Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Incarceration - Making the Best of It

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog here has an interesting discussion with a prison consultant who advised Bernie Madoff on his life in prison. Criminal tax lawyers -- including tax crimes defense lawyers -- have to cover this topic with clients from time to time (hopefully not too often). In my Federal Tax Crimes book, I include a snippet from a prior WSJ Law blog here about Bill Lerach reporting to prison. That blog too is worth a read, but I note particularly the following from the article:

Alan Ellis, a Bay Area lawyer who specializes in “post-conviction work” advises clients to treat prison time as a sabbatical. “You can take those two years and add five years to your life physically, mentally, and spiritually,” he says.
I will have to say that my limited anecdotal experience is that clients usually do not buy into this concept on the front end, but that some clients quickly determine to make the best use of their time. Of course, Madoff has more than two years to work with, but many tax crimes defendants have about that amount of time.


  1. Jack,

    I agree with Mr. Ellis' views that clients headed for prison should treat their incarceration as a sabbatical.

    Borrowing from the words of "Tha Shawshank Redemption"--Get busy living, or get busy dying.

    Speaking of getting busy living, one must view any kind of adversity as an opportunity to reflect, redeem one's self, and grow. Whether one is in the often hot and humid clime of south Texas or the frigid north of Alaska (or anywhere in between those extremes for that matter), there is one thing that can be fairly characterized as an "immutable truth": Only the lead dog gets a change in scenery.

    The bottom line: It is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond. One's attitude can and will determine one's altitude.

    Thanks for allowing me to share ideas with your readers and, especially, with your students.

  2. Anonymous,

    Thanks for this comment. I have to inject some theology into the discussion in response.

    I am a Baptist (of the liberal / heretical stripe), but regularly attend Torah study at Temple Beth-Israel here in Houston. The Torah study is fascinating, and my fellow learners are all knowledgeable and erudite (that does not include me but I am getting there). So, I had a need for one of them to speak at my church. Among his comments was his perspective on the Cain and Abel story in the Hebrew Bible. Specifically, he raised the question of why God blessed Abel's offering and not Cain's. Commentators, including the sages and rabbis, have thrashed around -- dare I say drashed (contraction on midrash) -- on that topic for ages. The text is cryptic which, of course, permits the imagination to add lessons. (Of course, scholars like Kugel would say that the story is in the Bible for etiological purposes, but there is always a lesson for today in the stories.)

    My good friend gave his interpretation of that story. It is that we cannot know why God blessed Abel and not Cain. God is in control of life and some seem to get the better side of life and others not. So we can't control those types of things, but we can control how we react to them. The lesson of Cain and Abel is that we need to control our reactions.

    So, when the client finds himself or herself in prison, your point (as well as this lesson from the Hebrew Bible) is that the client can control how he or she reacts to it, and make the best out of it. (The old lemon/lemonade routine.)

    Thanks for sharing.

    Jack Townsend

    Jack Townsend


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