Last December, after a four-hour van ride of unrelenting discomfort – his hands cuffed, his feet in manacles, his waist cinched by an iron chain – Dr. Niels Lauersen was led, his wrists still bound, to the Special Housing Unit of Allenwood prison. The Bureau of Prisons refers to this place by its acronym, the SHU, pronounced “shoe.” The inmates, however, refer to it by a slightly more evocative term. They call it the hole.
Later, Lauersen would hear many stories, some apocryphal, about offenses that landed men in the hole – like screaming at your unruly kids on visiting day, for example, or mentioning to your wife over the phone that you’d just eaten a nice piece of cheesecake. (Cheesecake is not available at Allenwood, and therefore contraband.) But at this point, the Danish-born obstetrician knew none of them. All he knew was that a mere eighteen months earlier, he’d been practicing medicine in a lush Park Avenue office where pictures of him with celebrities and both Clintons lined the walls. In the evenings, he returned to the Fifth Avenue duplex of his then-girlfriend, Denise Rich.
Now, convicted of filing fraudulent insurance claims for fertility treatments, he was standing in a shrunken cell containing nothing but a bunk bed, a toilet, and a sink. He slipped his hands through the meal chute in the cell door. The guard undid his handcuffs.
“The hole is the worst,” Lauersen says four months later, in an alcove off the Allenwood visiting room. His pale features, accentuated by blond eyelashes, give him a look of incongruous delicacy in this setting, and his hair, once an asterisk of cider-red curls, has turned gray. Like all prisoners in low-security federal facilities, he’s wearing a khaki uniform with his ID number ironed onto his breast pocket. “You’re kept in there 24 hours a day,” he continues. “And there’s a window looking into the cell, so the guards can see you going to the bathroom. That was the worst – the bathroom inside the cell. You share that cell with another man.”
Prison officials explained to Lauersen that he’d been sent to the hole because the dormitories were teeming beyond capacity. He had to remain there for two weeks, waiting for one of the 1,000 beds in the regular facility – tucked in the Susquehanna Valley of central Pennsylvania – to open up. I ask how he managed. He gives a faint shrug. “I have always been a positive person,” says Lauersen, 65. “I used to deliver babies for a living. I made my patients feel positive. I made them feel hope.”
He shifts slightly in his plastic chair. Lauersen still has 70 months of his seven-year sentence to go. “But I would have liked long sleeves,” he says. “It was winter when I was in the hole. It was very, very cold.”
Jeff Skilling, Andrew Fastow, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, Scott Sullivan. Enron, Tyco, Global Crossing, WorldCom, Merck. This summer, we’ve been bombarded with stories of spectacular corporate malfeasance, once again raising the possibility (indeed, the hope, on the part of bitter stockholders and employees) that the executives who used creative accounting to enrich themselves during the boom-boom nineties might soon be trading their cuff links for handcuffs.
As it happens, the business pages of the New York Times already read like a crime blotter. In the past month alone, Sam Waksal, CEO of ImClone, was arrested for insider trading; Fred Schultz, éminence grise of the art market, was sentenced to 33 months for conspiracy to sell stolen antiquities; and Alan Bond, former president of Albriond Capital Management, was found guilty of investment-advisory fraud. In May, Martin Frankel, wayward banker and unlikely overlord of his own sex colony, pleaded guilty to money laundering. This week, former Sotheby’s chairman Alfred Taubman is scheduled to appeal his recent conviction (price-fixing, sentence: one year). And in three weeks, Steve Madden, the knockoff-shoe king, will be heading off to Eglin, a prison camp in the Florida panhandle (money laundering, sentence: three years).
Ever since Mike Milken was shipped off to Pleasanton – a facility whose very name is more reminiscent of a spa than of a prison – the conventional wisdom has been that white-collar criminals don’t suffer very much when they go to jail. Most prominent offenders wind up in prison “camps,” the least restrictive institutions within the federal prison system, where there are no barbed-wire fences. Hence the myths: The men live in bungalows! Bring their own golf clubs! And laze on the lawns, reading Stendhal!
But the amenities of federal prison camp have always been exaggerated. And today, not even a particle of folklore about the camp experience remains true. “I have a client who double-dipped,” says David Novak, a white-collar-prison consultant. “He went to Eglin twice – once in 1988, and once in 2001. He was shocked, and I mean shocked, when he went back.”
Fourteen years ago, furlough privileges at Eglin were somewhat liberal; now they’ve vanished. Family visits could be flexible, even off-site; now they’re strictly monitored. Men could occasionally wear their own clothes; now they can’t. Nor can they move as freely, or spend more than 300 minutes per month on the telephone.
But perhaps the most dramatic changes in federal prison camps have been in their demographics. True, camps have never been strictly white-collar havens; they have always been used as decompression chambers for more serious criminals who are about to be released. But ever since the United States federalized its narcotics laws, the national prison system has been overwhelmed with drug offenders. The result has been a radical transformation in the sociology of the inmate population – especially in camps.
In 1988, for example, Eglin was 62 percent white. Today, it is 33 percent white. Its Hispanic population, meanwhile, has jumped from 24 to 37 percent, and its black population has more than doubled, from 14 to 29 percent.
Camp, these days, is also increasingly rare for white-shoed inmates. Because the federal sentencing guidelines enacted in 1987 called for dramatically longer sentences, and because the length of an inmate’s sentence is a key factor in prison placement, almost half of today’s white-collar criminals aren’t in camps at all. Like Lauersen, 28 percent serve in low-security facilities (or “lows”); 13 percent serve in mediums; and one percent serve in maximum-security institutions. (And if President Bush is serious about stiffening the penalties for white-collar criminals, as he said last week, these percentages will only climb in years to come.)
“You may have an individual who’s a Caspar Milquetoast,” says Jeffrey Hoffman, a Manhattan defense attorney. “He’s an accountant, he’d never hurt a flea. Doesn’t mean he’s going to camp. If he embezzled millions of dollars, the new guidelines probably require that he gets a very long sentence, which means he’s a greater flight risk. So he’ll probably go to a low. Maybe even a medium.”
Not that prison camps have ever been easy places to do time. “Inmates are not eating Häagen-Dazs and playing Frisbee,” says Novak, who charges $125 an hour. “The notion of ‘Club Fed’ is a huge myth.”
When Freddy, the former CEO of a sizable Manhattan company, self-surrendered to Fairton camp in southern New Jersey last January, it was on a snowy, twenty-degree day. His wife and two daughters dropped him off outside the administrative building at about 3 p.m. and watched him press the buzzer. A voice blared over the intercom, instructing him to wait by the door. So he did – for an hour, shivering in the cold – while his family sat in the car, staring, wondering what to do.
When the guards finally let him inside, they whisked him into a small cement cell and ordered him to take off his clothes and leave them outside the door. Then they locked him in. They didn’t return for another three hours.
At seven o’clock that evening, a corrections officer led Freddy – that was his prison nickname, Freddy – to his home for the next eight months. It was a long, dusty room, formerly a warehouse for the medium-security prison up the road, crosshatched with 50 bunk beds. Though 59 years old, he was ordered into a top bunk. He was also told he couldn’t expect any personal effects from the commissary for a full week. “I was supposed to go around in the same clothes, the same underwear, without toiletries, for seven days,” he says. “Like a disgusting animal.”
Convicted a few months earlier for securities fraud, Freddy now lay in his bed, praying no one would see that he was about to cry. Most of the men around him were lying listlessly on their beds. A few had headphones on, listening to their prison-issued radios. One man was reading the same letter over and over again.
Then, the unexpected: An inmate silently approached the foot of Freddy’s bed and left him a toothbrush. Another came by, bearing a comb. Then a third, with sweats, and a fourth, with toothpaste. The last brought shower shoes. “You can’t walk around in there otherwise,” said the guy. “There’s too much urine on the floor.” That night, Freddy also learned that the dorm had just five toilets for 100 men.
Freddy would see more of these men than he ever could have imagined. Besides a small, unheated shed that serves as a gym, and a tiny trailer that serves as a combined chapel and barbershop, Fairton consists of just two adjoining rooms: the dorm and the dining hall.
A few days later, Freddy’s wife received a small box in the mail. It contained Freddy’s civilian clothes: his sneakers, sweat suit, and underwear.
When Charles surrendered four years ago, he had, remarkably, even less luck than Freddy. Convicted of defrauding the government, he was supposed to serve his sixteen-month sentence at Allenwood camp. But when he arrived, he was told, without explanation, that he’d been reassigned to Allenwood’s low-security facility up the road. Only two weeks after his arrival, one of the guards found a hypodermic needle and steroids under the mattress of one of his two roommates. The three men were immediately strip-searched and inspected for needle marks. Then they were thrown in separate holes.
The lights were off when Charles arrived. Men in the neighboring cells were howling and pounding their fists against the walls, which they would continue to do all night. Thinking it was a light switch, Charles hit a small plastic button next to a mirror.
“Don’t touch that!”
Charles whipped around.
“That’s the panic button, you son of a bitch!”
Tyrone had been sitting in the hole for four months, because he refused to work. When Charles first saw him, he had all the thoughts that a soft, pasty white guy would be expected to have when confronted with a hulking black cellmate: “This is a cliché.” It didn’t take long, though, before he discovered that clichés were useless in prison life. “Tyrone,” says Charles, “was one of the most interesting people at Allenwood.”
To pass the time and calm his nerves, Charles asked lots of questions. Too many. Three days later, when the warden came by, Tyrone gave her a very different response when she asked if he was ready to work. “Yeah, I’m ready,” he barked. “This fuckin’ white guy won’t stop talking.”
A day later, Charles was released, too. He knew the warden was keeping him in the hole to see if he’d snitch about the mysterious provenance of the needles. But he also knew the consequences of talking. “If you refuse to talk,” he says, “you’ve made it through the gauntlet.”
The first rule of inmate etiquette is never to rat. But there are many others. Never join a conversation without an invitation. Never ask personal questions without proper cues. And never take liberties with the television or the telephone. “The inmates set the rules,” says Charles. “The level of respect for each other is so high, because you don’t want trouble. These guys made weapons out of rolled-up newspapers and socks stuffed with soap.”
Adaptive inmates learn to lead disciplined, detached lives, creating routines for themselves to ease the tension and cut the boredom. “Men wake up at exactly the same time, go to the bathroom at the same time, walk the track at the same time,” says Charles. “They become fanatics about neatness. They have an extraordinary sense of order. The absolute worst day is Sunday, when there are fewer prison-imposed rules. No one wants freedom.”
No one wants freedom in prison?
“As guys dropped down in the system,” he explains, “from highs to mediums to lows to camps, they hated it. Hated it. There was less and less order every time.”
Here’s the good news: follow the unofficial rules of prison life, and you don’t get hurt. Camps and low-security facilities are not Oz. They are filled mostly with nonviolent and first-time offenders, and even the men among them who’ve committed more serious crimes tend to be on good behavior, because they’re approaching the end of their sentences.
Harassment from corrections officers, on the other hand, is a chronic, insidious problem. Inmates repeatedly tell stories about their mail being opened and gratuitously returned, about their visitors being needlessly delayed, about flashlights being shined in their faces at four in the morning, usually by guards who claim to be doing spot checks.
“My experience with white-collar criminals is that the guards treat them much more harshly,” says Herb Hoelter, the director and co-founder of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, a 25-year-old program that tries to improve the lot of inmates, from camps to death row. “It’s a power issue. They now have control over someone who once made $15 million a year.”
Once, says Hoelter, he had a high-profile client who spent his days tutoring other inmates for the GED. Everything was going tolerably until the day a senior official from the Bureau of Prisons came to visit. Then, that morning, someone decided it was time to pull the inmate out of the classroom, hand him a toothbrush, and make him scrub the hallways. “A lot of the guards,” he explains, “really take delight in bringing big people down to size.”
A drab winter day. Lauersen is standing outside the dining room, waiting to eat. The guard has decided to randomly search the inmates again. Lauersen, thinking he is being helpful, reaches inside his breast pocket to show that his only potential weapon is a pair of spectacles. He is not being helpful. The officer starts to scream.
“After every visit, you’re strip-searched,” Lauersen now says, in the visitor’s alcove. “It’s traumatizing, totally humiliating. You have to show your hands, the soles of your feet. You have to lift up your organs.”
He hesitates. Bill Smith, the executive assistant to the warden, is outside the door.
“Every moment of the day,” Lauersen eventually says, “you have to worry about doing something wrong. God forbid you don’t get in through the door before a certain time, you know? Or when they count you, if you don’t stand up. You have to be so worried about that all the time.”
He casts another look at the door.
A few minutes later, Smith does in fact wander in, to inform us of how much longer we have to talk. The doctor flinches, as if he’d been smacked. “I’m sorry, Mr. Smith,” he calls out as Smith resumes his perch. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry this is taking so long.”
This is a VAC collect call. the cost of this call is two dollars and 85 cents for the first minute and 40 cents for each additional minute. This call is from:
Hang up to decline the call. Or, to accept the call, dial 5 now. To block future collect calls from this person, dial 77.
Whenever Irvin Davidson calls anyone from the low in Fort Dix, New Jersey, this is how he identifies himself. He also signs his correspondence imwi – Innocent Man Wrongly Imprisoned – in small, tense capital letters, and he has a baseball cap that says imwi, too, which he sometimes wears over his yarmulke.
Davidson is a bearded, 54-year-old, boisterously articulate Englishman. He went to the London School of Economics, where he was president of the law society, and started his own international commodities-trading company in his early twenties. In 1985, he settled in the United States. In 1999, he was convicted of fraud and money laundering. The judge gave him nine years, the maximum sentence. He has five children and a wife in the Orthodox community of Monsey, New York.
Before our face-to-face conversation, Davidson wrote me a couple of entertaining letters. So one of the first things I asked when we finally met was whether he’s writing a memoir.
“No. No one cares.”
I tell him I’m not so sure.
“Fine. Somebody cares. When we find that person, we’ll give him a Mars bar and a trip on the Staten Island Ferry.”
Fort Dix is a squat, sprawling Hades of red brick and asphalt. The first year of his incarceration, Davidson wouldn’t allow his two youngest kids, ages 5 and 7, to visit, because neither he nor his wife thought they’d be able to handle seeing the razor wire and surrendering their tiny knapsacks. (No gifts, even food, are allowed in.)
Davidson’s fellow inmates call him “English.” (There’s also a Carolina, a Texas, and a China.) Every day, he rises at 6 and studies Talmud and Jewish ethical works until 10:30, usually in the prison chapel. Then he has lunch if it’s kosher enough to meet his standards, which it usually isn’t. From 12:30 to 3:30, he does his official prison job, tutoring other inmates for the GED. Then he goes back to his unit for “the count” – a tedious procedure in which each inmate is accounted for – opens his mail, and eats dinner. Then he struggles to fill the time until he goes to bed at 1 a.m. “There are half a dozen television rooms,” he explains. “But what you find is a movie on one, and MTV, BET, and basketball on the others. If you want to watch the news, you’re a minority of one.”
Some nights, he goes to the gym. Others, he listens to the radio, which occasionally picks up the BBC. These days, he also works on his appeal, emboldened by recent government disclosures he believes are the exculpatory silver bullets he needs.
“There are men here who say that they can do four years standing on their heads,” he says. “I can’t do four minutes. So I certainly can’t make nine years. It’s stifling.”
He pauses, struggling to elaborate. “The ability to be creative, to use my mind – I have no outlet for that,” he says. “I have nobody to talk to about anything. I would die in a place like this. I’m not going to jump off a roof or cut my wrists. But the batteries would just go zzzzzzzz … ” He slumps sideways in his chair.
The bright spots in Davidson’s life are the visits from his children, but he sees them just once every two months, because the trip entails a four-hour round-trip and missing a day of school. Though he can speak to his kids on the phone, 300 minutes per month means just ten minutes a day, or two minutes for each child.
Last year, Davidson missed his first son’s bar mitzvah. It filled him with unspeakable sadness. “There were moments of real black dog – Churchill, you know.”
So how does he pull himself up?
“I don’t know if I do.”
I ask if prison would be easier if he believed he’d been guilty as charged.
“Yes,” he says. “It’s exhausting to be fighting all the time. But that’s the way I am. And when they bury me, they’ll write on my tombstone: IMWI.”
Before DeDe Brooks was sentenced to six months of house arrest for her role in price-fixing at Sotheby’s, she was reportedly comparison-shopping for jails. Novak says it’s a pointless pursuit. “That’s one of those myths – that Allenwood is better than Schuylkill, and Schuylkill is better than Morgantown,” he says. “I can put you in touch with inmates at each who’ll say that theirs is the worst.”
That said, there are differences between institutions that even the most casual outsider could observe. The ones in more bucolic settings (Allenwood) or warmer climates (Eglin, Lompoc) tend to be more soothing for inmates and less traumatic for families. In the past decade, Otisville camp, just 80 miles north of Manhattan, has developed a reputation for ably serving the needs of observant Jews, providing a full-time Orthodox rabbi, a kitchen with separate sets of dishes, and an assortment of kosher vending machines.
With the exception of a few specialized facilities, Novak says, the quality of the health care in the federal prison system leaves much to be desired. For the past few months, Lauersen has been walking around with a broken dental bridge, because the Allenwood low offers only basic dentistry. At Fairton, Freddy broke his wrist playing basketball. If one of the inmates, a physician himself, hadn’t set it, he doesn’t know what his wrist would look like now – he had to wait 48 hours to see a doctor. (The inmate, he adds, was thrown in the hole for treating him.) “And the worst thing,” says Freddy, “is that after my wrist was finally set, they still wouldn’t give me a bottom bunk, those fucks.”
Novak also says his clients spend a great deal of energy trying to avoid low- and medium-security facilities, convinced life in camps would be more pleasant. They’re almost always wrong. “Without exception, my clients report that lows and mediums are better,” he says, “and for two reasons: the pettiness of the staff, and privacy.”
Charles spent time in the Allenwood low and the Allenwood camp. “There was way less nonsense at the low,” he says. “The camp was like nursery school. The guards gave you a shot” – lingo for an incident report – “if your shirt wasn’t tucked in.”
And the living conditions at the camp were much worse. “I was in a 40-man dorm, as if in a kids’ camp,” he says. “The noise – God, it was relentless. The older guys would be trying to read, while the younger ones would be rapping, arguing, listening to music. You thought your head was going to explode.”
Still, the psychological distance between camps and lows can be measured in light-years. Camps don’t menace through architecture; most aren’t even surrounded by as much as a picket fence. Low-security facilities, on the other hand, are surrounded by a double perimeter crowned with Slinkies of razor wire. To get to the visiting complex, families must pass through a series of heavy steel doors, which seal, every time, with a vengeful slam.
Charles remembers a spring day when his 9-year-old son came to visit at Allenwood camp. The child wandered away from his mother and uncle and pointed to an indeterminate point in the hills.
“Dad? What’s that over there?”
Charles ambled over. “Over where?”
His son lowered his voice. “Nothing. I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Yes … ?”
“Um, I was wondering if you ever cried while you were here.”
The answer, until that very moment, had been no. Charles turned away, composed himself.
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Because I see there are no fences here. I figure I could sneak in and spend some time with you if you wanted.”
When Lauersen first arrived at Allenwood, he asked if his medical skills could be put to use. He was told, emphatically, that they could not. Today, he helps make scarves and hats for the inmates. He earns 10 cents an hour.
But the inmates still call him Doc, and they’re continually soliciting his expertise. Not that long ago, a guy named Tony shyly pulled Lauersen aside and asked for advice on the best times of the month to impregnate his wife. “He was very happy,” says Lauersen. “He was leaving, and he said the first day home was a fertile day.”
In the evenings, Lauersen keeps his schedule flexible. On Wednesday nights, he joins a group of men who watch old movie musicals like West Side Story and Bye Bye Birdie. On the other nights, he writes (letters, notes for a memoir), works out (on the stationary bicycle), reads periodicals (he’s sent Newsweek, Time, The New Yorker, and New York), responds to letters (he gets lots of letters, particularly from former patients), or peruses JAMA and various gynecological journals – which can make him a minor hit around the dorm, seeing that outright porn is prohibited. (Stuff and Maxim, however, are immensely popular.)
“The men look at any journal with women,” he says. “Anything. Anything. They’re so starved. They think of gynecologists as the luckiest men in the world. They think all they do is look at women.
“Besides medicine, what I miss most is being with a woman,” he adds. “When you are surrounded by men, and only men, there is nothing you want more than the company of a woman.”
I ask whether a person can have a good day in prison.
“A good day?”
What about a better day?
He thinks about it. “If the weather’s good,” he finally answers. “And there’s no harassment. Then yes. That’s a better day.”
“I had a lot of good days in prison!”
This is Charles speaking. Of course, he served only sixteen months, so it might have been easier to feel this way.
“I read three or four books a week!” he exclaims. He also took Italian lessons from a famous mobster and a course in Roman history co-taught by an investment banker and an accountant. “And there were lots of interesting people there,” he continues. “People who had grown up in different households, different worlds. There was a group of Russians who were very amusing to be around, first-generation guys who were part of gangs. I never would have met people like that. I learned as much there as I did at the Ivy League college I attended – or the Ivy League grad school.”
When Charles entered prison, he was also a 200-pound absentee husband and father. When he was sprung, he had dropped 35 pounds and gained untold vats of perspective. He stopped working in Manhattan. Instead, he set up a small business he could run, partly, from his suburban home.
“Really,” he says, “the question is, what would my life have been like if this hadn’t happened? I’ll tell you: I’d have been a 260-pound professional who never saw my wife and kid. Would I pick that today?”
Of course, Charles also admits he broke the law. That generally informs an inmate’s perspective. “Before they leave for prison, I try to get my clients to overcome their victim mentality,” says Novak. “I try to get them to recognize that though it might have been a stupid law, they still broke it.”
Hoelter, the prisoners’ advocate, still thinks there might be better solutions. In his opinion, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has become one of the most inflexible systems in the country. “There are state systems that are much more creative – with home detention, expanded use of halfway houses, work release,” he says. “Years ago, before the guidelines, before this whole get-tough-on-crime attitude came around, there were tons of community sentences. Now the whole system is just rife with boredom and inanity.”
Hoelter recognizes it isn’t especially fashionable to sympathize with white-collar criminals right now. “But with all the talent these guys have to offer,” he says, “why are we sending them to federal prison camp, where they do laundry and lawn maintenance? For which, by the way, we taxpayers fork over at least $22,000 per inmate per year?”
Before his incarceration, Freddy had given almost no thought to the young black and Hispanic men who had vanished into the federal prison system. After his incarceration, he thought about them plenty. He couldn’t believe how indifferent the Bureau of Prisons seemed to their diminished prospects – Fairton offered only minimal vocational training and no college courses at all. Just classes in English as a second language and the GED.
“My first week,” Freddy says, “some inmates came up to me and told me they were happy I was there. They were so happy to have someone they could learn from. The system does nothing for these guys. It doesn’t prepare them for the outside at all.”
Every day at Fairton was a grueling, insuperable struggle against boredom; the last hot meal was served around 4 p.m. After a few weeks, Freddy couldn’t stand it. He sat down with one of the prison’s rickety manual typewriters, wrote a letter to the warden, and asked for permission to teach a business course.
The day of his first class, twenty men showed up. “One of the biggest things that they wanted to know about is how can they get a job,” he says. “These guys haven’t worked in ten or fifteen years, some of them. So now they’re asking questions, like how do they support their families, how do they do a job interview.
“If Taubman goes to jail,” he suddenly adds, “and he uses his time right, he can become a mentor to them. They’d never get to meet a Taubman on the outside. And the inmates have respect for older people. They’ll become his protector.”
Twice a week, Freddy sat with his students in the religious center, helping them draft résumés and conducting mock interviews. His more entrepreneurial disciples would sometimes follow him to the track in the afternoons and start to jog alongside him, testing out their business ideas. Two of them soon become his closest friends. Both were in for drug possession, and both were in for a long time – five years in the case of the younger, unmarried twentysomething, and twelve in the case of the thirtysomething with kids. At some point, it occurred to Freddy that although he’d served in the military, and although he’d grown up in working-class New York, these were the very first black friends he’d ever had.
“It’s weird how you tend to cluster in your own kind,” he says. We’re sitting in a restaurant in Grand Central when he talks about this. He stares out at the streaming seascape of dark-blue suits. “Your own kind isn’t necessarily the best kind. Your own kind turns on you. I can certainly speak to that.” He stares at his food. “I’ll tell you another thing,” he continues. “I wish I had a company now. Because if I had a company now, I would hire every guy that gets out. I’d probably have the most loyal, dedicated employees … “
For a while after his release, Freddy flirted with the idea of starting an employment agency that would place former prisoners. He didn’t. Nor has he done anything about improving the lot of prisoners who are still doing time. “Until the day you leave, you say you’ll change the system,” he says. “You repeat it to yourself: I will change the system. I will. I will. But the second you get out, you want to distance yourself from this experience. Fast. Quickly. That’s the sad part.”
He grabs my arm suddenly and gives me an anguished stare. “To tell you the truth, I’d rather not be talking to you,” he blurts out. “I’d rather put this behind me, you know?” He fiddles with his fork. “I’m doing it for the guys inside. Because so many of them said, ‘Oh, you’ll be like all the rest. You’ll leave and forget me.’ “
He shakes his head. “I want them to know,” he says, “that I didn’t forget. I did not. I think about them still.”