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SUICIDE

I have just finished watching season 2 of 13 Reasons Why. For those who are not familiar with this program on Netflix, it deals with a troubled high school student who takes her life. She dealt with various challenges such as bullying in school to the point that she saw no way out and ultimately committed suicide. The show got me thinking about adult suicide and the pressures we as adults face every day.

While adults generally do not have to face issues such as bullying, we are faced with our own sorts of challenges every single day. The pressures can range from financial, to personal to health to just an overall feeling of depression. Adults sadly can feel they have nowhere to turn and often view suicide as a plausible way out. Earlier this week, fashion icon Kate Spade took her own life leaving behind a 13 year old daughter. Just today, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was found dead in an apparent suicide. What could have possibly been so bad in either of their lives that all of their friends and all of their wealth could not have solved? What drove them to it?


To put this in context, imagine the following scenario. A person has one dream and that dream is to simply have an orange grove. It is not a lofty dream but it his dream nonetheless. Over time he purchases land and plants orange trees. He then adds more land and plant more trees. Finally, after 20 years of hard work and of putting every spare time into his life's long dream he has thousands of acres of orange trees. His life's work is finally complete. Then, just as everything is completed, a small fire breaks out on one end of the grove. Slowly, it spreads and within 30 minutes, the entire grove is engulfed in flames. He watches helplessly as tree by tree, his beloved orange grove burns to the ground. Finally, when the fire is put out, he looks out at his land and the charred remains of his life's work. Just like that, everything he worked for is gone. His life has seemingly been for nothing.

A white collar defendant faces many of the same challenges. I am going to work off the assumption that most if not all white collar defendants have worked to establish themselves in their chosen field. I know I did. We spend time building a reputation as successful members of our chosen fields. We work hard to build ourselves up so that we have successful businesses. This does not happen overnight. This takes years and years of hard work and, if we are lucky, the hard work pays off in the form of personal and financial success. As a result of our successes, our personal reputations are enhanced and we take on leadership positions in our communities and social circles. This is the American dream at its best.

Then one day everything changes. One day, we wake up and it is all gone. Business? Gone. Reputation? Gone. Leadership positions? Gone. Instead of waking up every morning and focusing on a career, every day is filled with conference calls with lawyers to handle a criminal investigation and indictment. Not only has an income been severely negatively impacted, legal fees are quickly adding up and even surpass months and years' worth of incomes. The pressure keeps getting greater and greater and we see no way out. It dawns on us that we are worth more dead than alive. To make matters worse, if we have families, they will be facing the prospect, through no fault of their own, of coming along for the ride of a trial and the realistic prospect of having the main income producer go to prison for what may be a very long time. Maybe, they are better off without us. Maybe we should just end it all and spare them the pain. Maybe suicide is the best option because then the pressure is gone and the family can just move on.

What I have  just described is not a hypothetical situation, nor is it fiction. It is a very real thought process that enters the mind of virtually every white collar defendant who, like myself, had his life change overnight. I am not here to glorify suicide. Quite the contrary, I believe suicide is the coward's way out. Someone who commits suicide, assuming he is of sound mind, is a selfish fool who would rather have other people clean up his mess rather than deal with it himself. However, when a person is faced with such enormous pressure, he is not necessarily thinking clearly. He just wants it all to go away; even if that means he has to take his own life. Sadly, we have seen many cases where financial or legal pressures have led to individuals committing suicide. On one level we saw it in 1929 when the stock market crashed, but in recent years, especially in the Madoff case, quite a few people have chosen to take their lives rather than deal with the storm they were facing.

So how am I alive? I can tell you that these thoughts never crossed my mind. I can tell you that I have amazing coping mechanisms that allowed me to deal with not only my life changing over the course of a weekend but allowed me to deal with seven years of pressure that I would not wish on anybody. I can tell you that I was prepared so none of it came as a surprise. And if I said any of those things I would be lying.  Did I ever seriously consider it? No, but as they do with almost every person whose world suddenly comes crashing down, there were those dark days when the thoughts did enter my mind. There were those days when just for a second, I believed that my family, my community, my friends and the world would be better off without me. In hindsight, it is amazing to me that the criminal lawyers do not send their clients straight to suicide prevention from their offices because everyone deals with these thoughts on some level.

There is an old adage that states that misery loves company. There is great truth to that. Most people, if they are poor do not mind it as long as everyone else they know is just as poor. In fact, everyone is quite happy with their station in life.  Now what happens if everyone in the town strikes it rich except for one person. Well suddenly, he is miserable. Has his life changed? No, but looking at everyone else he feels as though he is lacking. What if that person would suddenly strike it rich? Certainly, he would be happy. What happens if while he is rich he makes a bad investment and is reduced to the same station in life prior to his becoming wealthy. Suddenly he is unhappy! But why should this be? If he was happy before he became wealthy, then he should still be happy once he ceases to be wealthy.

Human nature is such that we focus on what everyone else has and not on what we have. Similarly, we tend to focus on what we have lost and not on what remains. In the first example, the person was focused on everyone else even though nothing changed in his life. In the second, he was unhappy because he is upset over what he lost, not on what he has. For someone whose life was just upended, both of these enter his mind simultaneously. Firstly, he sees that he is alone in his plight. Everyone else's life is continuing but suddenly he does not have the same prestige or wealth. Similarly, it is natural for someone to mourn the loss of his career, wealth or status. While handling one of these challenges is difficult in its own right, dealing with both simultaneously can lead one to well, suicide.

When this happens, there is only one way to escape these dark thoughts. A person needs to take a step back and focus on something good in his life. In other words, he needs to focus not what he has lost but on what he has. For some it may be difficult, but the key is to focus on something. But step one is to take a step back from the situation and look at the good things that are left.

There was a good amount of time from 2010-2012 where I could not sleep without the use of Ambien. I just had too much on my mind and there was too much uncertainty. I used to roam the house would look in on my kids as they slept.  At the time were ranging between the ages of 1 month to 10 years. They were all normal healthy, smart happy kids. I focused on that. I thought about what it would mean for them if they had to grow up without a father. I thought about the total mess that they and my wife would be forced to clean up if I decided to give up. I thought about the notion of not being there for all of their milestones in life. In other words I took stock of my life. I had a (mostly) happy marriage and three great kids. If only Kate Spade had done the same thing.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is nothing like something bad happening that forces a defendant to realize that there are a lot of worse things than going to prison. I imagine that most people would rather face prison than the worst form of cancer. I imagine as parents most of us would rather face prison then have harm come to our children. I got my own reality check somewhere in 2012. It was a Saturday afternoon we had some friends over for the Shabbat afternoon meal. I still remember was I watched in horror as my two year old fell 10 feet off a staircase and landed on her head on our marble floor. Panic ensued. We were yelling at her to keep her eyes open. Finally,  after what felt like an eternity, the cops and the ambulance arrived. They told us that they needed to airlift her to the trauma center. My wife went in the helicopter and I drove to the hospital by myself well aware that based on how much I drank that day, I was in no position to be driving. When you are by yourself driving to a hospital with a child simultaneously being airlifted, you suddenly realize that everything, and I mean everything that you think is wrong in your life is suddenly not that important. Suddenly, prison did not seem so bad. As I was driving I said "G-d, do what you want to me, send me to prison for as long as you want, take whatever else you want, but just make sure this kid is OK." Thankfully, and likely miraculously, she was fine and we brought her home that night. Even a hematoma that appeared on the initial x-ray, miraculously disappeared the following day. That day changed me, If I was going to go to prison, I was fine with it because my child was once again healthy. I had made a deal with G-d and was all to happy for Him to collect. Over one weekend, prison got a lot less scary, all because I learned what real fear was.

I am going to say it again. Suicide is a coward's way out. Kate Spade left her 13 year old daughter without a mother rather than deal with whatever issues she was battling. Is that responsible? No, I think it is inconsiderate and cowardly. For a defendant, and for anyone battling various issues in his life, the key is simply to shift the focus. Continually lamenting on one's plight is not helpful and will likely lead to dark and disturbing places. By focusing on the good and not on the bad, on what we have and not what we are lacking, on what we have to live for and not on what we can't live with, these thoughts will vanish, and you will get through it. I Promise.

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