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).

Friday, March 30, 2007

Time to Enter the Rabbit Hole

In the 20 months since the FBI raided my home in July, 2005, I have had difficulty sleeping probably less than 20 days. Part of the reason is that I seem to have mastered the art of conscious denial (which is totally different than the much more dangerous unconscious denial). A counselor once told me that I am like the guy who jumps out of a tall building and, as he plummets to the ground, keeps telling himself "So far so good." Talk about staying in the moment!! Of course, the counselor did not intend this as a compliment at the time, but as a warning, which I needed. However, over time, I have tried to turn this darker tendency into something more functional.

I have worked so hard on my attitude to reframe my experiences, determined to live my life as fully as I can, even when faced with difficulty. I have never taken any medication for depression or sleep during this entire episode although I could certainly understand, and would not judge, another doing so. I guess I prefer to take my stress "straight up," if at all possible :)

Certainly the days leading up to sentencing on February 13, 2007 were difficult, but I have slept normally since then

...until the last few nights.

I generally get to sleep fine but then wake up early and have difficulty getting back to sleep.

Last night I could feel my heart racing a little more than normal. The adrenaline is starting to kick in.

Anway, I am up now. This is the plan:

I am wearing old blue jeans with a big hole in the left knee, a pair of old loafers I forgot I had, old underwear, and an old yellow polo shirt that looks like the color of a newspaper left on the dashboard for a week in the sun. I decided I didn't want the BOP to send my clothes back to my wife; they can just toss them.

I am having a little Kashi GoLean for breakfast (dry, no milk), although I am not particularly hungry (a sure sign of stress for me).

We will leave here in about 30 minutes to go to the airport, where I will catch a flight to Pensacola that I hope and pray is on time (pleeeease, USAir, don't mess with me, not today!). I will arrive in Pensacola around 10:30a and probably get a last bite to eat of "good" food, although you know things are going downhill fast when you start talking about airport food as "good." I will then step out of the airport and take a cab straight to the prison which is maybe 10 miles away.

What am I bringing?

1. Boarding pass I printed out from USAir Website last night (actually, at 2:30a when I woke up this morning!).
2. Sheet of paper with my list of people whom I can call or have visit me.
3. Directions and a map from MapQuest just in case the cabbie doesn't know how to get to the prison from the airport.
4. Latest issue of Sports Illustrated to read in the airport and on the plane. Cover story is Tiger 2.0 (I read anything I can get my hands on about Tiger).
5. A little over $1000 in cash to place in my commissary account. I was told I can spend $290/mo plus cost of phone calls. I also need to buy some food in the aiport and pay the cabbie.
6. My driver's license for ID at the airport -- don't know what the BOP will do with it.
7. Reading glasses.
8. My wedding band. A friend recommended I not bring any jewelry but Amanda insisted I bring it. It has probably left my hand for less than 5 minutes in 12 years. She wants me to take it off occasionally and read the inscription on the inside: "Your faithful heart" - the title of a Beth Nielsen Chapman song sung at our wedding:

Faithful heart
What more can one life ask
One hand to hold along life's path
Share with me this vow
And for all time
Our souls will be entwined
I give this love, I live this love
No greater joy is mine
Storms will come, but we will never part
For each of us bequeath a faithful heart
I give this love, I live this love
No greater joy is mine
Storms will come, but we will never part
For each of us bequeath a faithful heart

I promise I will dear.

PS - This will be my last blog entry for a while. From now until I return, I will have to write on paper (what is that?) and snailmail it to Amanda to post, which will of course delay the postings. There is so much more I want to write about before I leave, but time is up.

The Last Supper

Tonight, Amanda and I had dinner together at OceanAire, an awesome seafood restaurant that Ronna recommended. Split a scrumptious crabcake for appetizer. Amanda had stuffed flounder and I had blackened mahi-mahi and we shared a side dish of creamed risotto. Finally, split a piece of maybe the best (and biggest) key lime pie I have ever had. We had to "bag" much of it so she will be enjoying it while I am gone :(

It was nice for just the two of us to spend time together one last time.... the proverbial "last meal" I suppose.

Reality is setting in and it is sobering. In less than 12 hours, I will have entered "the rabbit hole."

Amanda has been amazing. She is really much more sympathetic than I sometimes teasingly portray her. I know she will be fine while I am gone and has a good support base but I am sure it will be difficult at times.

I am curious, but not really apprehensive, about how the separation will affect us. I think we are strong together and I think we will be strong apart for this brief separation. I love you dear.

One last night in my own bed. Good night.

Facing My Biggest Fear - Why I Am Blogging

I have spent a lot of time thinking about my motivations for publishing this blog. I have been a little surprised at how motivated I am.

Suddenly the other morning, it struck me.

My biggest fear of prison is that it will de-humanize me. I have read and heard that prison is a de-humanizing and degrading place at times. There are things that will happen that are contrary to human dignity. Being strip-searched the moment I enter prison tomorrow cannot help but be degrading.

Some have remarked that my physical conditions will actually be better than military boot camp, which is true. However, in the military, they tear you down in order to build you back up into a better person and everyone there knows that is the goal of training. The Bureau of Prisons is in the business of warehousing criminals. Their mission does not include rehabilitation. There is no "building up" objective.

Now, it may well turn out, as I hope, that the prison staff are consummate professionals and treat me and the other inmates like fellow human beings. Unfortunately, I am skeptical. I hope I am proven wrong.

I do not publish this blog to make light of my conduct or my circumstances, though some of my entries may be light-hearted. I do however write to tell my story and to assert my humanity.






I do not write with the defiance of one who rejects his government or the rule of law or the civil servants who work in the system. I simply write as a man who does not want to be invisible.

Some may think I am making a joke of the system. That is not my intent. I do however believe I am entering a system that runs by a different set of rules than the world most of us live in. That is why I have titled my blog "The Rabbit Hole."

Jesus talks about the importance of being in the world but not of it. Well, that is how I view prison. I will be in it, but I do not want to be of it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

To Shave or Not To Shave (Part 3 of 3)

Finally, the last in a series of posts that I fear are getting way too long so I will keep this one short.

What to do with my beard... actually mustache and goatee... facial hair. I know by now it must sound like I have a hair fetish but really this is a practical matter. I don't believe I will have access to a beard trimmer, without which it is impossible to maintain a closely cropped mustache and goatee.

In any case, for now, I have decided to keep it as you can see in my picture in the first post in this series.

I suspect, however, that my ultimate options are to simply not shave for 3 months and look like Tom Hanks in Castaway when I leave or to shave off everything and keep it off by shaving regularly (maybe once a week).

To be continued....

2 Girls in a Bar (Part 2 of 3)

First of all I have to note that this story is probably not going to be nearly as scintillating as the title might suggest. Sorry to disappoint you, but at least I did get your attention since you are reading this.

As I noted in my last post, two friends, both female, suggested I basically cut off all my hair before I leave for prison tomorrow, which I did.

I recalled a previous experience, almost exactly 4 years ago when I was in Israel (for business) for several weeks. Amanda was not with me during this time so after work each day, I would walk up the street to this little bar called Bordo in Zichron Yaacov. When I say little, I mean little (see pictures to the right and below, Bordo is small building on left; click to enlarge).

In any case, I would have dinner there and a glass of wine almost every night (I told you I was a "rut" kind of guy) and talk with Sarit and Carmit (see pictures below) about Israel, which is an endlessly fascinating subject. (I was there when the Shuttle blew up on re-entry carrying the Israeli astronaut in early 2003. Very sad subject in Israel.)

Near the end of my stay in Israel, we had become rather good friends and they decided they wanted to tell me something. For the previous 10 years, I had a full beard, though trimmed very tight. In fact, my wife had never seen me without full facial hair. However, these "two girls in a bar" boldly suggested to me that I would look much "sexier" if I shaved the sides of the beard and left just the mustache and goatee. Again, I do not give too much thought to my appearance once it has been "set." I just do the same thing everyday; change is rare.

Nonetheless, this got my attention. What man approaching middle age wouldn't want to look "sexy?"

When I got home, I told Amanda the story and shaved the sides of my beard off and she liked it. So did I. I have had a mustache and goatee for the last five years, occasionally re-growing and shaving the full beard. All because of "two girls in a bar." And now here it is four years later, and I have shaved my head (almost) because of the prompting of "two girls in a bar."

Kinda funny. Well, maybe not that funny. But it does bring a smile to my face thinking about it.

Carmit (click to enlarge)


"UR 2 Prittee" (Part 1 of 3)

What should I do with my hair before I report to prison? I had been thinking about this for some time and had my haircut scheduled for 2:30p today. The same guy has been cutting my hair for 13 years so I figured I would ask him, but he didn't know I was going to prison.

Now you have to understand that I have had medium to longish hair parted down the middle since I was 13 years old (check out the pic in the previous blog entry for recent "look"), sometimes almost as long as my shoulders. Recently, it had gotten long enough that someone called it a "Keith Urban" look, which I didn't know whether to take as a compliment or not. When I used to wear glasses, I had been compared to Eric Clapton when his hair was longer. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the idea of getting it cut really short but when you've had it basically the same way for thirty-something years, change is hard. I really am a "rut" kind of guy, which kind of goes along with my borderline O/C tendencies.

Before my appointment, however, I made my daily lunch trip to WizeGuys, the last one for at least 3 months, where I broached the question with Colleen and Trish, both standing behind the bar. They insisted that I get a "buzz" cut. I mean really insisted, especially Colleen, who seemed particularly concerned about what might happen to me if I didn't get it cut, which had me puzzled. I looked at Ray, a "regular" sitting several seats to my left, who apparently knew exactly where she was going with this, but wasn't about to help her out. I was, of course, totally confused.

Finally, she simply said, "Bill, you're just too pretty." Except that she pronounced "pretty" very succinctly... "prittee." Trust me, there is a big difference between "pretty" and "prittee."

No one has ever called me "prittee" (or "pretty" for that matter) before. I have never thought of myself as a particulary good looking or bad looking guy, but this really wasn't about that; this was about my hair. I have pretty hair... apparently. And pretty hair is not a good thing to have in prison... apparently. (Now how or why Colleen knows all this I'm not sure, but she seemed pretty darn emphatic about it. Don't get me wrong, she wasn't being mean; she was really concerned about me or I'm sure she wouldn't have said it, which is actually quite sweet of her.)

Trish didn't seem to want to comment on the "pretty" issue; she just thought cutting my hair off was symbolic of a new start and this was as good a time as any to do it.

Well, if "two girls in a bar" (this is a theme I will continue with in my next post) think I should cut my hair off, who am I to disagree? Well, actually, I guess that would depend on who the girls were. In this case they were friends. Nonetheless, I wisely chose to consult with my wife (as I always do) by phone on my way to the "salon" and she was actually surprisingly indifferent. "It will grow back if you don't like it." Spoken like a wife who loves me no matter how ugly I am. Thank you dear.

I arrived at the "salon" and told "Don" I needed something drastic today and told him my situation and he didn't blink and started cutting it off. It isn't really a true buzz cut... more like a Justin Timerlake look. Not that I know much about Justin Timberlake.

Early feedback is so-so. My wife wants my "pretty" hair back which means I am probably going to grow it back. My oldest daughter likes it the old way too. My mom kind of likes it short. My dad thinks it makes me look older. Trish and Ronna appeared diplomatic so I'm not sure how much I can count on their opinion. :)

I don't feel any different because I don't have to look at myself most of the day. Certainly, it will be easier to deal with in prison, especially if I can't get a shower every day. And April, May, and June can get hot in Florida. Not sure yet if they have AC in prison.

A Day of Goodbyes (plus an American Idol PS)

Yesterday was a day of goodbyes.

First, I had my last workout in a while with my trainer Regi. We did final measurements to see how much I progress/regress while in prison. See my upcoming post for comments on health and diet concerns while in prison.

Second, I had my going away party at Wizeguys. I was a little late due to a house visit by my PO.

Third, I took my daughter Angela out for an early birthday dinner at Capital Grille, one of the more upscale restaurants located right in the center of downtown Charlotte. She graduated high school early in December and currently works in the accounting department at a large hotel uptown. I wanted to spend one last evening with her before I left, just to let her know how much I love her and how very proud I am of her. We split a 10-oz filet with a large side of asparagus and a monster chocolate hazelnut cake for dessert. The server asked what the occasion was. I explained I was going "away" for a while and was going to miss her 18th birthday in June. They gave us the cake for free. Nice touch. (Click to enlarge picture)

Finally, Amanda and I stopped by her sister Heidi's house for a glass of wine and to watch the results of American Idol. The funniest part of the evening however was when it was time to leave. I made a quick pitstop and forgot I had lots of asparagus for dinner. Uh oh. Click here if you are confused.

Now, I can't end without a few parting remarks about American Idol.

Sanjaya made it through another cut. Unbelievable, although I couldn't argue with the bottom three and Chris Sligh deserved to go. I'm glad Haley didn't go... I wouldn't mind seeing her legs for at least a few more weeks. Think she doesn't know where her votes are coming from?

Back to Sanjaya. After a while, you just have to give the kid some credit... he is not going down meekly. That 7-cornstalk mohawk was a piece of art. I agree completely with the closing comments of Jim Cantiello on, whose review of last night's show can be found here:

Sanjaya's performance-art kept the show interesting. You have to give him credit for that, at the very least. Who would have guessed that the shy guy with the shaggy hair who auditioned with his sister would turn into a full-fledged freak-with-no-leash? I think Sanjaya himself is a little confused as he embraces his role on the show. A line from "Bathwater" seems especially relevant: "I know I don't fit in, so why do you want me?" I'll tell you, dude: Because you're unique. Not "Gina Glocksen I'm Gonna Dye My Hair And Wear Ugly Clothes" unique. But truly unique. At this point, what else can Sanjaya do to surprise us? We've created a monster, folks.

My rankings:

1. Melinda Doolittle
2. Lakisha Jones
3. Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks, Gina Glocksen (tie)
6. Who Cares
7. Who Cares
8. Who Cares
9. Who Cares

I won't be surprised if Sanjaya makes it into the final 6 but it has to end there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Supervised Release and Electronic Monitoring

While most of my focus has been on the 3 months I will spend in prison, there is an additional reality that I must face when I get out -- supervised release for 3 years of which the first 3 months require home confinement with electronic monitoring.

I had some questions about electronic monitoring that I addressed to the Pretrial Officer who has been assigned to me since my arraignment last June. She has been strictly professional and the experience has been only positive. Nonetheless, she preferred referring my questions to her counterpart, the Probation Officer (PO) who will be assigned to my case after I am released from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.

I spoke with him yesterday and he agreed to stop by the house today to go over any issues in advance to smooth the transition from prison to probation.

Again, as with the Pretrial Officer, the interaction was relaxed and professional. He has a job to do and it is in both of our interests that things go smoothly.

With respect to home confinement, I had been led to believe that, with the exception of visits to church, lawyer, and doctor, I was essentially confined to the walls of my home 24/7. I would not even be able to walk out of my house to get my mail. In a sense, it almost seemed more confining than prison, apart from the preferrable comfort and privacy of home, of course. Most individuals would be allowed to leave during the day for their job, but since I am self-employed that didn't appear to apply. I already had friends at Wizeguys Pizza Bar volunteering to deliver lunch to my house every day!!

Turns out the reality is different than what I feared. While each "client" is handled on a case-by-case basis, in general it appears that I will have significant "free" time during the day to handle personal and business matters. During this time, I will be "off" the monitoring device. However, I will have a curfew that will require me to remain within the walls of my house. Thus, any chores and errands will have to be done during whatever window of time is granted to me during the day. The PO seemed totally reasonable and flexible concerning this time window and we will discuss it further when I am released. I anticipate my release date will be Fri, June 29. I already have a flight booked back to Charlotte on that day so I hope I guessed correctly. I will call him when I return to let him know everything is on schedule and we already have an appointment for the beginning of the next week. Technically, I have 72 hours to return to my home district and report to the US Probation Office.

As for the mechanics of electronic monitoring, I do not have a "regular" phone line, which is required for the system to work. When our house was built 18 months ago, I planned on using VOIP (i.e. Vonage) for my business and residential telephone service. The problem is that the telephone company will not drop a line from the road to your house unless you sign up for service. Therefore, my house is not "wired" to work with electronic monitoring.

Today, I arranged for Windstream to install a "land" line to my house right after I get out of prison. It is important that the service have no additional features, such as call waiting, *69, etc so they are giving me local service with no options... less than $20/month plus installation. Whatever.

I am responsible for paying for the monitoring service, which I understand to be about $3/day. So it will cost me about $300 for the 3 months plus $60 for phone service plus $65 for install. Compared to what this case has cost me already, that is pocket change.

In any case, I am relieved that the home confinement does not appear to be quite as confining as I first thought. I am also impressed with the professionalism I have encountered so far with the US Probation Office. I hope I encounter the same degree of professionalism in prison.

Going Away Party at Wizeguys

I am self-employed and work out of my home. To get out of the house, I eat lunch at Wizeguys Pizza Bar in Charlotte almost every weekday and occasionally at night. While the pasta buffet, as good a deal as it is, and the vodka tonics are not the best for my waistline, it has become my version of Cheers, a place "where everybody knows your name." I joke that I come for the "drama" but, ironically, now the joke seems to be on me because my life has become the "drama."

Today, at lunch, they threw a little surprise going away party for me. I got a big cookie and a card from everyone. Even got a "soap on a rope" from Ray. Very cute. Thanks Ronna for the card and cookie. Thanks Colleen, Britain, Justin for the nice comments.

Click on images in enlarge.

Sant'Antimo Prayer

Several years ago, Amanda and I visited Tuscany in Italy. One of our stops was the Abbey of Sant'Antimo to hear the friars chant the liturgy. After the service, I noticed a woman in prayer in one of the simple wooden pews, with the light streaming in from the nave (see the photo on right below). Standing to her left beyond the marble column, I snapped a picture. I have an 24"x18" version on my office wall. It remains the single most moving and inspirational photograph I have ever taken.

Click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sleeping and Spooning

When I was younger, I could sleep anywhere, anytime. As I have gotten older, I have noticed I do not sleep as well in new or strange environments. Having been married to Amanda now for almost 12 years, that generally means any bed that she is not in. Sleeping alone just feels... well, lonely.

One of my favorite parts of every day is early in the morning before we have both truly awoken, oftentimes after the "first" alarm has gone off. I will begin to nudge my way over from my side of our king size bed to her side (actually, I don't have to slide over very far because I am usually never that far from her side of the bed!). She will groggily turn to her side with her back to me. I don't know if this is because I have her so well trained by now or because she is hoping I will go away and let her continuing sleeping in peace.

I will then "spoon" in behind her, wrapping my arm over her (ok, maybe I do a little more than just wrap my arm around her). Our newest cat Mango (click image to enlarge) is usually cuddled in her arms, creating what I jokingly refer to as our menage-a-quatre! [If you don't get the clever pun, then you need to listen to the pronunciation of the french word for "four" here.]

The more of my body I can have touching hers the better. I don't think this is exactly what the biblical concept of "one flesh" is referring to, but... I like it anyway. Unfortunately, she does not always enjoy this as much as I. I think it has something to do with not being able to breathe. Whatever. (I thought taking someone's breath away was the whole point of romance!)

I mention this little, rather intimate, anecdote because I know the first few nights away are going to be difficult. And I don't think it is just because I will be in prison (although I understand that the nights are not exactly quiet; fortunately, I can sleep at a rock concert), but simply because I will be in a strange place surrounded by strange people and out of my normal "sleeping and spooning" routine. My wife, on the other hand, will probably be sleeping quite nicely with all 5 cats in bed and no one to interfere with her breathing.


The original title for this blog was Bill Bailey Unplugged (in fact, one way to reach it is at My wife, and several others, liked the idea because it accurately reflected the technology withdrawal I am about to endure. I eventually chose "The Rabbit Hole" because I thought it more accurately captured the surreal aspect of my experience. Nonetheless, the original title has merit.

So much of modern life is defined or regulated by "connecting" technologies -- specifically, cell phones and the internet. Of course, the internet includes the web, email, and instant messaging. In fact, when I lived in Israel for several months in 2002, I often felt more connected to my teenage daughters back in the States than when I lived 20 minutes from them, all because of the availability of email and instant messaging and inexpensive international phone cards. For their generation, a world without cell phones and the internet is almost impossible to imagine and has in fact defined the very nature of what "community" is. Sharing details of one's personal life on MySpace and Facebook and connecting with "virtual" friends all over the world are not only considered normal, it is almost inconceivable that the world could be any different.

This "unplugging" from technology that I will experience for three months is actually something that intrigues me a great deal. The great blessing of these technologies is that you always CAN BE connected.... literally, from anywhere in the world. However, the great curse is that you ARE always connected... it seems impossible to escape. Unless, of course, you are going to prison, although the irony has not escaped me that I am blogging on the internet about being unplugged from technology when I go to prison (and intending to continue blogging while I am in prison, albeit through pen and paper mailed to an intermediary poster).

When all of these technologies are withdrawn, what inside of me will rise to the surface? What neuroses are being masked by the incessant technological stimuli? Depression? Obsessive/compulsive tendencies? Phobias? Whereas it is common to believe that fundamental personal change starts with what is inside (that is, you must change the way you think before you can change the way you act), I have come to believe that it is more complicated than that. Sometimes, you have to change your behavior in order to discover what inside you needs to be changed. While certainly attitude and belief must change before behavior can change, sometimes it is difficult to identify the underlying dysfunctional thinking unless you first stop behaving dysfunctionally because the dysfunctional behavior is masking the dysfunctional thinking. If you can't stop what it is you're doing long enough, you may not be able to put your finger on what it is that is actually driving the behavior.

Unfortunately, in the real world, it is too costly to simply stop what you are doing. For example, few people will disconnect their TV, phones, and internet in order to discover what a technology-free life would be like... to discover what pathologies have crept in to their lives without them even knowing it because these technologies keep them too busy to notice.

Of course, I do not have to choose to give up these technologies; prison has been forced on me. (That is not to say that I don't accept responsibility for my actions, only that the punishment was not my idea.) As a result, I am about to be unplugged and God only knows what I am going to learn about myself.

What Will I Truly Miss?

I suppose it is natural (at least, I hope it is normal) to starting thinking ahead to the events one is going to miss while away. I will be incarcerated March 30 - June 29. During that time, the following events are scheduled:

1. Masters Golf Tournament
2. Easter
3. Wachovia Championship (PGA Event in Charlotte that I have two tickets for the entire week and have attended each of the first 4 years)
4. My wife turns 50 on May 9
5. I turn 47 on May 21
6. French Open Tennis Tournament
7. Mom's birthday on June 2 (see Mom, I didn't tell them how old you will be)
8. Daughter turns 18 on June 6
9. US Open Golf Tournament
10. First week of Wimbledon Tennis

Of course, I will probably be able to watch the golf and tennis on TV anyway (and they're certainly shallow indulgences compared to the birthdays of the significant people in my life) but it is sobering to think of time not in days and weeks, but in moments. In fact, I think we generally chronicle our lives not so much in linear time but by the significant events that leave an imprint on our consciousnesses.

I fully expect prison to be one of those significant events. In 10 years, I will likely remember little of these few events I have listed, but I will no doubt be telling -- and retelling -- stories, and the lessons learned, of my brief time in federal prison. While I can't fully fathom what the experience is going to be like, I can't imagine that it won't have a lasting impact.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Can you watch Prison Break in Prison?

In early March, I read that Prison Break (which, along with 24, are my favorite shows) only had 3 episodes left for Season 2. Looking at the calendar, that would have placed the last episode on March 26...tonight. Perfect timing I thought... I get to watch the final episode before leaving for prison.


For some reason, Prison Break skipped March 12. This pushed the final episode back to April 2, three days after I report.

So.... what are the chances I get to watch the final episode in prison?

It is my understanding that each unit has a TV room. However, in a prison camp, there is freedom of movement between units (whereas most prisons only allow movement during the last 10 minutes of each hour). Surely, one of the TV rooms is programmed to Fox. However, to throw an addition wrinkle into the schedule, CBS is televising the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game Monday night also (the semi-finals are on Saturday, the day after I report).

There are only 3 shows I watch consistently this time of year -- Prison Break, 24, and.... American Idol. Prison Break obviously finishes next week; 24 and American Idol finish up the third week of May, but if Sanjaya doesn't get the boot on American Idol this week, I might be begging for solitary confinement because if I have to watch him again (or even worse, watch another 'tween' girl cry for two hours), they may have to send me to the psychiatric ward. Sanjaya must be stopped!

Attitude and Gratitude

Years ago -- indeed, many years ago -- I came across a quote by Chuck Swindoll about attitude:
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.

For someone about to enter prison, perhaps nothing is more relevant than attitude. It is a concept I have tried to instill in my daughters also and that I hope I can model in my current circumstances.

Another quote that has a huge impact on my life as a Christian is from the Catholic priest Henri Nouwen whose books on the spiritual life are widely read by Catholics and Protestants alike. While I have read several variations of his comments, this is my favorite:

It is sometimes said: "We are really grateful for all the good things... We simply have to accept or try to forget the painful moments." The attitude expressed in these words made me aware of how often we tend to divide our past into good things to remember with gratitude and painful things to accept or forget. Once we accept this division, however, we quickly develop a mentality in which we hope to collect more good memories than bad memories, more things to be grateful for than things to be resentful about, more things to celebrate than things to complain about. But this way of thinking, which at first glance seems quite natural, prevents us from truly allowing our whole past to be the source from which we live our future. Is this the gratitude to which God calls us?

Gratitude is not a simple emotion or an obvious attitude. It is a difficult discipline to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future. It is hard precisely because it challenges me to face the painful moments-experiences of rejection and abandonment, feelings of loss and failure-and gradually to discover in them the pruning hands of God purifying my heart for deeper love, stronger hope, and broader faith.

I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, "everything is grace." When our gratitude for the past is only partial, our hope for a new future can never be full.

To reclaim our history in its totality means that we no longer relate to our past as years in which only good times can be remembered, and bad times need to be forgotten, but as opportunities for an ongoing conversion of the heart. If we are to be truly ready to ask for a new task in the service of God, truly free to be sent into a new mission, our entire past, gathered into the spaciousness of the converted heart, must become the energy that moves us toward the future.

I cannot tell you how revolutionary and radical this concept was for me. Now, as I am about to enter prison, I do not view it as 3 months of "wasted" time; that is, days and months that go in the "bad memories" column that I somehow have to work extra hard when I get out to compensate for with "good memories." My days in prison are just as much my "life" as one of my vacations in Italy. Life has more to do with what goes on inside me than outside me.

It is important not to prematurely label an experience as a blessing or a curse. Oftentimes, blessings are disguised as curses and curses disguised as blessings and it is only with benefit of hindsight (usually distant hindsight) that one can adequately evaluate the full significance of a past experience.

I'm Going to Miss You Too Dear

As I reported in an earlier post, I have a flight booked into Pensacola Friday morning leaving at 9:40a so that I can report to prison by noon. I told my wife she needed to drop me off at about 8:30a. She replied that she was going to have to drop me off earlier because she had tennis at 8:30!! I'm going to miss you too dear. :)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Collateral Consequences

5 days and counting. Today, Amanda and I went over the finances. Normally, I handle all the bills, but obviously that is not possible while I am incarcerated. Fortunately, it is not that complicated, but since I am self-employed, I have had to establish procedures to ensure my business can continue to generate income while I am gone.

This is actually a collateral consequence of incarceration that many do not consider. While the convict is sitting in prison, with free room and board so to speak, his family must adapt to the absence of a husband, father, and economic resource. While this is not officially part of the punishment, it is still very real. For me, the hardest part of this process has been the impact on my family -- my parents, wife, and children. I am an adult... I can handle the consequences for my conduct. But my family should not have to suffer.

I am certainly more fortunate than most. First, I will only be spending 3 months in prison. While that is far longer than I have ever spent apart from my wife, I know there are many who serve our country in Iraq or Afghanistan who are separated for much longer. Second, my family can visit me on weekends. Third, I have a business that can operate for a short period of time without my involvement, continuing to provide income for my family. Being self-employed, I don't have to worry about being fired, nor does my career depends on a state license (e.g. medical, legal, finance, etc) that could be revoked based on a felony conviction. North Carolina only restricts a felon's right to vote for the term of probation (3 years in my case), whereas some states (such as Florida) permanently disenfranchise felons.

[By the way, an interesting issue arose concerning my right to vote in the November 7, 2006 elections. I entered a guilty plea on October 13, 2006 but was not scheduled for sentencing until the beginning of 2007. Did I become a convicted felon on October 13 (before the election) or when my sentence was imposed (after the election)? My attorney had not run across such an anomolous situation. She consulted the prosecutor who said his policy was to notify the state board of elections after sentencing, implying he did not object to my voting in the election. My other attorney -- I collect lawyers as a hobby :) -- indicated that the "entry of judgment," which apparently occurs at sentencing, is the relevant date. This is consistent with the answer we received from the prosecutor. In any case, I voted and no one said anything :) ]

By the way, the The Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration, discusses many of the collateral consequences associated with a felony conviction.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Introduction and Background

On February 13, 2007, I was sentenced to 3 months confinement in a federal prison followed by 3 years supervised release with a special condition of 3 months home confinement with electronic monitoring.

In 6 days, I report to the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola, FL. I must self-report by 2pm, however, the nice lady in the Receiving and Discharge department recommended I show up by noon or I risk not being able to purchase any necessary items from the commissary before the weekend (i.e. toothpaste, toothbrush, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, etc.). I am leaving Charlotte on a 9:40am (EST) flight, arriving in Pensacola at 10:27pm (CST). I will then take a cab to the prison 10 miles away. I will arrive with the clothes on my back, my wedding band (no stones), $1000 cash to place in my "account" for commisary and phone calls, reading glasses, and my driver's license (airline ID). It is my understanding I will be strip-searched and my clothes (and hopefully driver's license) returned to my wife by mail. By my calculations, I will be released on June 29, 2007. I have already purchased the return ticket so I hope I calculated correctly. I have 72 hours to get back to Charlotte and contact the probation department to begin my home confinement.

I have decided to share the thoughts of my prison experience because of the paucity of information available on the subject (nothwithstanding a handful of books and websites I have found). There are, I am sure, good reasons for this. For one, people who have been convicted of a crime are not usually interested in publishing details of a consequence that may be a source of shame or embarrassment. Fair enough. Additionally, the internet as we know it is only about 12 years old and blogging is an even newer phenomenon so the vast majority of current inmates lack experience with the entire concept of sharing their life in such a public manner. Finally, blogging requires a certain technical expertise and internet marketing savvy. None of these are constraints for me.

I am not normally comfortable with sharing my personal life in such a public manner. I sympathize with the fears of Winnie-the-Pooh:

"When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it. "

Nonetheless, there is value to me, and I hope to others, in documenting my experience.

I will not spend much time commenting on either the process or the substance of the government's prosecution of my case. The law is the law and the facts are the facts. Whether I agree or disagree at this point on this matter or that matter is really irrelevant. I entered a guilty plea, accepted responsibility, paid restitution, and received my sentence. It is what it is.

In addition, given that I am about to serve time in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons followed by 3 years under the supervision of the Federal Department of Probation, it is simply not prudent to be commenting on my case beyond what has been entered in the record, either in the form of documents submitted by my lawyers or statements made directly by me in court. Finally, the entire experience is still somewhat raw and it is common wisdom that one should avoid making comments on the record that one might later regret without adequate time for reflection.

Nonetheless, I know that the first question you are asking is, "What did this guy do to receive a federal prison sentence? How did he get to this point?"

The barest facts are as follows: On July 21, 2005, my home was raided by 7 FBI agents at 6am. All of my computers and other storage devices were seized, among other items. In June, 2006, I was indicted for 11 counts of "intentionally accessing and attempting to access a protected computer without authorization and obtaining information for purpose of commercial advantage and private gain." (18 U.S.C. §1030(a)(2)(C),(b) and(c)(2)(B)) Specifically, I copied a directory of physicians from a member association website using a handful of member logins I had acquired. Maximum possible sentence was 55 years and $2,250,000 fine (yikes!). On October 13, 2006, I entered a guilty plea for one count in the indictment, making me a federal felon. On February 13, 2007, I received my sentence.

Of course, that is the purely clinical recount... I can assure you the experience of each stage in the process was quite a bit more "fascinating." The past two years definitely rate as one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was also easily the most expensive :)

For those who care about or understand the US Sentencing Guidelines with respect to computer crimes, the plea agreement I entered into included 6 points for the base offense, 6 points for damages of $30,000-$70,000, 2 points sentencing enhancement for "special skill," and 2 points sentencing reduction for "acceptance of responsibility." This 12 point total corresponds to a base guidelines sentence of 10-16 months (half of which can be home confinement). In addition, the government was allowed to argue for an additional 2 points enhancement for "sophisticated means" and an upward departure for criminal history category (that would essentially treat me as a repeat offender) based on the settlement of a prior civil lawsuit. If the government won both of these arguments, the guidelines call for a sentence of 15-21 months, all active time (i.e. no home confinement). If the government won only one of these arguments, the guidelines call for 12-18 months, also all active time (i.e. no home confinement).

The judge rejected the government's additional arguments and instead chose to sentence below the guideline recommendation. I received 6 months confinement (3 months active prison time, 3 months home confinement) with instructions to self-report on March 30 with a recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons that I be designated to a prison near Pensacola. On March 15, 2007, I was assigned to FPC Pensacola.

There are a variety of interesting legal issues related to my case, including both the substance of the charges (which represented an unprecedented expansion of the interpretation and application of the relevant statute to the facts of my case) and the process of the investigation and prosecution, especially with respect to the search and seizure of my computers. While I will not be commenting directly on these matters, I am happy to provide links to the relevant public documents (search warrant and search affidavit, 41(g) motion for the return of my computers, indictment, bail appeal, plea memo and plea hearing transcripts, sentencing memos and sentencing hearing transcripts).

In the upcoming days, I will document my preparations for prison and then afterwards, my life in prison and maybe even my life after that. I choose to view my upcoming incarceration as an opportunity rather than a bad break. While there is an element of apprehension, I am very excited to see how I respond to this challenge.... a life stripped down to its bare essentials. I fully expect the experience to be, as Martha Stewart remarked after her release, both "life altering and life affirming."