Release From Prison Journal: Day 437

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Brian’s final question for me follows:

How difficult was it for you to educate yourself within prison walls? Do you feel the prison system offered sufficient help?

I am fortunate. Early during my term, prior to a judge sentencing me to a 45-year sentence, prayers led me to a philosophy book. I’ve written and spoken extensively about how the wisdom of Socrates and other philosophers influenced my adjustment through prison. They convinced me to focus on a three-pronged approach to prepare for a law-abiding, contributing life. That approach required that I work to educate myself, to contribute to society, and to build a strong support network.

As a consequence of that clear vision, I made decisions throughout the journey that empowered me. Persistence led to my finding educators that agreed to work with me—despite the bad decisions of my youth. In 1992, Mercer University awarded my bachelor’s degree and in 1995, Hofstra University awarded my master’s degree. That pursuit of education led to my becoming an author. As I reached more people, I found more people who began to believe in me and they joined my support network.

Unfortunately, prison administrators did not support my pursuit of education. On many occasions, they blocked me. A warden blocked me from completing a Ph.D. program at the University of Connecticut. Other staff members locked me in segregation and transferred me to prisons across state lines when they objected to the growing body of work I created to describe the inside of our nation’s prison system.

Those experiences, unfortunately, convince me that the system fails to support individuals who aspire to live as law abiding, contributing citizens.

Days since my release from prison: 437

Miles that I ran today: 12.3

Miles that I ran so far this week: 36.6

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 138.99

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 2,003.01

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 396.99

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 51.72

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 436

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Brian, a high school student from New York, asked my perspective on the Rockefeller Drug Laws of 1973.

For those who don’t know, the Rockefeller Drug Laws required judges to impose lengthy sentences on offenders who were convicted of non-violent drug crimes. From my recollection, those sentences require a minimum of 15 years in prison and extended to life terms. Those sentences were imposed on consenting adults who engaged in drug transactions. Factors like violence or weapons could aggravate the sentence, but an individual without aggravating factors in the crime could still receive sentences that were excessively long.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws, from my perspective, did not serve the interests of an evolving, enlightened society. Clearly, society has an interest in nurturing productive citizens. Illicit drug use threatens productivity. Yet incarcerating individuals for choices they make to use drugs does not advance society. Statistics show that the more people we incarcerate, and the longer we keep people in prison, the more we perpetuate intergenerational cycles of failure.

Prisons have not proven successful in lowering drug usage. Local and federal governments invest far too much in both human and financial resources to sustain a commitment to mass incarceration. We should reserve the use of our nation’s prison system to confine those who truly threaten others, not to confine consenting adults who engage in socially prohibitive behavior. The resources to confine could be better invested in education programs.

To answer Brian’s question, the Rockefeller Drug Laws of 1973 made a poor use of public resources. They led the movement toward mass incarceration, which perpetuated intergenerational cycles of failure. It is the greatest social injustice of our time.

Days since my release from prison: 436

Miles that I ran today: 0

Miles that I ran so far this week: 24.3

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 126.69

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,990.71

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 409.29

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 45.99

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 435

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Yesterday I wrote about the high school student from New York who asked me to respond to questions regarding prison reform. He is completing a paper that will help his fellow students and other readers understand more about the greatest social injustice of our time: Mass Incarceration. I’m happy to help.

The second question he asked me to answer follows: “Are drug-related offenders fairly punished?”

Answering this question requires us to begin with a definition of fairness. Brian, the high school student who presented me with these questions, could have two implications: When judges impose sentences on drug offenders, do they adhere to a system of due process? Or, are the sentences Congress has authorized for drug offenders appropriate?

With regard to the first possible question, I would answer that drug offenders, like most offenders who proceed through America’s criminal justice system, receive due process. There is a system in place. First, they are charged with a crime. Then the prosecutors present evidence. The defendant can offer evidence that may exonerate him. Then a jury or judge will consider the evidence and make a determination of whether the individual is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or not guilty. As Winston Churchill once said, the system is the worst system in the world, except for all others. In other words, it’s as close as we can come to fairness.

The second question would have a different answer, from my perspective. We sentence non-violent drug offenders far too severely. Some people are serving life sentences in federal prison for their role in distributing marijuana—a weed that is now legal in several states. We should not impose sentences of multiple decades for consenting adults who engaged in a drug transaction. If violence or other aggravating factors were involved, those would issues should be charged separately. As far as sentences for drug offenders are concerned, from my perspective, the sentences are far too long and do not reflect a commitment to justice.

 

Days since my release from prison: 435

Miles that I ran today: 12.2

Miles that I ran so far this week: 24.3

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 126.69

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,990.71

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 409.29

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 52.56

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 434

Monday, October 20, 2014

A high school student contacted me with a request for information about prison. He is doing a school project, hoping to bring awareness to the great social injustice of mass incarceration. I will respond to his four questions in blogs over the next four days. Brian’s first question follows:

What key issues do you see with our prison system as a whole today and is enough being done to reform certain areas?

The 26 years that I served as a federal prisoner provides me with a unique perspective. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned from personal experience, from extensive studies, and from information I gathered through ethnographic research I completed with hundreds of people in prison. The primary problem with our nation’s federal prison system, as I see it, is that the system is designed in such a way that it extinguishes hope. The system provides countless opportunities for an individual to exacerbate conditions of confinement, or to extend the length of time in prison.

For example, a federal inmate may call his mother on the telephone. During that telephone conversation, the inmate’s mother may connect him on a conference call with his grandmother. It’s the closest the group can come to a family conversation. Yet prison officials forbid such conversations. They would issue the individual an incident report for abuse of telephone privileges. That consequence of that disciplinary infraction would be severe, including loss of telephone privileges and visiting for six months, and loss of good-time credit. Such sanctions extend the length of time that the inmate would serve in prison.

Policies that condone such Draconian punishments extinguish hope. Countless policies exist within the disciplinary code. Yet there are no corresponding policies that allow an individual to work toward earning increasing levels of liberty, or to lessen his exposure to confinement. As a consequence, few people in prison work toward preparing in meaningful ways for a law-abiding, contributing life upon release. And the system fails to incentivize those who do prepare. The flaws in our nation’s criminal justice system are extensive, by design. We’ve designed a system to receive, not to prepare individuals for success. With costs that exceed $75 billion per year, the prison system is ripe for reform.

Days since my release from prison: 434

Miles that I ran today: 0

Miles that I ran so far this week: 12.1

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 114.49

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,978.51

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 421.49

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 46.93

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 433

Sunday, October 19, 2014

 

Christian Denmon is an attorney from Tampa with the firm of Denmon and Denmon. He reached out to me today to share an extraordinary infographic that illustrates the ugliness of our nation’s wrongheaded commitment to mass incarceration. I’m proud to feature it on my website. On October 29, I’ll lecture in front of more than 500 undergraduate students at UC Berkeley, in Wheeler Hall. I’ll use this infographic that Christian and his team put together to highlight the greatest social injustices of our time.

For more information on the outstanding law practice of Christian Denmon, please visit his website at Denmon & Denmon, or email him at Christian@denmonlaw.com.

Wretched facts of mass incarceration, the greatest social injustice of our time. Infographic by Denmon and Denmon

Wretched facts of mass incarceration, the greatest social injustice of our time. Infographic by Denmon and Denmon

 

Days since my release from prison: 433

Miles that I ran today: 12.1

Miles that I ran so far this week: 12.1

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 114.49

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,978.51

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 421.49

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 53.5

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 432

Saturday, October 18, 2014

 

Today I enjoyed a pleasant dinner with my mother. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the first time the two of us when out for dinner together alone since I’ve moved here. Usually we’ve dined with Carole and my grandmother, or if Carole was working, with my grandmother. When I walked into the restaurant this evening, I was surprised to see that my mom was alone. We had a great meal at Red Robin, which is one of my favorite restaurants to eat a cheeseburger. While eating, I told her all about the many responsibilities of my career, and the pressure that I feel to succeed. The self-imposed pressures I live by drive me. In another year, I promised, I’ll start to decompress. But for now, especially until Carole graduates, I need to continue working very, very hard. I served 26 years as a prisoner, so I must work 26 times harder than my peers just to catch up.

 

Days since my release from prison: 432

Miles that I ran today: 0

Miles that I ran so far this week: 24

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 102.39

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,966.41

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 433.59

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 47.97

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 431

Friday, October 17, 2014

 

Today I took a lesson on online marketing with a company called Infusionsoft. It’s an interesting company that makes automated email campaigns easier to manage. I won’t say that I mastered the system because I haven’t. But I can certainly see how powerful this service will be for me when I launch Prison Professor. I’ll be able to reach out to law firms and show the reasons why I’m uniquely qualified to add value to their firms through the products and services I create. It’s a very exciting prospect, and I’m investing hundreds of hours to further the concept. If all goes according to the schedule that I’ve set, I’ll be ready to launch by Thanksgiving. But that will mean many sacrifices, like my running, which I haven’t done since this past Tuesday. When I set goals, I become obsessed with them. My current goal is to stay on track with the writing scheduled I’ve imposed. To reach the goal, I need to make sacrifices sometimes. If I make good progress tomorrow, I’ll resume running on Sunday.

 

Days since my release from prison: 431

Miles that I ran today: 0

Miles that I ran so far this week: 24

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 102.39

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,966.41

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 433.59

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 54.54

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 430

Thursday, October 16, 2014

When I looked at the calendar today, I realized that 12 years ago, I waited for Carole to come visit me for the first time in a federal prison. I was confined in Fort Dix, New Jersey back then. I had served longer than 15 years, but I still had a very long 11 years of imprisonment ahead of me. Nevertheless, Carole and I had built a romance through correspondence, and when she visited me on October 17, 2002, it was the first time that we would meet in a prison visiting room. I remember the entire event as if it just happened. On the night before our first visit, I felt more enthusiastic than a child on Christmas morning. When guards called me name for the visit, I remember walking over with total excitement to hold her in my arms for the first time. I knew that we’d be under intense scrutiny by guards and surveillance cameras that pervade the federal prison system, but I didn’t care. I also knew that with her, I could build a new life. Since that first visit, we’ve come a long way. With Carole’s help, I built a quasi career while incarcerated, and resources we generated allowed her to return to school. She earned her credentials as a registered nurse, and now she is approaching graduation with her master’s degree in nursing. When others ask me what I’m most proud about, without hesitation, I say that I’m most proud of the loving relationship I’ve built with Carole. Despite longer than a decade in prison that separated us from our first night together, we have an exceptionally strong relationship, and I’m grateful.

 

Days since my release from prison: 430

Miles that I ran today: 0

Miles that I ran so far this week: 24

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 102.39

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,966.41

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 433.59

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 61.11

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 429

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Today I went to speak at a juvenile detention center in San Dimas, about 50 miles inland from where I live in Orange County, California. I spoke with a group of teachers at the Camp Rocky detention center a few weeks ago, and today I returned to speak with the young men who are serving time inside that facility. I hope that I inspired the young people to begin making better decisions with their life. It’s never too early and it’s never too late to begin preparing for a successful life, I told them. I could see that they were astonished that I began to change my life while I was in prison. They couldn’t believe that I was in prison, and I told them that if they didn’t believe I was ever in prison, then plan had worked brilliantly. From the start, I explained, I set a path in place to ensure that I could emerge from prison successfully. Through various books I wrote and videos our organization filmed, they could learn how to implement the same strategy. The Los Angles County Office of Education purchased a license to use our Straight-A Guide Program, and the school district is piloting the program inside the Camp Rocky facility. If the children respond to it well, more opportunities could open for us to influence the lives of young people in Los Angeles County. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

 

Days since my release from prison: 429

Miles that I ran today: 0

Miles that I ran so far this week: 24

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 102.39

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,966.41

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 433.59

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 67.68

My weight for today: 168

Release From Prison Journal: Day 428

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The market continued to fall today. Oh well. I’ve always known that roller coasters go up and roller coasters go down. The only way you get hurt on a roller coaster is when you jump off. So I made my decision to stay in the market today and ride out the storm, at least for a little while. I’ve been an active speculator in the stock market since 1998. I’ve always known that October, historically, was one of the worst months for stock market performance. But I’ve been an aggressive trader over the years, going through different cycles. Clearly, I know the emotions at play, with greed for higher gains and fear of further losses capable of driving decisions. These contemplations generally occur when I’m losing equity. And I’m losing equity today. I have to live with those ups and downs. My wife hates the stock market, especially when she watches the emotional pull it has on me. I become obsessed.

Days since my release from prison: 426

Miles that I ran today: 0

Miles that I ran so far this week: 24

Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 102.39

Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,966.41

Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 433.59

Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 74.25

My weight for today: 168