Sunday, December 25, 2011


They say that you never know who your true friends are until you've been hit with tragedy and you really need their support. Over the past several years, I have learned the hard way that there is nothing more true. Hala and I have been blessed with a loving and caring family and many steadfast friends and supporters.

This Christmas and holiday season, on behalf of my entire family, I want to say thank you to all of them. Thank you for your notes, letters, books and cards, and most importantly, thank you for being there for my family when I could not be.

As horrible as this has been for all of us, in some strange way, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to see what I have over the past several years. Having run two of the largest law enforcement organizations in the world with unparalleled success and achievement, my own incarceration has contradicted much of what I once believed about the federal criminal justice and prison system. There is no tour you can take, no inspection you can do, no crystal ball you can look into to see the system's successes, flaws or failures. They can only be seen from within. For someone who knows how the system is supposed to work, and what it is supposed to accomplish, it has been more than an eye opening experience, one that I will never forget and will use to the best of my ability to bring about much-needed reform once I am released.

Until then, I spend my days writing, exercising, reading, and teaching.

I've lost sixty to seventy pounds since October 2009. Although I have always tried to stay fit and in shape, nothing comes close to this, at least since I was in my 30s. Three days a week, it's push ups...on a good day 800 - 1,000, and on a bad day, 500 - 600. Not bad, considering I started out at 50. On the opposite days, it's squats, sprints and stairs.

I've read more books since I've been here than I have in my entire life, two a week, sometimes three, unless it's one of those big beefy ones like the biographies on Steve Jobs, Arial Sharon, or Condoleezza Rice. I've read just about every book written on our criminal justice system. Although many of these books are not normally read by the general public, I'd urge every American to read Angela J. Davis' Arbitrary Justice, Andrew Napolitano's Constitutional Chaos, Alan Elsner's Gates of Injustice; Tyranny of Good Intentions, by Roberts and Stratton; and Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman, a brilliant woman who captured the realities of living within the federal prison system for a year.

When you're feeling down and out, or you think you've had a rough day, there are two books you should read that will definitely put things back into perspective: Night, by Eli Weisel and Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankel. I'm convinced that these two men are living examples of the old saying, "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." For me, they have given me strength and been some of my greatest inspiration.

The class I teach here is a Life Lessons class in which I've outlined much of what I've learned throughout my lifetime: my successes and failures, rights and wrongs, goods and bads, and just about life itself. For me, the most important part of this class is trying to make sure that the men I teach will never return to prison. I do my best to help them overcome the obstacles they now must face, such as living with the life-long label of being a convicted felon. Unfortunately, the system not only degrades and demoralizes many of these men, but the convicted felon label destroys their chances for real employment or a full second chance in life. I help them know the world they will face upon release so that they will not be overtaken by depression, cynicism and hopelessness.

There are bad people that belong in prison and behind bars, some longer than others. For those that pose the greatest danger and threat to society, perhaps forever. However, many of the men that I have met here, and thousands more in the system, are non-violent first-time offenders, who pose no threat to society at all. Yet they are being imprisoned for years on end when they could be punished by alternatives to incarceration such as probationary sentences, fines, penalties, community service, and home confinement or house arrest. In doing so, they could be working, paying taxes, taking care of their families and paying their fines and restitution. The American taxpayer would save the burden of the $28,000 per year per inmate for their imprisonment but, more importantly, would reap the reward of their taxable income and economic spending, which is billions of dollars over the reported cost of incarceration

I serve my time along with, for example, a 60 year old attorney, serving five years on an immigration violation, a 22 year old U.S. Marine serving three years for selling his own night vision goggles on eBay, a 55 year old businessman serving seven and a half years on an SEC violation, a 33 old bank vice president who sent an email he shouldn't have and is serving 36 months, and a 19 year old kid from D.C. serving 10 years for a low level drug offense. They are all non-violent, first-time offenders the system is destroying.

In our attempt not to look "soft on crime," prosecutors are insisting on maximum prison sentences. Judges bound by mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines, then impose these draconian sentences on non-violent first time offenders. Justice, society, the economy and most important their children and families would quite often be better served by an alternative to incarceration. As I said, it's been an eye-opening experience.

Back at home, Celine, at 11 years old now, is 5'9". Another two inches, and she'll be taller than me. Angelina, age 9, has had an amazing growth spurt as well, but hopefully she keeps it under 5'10", so I don't feel like I'm shrinking. Both of them are doing quite well in school (they have their mother's brains), and are as beautiful on the inside as out.

Angelina is starring in her school's Christmas play, Beauty and the Beast, with a solo singing spot. Her quick wit and intelligence is a bit scary for a 9 year old. Sometimes I feel like I'm dealing with an adult. In a recent note she sent me, she said, "I hope this is the last Christmas at the stink bug farm," and for a moment I had to wonder what she was talking about. Then it dawned on me. At the end of last summer there was a major problem here in Maryland with stink bugs, so every time she would come visit, she'd be upset by our unwanted company. Thus, the "stink bug farm." Not only is she quick witted, she has an unbelievable memory!

Celine recently received her school's Patriot of the Month Award, chosen by her teachers for excellence in character. Last year at her prior school, she ended the year receiving the Matt Larson Award, named in honor and memory of Mathew James Larson, who at 7 years old, lost a five year battle with brain and spinal tumors. The award's recipient is chosen by teachers and parents for the one child in the school who reflects the principles by which Matt lived his life - overcoming adversity while doing all he could for others.

I couldn't be more proud of both of the girls, and there is nothing that pains me more than not being there for them when they have really needed me.

The past year has been difficult for both of them...they lost a beloved uncle who died unexpectedly and way too young at 50; and then Duke, one of our German Shepherds, died as well. Not being there then, or for their school plays, sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, Back to School nights and things like that has been my greatest punishment.

For any father who loves his children as I do mine, this time is torture. Even with the support group that Hala and I have around them that others may not have, the nightmare of this time and place haunts them more than anyone would know. Even me. I had no idea.

After a recent visit to see me, Celine spoke to a family friend and told her the pain she felt watching other children in the visiting room who were visiting their parents in prison. She said she wanted to write a book about her experience, so that should could help others. When I first learned of her conversation and her desire to write a book, I was pleased by her intent, but I've got to admit, my pleasure was short-lived when I heard what she wanted to title the book and why: "Don't Forget About Us," a title she chose because she believes judges and others don't really care about the children who are left behind. Her torment is heart wrenching for me, and that is coming from a little girl who is blessed with an enormous family and endless friends. If that is how she feels, what about those children who aren't so lucky?

My son, Joe, has had his ups and downs this last year as well, but nothing was as hard as losing one of his closest friends, Newark Detective Michael Morgan, who was shot and killed recently during an armed robbery. I've been there and know that feeling. In the aftermath of Mike's death, I tried to talk Joe into considering another place to work other than Newark, and he wouldn't hear of it. Newark, Jersey City or New York City... those are the only places he said he'd be happy. I've been there too, so for now, I guess I'll just keep my mouth shut and continue to pray for his safety and those who work with him.

This past year has been one of the most difficult in my lifetime, but it's not because of what most people would think. What has been most stressful for me is not being home when I was needed, not knowing what is happening, not having the ability to tuck in the girls or kiss them good night and being there when something goes wrong. However, I, unlike many men in my circumstance, have had a rock to lean on and someone to pick up the slack. Hala has been like Wonder Woman, holding down the fort with grace and unbelievable strength. Our children have been blessed with a mother who could not be better than the one they have and things would be unbearable without her.

The strength of every marriage is tested by circumstances, some of which we can control, and some of which we cannot. Mine has been tested over and over again, much of which has been my own fault. In the past many months, I have witnessed countless numbers of wives say goodbye to their husbands, or just disappear. It has ripped many of these men to shreds, but more so, it has helped me understand how lucky I am. I have been blessed with a wife who not only has stood by me, but has shined bright through our darkest times. To her, I owe my all.

With each passing day, I grow more thankful for the life I've had, my children, my wife, and for our friends, our family and our supporters. This experience has caused me to find the words to express my love and appreciation all the more. My best days here are when Hala, the girls and Joe come to visit, as well as other family and friends. One of my most memorable days this last year was May 1st, when my friend Geraldo Rivera broke the news that President Barack Obama was about to announce the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden. Thank God for Seal Team Six and the United States of America.

Believe it or not, in a very profound way, I thank God for letting me see what I have seen from here, and meet many of the men I have met in the past 20 months. It has changed me now and forever...and for the better.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you. And on behalf of my entire family, I thank you for your thoughts, prayers and support. You mean more to us than you will ever know. As we celebrate the holiday season, please join me in remembering our troops returning from Iraq as well as those in Afghanistan and around the globe. And lastly, as always, my regards, thoughts and prayers are with the men and women of the NYPD, NYDOC, and Newark Police Department.

May God richly bless you all.


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