9—Decisions that led me to Prison
Despite having every opportunity to build a life of relevance and meaning as a younger man, I made one wrong decision after another. In 1982, Shorecrest High School in North Seattle awarded me my diploma. I wouldn’t say that I earned my diploma. Looking back, I freely admit that I was a lousy student.
Following high school, I made undisciplined decisions. When I was 20, I watched the movie Scarface. The lead character, Tony Montana, made an impression on me. After seeing the movie, I started inquiring about how much dealers would pay for cocaine. I’d never sold cocaine before, but I wanted to learn.
Once I understood more about the market, I traveled to Miami, searching for a supplier. After finding one, I calculated that I could earn a profit while shielding myself from prosecution. Quickly, I began to recruit others to join a distribution network. Not understanding the criminal justice system, I made more bad decisions. If I didn’t handle the cocaine directly—I deluded myself—I’d never get caught. I’d pay people to retrieve the cocaine in Miami, drive it to Seattle, and distribute the cocaine to customers.
For 18 months, trafficking in cocaine became a way of life. I lied to my family and anyone else who asked about what I was doing. On August 11, 1987, the drug-dealing phase of my life ended.
Three men stood close by when I stepped out of an elevator. As I approached, they asked my name. When I responded, the men each drew a handgun. In an instant, I saw the barrels of three different pistols, each pointing at my head. I didn’t resist when they ordered me to raise my hands.
The agents frisked me. Then they slammed cuffs around my wrists. That started my institutional routines. The agents locked me in a holding center in Miami, Florida. While being processed inside, I learned that a grand jury indicted me for operating a continuing criminal enterprise and other drug-related charges. The indictment charged that I’d been selling cocaine in Seattle and other cities for about 18 months before the DEA caught me.
The charges carried a possible sentence of life without parole.
At the time of my arrest, I only cared about getting out. Although I knew I was guilty of every charge, my defense attorney told me what I wanted to hear rather than what I needed to hear. He said:
- There’s a big difference between an indictment and a conviction.
Instead of using good critical thinking, I agreed to let the attorney navigate my way through the judicial process. That strategy didn’t work out so well.
My attorney admonished me, telling me not to talk with anyone else in jail. He told me to leave everything in his hands. Foolishly, I held on to a belief that I could win. I would walk out if my attorney could persuade a jury that I wasn’t guilty. He coached me on how I should present myself. By lying when I took the witness stand, denying my criminal behavior, I committed the crime of perjury.
My lies didn’t fool the jury. The foreman read the jury’s verdict that convicted me on every count. After hearing the guilty verdict, I began to understand the depths of my trouble. Later, I realized much more.
The guilty verdict would change my life forever. United States Marshals locked me in chains and led me out of the courtroom. They returned me to the Pierce County Jail. Suddenly, I was a convicted felon rather than a pretrial detainee. Jailers locked me in solitary. The pressure weighed on me, crushing my spirit, extinguishing hope.
I didn’t know what type of sentence my judge would impose, but the conviction exposed me to a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Since I’d never been in prison, the prospects of such a sentence didn’t make sense.
Confined to a solitary cell, I remember lying on the rack. Although I wasn’t religious, I started to pray, asking God for strength. It didn’t make sense to pray for release. By then, I accepted that prison would become a big part of my life. Since I couldn’t change the past, I had to deal with reality. Instead of asking for release, I prayed for strength and guidance. Challenges would come as I made the switch from jail to prison. I felt determined to prevail.
What decisions led you to prison?