One courtesy afforded many white-collar felons, including me, is that they are allowed to remain free while they await sentencing. The determination is made by the courts based on such factors as flight risk and danger to society. While it's tempting to postpone prison for as long as possible this courtesy is also a double-edged sword.
Speaking from experience, the time is a terrible limbo, a no-man's land between your past normal life filled with work and family and friends and your new, and terrifying, life in prison. Also, unlike jailed defendants, many of whom can credit this time toward their ultimate sentence, a white-collar felon's final days of freedom do nothing to reduce his sentence. Most felons with whom I spoke have called this the worst period of the whole ordeal. Prison, I've been told, is almost a relief in comparison.
Sitting at home brooding all day about what awaits you down the road is a recipe for disaster. I know. I've done it. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've spent entire days staring at the clock, thinking about my misdeeds, waiting for bed. Do that and time, to put it mildly, tends to drag. And anxiety tends to mount. With nothing to do but worry, the waiting turns into obsession which turns into agitation. In the end you feel almost as if you were already in prison.
I recently watched the second season of Iditiot Abroad on Netflix, where the protagonist, a stupid English homebody named Karl, embarks on various reluctant adventures under the rubric of places to visit before you die. I consider myself to be just as much an idiot as Karl to have, through my actions, found myself in my current situation. As a result, I decided to write this post, based on my own experiences, my own trial and error, on things to do before going to prison.
The moral of this post, if there is one, is that it's much better to keep busy as you await your judgment day than to mope around the house wallowing in self pity.
Top Ten Things to Do Before Prison
1. Write, Write, Write. Whether you decide to go public in a blog like me, send e-mails or keep a private journal, writing can be surprisingly therapeutic. An added bonus is that it makes time pass much more quickly. It also helps to sort through feelings.
2. Be There for Loved Ones. Life as we know it is about to change. Drastically. There are enough stresses with adjusting to prison without the added burden of leaving without a proper goodbye. Remember those around you and do your best to be there for them while you still can.
3. Get Your Affairs in Order. Errands that seem so simple as a free man - paying bills, writing checks, sending money, buying books - suddenly become complicated. So before prison you should settle debts, find people to manage your affairs. The goal is to leave as small of a mess behind us as possible. We've messed up enough already.
4. Take a Trip. Road trips are our ultimate symbol of freedom: the open road, the vast expanses. They can also be much less expensive than a regular vacation: gas, food, cheap motels. The thought of taking a road trip has preoccupied me lately: to me it symbolizes a bridge between my past and my future. Before I go away to prison, I've decided, I want to traverse the open roads out West and see some of the sites of this huge country. Lucky for me, I'm in the Midwest but my sentencing is in California. Thus, the perfect excuse to hit the open road.
5. Plan Ahead for Prison. Once we are imprisoned we become helpless in certain ways, newly dependent, like an infant, on friends or family. I don't like to impose on people so the whole thought of relying on others for my basic needs is repugnant. In order to minimize the imposition, I put a lot of thought into what exactly I did need and narrowed it down to a three-point list. I then asked several lucky family members to help.
- Money: the sad fact is that we need some money to survive in prison. To receive it, someone from the outside will have to send.
- Books: reading helps pass the time. We won't have access to Amazon, so develop a book list and make arrangements for someone to send a book or two a month
- Blog posts: I'm committed to spreading the word about my experience. Without the internet, I needed someone to post for me.
6. Plan for Life After Prison. Many white collar criminals - stockbrokers, traders, doctors, lawyers like me - lose their profession along with their freedom. Unless you are sentenced to life or intend never to work again, you will need to think of what to do next. This can be scary. It can be intimidating. It can seem impossible. In all honesty, it scares me shitless. But our most successful predecessors managed to once again become productive citizens. So can we. It's never too early to start.
7. Make Amends/Admit your Mistakes. My first impulse was to deny what I did and shy away from the harm that I caused. It was tempting at first to blame others and to live in denial. But only by admitting our mistakes to ourselves will we be able to transcend the bitterness and make amends. Many of us have hurt people as a result of our actions; we have left innocent victims and family members in our wake. One of the tenets of alcoholics in recovery is to make amends to those they have hurt. Us white collar criminals should use this time to do the same.
8. Keep Visible. My first reaction, when all this started, was to hide under a rock and withdrawal from friends and family. I know I'm not alone. But though it may be tempting, this reaction is unproductive and harmful. By holding our heads high and carrying on with life we can transcend our circumstances. By tucking our tails between our legs and hiding away behind closed blinds, we will perpetuate the pain.
9. Keep a Sense of Humor. Studies show that through the act of smiling we can cheer ourselves up and cheer up others. Falling into depression doesn't help anybody. Make these last days of freedom as meaningful and as cheerful as possible. This will help both you and your family get through these difficult times.
10. Persevere. Every life is filled at times with adversity. We survive by carrying on, soldiering forward. Our troubles may seem insurmountable, but in the fullness of time we will move beyond them.
And, as usual, here's one more for good measure:
Keep Perspective. We are not being burned at the stake or locked away for life. Whatever our troubles, sickness and death is infinitely worse. The moral: it could always be worse.