Two years. Two years earlier, in the midst of a plea bargain meeting, I thought I had misheard. "Two years." For an accounting shuffle? Ridiculous. You pay a fine and move on. Time served. That's how these things end up. But the Feds wanted my scalp. It was a half-billion-dollar accounting shuffle, which had come close to bringing down a major investment bank. The stock had plummeted. Investors were outraged. The president's mother-in-law lost almost ten thousand dollars! The Feds needed someone to put in the stocks and get pelted with stones and rotten fruit. I was their man.
My first stop was Ray Brook. It's about a long home run from the Canadian border, high in the Adirondacks. It's the real deal. Somehow, when you do time for a white-collar crime, you think you're going to spend the days passing around Barron's and discussing your portfolio with like-minded individuals. Work out, grow a beard, and catch up on your reading. It wasn't like that.
Most of the habitués were there on drug charges, racketeering, or both. It was an eye-opening master class in Diverse Patterns of Confrontation in Modern Gang Culture. I barely passed. The macho posturing of Wall Street does nothing to prepare you for the moment when a three-hundred- pound Latino man with a dark purple scar running across his throat looks up at you from across the chow hall table and rasps out the words, "Hey, baboso. Give me your lunch."
I rapped twice on the table and offered him the bread and mashed potatoes. Truce.
In comparison, Otisville was cake. It's no country club, no matter what the Wall Street Journal implied when I was moved there, but the prisoners are all short-timers and less prone to violent solutions to minor disagreements; no one wants to risk getting his sentence extended when he's marking off the last days till he goes home. And the food was better.
I hadn't heard him come in. He was a clerk, not a guard. A little pudgybaby-faced. Happy to have a ten-dollar-an-hour clerical job with full benefitseven if it was the night shift at the federal prison camp. I had a sudden flash of panicthey weren't going to let me leave. There was a mistake and this unlikely boob had been assigned the job of letting me know.
"I'm your release expediter. I have some forms to go over with you."
I sucked in a breath, let it out slowly, then did it again. My pulse rate slowed.
"Will this take long?" As though I had an appointment.
"I'll do what I can." His voice went up at the end of every sentence, making it a question. I didn't know how much of it I could take. "I know you have someone here to pick you up." He nodded toward the window. A guard was steering my father into an office and out of view. "I hope to get you out in no time at all."
He wanted to be nice. He wanted me to be nice, too. I thought of some of the other detainees he must have mustered out. It was a high-stress job. I decided to try to make it easy on him.
"What do you need from me?"
Forms. He explained them in bureaucratic detail. I signed them. He handed me a big padded envelope that held my clothes from the first day I entered the system. Underwear, jeans, and a polo shirt. I signed for them. I signed a release form that said I had been advised of the necessary procedures I would have to take in the event that I wished to protest any violations of my civil rights I may have suffered during my incarceration. I signed a separate form that absolved the Federal Government of all responsibility for any such violations committed by employees and a third form that said there hadn't been any such violations anyway. For such a brutal, stone-cold bureaucracy, the powers in charge were pretty sensitive about covering their asses.
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