Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

11 Weeks in Paris

Greetings from Paris where Amanda and I will be until Nov 3. We arrived on August 18.

This trip, which we booked back in April, was contingent on 1) getting permission from the court or 2) getting early termination of supervised release. As you know, I got the latter so I did not need to seek the former.

For those who have followed this blog, which I hope to continue to update while I Paris, you may be interested in knowing that I am blogging about my time in Paris at:

It occurred to met that this is almost as long as the 13 weeks I spent in Pensacola Federal Prison. Maybe I should have called this blog 13 Weeks in Pensacola instead of The Rabbit Hole. :)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Restoration of Civil Rights

The other day I received a letter from my probation officer which enclosed the Report and Order Terminating Supervised Release, the official court document officially terminating my supervised release, dated July 16, 2009. This letter also included instructions concerning the restoration of civil rights (both state and federal) that I lost as a felon.

Click here for a copy of the documents I received

One can only restore rights once all the terms of the sentence are completed, including supervised release, fines, restitution, etc. Supervised release was the only remaining term for me since all fines and restitution were paid prior to entering prison. (Note: for many white collar defendants, the restitution is so great -- millions of dollars -- that they have no hope of ever paying it back. As a result, they never complete the term of their sentence and cannot never request restoration of civil rights.)

Interestingly, the request for restoration of rights is considered a civil action, which must be docketed and for which I have to pay the filing fee.... $4 for the first page and $.25 per page afterwards.

The vast majority of rights lost can only be restored by executive pardon. A federal pardon can only come from the US President and apparently restores state rights as well as federal rights. A state pardon only applies to restoring state rights.

Federal rights requiring a federal pardon include:

1. Right to serve on federal jury.
2. Right to obtain retirement annuity benefits (I think this applies to federal employees who commit a crime related to their official functions -- see Public Law 769)
3. Cannot hold union office for 5 years of conviction (applies to labor officials)

The other significant civil right that is lost and can only be restored via federal pardon or application to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (which however is not accepting applications due to budgetary contraints) concerns the "right to distribute, ship, transport, receive, or possess any type of firearm, ammunition, or exposive materials." Fortunately, I have never owned a gun nor have any interest in owning one but I have described elsewhere that the law considers "possession" to include "constructive" (as wel as "actual") which means that merely knowing where a weapon is located and having access to it constitutes "possession."

Most North Carolina rights appear to be restorable by simply filing the Report and Order Terminating Supervised Release with the local clerk of court. These include:

1. Right to vote.
2. Right to hold public office.
3. Right to obtain and hold certain state or local licenses. This is discretionary (depending on license and offense I suppose)
4. Right to work in an establishment where alcohol beverages are sold.
5. Right to serve as juror.

There are travel limitations to certain foreign countries but these are a function of THOSE countries' embassies or state departments, not US law. At this point, the only ones I am aware of are Canada, England, and Australia.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TV News on my Doorstep

As I mentioned in my previous post, the FBI showed up at my house on Thursday morning July 21, 2005.

By the next day, I had purchased a new computer (other other items) so I could re-connect to my business (a website hosted off-site) and met with my new lawyers at James, McElroy and Diehl to discuss an initial strategy.

Other than my immediate neighbors and lawyers, no one else really knew about the raid on my home. (I don't believe I called my parents until later.)

That was about to change.

I don't remember much about that weekend. I am pretty good at the art of conscious denial (like the guy who jumped off a tall building muttering "so far so good" as he plummetted to the ground). Conscious denial is a legitimate and even healthy coping strategy in which one sets aside the emotions of a traumatic event for a later time when it can be processed under cooler conditions. That doesn't mean I wasn't preoccupied with what happened, just that I was optimistic that things would work out.

Tuesday evening (July 26) changed that somewhat.

About 6p, I got a knock on the door, only to be greeted by a TV news reporter with microphone in hand and a document that he said was the search affidavit that had just been released the day before. I saw a camera woman at the end of the driveway with a news van with full remote equipment installed parked in front of the house.

The reporter was polite and simply asked if I would like to comment on the search. Unfortunately, as much as I would have liked to give him a tour of the house and describe what had happened, my lawyers would have killed me. I politely declined and he walked away telling her to turn off the camera.

But they didn't leave.

Instead, they parked two houses down (which was located most of the way down the cul-de-sac -- you can look it up in Google maps, I don't live there anymore -- click here). As neighbors began coming home from work, they would stop them and ask for comments about the "hacker" that lived in the neighborhood!

My wife was pretty stressed about everything; I actually thought it was rather comical. I don't say that to suggest that I am somehow above all that was going on but it was just so surreal and over-the-top that I couldn't help but laugh.

My neighbor -- a young woman who worked for me -- was upset at what was going on. She found at that there was going to be a story on the 10p news that night which created a problem for me.

My two daughters (18 and 16 at the time) from a previous marriage lived with my ex-wife and her husband across town. None of them knew anything about it and I really didn't want them finding out about it first on the evening news!

I called my ex-wife (with whom I had an amiable relationship) and told her I needed to come over and talk to everyone about some news. Within 30 minutes I was there for a large family gathering.

I simply explained about the FBI search and ongoing investigation and that there was going to be a story about it on the evening news. I told them I couldn't talk about the facts of the case, unfortunately, but that I didn't think I had done anything illegal but if it turns out that I had, then I will take responsibility for it.

My daughters (especially my oldest daughter Christina) were very curious about the facts but I really couldn't tell them much. Of course it was all very confusing and they had a hard time grasping it all but that was probably a blessing.

One thing I learned from this is that, to your children, you are still daddy. Later my daughter asked what a felon was. Exactly, I thought. What is a felon? It is just a word. That word may have significance or meaning to some people, but to my daughter it was meaningless. To her, I was just her dad. I was defined by her experience with me, not some label the government was seeking to define me by. Recognizing that provided a huge dose of perspective.

I left before the new broadcast came on. The video is no longer posted on the internet but the print story:

No Charges Filed Yet Against South Charlotte Hacker

The story deserves several comments:

1. The title already presumes my guilt. I am referred to as a "hacker" and the word "yet" is ominous in its implication.

2. I already referenced in my previous post the comment about hacking "thousands" of times and obtaining "confidential" information. The truth is I used the login of existing members to access the member directory. I logged in 11 times (that is what the indictment says) and obtained the contact information for about 80,000 doctors (there were about 120,000 in the member directory... I didn't get them all). The information was ordinary name, address, phone, fax, email, and professional facts... not what most people would consider confidential. In fact, nothing I collected is subject to copyright protection... it is not information that can be "owned" by anyone. The government later admitted this although they continued to portray my conduct as "theft" in their sentencing arguments (which the judge did not buy into). The news reference is indicative of a media bias to describe conduct in the worst possible light.

3. A later sentence says I "attacked" the site from "Jan to May" accessing "hundreds" of files. Again the sensational language. Normally an "attack" is something that does damage. I simply logged into their system multiple times, causing no harm to either the computers or the data. How does this qualify as an "attack?" I accessed the site in Jan and in May on separate occasions, not "Jan to May" (implying this was continuous activity over 5 months). I have no idea what the reference to "hundreds" of files means. This is a typical online database directory in which you can enter a search for records. I made thousands of searches in order to look up the contact information on individual doctors. I wonder if the word "file" was meant to complement the word "confidential" in the earlier paragraph. When someone thinks of confidential doctor files, they think of medical or financial data, not ordinary contact information that could be obtained through other public sources.

4. The article then suggests my neighbor Chuck across the street was "looking for answers." Huh? Chuck was looking for nothing; he just answered their questions. How silly -- At least he said I "conduct myself well in the neighborhood" :)

I looked through my emails and found the following contemporaneous comments I sent to my lawyers that same night:

July 26, 2005 10:22p


I already told Ed earlier this evening, but an ABC local TV news crew showed up at my house about 7pm. I politely declined to comment but they ran a brief story on Channel 64 ActionNews (Cable Channel 10) at 10pm. They interviewed neighbors and the TV truck hung around all evening a couple houses down.

Once I learned that they were going to break the news on TV, I visited my children (and ex-wife and her husband) at 9pm to give them a “heads up” so they didn’t have to hear it from someone else first. They took it fine as I expected so I feel good about things.


July 27, 2005, 12:09a

There was a more extended story at 11p. It irks me that they get to frame my actions in the worst possible light -- “hack”, “attack”, download “records” or “confidential” information – and we don’t get to reply.

I don’t care about public response because most people don’t care and my friends won’t care, but it is still annoying.


I hope to continue to replay some of the early stages of my case which I haven't talked about previously. I think it is important that people who know me only through my prison experience understand what all took place before that.