"Prison's not that bad."
When I was seven years old, my father was sentenced to five years at Allenwood Correctional institution in Pennsylvania – a low-security federal correctional prison. He made his living as a bookmaker and was sent to prison over shaking down a “customer” that owed him $30,000. As the story goes, this “customer” was also in trouble with the FBI and made a deal to wear a wire, while having any interaction with my father. On one particular phone call, my father fell right into the trap and threatened to hurt this person. The exact quote in the court documents was: “I will mop the floor with your face, if you don't give me my money.” That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – and he was sentenced to 5 years. Not for extortion – but for usury. (It is a felony for an individual to charge more than 10% annual interest on a loan or rate.) His attorney must have been Mr. Magoo.
He wrote hundreds of letters while he was away. All of which I have. His three sisters laminated every single one of them. (What can I tell you? They’re Polish, and everything needs to laminated.) I wanted to share one of those letters with you, because it has inspired me to be stronger, as I enter into the New Year:
“To Loretta, Patsy and Letty…Quit Crying!
It’s not bad here, in fact, it’s like being in the army. The camp is located on beautiful grounds. High on the mountain. We're on forty-two hundred acres of land. The buildings are good and the food and facility are excellent.
Everyone here, being in the same situation, goes out of their way to be nice. I haven’t met a bad guy yet. There are doctors, lawyers, millionaires – even a senator who's been sentenced to do time.
The weather is very cold. This morning it was fifteen below. We walk about a quarter of a mile to the mess hall and we made it in record time. Every morning, about fifty deer come about hundred yards from our cabin. But once you’ve seen that – you’ve seen it all.
Kidding aside, there is a lot to occupy yourself. There is a gym, weight room, pool, ping pong and game room. Tomorrow is Sunday and believe it or not, me and two other guys – who haven’t been to church for a total of ninety years – are going.
This week was taken up with physical and dental work and getting issued with warm clothing and all the other things you need to be comfortable. It’s really nice, but I don’t think Jenny would like it. Maybe Maggie would.
I’m getting ready for our Saturday lunch. There is a choice of beef Alcatraz or chop suey a la sing-sing. Say hello to the family. I will be writing once a week. As soon as I start my job, I’ll let you know what it’s all about.
Missing and loving you all,
I love that letter for many reasons. I’m sure my father was wracked with guilt and shame and hated being there ... obviously: its prison. Instead of writing about all the negative aspects, he took the high road. Knowing that his sisters were devastated and worried about him, he chose to calm them down – instead of creating more drama and playing the victim. He chose to face his situation with positivity.
So, as I move through this year: I will try to do the same. Not the threaten to kill people part, but the "try to make lemonade out of lemons" part.