September 28, 2020

Preoccupations: After Jail, Repairing a Career and a Life

In 2007, I was the controller for a Nevada construction company and either chief financial officer or controller for some of the companies they contracted with for construction projects. Also that year, my second marriage ended in divorce and I became depressed. I tried to alleviate the pain by gambling at casinos. The more I played, the more I lost, and before I knew it I was in trouble financially.

I started stealing from the company to pay my bills and so I could continue to gamble. It was wrong and it was stupid. My son from my second marriage, now 10, lives with me, and I also put our situation in jeopardy.

I can’t believe I did that. I got to the point where I was so miserable that I wanted to get caught. In 2008, my boss came into my office and questioned a credit card charge I had made. I decided to come clean and told him it was bogus and one of many similar transactions.

I was escorted to the door. Not long after that, I was arrested and charged with theft and forgery. I pleaded guilty. Months later, I appeared before a judge who sentenced me to eight years. But my lawyer and the company’s lawyer worked out a deal so that instead, I would spend 26 weekends in jail, serve five years’ probation and make restitution. A cousin is helping me to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I served the jail sentence from June 2008 to January 2009, with a couple of weekends off for holidays and my son’s birthday. I’d go in on Friday evenings and leave Sunday evenings. My son spent the weekends with my neighbors or my ex-wife. I was honest with him: I said that Dad made some mistakes but I was paying for them.

Serving time on weekends may not sound bad, but I wasn’t prepared for what I encountered. The detention center was terribly overcrowded. Each weekend I was placed in one room with men who had committed crimes ranging from domestic violence to armed robbery to drug possession. The authorities made no exceptions for white-collar criminals.

I saw people kick other inmates and threaten them if they snored. There were worse things, too, that I’d rather not talk about. My blood pressure went up every weekend, and a nurse had to check it to make sure I was O.K.

I attended a clinic for my gambling addiction, and it may have saved my life. An addiction specialist explained substance abuse to me and said that I had been numbing myself. He said that if I lived in Florida, I would probably have used cocaine, and if I were in Milwaukee it would have been beer. I live in Las Vegas, so I turned to gambling.

I have no desire to gamble anymore, but I still attend self-help meetings. I also learned what to do so that I don’t get so depressed again. I know what kind of thinking caused it in the first place, and I don’t let myself go there. I also attend church on Sundays, and I stay active.

Today I work for a tax preparation firm at about one-fifth of what I used to make. The owner knows about my crime; it’s a condition of my probation that I apprise all possible employers about what I did. My boss gave me a chance, and I appreciate that. My salary is a hard pill to swallow, but I have no one to blame but myself. It’s a consequence of abusing the trust of the company you work for. And I know many felons cannot get a job.

There are always temptations in the workplace, even if you’re not in the type of financial position I was. But there’s right and there’s wrong, and once you start trying to justify your crime to yourself, whether you have padded your expense account or done something else, it becomes easier. Sick thinking takes over.

I KNOW how lucky I am. I’m thankful for a few good friends who have stood by me and for my cousin who’s helping me pay back the money. If I break the law, my probation is rescinded and I must serve the original sentence. But I’m on the right road now. I’m teaching guitar to neighborhood kids, and I’m involved with my son’s Boy Scout troop.

I take things one day at a time. I want to show my son, the light of my life, that you do the right thing. The only way I can do that is by working hard and with integrity. I’m sorry for what I did and I want my self-respect back.

I remember one employee who, after my crime was revealed, told me I was the only boss he ever respected. I think about that a lot.  

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.
E-mail:preoccupations@nytimes.com.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7b78ebf1a33dc82b1401e9282fe4d176

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