When I first became the subject of a criminal investigation, I felt terribly alone. I knew intellectually that I wasn't the first white collar criminal in the history of mankind, but it sure as hell felt like it. The feeling was not at all productive: as a result of it I isolated myself from friends and family, crawled under a figurative log and tried to keep my misdeeds secret from the world. It also magnified the shame I felt, as if I were the only idiot in history stupid enough to do what I did.
Finally, I'd had enough of wallowing and self pity and exceptionalism. I began to poke about online and found that there were many other idiots (no offense, please) just like me. Where I had thought I was alone in my crimes, I soon learned that there were many. And then I began to reach out, to find solidarity with others out there in this new community in which I found myself.
In this post, as a way to encourage others to seek a shoulder to lean (if not cry) on, I want to give a quick shout out to two people who were there for me, people who voluntarily stepped up to the plate to help me in my time of need. I'm not saying you have to seek out these very same people, but I am encouraging you to reach out and seek support. Going it alone, to put it eloquently, really sucks.
So, drum roll please......
Walt Pavlo: imprisoned for wrongdoings at MCI, Walt went on to become a respected journalist and speaker. He is now sometimes referred to as the "visiting fellow of fraud". I read all his articles on white-collar crime at forbes.com and am proud to say that in a month or two he will be devoting a column to my misadventures. In demonstration of what a caring, considerate person he is, at one point early in the process I was feeling desperate and reached out to Walt. I was a perfect stranger to him but he responded that same day and called me a few days later with wonderful advice and support.
Justin Paperny was once a stockbroker who got caught up in the corrupt atmosphere of his workplace. He went to prison for his misdeeds and is now a sought-after prison consultant, speaker and author. I have read both his books and met and spoken with him on numerous occasions. His advice has proved invaluable as I wend my way slowly toward sentencing.
I was initially shy about seeking help and advice. Not only did I feel like I should man up and go it alone, my natural inclination was to withdraw from the world, to hide under a rock. Not to mention that I didn't have the funds to hire a slew of lawyers and prison consultants. Finally, though, I did reach out and was pleasantly surprised. I certainly didn't voluntarily choose to become a part of the White Collar Community. But, nonetheless, it was nice to be welcomed so cordially and pleasantly.
For anyone facing prison time, I encourage you to seek people out. In my experience, the whole criminal justice experience can be tremendously isolating as colleagues and friends fall away. It can also seriously damage your self esteem as you convince yourself that you really are the terrible person the prosecutors make you out to be. So it's been helpful to have others - friendly, normal people who just happened to have made an idiotic mistake just like mine - to remind me that I'm not alone, that it's still possible to be a good person.
So my advice (if you haven't already got the point) is: Reach out. There are people out there who can help. As a starting point, I would recommend Walt's and Justin's White Collar 101 Series on youtube. In the videos, they provide invaluable advice that, if nothing else, will help soothe your more vivid worries about what awaits behind those prison walls.