During my brief time as a guest of the federal government, many people made some of the most bizarre comments I have ever heard. Some were comical, some were illogical and some just left me speechless. Some of them I have mentioned in prior entries and some will be new. I will start however, by mentioning statements made to me before I went to prison.
The first one involves my lawyers. Don't get me wrong, my lawyers we excellent, well to the extent that you can say that about criminal lawyers anyway! They dealt with all my craziness, my random ideas and theories and my desires to try and control a situation that was completely beyond my control. However, in the early stages of plea negotiations, the initial offer amounted to around three years in actual prison. I looked at them and said, no way, I can’t sit for three years! They looked at me straight in the eye and said that it isn't so bad, and I would be fine. I stood there thinking, yeah big talker I don't see you lining up to go to prison for three years! If you haven't gone to prison than you have no business telling anyone they can handle it. Granted, in their line of work they have this discussion a few times a year, but it struck me as bizarre at the time. Of course, in hindsight, they were right; I handled it just fine.
The next pre-prison comment came from the prosecutors. Prosecutors are the kings of illogical statements. Obviously, some of that is by design in order to scare a defendant. Some of it comes from their basic lack of knowledge and some of it comes down to how they can reach their end game whatever that is. One conversation stands out, however. It was after I had pleaded guilty but before my sentencing. We had all agreed on a 30-month sentence and that I would get a third off for my cooperation against someone who not only deceived me but had been indicted prior to myself. In their office they asked me what I would say if called to testify. Specifically, they wanted to know what I would say if asked on the stand what I did wrong. I told them I would acknowledge the crime to which I had pleaded guilty. They turned to me and said "Mike, that's not good enough, we need you to say you lied." I told them, that I did not lie to any of my investors. One of them looked me in the eye and said "Well we need you to say you lied because that will make your testimony more credible. However, we only want you to say you lied if that's the truth. Of course, if that isn't the truth then we can't help you with a reduction “wink wink”. They went on to say that if I did not say I lied to investors then the defense lawyer would make it look like I was lying now, and the jury would think I was lying. However, if I said I did lie, then my testimony would be believed. Now in the end, I did not have to testify, but when a prosecutor says something like that to you, well, your faith in the justice system goes completely out the window.
Now of course, there is the judge. I actually thought my judge was fair. He moved the process along which was in my interest. He recommended me to the Miami camp and even recommended me for the drug program. As I have written before, my judge remanded me to custody at my sentencing. In hindsight, it was better to start the process right away but at the time I was beyond scared. At the sentencing, my lawyers made the best case possible to allow me to surrender at a later date. All of the judge's reasons were countered by my lawyers. In the end, the judge said he needed to remand me because he did not want it on his head if decided to drive drunk and killed someone. It would be his responsibility for not having sent me to prison. Considering, I had never been charged with a DUI this made no sense to me, but I guess it made sense to the judge.
My first stop along the way was the Federal Detention Center in Miami. I go through that horrible day here http://www.whitecollarguru.com/2017/10/the-defendant-is-hereby-remanded-to.html
However, I will never forget that first night when my "celly" told me that he thinks that since the "black man" was enslaved by the "white man" for 400 years, that the white people should agree to become slaves for one week where they will have their daughters raped and where they will be whipped all day. I was quick to point out to him firstly, that the Unites States is only 240 years old and also, don't blame me, my grandparents only got here 70 years ago! This inmate provided a lot of comic relief during my four weeks at the FDC. He told me his judge was racist which is why he got 12 years (they are both African American). Of course, perhaps, this being his third conviction led to the 12-year sentence.
On my second day there I had to go see the "doctor". As I was waiting, one of the guards at the medical area looked and me and said, "what’s your name?" I told him who I was, and he said, "You know what, you wuz in the paper yesterday!" Gee, thanks jackass!
I met another person there named St. Patrick. Well St. Patrick was not Irish. He was Jamaican named Damian and was appealing a 20-year prison sentence for sex trafficking. St. Patrick was not your run of the mill sex trafficker. No, he was considered the second greatest sex trafficker in US history! I actually did check this out and it is true! Well our Irish Jamaican also recently "decided" he was Jewish. It seemed that Jesus came to him in a dream and told him to become Jewish. So, in addition to this Jamaican being a self-proclaimed Irish saint, he also claimed that Jesus told him that his Hebrew name is Yoshua. Well Jamaican-Irish-Jewish-Jesus loving St. Patrick managed to get himself a disciple and even ran prayer groups. Every night at 930 he would yell "prayer call prayer call" and he and his followers would stand in a circle with their arms wrapped around each other in prayer. Lucky for me St. Patrick found out I was Jewish and decided to make me his rabbi. He would also go to Shabbat services every Friday at 3 PM. Only in prison can a 6'4 Jesus loving Jamaican with an Irish name also be Jewish. St. Patrick liked to read Kabala, Jewish Mysticism and would take a new book out of the Jewish library every Friday. On one occasion he came to me and told me that he read that on Shabbat "we" Jews get an extra soul. He wanted to know at what time he could expect his soul to arrive on Friday and at what time on Saturday evening his soul would be leaving. He wanted to prepare to receive it.
The next week St. Patrick wanted to know if I will be praying for Shabbat and if he could pray with me. Now when a 6'4 250-pound Jamaican asks if he could pray with you, it is hard to say no. So, Friday evening, I went to the chapel and he asked if I could recite the prayers out loud while he closes his eyes and receives his Shabbat soul. He even brought his disciple with him! After I finished that he asked that I make Kiddush (Shabbat blessing over wine) so he could have some! The next day he asked if he could join me for the Havdalah/end of sabbath service. Of course, I said yes. His disciple did not show up for Havdalah.
Upon arrival at any prison, you are given a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and shampoo. There was this Haitian fellow who decided he wanted my shampoo bottle. No, he did not want the shampoo, just this bottle. This obviously created a problem as the shampoo bottle is critical to the shampoo experience. Well my favorite Haitian, who would not tell anyone his name because someone could "steal his identity" offered me a bottle of purchased shampoo in exchange for my bottle. In his view there are plenty of citizens trying to steal identities of unsuspecting prisoners. Nevertheless, I decided to pass on his offer out of fear he was part of the organized cabal to seek revenge on the White Man. Mr. Haitian joined me in the camp six months later and had other pearls of wisdom to share.
Fast forward to November 23, 2015. I finally get word that I am being transferred to the camp. I have three minutes to be ready. I met a someone who was being transferred as well. Unfortunately, for him, he was going to the low security prison and not the camp because he had a 20-year sentence. I actually know of his case and he did get a raw deal. However, for the entire ride, he kept on speaking how the prosecutors, the judge and even his defense lawyers were involved in a conspiracy to make sure that he went to prison for a long time.
Finally, after going through processing I made it to my assigned bunk in the camp. The person on the lower bunk was a nice African American fellow who introduced himself to me as "Chi-town". I told him that he did not look Chinese, so he enlightened me and told me he us from Chicago. On his towel I saw Hebrew lettering. I asked him if he is Jewish. He told me that he is a Hebrew Israelite. So, I repeated, "so you are Jewish?" He said no, he is a Hebrew Israelite and descends from the original Hebrews who left Egypt. Now, one can imagine that as a Jew I found this to be very confusing. He went on and told me that his community has grown over the past many years and the State of Israel has even recognized them by letting them establish a community in Dimona. I did not have the heart to tell the guy that Dimona is right next to the "secret" nuclear reactor. I smiled and said, "wow that’s great!"
I met many different people in prison, some were smart, and some were not so smart. There were some however who after speaking to them I wondered how they were smart enough to even commit the crime that got them sent to prison. There was this fellow who told me that the moon is closer to Miami than Puerto Rico because he could see the moon from prison but could not see Puerto Rico. It was very hard to argue with such profound logic. Speaking of the moon, one night at around 830 PM during June the moon was very Orange. I remarked to someone near me, and probably the same fellow who thought the moon is closer than Puerto Rico, that the moon looks very cool tonight! He told me that I am mistaken, and I am actually looking at the sun. His proof? Because the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. Since we were facing west that must be the sun. Well I could not help myself. I asked him if that is the sun, then how is it that it is dark outside? He told me that the sun only gives off light during the day and since it was currently night time, it was dark outside.
I decided that I would endeavor to learn about other cultures while in prison. Well February is Black History Month, and every night they had an event. Even though I can hardly pass myself off as black, I was allowed to attend these functions since I got along with the Black community. Most of the time it was a gangsta type movie and I was quite happy to watch. They were very welcoming to me. Whenever I walked in, I was offered popcorn and orange soda. One night they had discussion group after and I decided to sit in the back and listen. I was amazed at what I learned. The head of the group went into a history lesson. He said "After the first world war, the blacks had their own economy within the US. They had black shopping malls, a black stock exchange and even their own black post office. In short, they were a self-sustaining economy and had no desire to integrate with the White Man. However, the White Man was not happy with the success of the Black Man. As a result, the US Army used the fighters from the war to bomb their malls, shopping centers and post offices to keep the Black Man down. Well, the Black Man was resilient and spent the next 40 years rebuilding himself. The White Man was not happy about this. So, in the 1960s, the FBI put shopping carts filled with drugs and guns on subways that went to black neighborhoods and just left them on the train so that they would find their way into the black neirborhoods. They also opened liquor stores on every street corner and left them unattended so that the locals would be able to get to the booze. This was part of the plan by the White Man to fill the black neirbrhoods with drugs, alcohol and guns with the ultimate goal of destroying communities." Well guys, thanks for the history lesson!
One day I was walking around, minding my own business when one of the Hebrew Israelites decided to engage me. He asked, "What tribe are you from?" I told him probably Judah. He told me he is from Judah as well. I told him that I guess that makes us cousins! He told me that I am not really Jewish, but he is. So, I asked him if he is Jewish and that I am not, what does he think that I am. So first he told me that there is no such thing as a Jew and that it is a made-up word. Then he informed me that the Kaarite kingdom conquered Israel at some time he did not know and "stole" his people's history and in reality, I descend from those conquerors. I thanked him for giving me an identity crisis.
As I mentioned earlier that Haitian fellow who wanted by shampoo bottle made an appearance in the camp. There are not many people more annoying than him. When I was in the detention center, he used to think that everyone wanted to hear him do his Woody Woodpecker noise. Every night. All night. Well when he came to camp, he thought he could be my friend. He informed me that we should be friends because in New York, all of the Jews work for Haitians! I asked him to name one. He informed me that while most people are under the impression that it is the Jews who run the diamond district, he told me that they actually all work for Haitians. And that was the end of that conversation.
Some prisoners like to come up with get rich quick schemes while in prison so that they can be sent right back in when they are finally released. On guy came to me with a fascinating idea. Fiat Chrysler's stock was trading poorly, and they had just spun out their Ferrari division. He came to me that what we should do is raise money to take the company private from prison. From there, we would be able to get control of the pension fund, borrow against it and pay ourselves massive fees. Once we did that we would take the company public with an enormous pension liability having enriched ourselves to the tune of $100 million. In other words, go directly (back) to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Someone else came to me with another innovative business idea. He wanted to create a website where people could go if they wanted to find a particular business. If someone was looking for a place to get a haircut they would go there and look for barber shops. The local barber shops would pay to be listed on this site and there would be reviews posted. I told him it was a great idea that should be pursued and asked him if had ever heard of Yelp of Google.
I was walking around the track one night when one elderly gentleman who had converted from Judaism to Catholicism ask me if I had found Jesus. I told him that I was not aware I should be looking for him. He told me that the night before he was arrested, Jesus came to him in a dream and told him to convert and he is so happy to have Jesus in his life. I asked him why that should be and said, “If Jesus came to you the night before you were arrested don’t you think he should have given you a heads up that the cops were coming in the morning so that you can leave the country?” I never spoke to him again, but every Sunday morning this fellow would go into the chapel and yell while he banged on the drums. I guess Jesus told him to implement a new type of Sunday morning mass.
Perhaps the most bizarre conversation I ever had in prison was with my counselor. I was walking around one day, and she called me over and asked me if I am Szafranski. When I told her yes, she asked me where I live. I pointed to my dorm area and told her "right over there, camp J". She informed me that she was asking specifically where I live, and I told her bed 34. She then says, no I mean where do you live outside of here and I told her I live in Surfside. She told me that she had regards for me. To say I was confused is an understatement. Playing along with this short plump African American, I asked her from whom she had regards. She told me it was from Doctor X (named deleted to protect the innocent) a reputable plastic surgeon in Miami and she had just been in to see him. Looking her up and down I said, risking a trip to the SHU, "Well you look great!". She laughed and said she had not had any work done yet! Capitalizing on an opportunity to have an officer on my side, I told her, half-jokingly, that I am sure I could get her a friends and family discount! To my surprise, she told me to come back to her office later that day. When I came back, ever the flirt, I got right to it. I said to her "what could you possibly need to get done?" She told me she had some nips and tucks she wants worked on because she thinks her "boobs" are fine. She looks at me and asks, "My boobs are fine right?" So, flustered as can be and wondering what I can possibly answer to avoid being cuffed and taken away, I stared right at her and nonchalantly said "yeah your boobs are fine, wouldn't do anything there". Thankfully, this was the right answer and she fulfilled most of my requests with ease from then on.
I am sure there are plenty more stories that will come to me. But the point is that if you go with it, prison does not have to be an entirely miserable experience. If one is lucky he may even get a history lesson or get the chance to tell a girl she has nice boobs! Part 2 coming eventually......