So, as I continue to work on this book (If you’re asking “What book?” and need to catch up, read https://marklattimore.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/all-i-ever-needed-to-know-i-learned-in-prison/ and then come back), I decided it’s time to post the next chapter. Honestly, I don’t really like the style, but I wrote the first draft of this chapter a couple of years ago and I seem to have a mental block to revising it. Oh well. John Shore or Rich Hefty, if you’re out there, help. In any event, this is the stage-setting chapter. It’s essentially a biography. It’s not terribly interesting but important for understanding what’s to follow. Please comment.
The American Dream
So he works and he builds with his own two hands
And he pours all he has into castles made with sand
But the wind and the rain are coming crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands
This is an autobiography of sorts. Lucky for you, the reader, it’s not really a traditional autobiography. I won’t be boring you with all the cute stuff I did as a kid. This won’t be the printed equivalent of sitting through 37 hours of home movies. While my life, or at least a part of it, is the setting for the stories you are going to read, I see this more as a retelling of what God does in real lives in real situations, how He comes through in a pinch in very unexpected ways and how He pounded some good lessons unto my extremely thick head. Nevertheless, and not wanting to bore you too much with the mundane details of my life, you still need to know something about me. Context is everything. So, here goes…
To say that I have, for the most part, led a charmed life would be an understatement. I was born into a hard-working middle class family. Dad was a truck driver, Mom was a homemaker, and Brother and Sister did what brothers and sisters do – simultaneously torment and protect little brother. My parents never divorced (and, as of this writing, are working on their 54th year together). Everyone in our house loved everyone else. We were by no means rich, but we were blissfully ignorant of that fact and we wanted for nothing.
Church attendance was never an option – we went to the well every time the cover was lifted. But we also knew that Mom and Dad were just taking us to the water. We had to make the choice to drink – and because of committed, praying parents, we all did. So, my family was not just a church-going bunch. Our home was peopled by truly committed Christians who loved the Lord and each other.
Growing up, I was the “wonder boy”. In thirteen years of school, in only one semester, in only one class, did I earn a grade less than an A. I graduated High School as Valedictorian with a 4.8 GPA. In high school, I was a decorated athlete, holding the conference record in Discus throw, and being named to the All-County football team. I was recruited by Ivy League schools to play football, but instead opted to attend the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead Scholarship.
At North Carolina (the REAL Carolina, for my Gamecock brethren), it got even better. Although the days of the 4.0 grade point average were over, I found other things at which to excel. I discovered the sport of fencing and, after only 18 months in the sport, placed second in the NCAA National Championships. In my collegiate career, I earned All American honors twice, served as team captain, and even served as an assistant coach after my competition eligibility expired.
But I wasn’t through, yet. From college, I went on to law school. Graduating with a respectable GPA, I passed the Bar Exam (the first time) and went into the real world with a law license and a new wife, Amy, my high school sweetheart. The world was our oyster.
After following the typical law school graduate’s pattern of working for a few firms the first few years, I hooked up with THE FIRM. Finally practicing in the area I had always wanted practice, I jumped in with both feet (and all other body parts, too). Within a few months my salary was doubled and within a year, I was asked to manage day to day operations within the firm. Two years later, the firm expanded and I was made a partner. After another year, I moved to one of the firm’s satellite locations, finally to work without a net. I increased that office’s revenue by 100% within six months. I earned a six figure income for the first (and, to date, only) time in my life.
Meanwhile, Amy and I began doing our part to propagate the species. We were blessed with an angel in the form of our daughter in 1999 and another gift from God in 2001, our son.
All the while, I was strong, ambitious, and tirelessly devoted to my career and (I thought) to my family. Sure, I would go a week without seeing my kids (even though we slept in the same house), but I was working hard to provide a better future for them. I was admired by my peers, respected by my friends, the object of pride for my family members, and had built a good name and reputation. Business was booming and plans were in the making. I was living the American Dream. But by October of 2002…
Investigated by state bar for unethical conduct
Ran business into the ground
Separated from long time business partners
Discovered that son was severely developmentally delayed
Effectively forced from legal practice
Began new career (and took 40% pay cut)
Charged by state bar with unethical conduct
Targeted by federal prosecutors for involvement in fraudulent scheme
Failed miserably at new career
Fired from first job in new career
Began new job that I really liked (and was really good at)
Indicted by federal prosecutors
Pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud
Forced to quit new job that I really liked (and was really good at)
Sentenced to serve twenty months in federal prison
Ordered to pay over half a million dollars in restitution
Had to sell dream home (OK, not dream home, but at least daydream home)
Things unraveled pretty fast, huh? From hero to zero in only half of a presidential term. At times, I felt like George Bailey – the world would have been better had I never been born. Forgetting my priorities and nearly ignoring God and my family completely, I was a prisoner to my own pride and ambition long before I was a prisoner of the United States Government. The truth is, incarceration in an institution was just a formality, a very real formality.
So, on November 15, 2004, I reported to the Federal Prison Camp at Edgefield, South Carolina, my home for the next 479 days. That’s 11,496 hours, 689,760 minutes, or 41,388,600 seconds, not that I was counting. On the day I began serving my sentence, I began the most profound education of my life. Some of the things I learned were fun, others were interesting, many were life-changing. So, what did I learn?