How To Manage Anger and Regret From Federal Prison

I have been asked many times, “what was the hardest part about federal prison”. The answer, I suppose, varies on the day, but for the most part the hardest part was the pain I brought my family.

Unfortunately, even though I was aware of the pain that I had brought them, there were times in federal prison I continued to add to their frustration and pain.

Occasionally I would call home and get some disappointing news. For example, one time I called my father from federal prison only to learn that an investment I had made many years earlier had gone under due to the real estate crash.

I was a managing member in the deal. To keep my investment I would have to come up with more money, about $30,000. Because I was in federal prison, I was unable to raise the money. I was stuck, utterly incapable of managing my affairs.

He told me that I should just forget about it, move on. Rather than telling me to forget it, I told him, “how about we devise a strategy to raise the money?” Then I hung up the phone.

I had no chance to keep this investment or raise the money. I had money in an equity line I could have taken only a month earlier. Sam Pompeo, my business partner, told me to take all the cash because banks were starting to freeze equity lines. I choose not to. I was foolish.

I hung up on my father. Worse, I did not have the phone minutes left to call and apologize. Email did not exist in federal prison at the time.

Following the call, I walked around the prison track telling myself, “Not only did I ruin my reputation, destroy my career, embarrass my family and end up in federal prison, but now I am losing my last remaining assets. Further, now I am mean and rude to my parents who have done nothing but support me. F…K!”

I know we tend to be hardest on those that love and support us. But that does not excuse it…

In some cases when I was angry or disagreed with the advice my parents or my business partner were giving me, I would write them a very long letter from federal prison. As soon as I would put it in the mail, I would regret that I sent it. I knew when they read it they were disappointed in me. I just felt the need to purge and share it with those closest to me. It was a mistake. I made a lost of mistakes, even in federal prison.

Towards the end of my term in federal prison I read a leadership book on Abraham Lincoln. The book described how Abraham Lincoln would frequently write long letters to people he had disagreements with.

How To Manage Anger and Regret From Federal Prison

How To Manage Anger and Regret From Federal Prison

In these letters he would outline his argument and defend his positions. Then after he would write the letter, he would fold it up, and put it in his desk. He never sent them.

While sitting in the library at Taft Federal Prison Camp, I wish I had embraced that strategy earlier in my prison term. Certainly, as a federal prison consultant that’s advice I give to my clients.

It is easy to feel angry and regretful while in federal prison. After all, we made bad decisions that separate us from our family.

But if we take that anger and regret out on those that love and support us, we will only make matters worse.

After I read that leadership lesson on Abraham Lincoln, I followed suit. When I disagreed with my parents, my business partner or others, I would write a long lengthy letter, then I would fold it up and put it in my prison locker.

As I learned in that leadership book, I realized there would be very little upside to sending the letter. And I eventually realized that I would be better able to manage my anger and the long list of regrets I had from federal prison by not making matters harder on those that gave up so much to stand by and help me.

Justin Paperny

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