How in Heaven’s name did I ever get to be incarcerated? Oh, My! Looking back at my ever so ordinary life, I was born into a hard working middle class family in India to professional, disciplinarian parents. They always emphasized excellence, and did not tolerate mediocrity. Their focus was on higher education. Moving to Canada as a teenager in 1969 was both a culture shock as well as a morale and confidence booster as I sailed through the Canadian education in India. Achieving my life log dream of moving permanently to the USA where excellence, hard work, and entrepreneurship was encouraged was finally achieved in 1985. That year I was transferred to the States by the George S. May International Management Company in Park Ridge, Illinois.
I transitioned easily from being a student to becoming a Senior High School Teach of English and Drama to switching fields and becoming a Sales Professional/Business Analyst. Later on I became a corporate Sales trainer and Motivational speaker earning a consistent 6 figures, but with al the ups and downs of being a risk-taking independent contractor who had no job security, benefits, or salary to fall back on. Needless to say, after 30 years of an incredibly good work ethic I was proud of having finally achieved the well touted American Dream! Here I was living in a beautiful waterfront home in the Sunshine State of Florida, happily married for 10 years, reaping the rewards of hard work, persistence, good ethics, a stellar reputation, and a drive to succeed.
Then in 2009 my whole world came tumbling down with 1st a Civil case, and then a Criminal indictment for financial wrong-doing. Really? My husband, John, and I had successfully progressed from Being top income earners in a financial seminar enterprise to owning our own financial seminar business. We were match makers/middlemen for high net worth clients with International banks and Investment programs. Hours of exhaustive paperwork, travel, negotiations and run arounds given to us by traders and brokers, whom we believed in, landed us in legal trouble with the Government of the United States. The shock and trauma we felt was only shadowed by our complete naivete and ignorance about how the criminal justice system worked in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Over the last 10 years I have first been incarcerated in Sri Lanka for 4 months courtesy of the FBI, and been subjected to the very worst and most deplorable conditions in a 3rd world prison. I have known the exhilaration of winning our extradition/deportation case in Sri Lanka, only to be illegally escorted back to the USA by members of the F.B.I. We were on an overseas business trip but were painted as
“fugitives” who deliberately failed to appear in court. The media was fed all kinds of misinformation by the Feds, and they happily “tried” our case prior to any Judge or Jury hearing the facts.
How were we to know that we should have agreed to a “speedy trial” when we had zero exposure to the criminal justice system? How would be ever guess that this very justice system pays lip service to the phrase “innocent until proven guilty”? We were condemned and treated as guilty from the very start. How would we know that our families would suffer tremendous emotional and financial hardship and 4 different sets of lawyers would extricate them of every penny as they chose to believe in our innocence and provide us with unconditional love and support? How would we ever understand or predict that the majority of our so called friends (and even some family members) would abandon and condemn us like rats on a sinking ship? Oh, how fickle the world is! How would we know that suddenly everyone would come down with a serious case of amnesia, forgetting all the kindness, generosity and good reputation we had earned over a lifetime of hard work.
We learned what a RULE 35 is. That is when the 1st person on an indictment (who is usually THE Guilty party) decides to co-operate with the government, i.e., squeals and snitches on as many people they have ever known in order to cut a deal for less time for every “conviction” they are able to procure For the Prosecution. The prosecutors couldn’t care less whether the accused party is guilty or not, just as long as the Government collects as many “conviction” notches on their belts! The biggest shock was to know that most defense attorneys do not encourage even the innocent to fight their cases by going to trial. They simply throw their hands in the air and concede that since the Feds have a high conviction rate, what’s the point in fighting? One might as well sign a “plea deal” and limit one’s exposure to the possibility of a long sentence. The fact that the defendant is completely innocent, yet consents to lying and pleading guilty, just so they can eliminate the risk and threat of a long sentence has no relevance whatsoever.
Then to see people falling like dominoes succumbing and pleading guilty involuntarily while the Feds Rejoice and celebrate with every effortless conviction, was earth shattering! To be told repeatedly over the appeals process that my Judge “hates me” and is “Pro Government” shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does. I was under the mistaken impression that Judges were supposed to uphold the law, be objective and not make cases a “personal” issue, which is why they have a lifetime appointment. Foolish me. Up until my personal, horrific experience of being handed down a Draconian sentence of 35 years and 9 months (essentially a life sentence) at the age of 57 for a first time, non violent, white Collar allegation I have been a supporter of everything I believed our Justice system did. Surely these Things only happen in 3rd world countries where corruption is a given but never in a Democratic Western Country where transparency and accountability are the norm. Or could it?
The lip service I have personally experienced to Criminal Justice Reform for while collar cases is blatantly absent. How sad to see hundreds of drug cases released from prison to clemencies, pardons and point reductions in sentences, but sweet NOTHING for while collar defendants. Nothing. The silence is deafening. Am I bitter and disillusioned? Yes! But I am also grateful for the many things.
I am grateful that I never feared for my safety. I am grateful that I have become stronger each year that I have been incarcerated. I am grateful that despite 3 very serious medical conditions I developed in prison: Lichen Planus, a tumor in my lung, and chronic high blood pressure, that I am still determined to stay strong and healthy. Incidentally, I never took a single medication prior to being incarcerated. Now I am a walking pharmacy!
I am grateful that despite all the negativity I remain HOPEFUL, OPTIMISTIC and POSITIVE that I will be vindicated, exonerated, and set free, because I AM, and always have been, INNOCENT of everything I was falsely accused of. I am grateful that our current Administration and Law makers are finally doing some introspection into the barbaric incarceration rates and sentences in this Justice system and are passing legislation to make changes as best they can. I am grateful to the many wonderful people, from every walk of life, whom I have had the privilege of meeting over these past 10 years. These people have shown resilience, courage and humor despite being separated from their children and families, especially when they too were innocent but were bullied into pleading guilty, or else. I am grateful that my faith has been the foundation that has kept me grounded and at peace, despite the dismal circumstances and surroundings.
As I look forward to an awesome future with my wonderful, loving husband and family, I can only hope that as I re-enter society that the stigma of being indicted, convicted, and incarcerated for a felony Won’t follow me like a cloud or that I walk around with a bull’s eye forever being punished in spite of Serving 10 years in Federal prison. I look forward to being an advocate for genuine and tangible JUSTICE REFORM in the USA. I now understand how essential it is to volunteer as a visitor not only to the sick and elderly but also to the incarcerated.
I ask to not to play Judge or Jury … because only God can/should do that! I challenge everyone to look In the mirror before condemning anyone who has had the misfortune of being incarcerated because the sad reality is that they themselves, or someone they love, could very well one day end up in prison too! Ask me. Who would have ever thought that someone like me, who has never even had a parking ticket in my life, would end up being incarcerated for 10 years?!
(Marian Morgan is currently a Federal Inmate at Coleman Camp in Florida, and is awaiting the results of her Oral Argument with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.)