It’s impossible to forget those first steps. I dreaded getting out of the car as I arrived at my destination – the place that would be “home” for the next eighteen months. Somehow, I knew that prison would never be home!
One foot placed in front of the other, I took 23 steps and on the 24th I opened the door and stepped into Federal prison.
Not in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that my life would be reduced to having become an inmate. How could an otherwise honest person destroy their life and end up here? Certainly I am not lost that the choices I made got me to this point, but how could I have made such poor choices when everything about me knew better?
Current Day Comments: As a business ethics and white collar crime speaker today, “The Prison Chronicles” are written as an insight into the sometimes simple process that we, as humans, can go through – choices we make – that at the time seem to have no consequence, but actually have profound consequences when looked at through time. What I have written, other than current day comments, was written when I was incarcerated. I vowed to keep a daily journal, if for nothing more than maintaining my own sanity.
Looking back now some 13 years, I have come to know three things: (1) I’m not the only person who faced this harsh and unpleasant consequence. There was no guide book telling me what to expect. My attorney couldn’t help me in that regard – he’d never been to prison. So perhaps “The Prison Chronicles” can help others (and their families) understand what to expect. (2) Time in prison is more than about survival and time, it is about personal insight and growth. Some never grow out of being a convicted felon, they live that life for the rest of their lives. They choose to live the life of a “victim” instead of rising above what got them their. Perhaps “The Prison Chronicles” will help others see that they can learn and change. (3) A wise man once said to me, “You have made a big mistake; but, YOU are not a mistake!” That message stuck. We are what we believe we are. I have been labeled a “convicted felon.” Some people would like that label to stick as if it were a disease. I, on the other hand, have become a speaker, writer and Sr. VP of Sales and Marketing in a public company. Perhaps, by some accounts, I should have become none of these, but we are the results of the choices we make and I choose to be ME – not defined by some label.
I entered prison with the meager allotment of clothing established by the Bureau of Prisons. I did my best to seem powerful and in control, but I was far from that. Frankly, I was scared and knew that I was far from being in control. In fact, I soon came to understand that prison is all about someone like me not being in control. They are in control and don’t want you to forget it.
Within five minutes I was ushered into a cinder block holding cell. Offered lunch, I turned it down assuming I wouldn’t be there long. Wrong!
I was given a 15 page photocopied booklet to read. The booklet had been copied so many times that it was skewed on the page with some of the words missing. That was not much of an issue, as any fool could under make out what they were trying to say.
“Make sure you have this read before we come back,” the officer said as he closed the door with authority. The door closed with a solid thud and it was then I found myself alone in an 8 by 8 room adorned with only a solid wooden bench and a stainless toilet securely affixed to the wall. Here I was, just me in the room, and all I heard was silence.
Reading the 15 pages was a breeze. I read it once, then again and soon found myself bored, tired and hungry. The wooden bench, better described as a plank, was growing hard and uncomfortable, in fact, there was nothing comfortable about where I was. The only thing that was true is that I was alone with time on my hands – time to think about the choices I had made the consequences I was living.
After three hours and seven minutes, the door flung open.
“Step out. It’s time for your TB test.”
In front of me was an over sized Hispanic man in a white lab coat with “Pedro” embroidered on the coat pocket. The guard stepped aside as Pedro spoke. “Roll up your sleeve, we have to do a TB test.” With those words spoken, he began to reach for the needle to administer the test.
What he didn’t know and I didn’t want to admit, as other inmates were being escorted from their holding cell, was that I was deathly afraid of needles. Just the sight of a needle and I became faint. But here I was, to my left was a large black guy who looked like he should play football and to his left was an Hispanic fellow who was tattooed over all of his visible body. Of course as luck would have it I was first.
Pedro stuck the four pronged needle into the fleshy part of my left arm. “You can do this Chuck,” I thought to myself. “Just be cool…it will all work out.” Just as that thought cleared my mind, my subconscious took over and I could feel a faint coming on. My blood pressure dropped. The voices from others became less clear. I could feel the color drain from my face.
“I need to sit down,” I said to Pedro.
“What’s wrong man – you allergic to needles,” he said with a tinge of laughter in his voice.
“I just need to sit down.”
With no warning, Pedro yelled to the guard in a loud voice, “We’ve got a fainter!”
Now the one thing I didn’t need, as I faced to other inmates who were here for God knows what, was to seem wimpish. I didn’t want to end up as someone’s girlfriend on my first night. Sorry, but thoughts like that do go through your mind after watching the “Shawshank Redemption”. Never watch that if you are going to prison.
Just then the huge black guy smiled at me, his front gold tooth gleaming, “Sit here man. You’ll be O.K. None of us want to be here.” And with those words spoken, I began to feel that I was not alone in this journey. Standing before me was a touch of humanity.
Perhaps I would survive this day.
Current Day Conclusion:
As I read those words today, it doesn’t take long to recall just how I felt – day one in prison. I am not happy nor proud that I experienced prison. I do know, however, that the experience was a defining time in my life. As I say to groups, whether corporations or associations, Every choice has a consequence.
For information about Chuck Gallagher’s presentations visit www.chuckgallagher.com or call Chuck at 828.244.1400.