A Voice from Prison Blog | Criminal Justice Reform & Constitutional Rights

Post 7: Losses Sustained Directly and Indirectly As Part Of The Criminal Justice Process

There is so much loss directly and indirectly sustained when you are subjected to an inclusion in the criminal justice system and process. These include time lost, money lost, your home which could be lost, and family and friends who can also be lost in the process. I’d like to introduce a few of these elements of loss which are common once being placed into the criminal justice system.

Time (and Stress/Anxiety)

I don’t believe people generally account for how much of their lives are lost to a federal investigation as well as the punishment portion of the experience. The very moment you come into contact with the FBl or the police you begin to lose time. From that moment onward, you constantly have to deal with the stigma and the consequences that come with being part of a criminal investigation. Attorneys get involved, and you have to deal with the fall out: find new employment or a home. Time is even wasted in feeling like you can not live your life according to the freedoms guaranteed under the US Constitution.

First, I lost so many hours of sleep stressing over a situation, which didn’t go to trial for years. The speedy trial doesn’t apply to the time for the investigation, which the FBl can stretch into years, as in my case, with the constant harassment from prosecutors and agents. On top of that, trials are often delayed, where courts waive your right to a speedy trial without your agreement and the guarantees offered by the US Constitution. So I am talking about years of stress and anxiety, over a situation that will not resolve itself. In my case, they went almost up against the 5 year statute of limitations and then the court took almost a couple of years to go to trial. These years were wasted in stress and worry, constantly being subjected to calls and harassment at anytime of day or night, on top of worry about the future.

Then, once you finally get indicted, you are placed on pre-trial probation. This is essentially the same thing as probation, but you don’t get any credit for it and are subject to all the same things someone on probation is – random drug screens, the probation officer coming to your home or business anytime or hour, the requirement to report constantly as well as limits on where and when you can travel – even though you have not been convicted of a crime yet.

After trial finally arrives, you go through this time-consuming process, that results, in my case, in being remanded. I had to wait in a local county jail, under much harsher constraints than prison, for sentencing which took many, many months. This time was much harder, as you don’t yet know how much time you are actually facing in your sentence. Not knowing, while every day passes, is extremely hard mentally and a very painful experience.

Following sentencing, you finally get transferred to be transported to your final destination. For me this process took approximately 2 years. COVID-19 had a large impact on this and led to extensive time in solitary confinement “for my own safety”. Once you make it to prison and your final destination, the time you serve finally begins to move, but every day, you have to sit there knowing that the rest of the world is moving on without you.

Once released, you will face probation again, where you can be returned to prison for something as simple as being 5 minutes late reporting in to the officer. This happens all the time to those trapped in the system. You are constantly visited at your home and work, and must report in randomly, often within less than 30 minutes after you are called for drug screens or meetings with the probation officer.

And of course, the time lost doesn’t end there. The stigma of being a criminal will follow you the rest of your life. You will have to face questions from family, friends, and employers. You will always be subject to the discomfort of those around you, even if you have a non-violent crime or didn’t harm anyone – which you will have to explain almost daily to those who come into your life.

It would seem, after all, that the actual time you do in your sentence is minimal compared to the extensive lingering effects of the time immediately before and after the investigation is conducted. The stress and anxiety is a heavy burden, that most people hopefully will never have to experience.

Money

Most people think that the loss of money is limited to attorney and legal fees, but this is only scratching the surface. I lost the potential to make money once I was first raided at home. This incident was very public. It seems that law enforcement does this either without regard of how this might affect individuals or does this in order to apply the additional pressure of stress associated with the hardships faced – to help you cave to signing a plea deal. In this case, I lost my current position at a well-paying company, as well as the immediate potential to make money based upon my experience and reputation.

I of course lost money with all the attorney fees associated with representation. Those with limited assets or income are provided legal resources at little or no cost. For those making a decent wage or in possession of a home, are forced to pay their own way through the legal system, which often isn’t an option. For many people, this means selling their homes with all the hard-earned (and taxed) dollars they have worked for so long and so hard for. Much less, by being wrapped up in the legal system, you have to pay for these large expenses often after losing a position with a decent wage.

The cost don’t stop there. For me, my case was not prosecuted in Dallas, where I lived. They choose to prosecute out of Albany, NY. There were several times I was required to go to New York. On a couple of occasions, I was required to meet with attorneys in New York, which the dates were either later moved or cancelled, leaving me with travel expenses which I had to pay for in advance. There was no way to recover this lost money. Furthermore, every single court hearing, I had to fly out there and pay for arrangements just to attend a hearing with might be as short as 30 minutes. This took away from several productive ways which I might be working, as well as high costs associated with short notice travel, where flights can be very expensive.

I was also, after the FBl raid and various issues with the criminal justice system, facing a divorce with my wife at the time. Regardless of her reasoning, the lack of security with income and stigma being associated with the investigation, raid, and trial I am sure didn’t help. This was another indirect loss in money which I had to deal with concurrently, which is not uncommon with those facing serious time in the criminal justice system.

Home

I have lost my home twice due to this experience. The first experience, I was passively forced out of my neighborhood after the FBI raid on my house late one night/morning. The local police were called in to block off the entire block I lived on for the FBI unit who flew in from Albany, NY, as well as their SWAT team who were armed with military gear, ready for what seemed to be an intensive battle. Of course, this experience scared those who lived in my suburban neighborhood. This is not an experience you would expect in an upscale community, where families are being raised away from the evils of the world in an environment of safety and privilege.

The second time, I lost my condo in downtown Dallas after being remanded. My attorney promised me that I would be released pending sentencing, regardless of the outcome of the trial. This of course didn’t happen. I was unable to return to work nor return home to pack my things – which of course would have also been lost if I didn’t have family who took time off work to help move all my stuff to storage. This was incredibly hard on me, having lost my home for the second time in such a short period of time.

After all my time is through I’ll be returning home to no home. This is another hard pill to swallow. Everything that had rooted me to the community has been taken away from me and I will have to start over completely once I am released. So much for the value of community ties.

Family

One of the hardest things about being sent to prison is the loss of contact with your family. There is also the possibility that those loved ones will leave you behind, due to the long stretch of time you will no longer be able to be around for anyone. The COVID-19 pandemic made this especially hard, since most visitation was shut down, preventing family members from seeing their loved ones behind bars.

Personally, this impacted me greatly. For several years leading up to trial, I had the incredible opportunity to have a family of my own. I met Gwen and her daughter, Stella, years prior to trial. I instantly feel in love with both of them. Something seemed to just fit perfectly. And from that initial day, there was always a tension, building and blossoming into a relationship that has impacted me heavily in both extremes, good and bad, in this experience.

It felt like I lost a daughter when this experience became real and concrete. I raised her since she was just a baby, as a one year old. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t my blood, I was ‘Daddy’ to her and she never knew any different. I could see my own mannerisms in her the way she acted, the way she spoke, my attitude towards life shining out through her. This has been one of the hardest things to have to face in my adult life. The loss of a child – not because they are no longer on this earth, but because of a situation that prevents you from being a part of their life.

Choices were of course made, that naturally I could not interact with them anymore, as I was going to be spending years, thousands of miles away from them, without being able to provide and care for them physically. They were moving on without me. I was set in purgatory while the rest of the world moved on it seemed. This was the hardest loss I sustained and am still trying to recover from.

Friends and Associates

Quite unsurprisingly, many people choose not to be part of your life professionally once you are convicted of a felony, for reasons that are neither right nor wrong – but this is very common and the loss of support and contact with so many people is a painful experience, especially those who worked next to you for many, many years.

Friends I had for years, I suddenly never heard from anymore. Associates in business I worked next to, went dark in communication or contact. My business partners were fearful of being involved or investigated themselves, which could ruin their reputation, even if they had nothing to hide. Being abandoned after having such support and a network is especially painful, knowing that most of your world has turned its back on you.

You really find out who will stand with you once you have been arrested and charged with a crime. Several will stick around initially, only to drop off later as the years drag on. You will lose a lot of people who have been in your life, which is another large pain that you must deal with, the loss of these people who hold a piece of your life.

A Follow on Message

Through all this pain and loss – from divorce, to lost money and jobs, to loss of family relationships and friends, to homes and familiar places, to the very time which has been taken away – it feels as though these things, which you are not directly sentenced to, often are punishment enough. They compare to nothing you might have been sentenced to, because they weigh so much more heavily. Loss is hard and painful – but we do get to choose what we make of the loss – how we will let the depression affect us.

With so many things in life outside of our control, the only true choice we can make is how we choose to respond to those things. So I have moved on, tried to accept that life will always work out. In the end, I would never exchange the pain for not having these opportunities. Sure, I have faced hardship, but I am a stronger person today than I was previously. And while have loved and lost, this is not the end for me. I get to leave this place as a person with a clean slate, a new future. Starting over in your late 30’s will be challenging, but I know I will get to lead out a life accordingly.

So as a message to everyone – you never know when things will come to an end, or what might be too much for someone else to bear. So love your fullest. Take every day you have as a blessing. And appreciate what you have before it is gone.

And for those impacted by the criminal justice system, my heart goes out to you. Keep your head up. The best things in life come only through hardship.

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