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).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where is the Punch Line to this Joke?

Last week I received the following email from a Rabbit Hole reader with his own Rabbit Hole experience (some details have been editted to protect his privacy):

Hi Bill,

This is M. I have been following your blog since the beginning. I cannot express how helpful it has been. I read it regularly and it has been a source of encouragement and enlightenment for me.

I have a very similar story to yours. Professionally, I am in Information Technology (Corporate Director, Consultant, etc) and have been for over 20 years. While working with [company name withheld] as Director of Information Technology, I got caught-up in a corporate mess that started with the hostile takeover of the company and ended with me taking a plea deal. I got 5 months prison, 5 months home confinement, and 2 years probation. I have about 8 months probation left.

I thought I would be sent to a camp. I wasn't. I was sent to a Federal Detention Center. Not good. Being a detention center, it is run as a medium/maximum. Most inmates have very long sentences and it is an extremely controlled facility.

Right after prison, it was very difficult to find a job. I took a job at a retail store while on home confinement. Needless to say it was a humbling experience. After much difficulty, I ended up finding a job as a Director of Information Technology for another company. I never mentioned anything about the conviction, and I was never asked. Though I did not like not disclosing, I had to do what I had to do. Apparently, most employers do not do Federal Background checks. Everything was going phenomenal, I was right back where I left off. After about 6 months, probation decides they need to directly contact my employer to advise them of my conviction because I "posed a possible risk". So let me summarize:
  • I got a great job (should be the point of "rehabilitation" or "correction")
  • As a result, I have been paying $800 a month in restitution (benefits claimant)
  • I am current on all other financial responsibilities, despite all the obstacles (incarceration, house arrest, probation, etc). (Benefits general economy and US government since they are in the bailout business now)
  • I have 8 months left on my probation and have complied by all guidelines
Until today. Probation insisted on contacting my employer. They let me go. So now:
  • No restitution for the claimant
  • I will have to foreclose my house, hurting the general economy
  • Will not feasibly find a job until I am off supervision
  • I understand US probation has the responsibility to "protect it's citizens". But I was eligible for early termination (solves all the issues) except for the outstanding restitution, so probation would object to it. And now I cannot pay any restitution.
I am still waiting for the punch-line to this joke...

I am not completely sure why I am contacting you. I guess part of me feels like I can be a part of the message you are trying to get across. I have no idea what your plans are for the future. Obviously, you have a great business mind and you are a man of faith. I consider myself the same (though some may disagree, lol). Either way, thank you for your transparency and willingness to put yourself in the line-of-fire with your blog. Let me know if you have any ideas to put a good mind to use.



I have had some of my own bizarre experiences with the "tone-deafness" of the whole criminal justice system (although I don't really have any complaints about my experience with the US Probation Office in Charlotte... my POs have been great), nothing beats this although I have heard other stories similarly frustrating. Certainly in my case it helps to be self-employed with an internet-based business so I have avoided most of the collateral consequences of my felony status.

So exactly where is the punch line to this joke?


Anonymous said...

I recently spent 6 months in a Fed-Low (everyone said I was going to a camp too). When I was released, I had work experiences similar to "M". Everything was going great, I was right back where I left off prior to going to prison.

Then my PO also made it clear that either I or the PO had to tell employer/potential employer about my Felony Record. "Risk Potential" the PO said. Lost the great post-prison job. I have been self-employed and under employed ever since.

Like "M", I also have about 8 months of probation remaining. I expect to be under employed until the probation is terminated.

My experience has been going on for the last 5 years - the 6 months in prison was just a small stretch of a much longer and horrific process. I learned my lesson. I will NEVER again cross the line on any legal matter.

The effects of this entire experience has changed me - for the worse. I have zero sympathy for my friends/neighbors who have lost their high paying jobs due to the Economic Recession. I simply reflect the attitude shown toward me by the Federal Gov't and Society.


I wonder if more inmates are like me or like you when they get out.

Katharine the Shrew said...

I saw this happen with a good friend when he came out of Sheridan.The PO's are jealous. They are in dead end jobs themselves and are just cogs in the same wheel.

Look into the training of the social workers and human services workers to find your answers. I was in these fields in college and left them to teach English Literature and debate Hamlet's relationship with his mother. While in social work and human services, both majors had "pros" come in to talk. These were not the vibrant, high energy young psychologists or teachers of the other majors. Noooo! They were fat, dumpy, (or too skinny) complaining workers who came in and just ranted.

"No one will like you if you do a good job! It is your job to be hated!" "You get under paid and over worked!" OK, I got kicked out of the degrees . . . because I was saying things like, "Did you go through four years of college and not know what you were getting in to?" And I asked them for signs of burn-out and sarcastically asked who was monitoring them.

Bill, you and M and Anonymous are SMART people. You were the IT guys and the MBAs, the smart people who ignored the social work and human service majors because they were unattractive and how do I say this? Depressing. They had sour faces at the age of 20 when they should have been excited and happy.

They were probably bullied in high school, the floaters. One too many swirlies or having been tossed in the trash can.

I cannot offer you a cure, just the location of the cancer. As far as me? I cannot help directly, but when I hear of people in this situation that I meet through various means, my heart and ears are open and my chaotic home is always open and the tea and jam cookies are hot.

Bill Bailey said...

I suspect more are like you. I am self-employed with a pretty good internet business.

I have also had good relationships with the Probation Office (both pre-trial and supervised release). All have been professional and very human. (I also have a sneaky suspicion they "get" my case and what happened.)

The point of sharing M's story was to continue to explain to people that oftentimes the time in prison is the EASIEST consequence. The pre-sentence phase it pure hell and the post-prison time is frustrating and demoralizing.

While I understand why you (or anyone) would be reluctant to share a felony background, I sometimes wonder if employers would be more sympathetic and open to giving someone a chance if he just came out at the beginning and said "here's the deal and this is why it won't happen again."

While some employers would surely still not hire him because his is not worth the "risk," others might be impressed with the candor and committment to accountability.

You might be surprised at how many people (including employers) out there have their own skeletons and respect someone trying to put their life in order and demonstrating it by being honest from the start.

I have had people tell me its not the history, its the honesty. When everything is out on the table then everyone can deal with it.... no surprises builds trust.

I will likely be flying to NY next month to discuss a business partnership with someone and I will probably choose to tell them about my own situation because eventually they are going to find out I suspect anyway and I think they would have thought it relevant and I don't want them feeling like they were taking a legal risk that I should have told them about. It may kill the deal but at least they will know going in what risk they would be taking.

Alice said...

I just finished 6mth prison/6 month home confinement - with 18 mths low intensity probation. My crime was white collar - I was a professional finance person (CPA). Now, large companies simply aren't hiring (economy) - for the very few that are, I am competing with smart, experienced professionals who aren't carrying baggage.

I've learned a few things since I got back. If you are honest about your history during the interview at a big company, its nearly impossible to get the job. The people I talk to seem genuinely impressed with my honesty and remorse. They (as individuals) seem to believe me. But they are more worried about what their boss (or higher) will think. And the opportunity evaporates.

But if you approach the owner/key decision maker, and you win them over with the truth, chances are you'll get the job. That has been the area of success for me.

If anyone had asked me (in prison) last year where I would be working in 2009, the last places would be Law Firms and CPA Firms. And that is where I work now - Controller for a Law Practice (2 Days/wk) and a struggling tax accountant (2 Days/wk). Both owners know my history. BTW - the Governing Boards do not forbid hiring a Felon to work at these places - they just can't practice law or sign tax returns.

References are a must - if you can tell a prospective employer your situation, then hand him/her a list of people they can contact to verify, it makes a big difference.

I should also say that I am selective regarding who I talk to - I sometimes do short-term projects (2 weeks or less) in a role that does not include any fiduciary responsibility. On those gigs I don't say anything. If the Client want's to make it permanent, then I tell them.

Bill Bailey said...


Thank you for a very valuable comment.


"M" said...

Thank you for your comments. Alice makes excellent points. However, the opportunity to win-over the "higher-ups" when you don't even have the perverbial foot in the door are slim to none.

I went to over 5 highly qualified interviews, waited until the 2nd or even 3rd interview to make sure things were solid and give them a chance to "get to know me". The moment the conviction came up- poof, opportunity gone. Sure, they were sympathetic, appreciated the honesty, bla bla bla. But not willing to "take the risk".

I'm sure there are some employers out there that will understand. My experience is 99% do not.

Don't get me wrong, I have and will find my way. I will not allow this to keep me down. But none of that changes the reality.

Anonymous said...

Bill - I am posting this question here because I'm not sure where the actual topic would go on your blog:

I have been following the MySpace Bullying Case - today (5/18/Mon) the Federal Judge on the case has delayed sentencing, pending questioning the Govt's prosecution of the case under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

There are several different "sides" to this case, and while (from a moral perspective) I think a great harm was done, (from a legal perspective) I'm not sure I can see validity of the Govt's position. And now it sounds like the Federal Judge is unsure.

If you are able and interested in addressing this topic I would like to know your thoughts on this case.

I have followed your story and your case for the past two years. I'm probably being overly simplistic, but...
Your crime resulted in no physical harm to anyone, and the financial damage was $140k for POSTAGE", and you did not personally profit from your actions. went to prison for 3 months, put on home confinement for 3 months, and put on probation for 3 years.

The Defendants actions using myspace to bully a child to suicide -probation office wants 3 years of probation and a fine.

Balance? I think not.

Bill Bailey said...

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, I am very familiar with the MySpace case (because it involved the same statute that I was prosecuted under). I will post a separate article on the subject about my thoughts.

As a minor correction, the govt originally claimed $72K in damages of which about $52K was for the mailing to the members of the physician association to notify them that someone had accessed the online member directory. The remaining expenses were related to investigating the intrustion and improving security. You are correct, there was no direct damage to their computers and I did not profit from it. I paid $150K in restitution and my legal fees were about $700K (in addition to the prison and probation).

There is no doubt I think that the defendant's conduct in the MySpace case was morally more egregious although I think it is a reach that she "caused" the girl's death because I don't think she intended or planned on the girl reacting to the bullying the way she did. Nonetheless I think it is clear she intended to cause emotional distress.

The basic problem is that Missouri did not have a statute against "cyber-bullying" (they do now) so the state Attorney General had no grounds to prosecute.

The federal prosecutor in Los Angeles (where MySpace computers were located) chose to use the Computer Fraud and Abuse Statute to claim that "unauthorized access of a protected computer" was gained to "obtain information" in the commission of a tort ("intent to cause emotional distress"). The unauthorized access was triggered because the defendant created an account using fictitious information in violation of MySpace terms of use. In effect, the govt is claiming that anyone who violates the terms of use of a website has therefore gained unauthorized access to that computer and has committed not merely a contract violation but a federal criminal offense.

The jury acquitted the defendant of the emotional distress element (apparently unable to determine intent) but convicted of the computer intrusion, which is what is being appealed. I think they will eventually win the appeal.

I will write more on this soon but I am out of town all day today.

~MLM AVATAR~ The New Deal said...

06785081 Camp Fluffy now I am free (almost)
like your blog

Robert said...

I'm Robert, a 30 years old swiss online marketer. When I was 19 my brother and I got arrested (first time in US...) for public urnation in New Oreleans. We were held overnight in the OPP (Orleans Parish Prison), my Dad got me out for $500 bail... to make a long story short: we were not allowed to use a toilet in a bar/pub because we were not allowed to enter the bar because we were not 21 years old eventough I told the bar keeper I just need to use the bathroom...

Bottom line: In USA you get arrested for all and nothing... In my opinion it is redicoulous to arrest people for an human desire (like pipi..)

Paul Eilers said...

Reminds me of the old line, "We're from the government, and we're here to help you."

What a nightmare!


Eat Well. Live Well.

Venky said...

I am sorry that I got on to this blog rather late, in July 2009 (courtesy Perry Marshall). But to get to the original punch line... where IS the punch line to this joke?

I don't see one.

Hey, M, hope you got fixed up in a damn good job or even better a well-paying self-employment arrangement.