Accountability and Sentence Mitigation 

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When authorities launch an investigation or bring a criminal charge against non-criminogenic people, they can go through various stages of grief. They may live in denial. They may feel anger. They may feel as if they’re misunderstood, or as if they’re a victim. 

As people who have gone through investigations, indictments, and prison terms, every person on our team at Prison Professors understands those feelings. We know that when in a bad state of mind, it’s hard to focus or make progress. 

For these reasons, it’s essential that people create accountability logs. The accountability logs we create help us stay on track. 

All courses in the Prison Professors Straight-A Guide curriculum require that we embrace the CEO mindset:

  1. We must identify success as the best, possible outcome.
  2. We must create plans.
  3. We must set priorities.
  4. We must develop tools, tactics, and resources that will advance our prospects for success.
  5. We must execute our plan.
  6. We must adjust as necessary.
  7. We must hold ourselves accountable.

An accountability log helps people stay on track. Obviously, accountability logs are not unique to strategies that can lead to sentence mitigation. People use accountability logs in every area of life. As Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft wrote: 

Great companies operate with high cultures of accountability. Those accountability metrics help us determine whether we are succeeding. Accountability systems let us know when we must correct course and pursue new strategies.

Anytime we’re doing something important, we should learn from leaders.

  • In what ways are you learning from the leaders around you?
  • In what ways are you incorporating strategies from leaders to achieve your objectives?

Consider ways that you can use an accountability log to help you build an effective sentence-mitigation strategy. Look at how others use accountability logs. For example, you may be a father or a mother. If you’re not a father or a mother, you’re a son or a daughter. Parents expect children to bring home report cards, and children know that parents will expect those report cards.

  • What do report cards tell us?

We use them to keep score. When students do well, we see progress. The report cards show areas where students can improve. Report cards are accountability logs to assess and report on student progress. 

You might coach sports teams. You might play sports. Perhaps you watch sports. If so, you know that we measure performance. We count wins and losses. We count batting averages. We count passing or rushing yards. We count points. Each metric gives us an idea of future performance. 

If you invest in public companies, you measure performance. 

  • How well has the stock performed over the past 12 months? 
  • Have sales kept pace with growth targets? 
  • Does the company lead the market? How much does the company earn from each sale? 

Those types of questions give investors an idea of the company’s health. Investors assess all types of metrics, and they use to grow. They use accountability logs to determine whether they’re on the right track. 

Accountability metrics help us determine whether we’re on the right track, and we can use them everywhere, including in our sentence-mitigation strategy. 

Aristotle, another teacher from ancient Greece, wrote that we should always examine performance. He wrote: 

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” 

  • In what ways have you examined your choices?
  • How have choices you made in the past influenced who you are today?
  • What choices can you make today to influence the success you want to achieve tomorrow?
  • What steps are you taking to influence how your sentencing judge assesses you?
  • What tool have you devised to stay on track with regard to building a package to influence your judge? 

We encourage you to examine past choices. 

  • What did you gain or lose from past choices?
  • Reveal how different past choices would have led to different outcomes today?
  • What options exist to put you on track for the best future?

These types of reflections cause us to examine our life. They help us make better choices. Making better choices requires that we define success. Once we define success, we can reverse engineer the pathway to take us there. Create a well-designed accountability log and use it as a part of your sentence-mitigation strategy. 

Starting Over:

As we’ve discussed through this course, when creating your strategy, contemplate the audience. You’ve been convicted of a crime. As a result, your judge will have a definitive view of you. 

Some descriptions judges may use for people who’ve been convicted of a crime include being: 

  • Undisciplined
  • Of poor character
  • Impetuous
  • Immoral
  • Selfish
  • Greedy
  • Arrogant
  • Self-centered 

It’s unlikely that we see ourselves that way. But again, no one is interested in how we see ourselves. We must create our sentence-mitigation strategy with an eye of influencing those who will judge us. 

  • If you do not agree that others would use such adjectives to describe you, what adjectives would you use? 

Our sentence-mitigation strategy begins with that understanding and acknowledgement of how others see us. It follows with a plan. Our plan should lead to the best possible way of influencing them. Then we must take methodical steps, putting priorities in place, to change perceptions. 

Although it’s not true in every case, we should anticipate that many judges view people with felony convictions as having flawed characters. They make assessments as soon as they see them. With that in mind, a good sentence-mitigation strategy will take the judge’s perspective into account. 

  • What can we do to get a judge to believe in us? 

Let’s try an exercise that doesn’t have anything to do with the criminal justice system. 

  1. Take out a blank piece of paper.
  2. Fold the paper in half.
  3. Write Jim on the top of one side of the paper.
  4. Write Tom on the top of the other side of the paper. 

Now imagine two people standing in front of you. One man is named Jim. One man is named Tom. Both men appear to be about 30 years old and stand about five-feet nine inches.  Both men appear to weigh 350 pounds. 

  • On the side of the page where you wrote, Jim, write down the thoughts you have about him.
  • Based on what you see, what do you think about Jim?
  • On the side of the page where you wrote, Tom, write down the thoughts you have about him.
  • Based on what you see, what do you think about Tom? 

If you’ve gone through the exercise above, you will have written thoughts about each man. You didn’t speak with either man. You didn’t even see them. You simply imagined each man. And yet you formed an assessment of each man. 

As stated throughout the course—and through all our work—we never ask anyone to do or say anything that we do not do or say. Although I cannot speak for my partners, I will write down the thoughts that would have crossed my mind about both Jim and Tom.

  • Both men lack discipline.
  • Both men lack self esteem.
  • Both men eat non-nutritional food.
  • Both men do not exercise.
  • Both men are unhappy.
  • Neither man likes to exercise.
  • Both men likely have a lot of pain.
  • Both men have health problems.
  • Both men are probably lazy.
  • Both men likely struggle with emotional pain. 

Write down how your assessment differs from what I wrote.

Write down how our assessments are similar. 

Neither you nor I heard Jim or Tom speak. We don’t know anything about them. Yet we made an assessment by looking at them. 

  • What does what I wrote say about me?
  • What does what you wrote say about you?

Continue the exercise. Imagine that we asked Jim to tell us about his life. We don’t say anything further. Just, “Tell us about your life.” 

Jim responds as follows: 

There’s not much to tell. I live alone in a trailer up the road. I had a job at Denny’s. But the boss kept discriminatin’ ‘gainst me ‘cause a my weight. I got hired as a busboy, and I was supposed to train to become a waiter. Instead, boss man said he needed help cleanin’ up. He said that I’d have to switch from bussin’ tables to being the janitor on the night shift. I knew what he was sayin’. He didn’t want me around the customers. If I didn’t like it, he said that he would have to lay me off. I chose to get laid off so I could get unemployment. If he didn’t want me around the restaurant, I didn’t want to be there. I don’t need that kind of aggravation. 

Now you’ve heard Jim speak. He responded to a question. You watched his body language as he spoke. 

  • Describe how Jim’s response to the question changed or confirmed your initial assessment of Jim in the exercise. 

Now we ask Tom the same question. “Tom,” we say, “Tell us about your life.” 

I’m the luckiest man on earth. You’re not going to believe it when I tell you this, but here’s the truth. I’m 28 years old. When I was 26, I stopped at a red light. Just then, a drunk driver in a huge pickup slammed into me. He was driving about 40 miles an hour. Then, bam, he just hit me! I could’ve been killed. The doctors told me that I would never walk again. They had me in a full body cast for nine months. 

I used to be a competitive body builder. Without exercise, and with all the hospital food and medications, all my muscle turned to fat. While lying in the hospital bed, my weight blew up to 450 pounds. Can you believe it? Despite doctors telling me I would never walk again, I refused to give up. There was no way they were going to keep me in that hospital bed forever.

Although I could hardly move, I started keeping a journal. I thought about steps I could take to overcome my condition. I knew I could do it. I just had to focus, to stay disciplined. I’ve been disciplined before and I could do it again. So I started reading books about nutrition. I quit eating the heavy carbohydrate diet of hospital food, cutting out all deserts. I asked the food service people to bring me vegetables and protein. They liked my spirit and helped. Then, I started to double up on the physical therapy. Other people didn’t like physical therapy. But I knew that exercise would be key to my getting up and about. When I grew stronger, I tripled up on the physical therapy.

I recorded every step of the journey in my journal. Take a look. You can see the way I recorded the number of pages I read each day and all that I learned. You can see that I exercised every day, increasing the time commitment as I grew stronger. You can see what I ate every day.

Only nine months have passed since I got out of the bed for the first time. I’ve dropped 100 pounds. Now that I can run and swim, I’ve set a new goal. I’ll lose an average of 20 pounds a month for the next five months. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be at 250 pounds before the end of the year. Then I’ll incorporate weight training into my routine again. I’ll be back down to 200 pounds in no time. Watch me! I can do it. 

  • Describe how Tom’s response to the question changed or confirmed your initial assessment of Tom in the exercise. 

If you’re like me, you will realize that your assessment of Tom was totally off base. Instead of being a lazy, undisciplined, unmotivated person, he had extraordinary motivation and discipline. He could be a role model, an inspiration to others. 

The exercise suggests that we as human beings make observations and assessments. It’s part of our human nature. Judicial bias may be conscious or unconscious, but all defendants would be wise to anticipate that it exists. 

It’s even wiser to take action steps to overcome. 

Even hostile judges appreciate those who adhere to a pursuit of excellence. They have been pursuing excellence for their entire lives. When someone else exhibits the same traits or qualities, they admire it. They do not expect to see that pursuit of excellence in criminal defendants. 

What does a pursuit of excellence look like? 

  • Look back to the case of Tom above. 
  • What did Tom do to differentiate himself from Jim? 
JimTom
Blamed others for his problems.Took full responsibility.
Saw himself as a victim.Saw himself as an agent of change.
Wanted to wait until things got better.Wanted to make things better.
Refused to take responsibility.He pushed himself to do better.
Spoke in lazy English.Took pride in his accountability journal.
  • In what ways is the record that you’re building similar to what we saw in Jim?
  • In what ways is the record that you’re building similar to what we saw in Tom? 

An accountability journal will persuade a judge that you’re different from every other defendant that comes before the bench. Most defendants outsource all decisions to their attorneys. They expect the defense attorney to write a dazzling sentencing memorandum. Since the defendants have never read a sentencing memorandum before, the legal jargon may make a favorable impression. It may even convince them that they’re about to get a great deal.

Yet judges read sentencing memorandums all the time. Many of those pleadings are boilerplate, citing extensive amounts of case law that the judge doesn’t need to read. It’s safe to say that judges know quite a bit about the law, and they don’t need or like fancy lawyers from the big city trying to educate them. Arguments over case law are to judges what children fighting over broken toys are to parents: unnecessary racket. 

On the other hand, judges don’t know much about the personal characteristics of defendants. If we begin from that premise, we can understand how valuable an accountability log can be to help bring the judge a better understanding of the defendant. Hostile judges may appreciate the time and energy a defendant takes to walk him along the path to reform, to remorse. An accountability log is like a game plan. Use yours to show the methodical steps you took to change your life. 

  • What are you doing today to make the people you meet in the future believe in you?
  • What was the impetus for your change?
  • Why is your life and thought pattern different today from what it was one year ago, three years ago, five years ago, or ten years ago?
  • How will your life be different in one year, three years, five years, or ten years?
  • What plans have you made that will take you from where you are today, to where you want to go tomorrow—or at some point in your future?

Your accountability log should show these well-laid plans. They should show clear parameters for success. As your judge reviews your accountability log, you will make a favorable impression upon him. Your work—far more effectively than your lawyer’s eloquence—can take the edge off of a hostile, biased judge. 

As we discuss through all Prison Professors coursework, we encourage you to adhere to a very specific strategy. To get the outcome you want, detail the why and the how of your transformation. Judges may be more inclined to believe that you’re worthy of mercy if you follow the patterns of our Straight-A Guide: 

  • Define your values.
  • Set clear goals.
  • Show that you’re making a 100% commitment to success.
  • Set aspirations that your judge will respect.

Let your accountability log show the incremental action steps you’ve been taking, and that you’ll continue to take. Your accountability log should show the methodical steps you’ve been taking to grow and to reconcile with society. 

  • What was the impetus for your change?

What are you doing, or what have you done to overcome an anticipated statement from your prosecutor: 

  • “Your honor, the defendant is only sorry because he got caught.”

If you’re authentic, you can show your pathway to change. Reveal the date that you made the decision to pursue a different life. And make sure that everything you say or write harmonizes with the life that you’re living. Some defendants say all the right things. Yet their actions say something entirely different. 

Take the case of Anthony. He built a career as a motivational speaker and business consultant. While I served time in prison, Anthony came to visit me. He asked me to assist with his preparations for sentencing. I offered him the same advice that our team offers through the Straight-A Guide Sentence Mitigation Course. I especially emphasized the need to document the journey. Yet Anthony failed to get to the heart of the message, which was to hold himself accountable and live authentically. 

Anthony’s challenges with the law began when he had computer problems. He took his computer into a store to have it repaired. When they ran a diagnostic scan to look for viruses, the technicians found more than 1,000 pornographic images. Many of those images involved underage girls. The technicians called the police and they arrested Anthony. He was convicted in federal court. 

The nature of Anthony’s crime exposed him to 20 years in federal prison. His sentence-mitigation strategy included a well-documented journal that showed all the steps he took to change his life. It included a daily journal of everything he did to control the impulses that derailed his life. He sought counseling, paid for inpatient treatment, and he submitted many character-reference letters. All those efforts contributed to his receiving a term of 135 months in federal prison. 

Yet the story didn’t end there. 

One of the victims called prosecutors to ask about the outcome of the sentence. The victim expressed disappointment that the sentence was so lenient. The prosecutors were surprised, considering that she ostensibly wrote a two-page letter asking for leniency. The prosecutors investigated and they learned that Anthony fabricated several facts in the package he submitted. 

The judge called Anthony back into court and resentenced him to 20 years, the maximum sentence allowable by law. 

So take caution when creating accountability logs that detail a pathway to reconciliation and remorse. Do not write words that can be discredited so easily. 

Randy, for example, put an amazing sentence-mitigation package together. He pleaded guilty to charges of fraud. Then Randy wrote extensively about how books he read influenced him to change. He wrote about what he learned from those books, and how he took that advice to set steps that would make things right. He documented every step of the way. 

Prior to sentencing, Randy presented a package of more than 200 pages. His table of contents detailed all the steps he has taken to transform his life, including daily journal entries. 

At sentencing, the judge commented on the package, saying that he followed the chronicles of transformation with great interest. Then the judge dropped some bombshell questions on Randy: 

  • What kind of car do you drive?
  • How much are you paying in rent?
  • Why does your business profile identify you as Arthur? 

The judge said that the mitigation package Randy submitted was so good that he had been contemplating giving Randy a term of probation. But when the prosecutor responded with more detail, and Randy confirmed that he had been leasing an Aston Martin sports car, that he lived in a luxury beachfront condo, and that he was doing business under an alias, the judge sentenced Randy to 18 months in prison. 

Sentence-mitigation strategies can help defendants. But the defendants must build records of authenticity to get the best results. 

Accountability logs can keep a person on the right track.

  1. Describe the moment that you made a change in your thinking patterns for the better.
  2. Reveal the influence behind that change.
  3. How did you go about building a plan that would lead you to becoming the person you aspire to become?
  4. What timelines did you put in place?
  5. In what ways have you been able to stay consistent with those timelines?
  6. What have you learned from the work that you’ve been doing?
  7. Where will your plan take you in five years?
  8. How will your accountability log prepare you for a law-abiding life?
  9. In what ways does your accountability log show your empathy for the victims of the case?
  10. In what ways does your accountability reflect your understanding of the case?

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