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).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bad Karma or Common Grace?

[This ended up being a good bit longer than I intended... I kind of got on a roll and couldn't stop... sorry if it rambles. If I had more time, I think I could make it a little tighter and more coherent, but this is a blog, not a NY Times editorial :)]

As I recounted in my previous post, I had asked my PO about whether and how I could assist my friend Jerry, who is due to be released from prison tomorrow (Thu, Nov 15) to a halfway house in SW Florida. On Tue, Nov 6, we dissussed the matter on the phone. He then said he was going to be in my area the next day and would like to stop by and drop off my Permission to Travel document for my upcoming Thanksgiving vacation to, where else, Pensacola FL.

For those who have not followed this blog since the beginning, I live near Charlotte, NC, my case was out of Philadelphia, but requested placement at the Pensacola Federal Prison Camp so that my parents, who live an hour from there, would be able to easily visit. My father is from Pensacola, which is where all of his surviving family members live. I have returned to Pensacola for our family reunion Thanksgiving celebration virtually every year since I was a kid. Indeed my prison stay is the only time I recall ever being in Pensacola outside of Thanksgiving -- although I am sure there must have been one or two other occassions.

It will be so tempting to take a little drive back to the prison as a free man while I am down there.... maybe drive through the front gate and wave to a few friends who are working.

NOTE TO BOP (just in case you are reading this): THAT WAS A JOKE. I AM NOT SERIOUS. GET A LIFE!

It would however be interesting to just drive to the edge of the fence (see satellite map at bottom of page) to just make sure that there really is a prison there and this hasn't all just been a bad dream. Just the thought of doing so feels surreal, like visiting the grave of someone you still can't believe is dead.

But I digress.

As I was saying, my PO was going to drop by on Wednesday morning to drop off the travel document for my trip to Pensacola as well as check off his monthly home visit. Except... he said he was going to come by late morning since I work out at 7:30a and usually don't get back till about 9a.

At 6:30a, I hear our home phone ringing. Voicemail picks up before we get to the phone and I hear my PO, Chris, as is his habit if he is showing up at an unannounced time, leaving a message that he is 1 minute away! (As it turns out, he had to rearrange his schedule and happened to be in my neighborhood early.)

I jump out of bed, throw some clothes on and, sure enough, here comes Chris pulling into my driveway as I hear my cell phone ringing.... he is leaving another message to let me know that he is now in my driveway, which I can already see.

Now, Chris is actually simply being polite; he is under no obligation to give me any advance notice that he is arriving. Indeed, under the terms of supervised release, he is allowed to arrive unannounced and perform warrantless searches of my home in the middle of the night if he wishes. However, he has no reason to suspect anything untoward going on in my life or home so, as a courtesy, he gives me 1 minute notice :)

I welcome him in -- t-shirt, shorts, bed-head: "Morning, Chris, how's it going." :) He apologizes for being early. I say it's better than 7 FBI agents showing up at 6a unannounced (which is how my whole story started). He laughs.

He gives me my Travel Documents. I give him the documentation and contact information for my Thanksgiving vacation. I am also leaving that same afternoon for a 2-day internet marketing seminar in Chicago. Business trips do not require a Permission to Travel document, but I still need to let him know whenever I am leaving the district and where I am going.

Now to the Bad Karma (you've probably noticed I have a problem getting to the point of the title of my posts).

As I drive to the Charlotte airport that same afternoon for my 4:30p flight , I hit a pothole at 60mph a couple miles from the parking lot. Right front tire blows out. (I drive a Volvo S80. It has 2600 miles on it -- prison graduation present to myself.)


I am running late, so I drive with the flat tire to the long term lot, park the car, and catch the shuttle bus to the airport. I will deal with the tire when I get back (at midnight on Friday!).

The flight is uneventful and on-time. I am staying at the Sofitel so I take a cab downtown. 45 minutes and $45 later I arrive. During my ride, I am on my cell phone with my wife, ex-wife, and daugther (not all at the same time -- I can only handle so much!) who is getting married in December, trying to help resolve some issues related to who has and has not been invited to the wedding reception. Fun, fun, fun.

The calls last another 30 minutes while I sit in the lobby of the hotel, at which point my wife and I were disconnected and I couldn't reach her back. Then my phone battery died. I guess I listened to too much music on my phone on the plane.

I walk to the front desk to check in only to be told I don't have a reservation!?!?!

"What do you mean I don't have a reservation" as I pull out my Expedia itinerary. I look at my itinerary and it says Sofitel O'Hare NOT Sofitel Downtown. The Sofitel O'Hare is 6 minutes from the airport on a free shuttle. I am now downtown. All rooms downtown are full due to convention season, so I have no choice but to take another cab ride (another 45 minutes and $40 later).

I finally arrive at my room 2 hours later and $85 poorer than I should have been. In addition, I still have unresolved wedding drama to deal with.

I finally plug in my phone to discover 4 voice mails from my wife apologizing for hanging up on me! (Huh? I thought we had just been disconnected. Who knows how long I had been talking before I even realized she wasn't on the other end?) In addition, she is wondering where I am and in each voicemail, she sounds increasingly suspicious. She had called the Sofitel Downtown, who claimed I was not there, nor were they expecting me! (This is just too funny.) In addition, she was told there were no other Sofitel's in the area!?!?

Fortunately, I was able to explain to her satisfaction my drama for the evening. (Yes, dear, I really am in Chicago for an internet marketing seminar. No, dear, there is no one else with me.) She was able to explain that there was no more wedding drama... it had all been happily resolved.

All's well that ends well. (Except for the $700 it is costing me to replace the wheel and realign the steering.)

Karma is the Hindu/Buddhist doctrine that, roughly speaking, holds that the effects of all of one's deeds actively create past, present and future experiences. Popularly understood, karma generally means that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.

While I wouldn't exactly classify these events as "suffering," they did cause me to look skyward and wonder if maybe there was a message I was missing.

The whole Rabbit Hole experience (from beginning to end) oftentimes causes one to glance upward and wonder.

This is really a slight variaton on the lament "Why do bad things happen to good people?" For defendants, the complaint is slightly more nuanced: "Why do really bad things happen to not so bad people?" :)

It's not that most defendants think they are "good" in the sense that they didn't deserve some consequence for their actions; it's just that they usually (and in the case of federal crimes, I tend to agree) think the consequence is grossly out of proportion to the conduct.

In other words, "Life is not fair."

This "karma" mindset seems to be human nature. Even in the Bible, the question arises:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples
asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born
blind?” (John 9:1-2)
There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And [Jesus] answered them,
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other
Galileans, because they suffered in this way? .... Or those eighteen on
whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse
offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? ” (Luke 13:1-2,4)

Who is to blame for these tragedies?

To the charge, "Life is not fair," karma says "It is what it is." Karma does not so much make moral judgments as it simply says that ultimately, everything that happens to you is somehow organically and mysteriously connected to how you conduct your life.

Certainly there is a connection between actions and consequences. The Bible famously remarks: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7) Thus, there is such a thing as biblical karma I suppose, yet the Bible is very careful not to draw bright theological lines connecting all of one's experiences to one's conduct. Much of what happens to us is clearly beyond our control. This is, of course, the story of Job.

Jesus' answers to the two passages I quoted above above are striking... he appears in fact to finesse the questions.

To the matter of the blind man, "Jesus answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him'" (John 9:3)

To the matter of those massacred by Pilate or killed in the crash of the tower, he says, rather coldly it seems: "By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!" (Luke 13:3,5)

In other words, in the face of suffering, we should not be asking, "Why me?" but "Why not me?" Indeed, Arthur Ashe famously remarked while suffering from AIDS: "If I were to say, 'God, why me?' about the bad things, then I should have said, 'God, why me?' about the good things that happened in my life."

There is a certain presumption to the complaint, "Why me?" It presumes that you deserve better.

Let me put the question differently. If God needed an excuse to make your life utterly miserable, how long would He have to search to find such an excuse. I know in my case, it would not take long. It is not so much that any particular bad experience is connected to any particular bad thing that I might have done (although that is certainly possible), but that I am so guilty of so many things in my life, that any one of them could be a legitimate justification for suffering.

I suspect, however, God wants us to ask a different question: "Why do good things happen to bad people?"

Isn't it odd that we rarely question God when good things happen to us, when in fact that is the more difficult moral dilemma. It is the biblical doctrine of "common grace," which is the Bible's answer to karma. "Common grace" is the grace that is common to all humankind. It is “common” because its benefits are experienced by the whole human race without distinction between one person and another. It is "grace" because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God.

Ironically, Bono, of all people, describes the difference between karma and grace in this 2005 Interview with Michka Assayas (please read full interview) as well as I have ever heard it described:

At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out
comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in
physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to
me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I’m absolutely sure of it.
And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so
will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you
like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news
indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.


Bono has given up on the self-righteous silliness that he is a good person and is therefore prepared to receive grace. It is no coincidence that the first step in the Beattitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) is "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Karma is not such an attractive idea once a person recognizes his spiritual poverty!

Jack Miller frequently remarked, "Cheer up: you’re worse than you think you are." That sounds incongruous until you hear the second part. "But God’s grace is greater than you could ever imagine!”

One of the reasons I can write this blog is because the idea that I am a federal felon does not threaten my identity. It's not that I am not embarrassed to some degree but that, if I were to list the 100 things I am most ashamed of in my life, I don't think being a federal felon would make the list. There are so many other things about myself that I am mortified by (almost all of which are probably not illegal) that I don't have time to be mortified over this.

The advantage of coming to grips with one's "badness" is that you don't have to spend so much energy defending your reputation! One of the downsides of self-righteousness is the tremendous amount of energy one has to expend to convince everyone else that you are as good as you (foolishly) believe you are.

Some of you out there are facing prison time; some of you have a friend or family member in prison. Some of your are innocent; some are guilty. Some are receiving a fair punishment; some are receiving a harsh punishment.

None of you are receiving grace from your government....there is a reason it is called the Department of Justice, not the Department of Mercy :)

Yet, I am convinced that the key to dealing with all of this mess that is your life right now is, as trite as sounds, to rise above the current circumstances, which includes the bitterness you likely feel towards a system that is literally taking your life, or so it seems.

Jesus said, "In this world you have tribulation. Take courage, I have overcome the world." In today's pop culture, he might have said, "Shit happens. Don't worry. Be happy."

OK, he probably wouldn't have said exactly that, but I thought it was kind of cute.

I don't share all of the emails I receive, but what has consistently surprised me is how desperate people are for a blog like this. While I don't get a lot of traffic, the handful of people who do check me out are so comforted and encouraged by what they read. The Rabbit Hole experience can be very isolating. The fact there there is someone... anyone... out there who understands what they are going through and can help them go through it is like oxygen to a drowning man.

That is the power of grace, not karma.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Felonious Associations

Jerry was a friend of mine in prison... I was perhaps his only friend it seemed at times.

He was 61 years old, sentenced to 33 months for tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud. His wife was sentenced to 27 months for the same. Their 12 year old daughter was forced to live in San Antonio with her elderly grandparents.

Jerry's parents died when he was young; he has two purple hearts from Vietnam, worked his way through college and basically built a life for himself from scratch. He was truly a self-made "old school" man. He was basically retired, enjoying life in southwest Florida while his wife continued to run the document imaging business that he built, when the FBI came knocking.

Based on a tip from a disgruntled employee, the feds accused him and his wife of diverting income from the business into his personal account to avoid paying taxes (about $100K over several years). The publicity of the investigation chased away vendors (who would no longer extend credit for inventory), customers and employees and the business was forced into bankruptcy. During the bankruptcy process, Jerry retrieved $50K worth of imaging equipment from the store warehouse that he claims belonged to him, not the business. In addition, $11,000 was given to her father, apparently from the business. The bankruptcy trustee had not been notified and a bankruptcy fraud charge was added to the indictment.

I have read the case in some detail as well as talked to Jerry and am pretty well convinced that he and his wife were innocent and the whole case was a very confusing misunderstanding. The fact is that their accounting was a complete mess (one document claims it took over 600 hours for the govt expert to sort things out) but the bottom line was that all checks written directly to Jerry from the business (which is not illegal) were accounted for in the business' income statements. (Ironically, even the government's witness admitted that on the stand.)

Jerry is a proud man who can by quite surly at times when his integrity is challenged. He apparently refused to take a misdemeanor plea deal (basically told the prosecutor to "go to hell" -- not a smart move) which would have required him to spend a year in prison (but they would not have prosecuted his wife) and instead went to trial, where both he and his wife were convicted and sentenced, leaving their child without parents. All of his assets had been seized and they used a public defender. He literally has not one penny to his name. The seized assets were used to pay the $61K withheld from the bankruptcy trustee and the $100K they claimed he owed in taxes.

Jerry will tell you he is the most innocent man in federal prison and he is quite bitter about the whole experience. His entire life has literally been turned upside down. He may very well be innocent, but he made so many classic strategic errors in his case, that the system just slammed him. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from his case, which I may write about later.

Jerry leaves prison this Thursday (Nov 15) to spend two months in a halfway house near his former home in Florida. His wife was released in June and now lives with her parents and daughter in Texas (at least, that is where she was as of last June). It is unlikely that they will get back together.

Jerry and I had discussed some ideas for how he could get his life back when he got out. After all, he was literally starting from scratch, without even the cash to put a deposit on an apartment or buy a car. We swapped business ideas and ways I might be able to assist him, including providing him with some transportation and perhaps some cash to at least get him on his feet.

Unfortunately, and this is the point of this post (although it has taken me a while to get here!), standard condition of supervision #9 states that "defendant shall not associate with any persons engaged in criminal activity and shall not associate with any person convicted of a felony, unless granted permission to do so by the probation officer."


What a stupid rule. Now, I understand why, in some cases, it might be a good rule. But, as is so common in the criminal justice system, the rules are so broad and sweeping that they end up doing more harm than good. I almost wonder at times if the government is intentionally setting up former inmates for failure by creating all these petty hoops to jump through.

The idea that Jerry and I cannot talk or even do business together is just ludicrous. I am in a unique position to help Jerry get back on his feet and I am forbidden to do so under threat of more imprisonment. What do they think we are going to do? Conspire to commit another crime?

This condition does have an exception: "unless granted permission by the probation officer." This exception originally made sense of the rule to me because I assumed, as with travel outside the district, that the goal is transparency and that permission is routinely granted as long as you make your PO aware of it. In other words, my PO routinely grants permission for me to travel outside the district... I just let him know where and when and he gives me a permission to travel document. I have no problem with that.

Why not the same with felonious associations? Why can't I simply tell my PO that Jerry and I would like to talk and maybe do business together so that he is aware of it and then he grants permission? Why is this so complicated? I would think that the courts would actually be in favor of anything that would help a former inmate get back on his feet. Unfortunately, my PO says that exceptions are only granted for special cases, such as family members or fellow employees/employers who are felons. Sigh. My PO is a good and reasonable guy and I suspect if it was totally up to him, he wouldn't care in my case, but since Probation Office policy will not approve it, he is compelled to enforce it.

It reminds me of the story of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath (see Mark 3:1-6; Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11). The Pharisees had their stupid little rules that had lost all sight of the underlying purpose of Ten Commandments. Jesus violated their rule in order to do good and they conspired to kill him for threatening the underlying system they had so carefully constructed.

In any case, I decided to discuss this matter with my PO last week. I told him (actually I sent him a fax) that I had a friend that was soon to be released to a halfway house and that I would at least like to pay his remaining special assessments so that when he was released he wouldn't have that hanging over his head. I asked if that was ok and what was the best way to do it.

He indicated that they didn't have a problem with that. I told him I was going to call the prison and talk to his case manager about the best way to do it. (I figured I would just send money to his commissary account via Western Union -- the fastest way to get money into an inmate's account -- and his case manager could take it out to pay the fine.) My PO said that would be fine... if the prison had any questions, just have them call him. Cool.

I have to tell you it was really weird calling the prison, having been an inmate there. Officer Sjuve (shoo-vay) answered the phone. Sjuve is probably the nicest CO in the camp. He normally is the CO on duty during visitation checking visitors in. He is very popular and well-liked because he treats all visitors with respect and courtesy, which the inmates appreciate.

He transferred me to Jerry's case manager who told me that it was too late to transfer money into Jerry's account in order to pay the fine; there just wasn't enough time given his imminent release. In any case, he said he can't just take it out of Jerry's account without Jerry's permission.

I told him he could tell Jerry that that was why I sent him the money.

He asked why I couldn't just tell him.

I said that I can't exactly call him up. (Inmates cannot receive incoming calls... they can only place calls.)

He said Jerry could call me, however. At this point I had only identified myself as a "friend" of Jerry's. I didn't feel like explaining that I was a former inmate there and that there is no way I would be added to Jerry's approved call list so I just said maybe it would be best to just send the money to the District Court and he agreed.

Thus, the final and best solution was to simply send a cashier's check to the District Clerk of Court, noting Jerry's name and docket number in the "memo" field. When Jerry gets to the halfway house, his case manager will be able to inform him that he has no remaining financial obligations.

I hope.

Since Jerry and I are forbidden from "associating" (which includes communicating), who knows?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Long Overdue Update

It has been quite a while since I have updated my blog. That was never my intent but there are several reasons:

1. My life just isn't as "interesting" as it was in prison. While in prison, I was writing about novel experiences from the point of view of an embedded reporter trying to explain to "outsiders" what it is like. My current life, while I like it, just isn't as interesting.

2. Now that I am "out," my style of writing and point of view are different. While "in," I intentionally wrote in a "stream-of-consciousness" style to record my experiences and feelings in real-time. While there was some reflection, most of what I wrote was more raw, which I believe gave my blog more intensity and people seem to like, especially those who are facing similar circumstances (or are related to those facing similar circumstances). I was also able to give nuances that are missing in other prison blogs (such as, as one reader told me, the price of cup o'noodles and the brand of work boot). Now, that I am out, my style becomes more that of a commentator simply giving my opinion on legal issues, which requires a lot more organized thought and preparation. While I have a perspective that might make my opinions more interesting or authentic, it still requires more time to write these kinds of articles. Which brings me to the third reason.

3. I had more "free" time in prison to write which is quite ironic since I was not "free," but of course the reason is because I had far less options on how to spend my time. Now, something more important always seems to come up. Or, if it is not more important, it is more pressing. The old "tyrrany of the urgent."

Well, now I am going to make myself take the time... at least today!

Status of Home Confinement and Electronic Monitoring

As I stated in my post New Bling, my ankle bracelet (see pictures on previous post) was installed on July 12, about 2 weeks after I was released. I was allowed out of the house from 9a-6p weekdays, 10a-2p Saturday, 9a-1p Sunday. While confined to my house, I could not even go out to get the mail or newspaper, nor use the pool in the back yard. The best part though is that my wife had to take the trash out on Thursday morning because they pick it up at 7:30a, before I am allowed out of the house!! :)

What was my typical schedule?

Well, since I am self-employed, I have some flexibility. I moved my workouts to 10:30a, instead of the previous 7:30a appointments that I used to have. I played golf on Friday, instead of my normal Saturday. I took extra long lunches at my favorite restaurant since I knew I could not eat out at night. And, otherwise, I moved a lot of my work to the evenings.

I did cut it close a couple of times getting in by the deadline with a minute or two to spare. If I am out of the house outside of the allowable time frame, the receiver is supposed to send a message to my probation officers pager, but I am not otherwise notified. It is not like an invisible fence collar for a dog.... I don't get shocked or beeped. :)

I bought the entire 6 seasons of The Sopranos. My wife and I made it through season 4 in the evenings so we still have 2 more seaons to go. We usually would go out to dinner and a movie on Friday nights so that had to change.

On weekends, I watched a lot of sports, especially once football season started. ("Dear, I really want to work in the yard but my probation officer won't let me. Sorry.")

On the whole, however, home confinement is just a series of minor inconveniences that I just had to re-organize my life around. I think my wife was more bored than I was because she wanted to go out in the evenings and we couldn't.

On Thursday, October 11, I disconnected the receiver (my PO said he would turn off the monitoring at 6a) and brought everything into the probation office. We had a little "circumcision" ceremony and my ankle bracelet was cut off (they replace the rubber band and clips and re-use the transmitter). I did my second drug test (I have to do 3 while on probation).


On Oct 11, my electronic monitoring ended and on Oct 12 my wife and I went to Florida for 10 days. (We didn't wait long to get out of town did we?)

All travel outside the western district of NC requires approval from my PO, so I had discussed this in advance with him. If the trip is for pleasure instead of business, he gives me a "Permission to Travel" document (click on link to view document). If I were to have an encounter with a police officer while travelling and am questioned about why I am out of my district, I can produce the document. Even if I do not have the document, he can call my PO to confirm his awareness of my trip so it wouldn't be a disaster even if I didn't have it; it is more for my convenience than anything. My wife and I like to travel a lot so I don't know if there will be a limit to how many trips he will approve or not.

Of course, as fate would have it, on my second night on Sanibel Island, we were driving home from a restaurant on the deserted two-lane main road. The speed limit was 35 and I was pulled over by an unmarked police car... a local Sanibel traffic cop. He informed me that I was driving about 50. I gave him my license and rental car agreement. Fortunately, my wife didn't pull out my Permission to Travel letter which was sitting on top of the rental car agreement in the glove compartment!!! I figured this would be a good opportunity to see what information he is able to pull up on his little police car computer. Why volunteer I am a convicted felon on probation? In any case, he came back and gave me a verbal warning. I think it had as much to do with the fact that I was from out-of-state as anything. Nonetheless, it was nice to actually catch a break with the law.

My wife was a total basket-case at this point. I don't think she stopped hyperventilating until we got back to the room. All she could imagine during the stop was me being carted off to the local jail for the night. Not a nice way to start our long-awaited Florida vacation! Ironically, I was pretty calm. I thought I might get a ticket but that would be it. I doubted he would pull my name up on his computer and, even if he did, I would show him my document. I suppose knowing that I was a conviced felon might motivate him to have a little less mercy on me, but after you've been to federal prison, a speeding ticket just doesn't get my heart beating real fast.

The next day, I faxed a letter to my PO indicating that I had been given a verbal warning for speeding the night before. A standard condition of supervision is that all encounters with law enforcement must be reported to your PO within 48 hours. I never heard back from him so I guess he didn't have any questions.

When we returned from the trip, I left a message on my PO's voicemail letting him know we had returned as scheduled. Again, a standard condition of supervised release is to notify your PO within 24 hours of your return to your district.

International Travel

As I stated earlier, my wife and I like to travel a lot, including internationally. Strangely, my PO says that all international travel must be approved by the judge. I was able to find a reference on the internet that New Jersey Probation Office likewise requires judge's approvel for international travel and that the request must be submitted 4 weeks in advance so I guess this really is standard Probation Office policy, not that I doubted my PO.... I would never do that Chris!!

I asked my lawyer about this because the Judgment and Commitment document simply says that I need permission from my PO to leave my district; it makes no distinction between domestic and international travel. Currently, the Probation Office has my passport. If international travel is approved (either by PO or the judge), they would give me my passport for the trip, and then I would return it when I get back. The problem with getting the judge's permission is I hate to bother the judge with trivial matters like this when I may need his "help" on more important issues (like getting my probation terminated early!!).

One thing I have learned through this experience is to fight the battles at hand, not the ones in your mind. I have a tendency to want to get answers to all my hypotheticals scenarios... scenarious that may never occur. I now try to only address issues that are on my plate... present realities, not future possibilities.

I will deal with the matter of international travel when I am sure we are going overseas.

Behind the Scenes Correspondence

While I have not been updating my blog lately, that doesn't mean I haven't been getting emails from other defendants awaiting sentencing or prison.

Technically, I am not to associate with other felons, according to the standard conditions of supervised release, a condition I find totally absurd by the way, for reasons I will address at some time in the future. However, my PO has approved "associations" with individuals who respond to my blog. Officially, these individuals are not convicted felons until the judge signs the Judgment and Commitment document after sentencing so I don't think there is even a technical issue until that point but my PO approved it nonetheless.

There are probably 6 or 7 people who have written me for more information. All are white collar... mortgage fraud, embezzlement, political corruption, etc. One is actually due to be sentenced today so I am wondering how that's going... and remembering how I felt in the days leading up to sentencing. Another recently reported to Pensacola FPC, so I was able to give him some tips and give him the names of some people there who will make sure he gets situated ok.

Funny story. When I was at the Probation Office getting my ankle bracelet cut off, my PO said he got a call about me the previous week from Charleston. (Yikes.... what have I done now??)Turns out that a probation officer in Charleston was informed of my blog by one of his "clients" and he was just calling my PO to make sure he was aware of it, which of course he was. He had also called Pensacola FPC to make sure they were aware of it, which of course they also were (you can read all about THAT here.)

I don't know how much the government wastes time reading this blog, but, to date, no one has told me I can't do this; indeed everyone has told me I am providing useful information, albeit with a little bit of humor that occasionally tweaks "the system." God help them if Maureen Dowd ever goes to prison and writes about it! She'll skewer everyone. I know I push the envelope a little with some of the detailed information I provide but I assume someone will let me know if I cross the line. Hopefully it won't be in the form of US Marshalls knocking on my door!

How Have I Changed

I have actually asked this question of a few friends. I don't feel like I am much different than before... maybe a little calmer... if that is possible. However, they claim to notice a difference. Maybe a little more "humble." Sensitive. Empathetic. Quieter. Those are the terms I hear.

I certainly feel less "afraid" of the judicial system. Prison doesn't scare me anymore, not that I really want to go back, but it has reaffirmed that life is lived, not in a place, but in the mind. Attitude is everything.

I am less optimistic (or is is less naive) about politics and government. I hate to use the word "cynical" because that is such a copout... a defense mechanism against caring in order to avoid the disappointment that is the risk of caring. I want to care. I don't want to just be cynical. Nonetheless, there are aspects to the judicial system that are maddening... aspects that the general public just doesn't understand. I understand the disposition to trust your government, but if they only knew....

In an earlier post, I listed a variety of topics I wanted to comment on... issues that I knew nothing about until I experienced them myself... issues that I have to believe the general public would be shocked to learn are really part of the American judicial system and are fundamentally unfair.

I still want to do that but it requires so much effort to compile. Also, the issues are complicated, which requires more nuanced explanation. Our system didn't get here by accident but there are also unintended consequences... laws and regulations that were supposed to make things more fair but in fact had the opposite effect.

Hopefully, I will find the energy and motivation to do so.