Leaving prison should have represented something akin to one of the best days of my life, and while there certainly was a growing sense of anticipation, that anticipation was cloaked in something which more closely resembled sadness as the time drew closer.
My last meal at Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), on Monday, May 19, was chili with cheese and onions which I used to smother a humongous, perfectly-baked potato. The term ‘baked potato’ itself is a misnomer most of the time as the potatoes falling into that category are most often just boiled with the skin on. Since this potato was actually baked, this was a definite treat. Before being executed, this would not have qualified as a particularly spectacular last meal, but it was more than adequate as a meal I attended for the primary reason of seeing individuals from other housing units I might not otherwise get a chance to see before leaving. In other words, my last supper was more of a social event than a stop for sustenance.
Walking back to my housing unit, I lagged behind my dinner companions to say goodbye to a man named Frank. In his 50’s and of Filipino descent, Frank has a year or two left on his sentence. Frank and I both have a child living in Seattle: he, a daughter, and I, a son. We shook hands, embraced, and left each other with as much encouragement as we could muster. After leaving Frank, I heard my name and turned around to see a young man named Cameron, who was walking with Bernie Ebbers. Bernie is seven years into a 25 year sentence for ‘cooking the books’ in the incident responsible for the collapse of WorldCom. I have often pondered the necessity for locking him and others like him away for so long and causing so much devastation behind them when there are most likely better options that could be employed in our collective search for justice, fairness, and punishment that is meaningful and achieves a purpose beyond causing intelligent, successful, and enterprising individuals to simply waste away in prison. This is a complicated issue, and I digress from the main story, although that is nothing new. It is an issue that will need to be dealt with in greater detail later. For now, suffice it to say that I pray for Bernie and for his family.
Cameron is in his late 20’s and had taken pictures of his girlfriend while in a relationship. The pictures were of a personal, sexual nature. His intent was not to post them on the internet, but the relationship deteriorated, and somehow the young woman’s mother ‘discovered’ the pictures, and turned them over to the police. You see, the young lady was 17 and Cameron was 24 when the photos were taken and Cameron was charged with ‘production of child pornography’. He struck a deal which netted him ‘only’ 9 years instead of the mandatory minimum of 15. I think back to something my good friend Richard Roy told me about his grandparents. Richard’s grandfather was 28 and his grandmother was 14 when they were married. The relationship ‘only’ lasted 50 years.
The times have changed.
Cameron and I embraced and wished each other well. I was not close to Bernie, but we did say goodbye. He was a regular fixture walking the track, and in chapel services on Sunday. He addressed a business class I had taken and I was saddened by the story he told, but I was saddened many times over the previous 4 years of my incarceration by the stories I was told. They headed off in the direction of their housing unit, and I headed back to mine. I walked about 20 feet before looking around. It was a rare moment when there was no one close to me, either in front or behind me and I was thankful for I had to suppress an almost overwhelming urge to break down and cry.
The enormity of the human tragedies represented by the men I had come to know, to care for, to pray about, and to respect slammed into me like a freight train and for a brief moment, I simply wanted to fall down and weep.
I have written quite often over the last four years about my own acceptance of responsibility for the irresponsibility of my actions, and the enormity of the situation surrounding incarceration in general and the draconian, pointlessly long sentences handed out for internet crimes in particular as it all pertains to my friends, their families, and this country as a whole so the scope of it all came as no real surprise or revelation. I guess I just had a moment where I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. Like the occasional urge I still get to inhale cigarette smoke, it lasted only a brief moment, and then I was back to worrying about my friends. I was deeply saddened to be leaving them behind. Did I want to go? Of course, I did, but I wanted to take them all with me.
What I was preparing to leave behind was just a tiny snapshot of the total picture of what we are allowing to happen to this country because of our preference for pursuit, prosecution, and incarceration over prevention, as well as our growing need to sexualize everything in our lives until there is nothing left to sexualize but our children. We are pathetic, really, as a nation, and as individuals. There will be those who will point and loudly proclaim that it is me, and those like me, who are responsible for that condition, but that accusation would not even begin to adequately assign the blame and the responsibility.
I have accepted the blame for my part in all of this, but I can not, and will not, accept the blame for the misguided government officials who have allowed this to happen, not just to me, but to thousands, and potentially hundreds of thousands, of American citizens, to say nothing of their families.
As I reentered the place which had been my residence for the previous 4 years, I made a conscious effort to taste the sweetness of the successful completion of my sentence, but the bitterness of those misguided sentences received by some of those I was leaving behind rose like bile in the back of my throat. Stanley, 25 year sentence; David, 20 year sentence; Joseph, 17 1/2; Ken, 17 1/2; Pete, 15; Phillip, 12 1/2; and on, and on, and on. And for each one who leaves, there are more to fill in the spaces left.
Do not misunderstand me. I am angry at, and disappointed in, each man who willingly, knowingly, participated in his crimes. That said, I believe there are better ways to deal with the problem, as I have stated so many, many times before over the last 4 years. Ways that would also provide greater security for our children and protect other innocent victims from the scourge of internet pornography.
As I went around talking with different people, there were several awkward goodbyes as men who are not accustomed to displaying emotion in public fought back the urge to do so.
As I continued to say my goodbyes, I reflected on the fact that many of them expressed confident hope in me. The hope was that I would continue the things I began in prison and I will not disappoint them. Adjusting to breathing the ‘free air’ that Steve Marshall wrote to my dear friend Diane about will take some time, but I get ahead of myself.
In order to continue to do the things I have maintained must be done, I must first get to Washington, D.C. to begin my new life at the Central Union Mission (missiondc.org). I must get situated, centered, and build relationships with those who will hold sway over my new freedom, as well as those I will be working with, and for, in the mission itself, and as I prepare to reenter the workforce.
Exciting times lie ahead, filled with God’s promise of a future and a hope, but first I have to get there, and to do that, I have to get to Lafayette in the morning so I can get on the Grey Dog.
To be continued…………