.

I am sure the thought, “who cares, those people who break the law get what they deserve”, went through my mind many times. After all, it didn’t affect me so why should I care? That would change.

In October of 2018 I was sitting in shorts and a t-shirt on the couch of our condo. It was a beautiful fall day and I thought little of the freedom I had to enjoy it as I typed away on my computer and listened with one ear to ESPN.

As the doorbell rang, I caught a slight glimpse of the sleave of what looked like a police uniform. Panicked, I went to the back door and opened the garage to see flashing police car lights. Quickly, an officer swept up, handcuffed me, and I was under arrest.

As I sat in the backseat and watched, as I was driven through the neighborhood I had traversed innocently, a hundred times with my wife and daughters, I was in shock. Like many others in the same situation, I thought, “this is something in a thousand years I never thought would happen to me”.

After my conviction and spending four separate weeks in a county jail, I have been more than awakened to the travesty that is the lives of people affected by the justice system. My attitude has changed from one of being aloof to that of a determination that I will never forget the people I met, their personal challenges with addiction, broken families, poverty, and more. While living in confined conditions that are slightly above that of war camps that we’ve condemned throughout history.

Despite this, most everyone I met wanted to help me learn the rules and adjust, while also being attentive to my personal story. Jail/prison is the ultimate leveling space in society, no one is any less or more than anyone else, we’re all guilty and to be treated the same. It’s that simple.

If I try to explain what it’s like to lie in a metal cot with a 1/2-inch mat, sleeping intermittently at best, fighting hunger and counting minutes until the next meal, I’ll fall desperately short. Not to mention missing your loved ones with every iota of your being, sharing one toilet, shower and sink with twenty-five other men, in a cell that hasn’t been cleaned or painted in at least thirty years.

Personally, I pay homage to my experience by thinking about each cellmate, while trying to picture their face. I have sent those I met reading glasses and books as the smallest of gestures that could somehow improve their situation. I pay reverence to their heartbreaking stories and challenges that none of us would overcome with any more success. I follow their criminal cases and hope for them to be free as soon as possible to rebuild their lives.

I can’t ask the same of you without this experience. But I can ask for you awareness and by answering my call to action. Even though you may be “unaffected” as Benjamin Franklin says, you can still find a way to be outraged.

The cognizant people realize that “there by the grace of God goes I”. The racial, socioeconomic and birth family you have been given, may be the only thing that separates you from the incarcerated.

What I call for you to do with your outrage is; attend to criminal justice reform on a national level. Read about the issues of mass incarceration, high rates of recidivism, and discriminative cases based upon factors such as race, socio-economic standing and more. Become aware of the poor living conditions in our jails and prisons and challenge the funding systems that create that environment. Realize that, although you don’t see them, there are human beings without any family and friends on the outside that would love to receive a handwritten letter acknowledging their existence.

After all, justice will not be served until a critical mass care enough to change it. When will that be? No one knows, but there are millions of forgotten souls waiting and praying for your actions to rescue them.

The Hidden Lesson in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Insight from someone with a similar criminal conviction.

A week from today, September 8th, opening arguments begin in the Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos) Federal Criminal case.

Like me, many of you have watched the multitude of documentaries and movies chronicling her story of deceit that cost investors hundreds of millions of dollars. All the while thinking, how does something like this happen at such a large scale with so many famous, wealthy people involved?

I am nowhere near the entrepreneur on a scale as Elizabeth, nor did I start my company in Silicon Valley, but I have experience that reaches some level of comparison.

For me, my entrepreneurial venture began with an idea that I felt passionate about because of personal experience. The attention I gained for the idea, reputation in the field at that time, and expert validation built a belief system that I had some special talent that was meant to change the world.

At first, that was enough and propelled me to put forth every effort to achieve global change. But at some point there was a shift away from the importance of the impact, to that of personal gain. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment of the change, but despite all rationalization attempts and blame, I am responsible for what occurred in the end. Which was a criminal conviction for theft from investors to the company. Something I take full responsibility and am remorseful for.

To shed light on the experience and transition, consider this. At the onset there are investor pitches to those that validate the idea could make you wealthy. There are press interviews shining light on your story and lead position in a growing market. There is contact from professionals or famous people in a class you’d always admired and wanted to be a part of. For me, I began to believe that my needs and desires were more important than the idea or those putting their finances behind their belief in me.

On a much larger scale, I believe this is what happened to Elizabeth Holmes. My guess is she did not set out to create a fake idea or deceive at a large scale. But then, the money came, along with the famous people, the media attention and there was a shift to focus on herself.

In the mix of emotion and the fast-paced start-up world for the CEO, comes the most difficult reality, things aren’t going like you had hoped. There could be glitches in the technology, underperforming staff, slow market adoption and a multitude of other factors. At the onset of the project, when real change was your focus, you would have revealed this fact. But not after the shift, at that point protecting your own interest and denying the issues (even to yourself).

Sadly, neither myself or Elizabeth Holmes had the bravery and strength in personality to communicate and deal with, normal start-up issues, in a straightforward way. My guess is, she is going to pay a price for that. But with that being said, does the outcome of the trial create any winner or loser?

If she is convicted, it will send a message throughout Silicon Valley that such behavior won’t be tolerated, and investments will flow more conservatively. Maybe the investors will feal vindicated, but it won’t return hundreds of millions of dollars.

If she is not guilty, her story will be one of another “fake it till you make it” start-up that followed the path of others who gambled away funds from those who knew the risk from the start. Then, things may not change much in the VC investing world.

I don’t think there are any winners or losers, but instead a lesson to be learned. That lesson is that there needs to be more of a focus on mental health and emotional support for start-up founders in order deal with the sudden emotions of success. This would help them stay grounded and true to the original mission and the people who believed in them. Just because someone has a great idea and can communicate it well and get others behind it, doesn’t mean they can handle the extreme stress of implementing it.

So, I suggest adding mental health professionals with regular contact with the entrepreneur throughout the investment process. This is a low-cost idea compared to the millions of dollars lost on cases like this. Most importantly, it is money well spent as it will counterbalance the input of the swarms of investors that want to leverage the entrepreneur in order to build or increase their wealth.

Be Careful, Someone May Think You Like Me

Professional outcasts and how we respond.

Throughout history there have been groups of people that are outcasts. It occurs for many reasons, but what I am most interested in is the emotional and spiritual response of those who encounter them and their ensuing aversion.

Human responses to outcasts are brought on by thoughts and feelings like, “I might catch their disease” in the case of the sick. Others might come from fears of potentially dangerous actions, because of personal disabilities or perceived mental illness. Such as the homeless or disenfranchised folks on the street corner looking for handouts. How many of us have walked by these people with fear and discontent? There are too many groups to name whom we avoid association.

I now have personal experience being part of a traditionally outcast group, that being those with a criminal conviction. My guess is that all the justice impacted feel disparaged, but I can best speak from the position of a White-Collar justice impacted individual.

I have stated in previous blogs the multitude of reasons that society “frowns upon” on White Collar crime and its perpetrators. But to be more specific, because it’s considered that our crimes must have been carefully planned over a longer period, with the specific intent to deprive others of their hard-earned money. The result seems to be that any association with us is a dangerous endeavor.

For example, regarding people I have known for many years, worked with, were friends, and respected my mission before my conviction. When I release a blog and/or social media outreach to endorse Fair Chance employment awareness or compassion for the challenges we face, my former colleagues and close friends rarely engage to support.

I do not wish to exemplify anger or disappointment in them. I am sure that I disassociated myself from many, in my previous life, for the same concerns. Those being, “If I like/share her/his LinkedIn post, others might think I approve of their criminal behavior”. “Her/His name is tarnished in our industry, I can’t associate with her/him publicly”. “I thought I knew her/him and thought I could trust them; this conviction confuses me as to who they really are”.

All are understandable responses and the events that led to our crime are still confusing and not easy to understand ourselves.

On this side of the fence, we must create a whole new identity and connect with additional, like-minded colleagues as our vessel of trust is downright empty. It has taken a lot of getting used to that my voice is no longer part of the professional conversation of education reform that I care so deeply about. I have attempted to take micro steps to refill the vessel and join the dialogue, but it is proving to be a long, difficult road.

So, should we be surprised when many former colleagues and friends drop us like flies and dissassociate from us publicly? Or should we be shocked when those who promise to bring our stories forward and spotlight our challenges as humans, don’t follow through?

We shouldn’t be surprised, it’s too professionally dangerous to associate with us. Therefore, we are still waiting for a writer, politician, or professional leader to truly listen to the White-Collar Justice Impacted Community (WCJIC) and step out as, not only a colleauge behind our mission, but a proud friend.

For those of you who read my blogs and social media outreach and are behind my mission, I thank you. But be careful, if you endorse it, someone may think you like me.