Dr. Al Dirschberger is serving a sentence inside of a state prison, and he publishes his posts regularly.
This story is so similar to many other stories where you attain or exceed expectations professionally, personally, socially, and there is an event which impacts the trajectory of everything. A poor decision which affects your life, turning it into constant turmoil, questioning your strength, your ability to overcome a monumental life altering event.
It is easy to sit back and make excuses and rationalize how a wrong has been inflicted on oneself. Our lives mean everything to us. They are real and concrete. Our lives may be unique to each one of us, but it is who we are. A major aspect of our life is taking responsibility and finding the paths that make it meaningful. Choosing the right path can be difficult, causing us to reexamine the current priorities and modifying the trajectory, causing us to change paths.
As I found myself questioning why I am experiencing such a drastic and dramatic event, which caused much suffering, I am reminded of a quote from Victor Frankl; “It does not matter what we expect from life, but rather what voice expects from us. Stop asking the meaning of life, think of ourselves as those who are being questioned by life.”
The life altering events all started in 2017 while serving as the Commissioner of Social Services of a large County Agency. It was also the time the #metoo movement was in full swing and a heightened awareness in the public’s eye. I attended a conference with members of my agency, among them a junior employee; Mary Scotland.
The conference was about achieving permanency for youth in the foster care system. The conference hosted social activities in addition to informational sessions. Ms. Scotland and I spent most of evening talking together as part of a larger group of attendees or on our own. As the evening progressed from dinner to the hotel bar, we accompanied a number of other attendees to a local establishment for some food and drinks. As the night was coming to an end at 1:00 o’clock in the morning for the group, it was just beginning for the two of us. Upon returning to the hotel, Ms. Scotland eventually leads me to her hotel room where we spend the next six hours together engaged in what was thought to be a consensual intimate relationship. However, it turned out to be a challenge of different versions of events and eventually leading me to be charged with two class E non-violent felonies, loss of my career, media sensationalism, family turmoil, and my life being played out in the public. The end result being found guilty and incarcerated while trying to defend myself against such false and egregious allegations.
It is difficult to express the emotional stress experienced during such a traumatic event. Emotions that I never had a grasp on or allowed myself to experience. Being an analytical bottom-line person, I did not express my emotions. I did not want to hear stories. I wanted the facts and had a “get to the point” attitude. I did not show much emotions, I never cried. I was pretty much a person who kept his emotions in check. I was able to survive based on my professional status and all the work and volunteerism I did with the community. I found myself experiencing an event that affected my life in such a manner that I could not understand what was happening to me physically or emotionally. Tears, loss of appetite, physical tremors, inability to sleep, lack of concentration had overtaken my sense of being. I was not in control and for a person who thrived on having structure and order in his life, this presented a life altering situation I was having a hard time wrapping myself around.
My emotional crisis made it easy to overlook opportunities to make things positive. Opportunities that existed, but due to the difficult situation I found myself experiencing a lack of insight or drive to take positive steps forward. I looked beyond opportunities to grow personally, professionally and spiritually. Over the next chapters I discuss the events of the evening, the investigation and the trial, the verdict and my experiences in the legal system being incarcerated. I also discuss the lessons learned on overcoming the personal, professional, spiritual and emotional turmoil. I will leave you, the reader, with the ultimate decision; should I have been incarcerated or not.
As I began to explore how to overcome the latest challenge in my life, one that had me in total which and disbelief that had me questioning why this is happening to me, I had to fact the facts that I found my world disintegrating around me. I had resigned my position at work, I was accused of breaking the law, and my life was being played out on the local news. In reality, it should not have come as a shock to me. All this was happening at the height of the #metoo movement. Yes, my actions were morally and ethically irresponsible, but sexual misconduct, absolutely not! Unfortunately, my poor insight and uncalculated risk put me into a personal crisis that would question my resolve daily. I found myself feeling isolated on an island all to myself questioning how I was going to manage through the situation and move forward once the issue was resolved.
As my life became consumed with my poor choice to accept Ms. Scotland’s invitation to join her in her room, it became very apparent the hurt and pain I caused to the people I loved most. It was difficult to wake up everyday and face the embarrassment, the guilt I was carrying. What was I thinking? Why would I do that? What have I done? These were questions I asked daily, even hourly. Waking up every day, rolling out of bed became an agonizing chore. Even before my poor choice became public, I was exhibiting the stress of the situation. There were changes in my demeanor that were noticeable that something was wrong.
I didn’t realize it was obvious to others something was going on. Unconsciously, I began to act differently than what everyone was accustomed to. My daily smile was nonexistent, the way I demonstrated enthusiasm was lacking, my relaxed nature was more intense, and my physical appearance was deteriorating. I was losing weight, my wrinkles in my face were more pronounced, and I was constantly staring into oblivion.
I thought I was being strong, but red flags were being messaged to those who knew me. Before and after my secret was exposed, my life transcended into a perpetual emotional rollercoaster. Once public, every day I would wake up and say today is the day! I am going to get up, workout, shower, do some work around the house, and contact some friends. I am going to be positive and accomplish something positive today. I am going to keep myself busy until this situation is resolved. I am going to act like I know I am – INNOCENT!
However, I would lie in bed for a few minutes and allow stress to take over. I stressed about what job I was going to get, what people were thinking, what were they saying, and what is going to be the outcome of the criminal case? I would stare at the clock imagining my workday. The stress would overtake my emotionally and I would perseverate on how my life is ruined and how I am going to move forward.
The stress eventually turned into anger. I would get angry at they situation and could not understand how and why this is happening. How could I be accused of something I would never do? I would think about how loneliness has replaced my time with friends, individuals I asked every day where are they? Why are they not contacting me? I struggled contacting them not knowing what to say and figured they had the same issue. However, I did have a number of friends who were relentless in contacting and trying to support me any way they could. No matter the support, my anger grew. Why would someone do such a thing to someone, lie and exaggerate, accusing someone of a crime. In addition, having my life prosecuted in the newspaper only added to my anger.
Anger would only last a short time as sadness would overtake my emotions. I would start to feel pressure in my stomach, tightening of my chest and tears flowing from my eyes. The guilt, embarrassment, stress I have caused everyone would take front and center. Every time I walked through my house and saw a family picture I uncontrollably wept and felt the pain of disappointing the ones I loved most. Even though all of them had become my biggest supporters unconditionally, the emotions caused such a force that it was hard to breathe and concentrate.
As I would spend hours weeping and sinking into a deep sorrow, a dark phase would engulf me, a deep dark place where all emotions collided and became one. All my thoughts and efforts moved to rectifying the situation as quick as possible. How I was hoping karma would strike Ms. Scotland and she would not be around anymore to something in did controlled, my life. I became fixated on painless ways to end my life. Ways that would look like it was an accident or natural causes so my family could receive my life insurance money. I would spend hours after hours thinking, plotting and analyzing how to accomplish the task. I didn’t sleep at night, totally fixated on finding a way. All it did was drive me deeper into a state that frankly scared me out of all the emotional phases I was experiencing. Eventually the feelings would subside, I would fall asleep, but wake up only to experience the same range of emotions. The concern was there was one change happening to the phases of emotions. The time between each emotion was decreasing with dark thoughts starting to win, consuming most of my day. Rather than progressing from optimism to dark thoughts throughout the day, it was taking minutes.
Each minute of a day felt like hours, hours felt like days, days felt like weeks, weeks felt like a month, and months felt like an eternity. My best hope was to find strength during these difficult times with the understanding that I was not alone, and this will pass giving me an opportunity to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually. My emotional crisis made it easy to overlook opportunities to make things positive. Opportunities that existed but due to my lack of insight, I was hindering my ability to personally grow.
The support from my family was ongoing. When they knew I was struggling, they would do something to demonstrate their support. As I have done so many days, I went to the mailbox to retrieve my mail and found two cards that were addressed to me. With intrigue, I opened them up to find out they were from two of my daughters. My oldest daughter wrote:
“In a time when you probably feel defeated, I wanted you to know that no matter what I will always love and support you. Know that one mistake does not define you as a person. I don’t want you to feel alone. We are here for you. The dad I know will fight back from this and although it may take time, figure a new path of life. One thing that will never change is your kids and your grandchildren. We will always stand by your side. I know it may be a long road, but please don’t push us away. We want to be there every step of the way. Just remember, life has a twisted way of working things out. You are one of the strongest people I know, you will get through this! Don’t be afraid to ask for anything …”
In another act of support my youngest daughter purchased a book where you fill out special moments you have with your father. Her insights, love and support turned a difficult day into a new focus of optimism.
My middle daughter displayed the most courageous move by visiting me the day after I was incarcerated. The first thing she did was to tell me how proud she and everyone was of me for fighting this injustice and they love and support me no matter what. The support was not just limited to the females in my life. Both my sons have been such supporters, constantly using sports analogies to encourage me to continue my fight and stay focused.
Facing adversity alone is daunting but having the love and support of your family unconditionally is empowering. Everyday was a challenge, even just getting out of bed was difficult. All I needed to do was think of the support I was receiving from my family unconditionally. I had no idea where all this was coming to an end, how I was going to move forward, but I owed it to my family to stay focused, positive, optimistic, and try. No matter what!
I learned early in my life the importance of family. I grew up in a lower to middle class family. My parents lacked formal education beyond high school, but worked very hard to provide for me, my bother and our sister. My father worked for the local gas company by starting as a ditch digger and working his way up to a back-hoe operator. My mother worked in a local nursing home in the laundry department cleans linens daily. Both worked long and hard hours. We lived in an upstairs apartment of my maternal grandparents until my grandfather died at an early age from cancer. after his death we moved to the suburbs where our grandmother would live I the upstairs apartment, reversing the living arrangements.
While living with both grandparents, we were located into a very poor neighborhood that was turning into an unsafe area to live. However, every Sunday and holiday, all my mother’s four siblings and their families were expected to be over for dinner. Since both my grandparents were straight off the boat immigrants from Sicily, every meal was a traditional Italian feast of lasts, meats, bread, salads, desserts, wine and beer. Lots of wine and beer.
There were no exceptions to missing family dinners which always turned into fun banter of politics and I know more than you do debates. The rule was, he who yelled louder and more convincing would winner. Although every argument was contentious, you could always feel the love and respect in the room.
One Christmas Eve, one of my cousins wanted to leave early and spend time with his friends, enjoying the freedom of being older and having the ability to drive. However, it was forcibly made clear by the fist pounding on the table by his father gnat under no circumstance was he allowed to leave a family function and if he did there would be sure consequences. Family was family and family were always first.
I also developed my love for the Christmas holiday from those gatherings. The big joke with my children is that they always tease me that Halloween just ended and now dad is going to put up the Christmas tree and start watching all the Hallmark Channel Holiday movies twenty-four hours a day. That love came from my grandfather’s modeling. He loved the Holiday, so much that he would sneak out of the family dinner to slip into a Santa outfit and come barreling through the front door ho, ho , going and singing Christmas songs.
It took a major family incident to see how important your family can be to you. in the early 1970’s, my mother’s brother was convicted of a crime and sent to Federal Prison. No one in the family flinched and provided unconditional love and support for him. Our family vacations were not camping, an amusement park, or visiting a historical site. They were spent visiting our Uncle in Federal Penitentiary.
Once released, nothing changed with him. He was our Uncle, we loved him no matter what and protected him. on a regular basis FBI agents would come visit our house asking questions about him. When was the last time you saw him? Where does he live? What we did was to say we haven’t seen him and don’t know where he is as he was upstairs visiting or living with us and his mother. He has paid for his crime and it was time to move forward.
I also ,earned that no matter how much a family loves each other, there are events that can fracture the core of the family unit. We experienced such an event that pitted my mother against her brother and sister and drove a wedge in the family for years. A wedge that saw both my mother’s brother and mother die without the opportunity to reconcile. Fortunately, with much prompting from all their children, reconciliation occurred, and the family grew stronger together.
What was going to be the outcome with my family wore on me daily. It is hard to express orally or in writing the range of emotions felt as I awaited a response from my family. It turned out those lessons I learned about family were passed down to my children, supported by my wife, and never lost by my brother and sister. If not for the support of my family, I do not know how I would have been able to get through such a difficult situation that was not only overwhelming, but life changing.
One would think the response of your spouse would be that of anger, hatred, and to disown you. That would be the typical response of someone who has been informed of infidelity and accused of criminal behavior. However, she is not a typical person. It was as clear as a beautiful day over the lake that there was pain, hurt, and anger. Yet, she stayed calm and went right into protective and supportive mode. She wanted to protect me and her children. She was rock solid, she was a rock for everyone.
Every day was very difficult to face my family, yet they were determined to find ways to demonstrate their support and love, When I found out I would be formally charged with a. crime, I decided to attend court by myself. I had brought enough stress onto my family, I did not want them to experience me being formally changed and all the emotions attached to it. Before leaving for court, my wife gave me a card and she wrote the following:
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every step to look fear in the face. You will be able to say, “I lived through this horror and I can take on anything that comes my way.” This is the most brave and courageous decision and action perhaps you ever made. One which models strength and the ability to face adversity. Know your family is a support down this winding and daunting journey. Stay strong and feel a bit of relief to know the coach is going to fight the umpires calls and have them overturned. Your start does not determine how you are going to finish. Stay Focused!”
It was these words that gave me strength that day tore adversity. Even though I have mentioned it to her, I am sure no one can ever truly know the impact it had on me.
Family was not the only support to communicate their unconditional support no matter what. True friends started to emerge. One of the first things my lawyer said to me when we first met was that I was going to find out who my “true” friends were. How accurate he was. When Tyne news broke that I resigned, my phone could not stop ringing with calls and text messages asking if I was okay. However, once the circumstances behind my resignation, although untrue and unsubstantiated, the phone calls and text messages finished tremendously.
It was more than individuals not knowing what to say. People wanted to distance themselves as quickly as possible. What was so demoralizing and astonishing was the people whom stopped communicating and those who reach out that I had not heard from for years. Those who vanished from communicating were individuals I would consider to be close friends, individuals I had a work and personal friendship with. Individuals I spent years mentoring and coaching professionally. Then there were friends I lost contact with that would re-emerge to provide support to me and my family.
Those individuals who were continually in contact became the backbone of my support outside of my family. every week or so, I would receive a message to stay focused and know there are many people in the community that support and believe in me. That support helped me get through some of the toughest days. What help the most were five friends who became my daily support. They would call or text every other day to see how I was doing and offer support. It felt like they had planned out who would contact me each day, but in realized there was no coordination, just out right unconditional support.
They were the ones willing to listen, willing to give advice, willing to support me no matter what because they believed in me and knew the allegations were fabricated. I heard that some individuals did not call because they did not know what to say. It was simple, a simple question whom have sufficed. How are you doing would have been the easiest way to start the conversation. Those who did call said it best. I am you friend, I know what type of person you are, I am not going to ask what happened, you can talk about it when you Wang, how are you and your family. It was so comforting that in did not have to explain things and just talk to some on who cared about me, not the situation.
I will admit, it was very difficult to talk to people at first. In fact, I actually isolated myself and refused to answer the phone, wait former to return a text, and in declined meeting friends. However, they were relentless. All they were doing was demonstrating their support and trying to get me back into the community where I enjoyed being. Nothing was going to hinder their efforts. Slowly I would venture out. It would take time and hard work to overcome my feelings of insecurity to re-enter a routine without thinking of my life changing events, but I was going to do it. only with the support of my family and those close true friends.
A good friend sent me a text that I would read periodically that helped put things in perspective:
“It is the darkest moment of the midnight skies that we are able to see the most amazing stars. Focus on them and not the blackness that seems to surround them and tries so much to consume their glowing energy. Think of those stars as the people you have so positively affected and know the man that you are. They will shine for you. Most have their trials in shadows. Your life is public. With that power and fame comes pressures that no one can understand and has led many to falter. A momentary lapse in judgement should never define a man, it’s how you respond that will. Focus on the light knowing that dawn will come. If we were all exposed and had to wear our indiscretions and darkest secrets, wouldn’t we all be more alike. Haters will hate, judgers will judge, to hell with them. The rest bare the ones that matter. Keep talking to the ones that always listen and known fully all of your trials, tribulations and indiscretions, and still unconditionally loves you. That is a beautiful thing my friend and should be the foundation which we lay our soul.”
The power of true friendship can help tremendously overcome those dark shadows of any challenge I must face. My friends helped me to realize that I can face my biggest fears no matter what curve ball life may throw at me. We are not defined by a lifetime of a single event, by many events that paint a clear picture of whom we truly are as an individual.
All that matters are not the events we have faced, whether they be positive or negative, it is how we respond to those outcomes and challenges. How we demonstrate a willingness to be humbled, a willingness to learn, a willingness to change, a willingness to love, a willingness to face adversity and defend the truth no matter the outcome. Life is much more fulfilling to archive things together with those who unconditionally love and support you than facing it individually.
I was going to need all the support I could get because things were going to get worse before they got better, a lot worse. The challenge of a lifetime. What made the situation unbearable at times was the media attention. They went out of their way to sensationalize the situation. They would create headlines to draw in readers and make statements that were inaccurate and made insinuations that compounded the negative publicity. Everyone was forming an opinion of my guilt.
Negative articles and comments were common as today’s society in infused with individuals who have a comment on everything. Especially negative comments. Individuals were having their voices heard by trolling on-line news articles and responding to them. There was a pattern of the same individuals always commenting negatively about me going beyond guilty until proven innocent.
Part 2 Friends email
Most of the people I have never met or had met them superficially to conduct business in the community. None of them had ever been a close acquaintance. They did not know me personally, they did not truly know my character, they did not know anything about me or the situation, yet the felt the need to make statements regarding me. interjecting their own opinion.
Making comments was not limited to the internet. Some individuals felt the need to express their opinions by making comments to my family. Sure, the would start out by asking how things are going but then follow it up with a backhanded comment.
My wife was at an event with my son when an individual felt the need to console her and condemn me at the same time. making comments such as “what are these men thinking about” and “I know you are in transition” as well as another person asking “are you staying with him” were just a few examples of the lack of boundaries some people had. No one had the facts, heard only rumors and speculation, yet they had made their minds up. A sad fact that our society has moved to guilty until proven innocent. Matter of fact, guilty no matter what.
How does someone manage a response to an event the is so widely publicized an event that is characterized s unethical and illegal. An event that lacks clarity to everyone, but they have an opinion. An event that lack clarity to myself because I knew I was innocent from the fabricated allegations. Well, it comes down to the support of your friends and your family. Unconditional love and support will always win over negative individuals trying to take you down.
I remember such an event of unconditional love and support that happened with my brother and my father. To understand that interchange between them, you must fully understand my father. My father can be best described as a modern day “Archie Bunker” from the famous 70’s sitcom All in the Family.
Archie was a blue collars worker who expected his dinner to be ready when he came home, waited on by his wife, opinionated, loved his beer and cigarettes and was a very prejudiced individual. Don’t Gert the wrong impression, he loved his family, was a hard worker, but had his idiosyncrasies.
My brother, a highly intelligent individual, Salutatorian of his high school class, Cornell Graduate, very successful business executive called me and after a few minutes asked me what I would think if he told me he was gay. Although he had a good idea of my response, he was hesitant. As expected, my response was what took so long, I figured, no problem, love you no matter what, and I hope you are happy. Then the second or real question was posed, what do you think dad will say?
Well, know our father as we did, we had no idea what his response was going to be. After discussing it for a while, he was intent on letting our parents know. What happen next was a true demonstration of unconditional love and support. The man we compared to Archie Bunker, could not have been more supportive. He stated he did not care. All he cared as bout was that my brother was happy, safe and he had his one hundred percent support.
I thought I would never witness or be part of another event that demonstrated such unconditional love and support until I experience such a difficult time in my life. I found myself experiencing a family that has been tremendous and friends who have been the supports me and my family needed to get through the life altering situation. It is clear, without family and friends, you are an individual living a lonely and depressing life.
Why is it that in times of great need or crisis we find ourselves searching for reasoning and support through our faith, our spiritually, our religion, our god? We tend to have our problems focus us on the need to look to depend on our god. Yet, while searching for his support, we are questioning our belief and questioning why he would allow such a horrific life changing event to happen.
Ask I was questioning my faith, my eighty-year-old Aunt responded to a letter I wrote her letting her know I am struggling with ,y faith. Her response was predictable, yet poignant. She stated “please do not give up on god, he gives us what we can handle and has. plan for us.”
As I read her words, I was reading a book by New York Times bestselling author Rick Warren where he states “regardless of the cause, none of your problems could happen without god’s permission, everything that happens to a child of god is father-filled, and he intends to use it for good, even when Satan and others mean it for bad.”
I have never been an outwardly religious or spiritual person, I. have always practiced in private. Every morning when I wake up, I would have a conversation with god. Thanking him and asking for strength to get through the day. Before bed, I would pray the Our Father and Hail Mary, again thanking him and asking for blessings for myself, family and friends.
Yet, I found myself questioning my faith, spirituality and the existence of my god. I found anger replacing my devotion to my faith. This was not the first time my faith would be challenged. Each time in the past when I experienced difficult times, I would question why, however for the most part, each incident had a positive outcome.
In 1989, my oldest son had to face a life-threatening situation even before being born. His mother was experiencing stomach issues and became jaundice. Test result concluded her gall bladder needed to be removed. Although a relatively simple procedure, it was a high-risk procedure for someone whom was pregnant. Especially when the fetus was not in the last trimester.
After surgery, contractions began, and medication was needed to try to stop the delivery. For hours I sat helplessly wondering if the two people I love would be okay. I prayed and questioned why at the same time. Happily, the medication worked, contractions subsided, a full recovery was experienced, and a healthy delivery produced a wonder gift to this world and my life. I believe God had looked upon us through a very difficult time.
Another such event regarding health, my health questioned my faith and my mortality. In 2007, I was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. While getting pre-operation blood wok, my platelets and blood counts were not correct. After many blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy, it was concluded I was suffering from a blood cancer.
My faith hit rock bottom that day. After being diagnosed and told I had five years to live, I attended my seven her old daughters open house at school. As I participated in the events and watched the innocence of my little girl, my world was crushed just thinking of not being there for her or any of my children. I spent the night crying, questioning why god would let this happen to me.
Fortunately, I received a second opinion from. well known cancer hospital that confirmed the diagnosis but had a. very different outcome. While being examined by the physician assistant, she said “oh, you have CML, no problem, we have a pill you take daily that will stop the production of the cancer cells. You are lucky there is a treatment and you have one of the most well-known doctors who treats this disease.”. It has been twelve years I have been in remission. Again, I found myself thanking God for looking over me, but the next incident has me still a little anger and questioned my faith to the. core.
In ????, my ?? year old mother was diagnosed with stave four pancreatic cancer and given six months to live. She rarely drank alcohol, never smoked, was very active, ate well, and she gets diagnosed with a terminal disease. She spent her entire life devoted to the care of my father who had a heart transplant and died a few years earlier. How could someone who I considered a saint be stricken with such a horrible disease. This time my prayers would not be answered. We would lose our mother, my children’s grandmother to cancer on ???????. To this day, I continue to struggle with her death, but rationalize it by believing that god needed another angel in heaven. Probably to control my father.
Now more than ever I find myself trying to understand why god has let another crisis happen to me, this one so personal and unbelievable. Although I question my faith, I have not strayed. I have to believe that life is not fair. Through my faith, I have to overcome odds that are against me. I believe I can change the outcome of my ,life if I refuse to give up on hope.
This belief was reinforced by a friend whom sent me a prayer I have now added to my highly ritual of prayers:
“Jesus, there are places in my life where hope has grown weak and cold, or even dead. You know this, you also know that I want to live again, I truly do. Restore to me the joy of hope, a hope born by trusting you.”
Ask struggle to find the reasoning for my suffering, I have sensed a spirit guiding me. I have witnessed it transcend a feeling of hope from a spiritual realm answering my questions that I do exist for an ultimate purpose and will chuve such a purpose through my beliefs and my faith.
When you find your life in total disarray by an event that sends you instant turmoil, how does one come to grips with all the emotions evoked and how do you move forward? A question I found myself asking constantly. Every day I would wake up carrying a heavy load of guilt, embarrassment, and shame. Such pain for the hurt I have caused my loved ones.
I found myself paralyzed with emotions to the point it was difficult to get out of bed every morning and face the world. I dreaded waking up to a world I dubbed “Groundhog Day” after the movie starring Bill Murray and Andi McDowell. The only difference between the movie and my reality is that in the movie Bill Murrays character woke up every morning in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to cover Groundhog Day trying to change the outcome of the day from negative events to positive ones. Whereas, no matter how many days I would wake up, the situation was always going to be the same and I was doing to have to deal with the emotions I was struggling with.
Facing my emotions were very difficult and painful. Emotions that I had really never had to face. But confronting them was necessary before I could move forward and begin the healing process. For myself to come to terms of what happened and start moving forward, I needed to start the process with forgiveness.
Since I was a trained social worker, I was well aware that the idea of forgiveness was going tombs a process, especially self-forgiveness. It was going to be as easy as saying, “oh yeah, I made a mistake, and everything will be okay.”. It was going to take time and the courage to face my fears. The question wasn’t if I was willing to take the journey, it was how I was going to accomplish this task. I knew it was going to be steps to be taken, but a journey.
In algebra we learn that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yet, the shortest path to forgiveness was not going to be that direct. The path was going to be winding hills and steep valleys. For everyone the path was not going to be the same, no quick fix. It would be a process that was best suited for me to overcome the obstacles I needed to face to produce an outcome that would help me move forward and grow. Forgiveness was going to be the catalyst to create the ability for a fresh start and a new beginning.
Where to begin was difficult to decided. It had to be a meaningful process, it was not prescribed but self-decided that I would take a somewhat chronological approach starting with the event, forgives from others, self-forgiveness, and then forgiveness of my accuser. In fact, I found myself multiple times repeating each step and known I will have to revisit my journey of forgiveness the rest of my life.
When I examined the facts of the event, I had to look at the true facts, not the rumors, exaggerations, false allegations, misrepresentation of events, or the media sensationalism of headlines and articles. I had to let the walls I built up to protect me fall and practice humility and be face my vulnerabilities. Unless I was willing to be humble and vulnerable, this process was going to nothing more than a misguided gesture. Taking responsibility for my role made me face my fears, humiliation, shame, sadness, loneliness, self-hatred, and all the emotions I faced on a daily basis.
In taking responsibility for my role, I had to face the negative accusations that were in various forms. I had to face my infidelity, the hurt I caused to my family, and being a caused of a crime I would never commit although there were individuals who were willing to say or do ranging to convict me. I had to not only accept responsibility of my poor judgement but accept the influence of those who saw me as a criminal.
Taking responsibility for accepting an invitation to participate in actions that were adulterous and putting myself in a situation where allegations could be made was difficult, but one accepted from the beginning. Understanding the allegations knowing I was innocent was difficult to accept. I had to face the question of why I would engage in such an act. In the end, I was able to come to understand and accept that I have weaknesses and I cannot control how the events were be twisted around, insinuating something happened that did not.
In facing the allegations, I had to deal with my anger and resentment toward those who I felt their actions to be dishonest and not accurate. I needed to face the anger and pain. I wasn’t afraid to face these emotions because my anger wasn’t outward or expressive, or physically dangerous. It was internal, taking a tremendous amount of energy leaving me lethargic and disinterested in moving forward. The medium for working through this stage was to journal my thoughts and emotions. positive, negative, and dark thoughts were written down to express my anger and frustration.
Once I was able to face my emotions and the event, accepting responsibility, I moved on the task of asking forgiveness from my family. although a difficult task, my family demonstrated an unconditional love and support that accentuated their ability to forgive. Having their support and love made me uncomfortable. Where was the anger? Where was the disappointment? It was there, but they focused their emotions toward support rather than condemnation. Besides verbally apologizing to my family, I used writing my thoughts as the best medium to fully express my feelings of guilt and shame, asking for forgiveness. In a letter to my children, I state: (ADD PART OF LETTER).
Although asking and receiving forgiveness from my family relieved me of the guilt, shame, and embarrassment, I had to remember that words are just that, words. The words may articulate my feelings, but it must be my actions that will demonstrate my true changes to grow personally and professionally.
It has been a long journey through so many emotions and steps to get to a place of self-forgiveness. Every second, minute, hour, day, week, month that has passed h added to my grief, anger, sadness, my emotional rollercoaster. I have prayed for forgiveness. I pray for others, I pray that go can help me to overcome my fears and become a better person. I prayed that I can accept any challenge that I am faced with in the course of a day. I parted I could accept who I am.
When I was with other people, I could hide my inner most thoughts and feelings. I was able to fake it very well. I could converse in conversation, I could laugh and joke around, I could portray an aura of stability. But alone, I was an internal and external mess. All my feelings and emotions were colliding. I was sad, I was somber, I was anger, I felt lonely, I felt abandoned, I wanted revenge. A battle of internal outbursts that created tears, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
With a new determination to set things straight and move forward since I had been able to accept responsibility for my poor decision, accepted the fact that no matter what, those who used me for personal gain by making false accusations were not going to keep me down, and forgiveness from my family, I must take the step to forgive myself.
I decided that since forgiveness is not something you wake one morning and decided to accomplish in a day, I was going to wake up every day with a renewed commitment to face the day with positive thoughts. I WS going to start each day by thanking God for the ability to live each day a little better than the one before. I was going to demonstrate to the ones I received unconditional love and support that their investment in me was not wasted. I am going to forgive myself for one life altering event but create new events that create a full and enjoyable future.
Facing these emotions helped me to grow as a person, start living in the present, and successfully move forward. It has allowed me to trust and love again personally, socially, and emotionally.
In early December 2017, while acting as the County Commissioned of Social Services of a large county I. upstate New York, I attended a two-day conference out of town with other members of the department. The co defense hosted social activities which we all participated, where I spent much of the evening conversing with one female employee. We moved from the activities to the hotel bar over several hours. We eventually accompanied a group to another local establishment for a drink and some food. The employee invited me to her room and video footage depicts, upon our arrival back at GBE hotel, she leads me to her hotel room just after 1:00 o’clock in the morning. six hours later I left her room. It is undisputed that intimate relationships were engaged in.
What became the overall at thing question was if the encounter was consensual or not. I was indicted and. convicted of two Class E Nonviolent Felonies, both charges premised on the “totality of the circumstances.” The sole issue was whether there was consent to the sexual activity or not although she testified that she had difficulty remembering the evening and did not believe she was conscious for everything, but clearly said no.
The People’s proof for trial was far from overwhelming. They introduced into evidence a police orchestrated call, something I was unaware was occurring’ witnesses that painted the encounter as something g it was not, and questionable police and medical evidence. All leading to a conviction although the evidence was highly questionable. I am not here to defend my actions which are viewed as immoral and unethical. I will have to live with those poor choices for the rest of my life. What is questionable is the evidence and the conviction. The larger question at hand is how does someone rebuild their life when it has been corrupted in such a manner to question one’s own existence.
It all started at approximately 5:30pm on the first night of the conference. We all arrived at a cocktail hour prior to dinner for group discussions and networking. Following the cocktail hour, we proceeded to dinner where one of our attendees was presented an award. Afterwards I and two individuals went to the hotel bar to have a celebratory drink and socialize with other conference attendees.
While there, she had drinks and spoke with me for an extended period of time. She testified she had her last drink at approximately 11:00pm before leaving the hotel bar for the other local establishment. While at the other bar, she drank water. Video depicts the two of us walking closely, holding hands as we crossed the street away from the bar. She testified that we sat next to each other and spoke only with me, apart from the rest of the group. After an hour and a half, we left to return to the hotel. On the way back as we exchanged social banter, she invited me to her room. Getting caught up in the moment, I accepted even though I was married.
On returning to our hotel, the other participant from our county was very intoxicated and fell. We ended up walking her back and she was escorted to her room by my accuser who told me to wait at her room, providing me with her room number. However, she maintained throughout the trial that she never gave me her room number. She escorted the intoxicated individual to her room, used the bathroom to clean up and put her make up s testified BH the drunk individual and proceeded to meet me at her room.
Video footage depicts myself waiting outside her room scrolling news on my cellular phone. After a while, I walked to the elevator and waited. She eventually exited e elevator, walked up to me, smile and touched me on the arm. Then led me to her room. We were joking and laughing as we walked down the hallway. Video footage depicts her tossing her hair back and laughing as she opened the door to her hotel room.
Six hours later I exited her room and went to my room. Due to the possibility of poor weather back home, I informed our party they were free to return home early to beat the storm, that myself and another would be leaving early. However, she decided to report to her friend, her boyfriend, and later to the police and a nurse that she was sexually assaulted.
The next day, working with the police, she initiated a recorded call. During the call, she stated we needed to talk and slowly built no to the allegation. Without knowledge of the call, I emphatically denied the allegations and stated the events of the evening were consensual.
When reviewing the video of the control called, I was amazed at the coaching and entrapment that was occurring. During a lost signal between us, you can hear one of the officers saying “listen to me, you are doing fantastic. Listen, get emotional if you have to. Flat out tell him you violated me, I remember saying no. What the fuck.” Another officer also states “if it gets to the point where he is saying oh no, next thing I know we were having sex, push him and say, look, I’ve had sex before and I never had my vagina bleed and I have her been in excruciating pain because my vagina is swollen, I remember telling you to stop.”
I was appalled and amazed how two detectives who were supposed to be investigating her complaint had already decided I was guilty. I also did not understand how two trained officers working with someone who is alleging sexual assault were leading her by putting words and context to her story when any trained professional knows you should never do such a thing with an alleged victim until I found out they were never trained in conducting a control call or interviewing an alleged victim of a sex crime.
No once was there a mention about being violated until prodded by the two detectives who were looking for her to create the scenario, they were coaching her. In fact, during the conversation, the recoding clearly records her saying “and like me saying no”. Like no?
It was a typical winter day in Buffalo, New York. Cold, gloomy, and possible snow in the forecast. As I drove downtown to meet with my layer for the first time to consult on my case, the sky over Lake Erie was turning, visibly representing an ominous oncoming snow storm coming toward the lake front of the city. I could not wonder as I watched the clouds thundering our way if they were predicting my future.
As I entered the downtown area, it was eerily quiet, deserted of any signs of life. It was a Sunday morning, so opposite of the crowded streets during a typical workday. With the streets deserted, it was quiet, lonely for an area that was vibrant during the week. The downtown area was refection of my mood.
As I pulled up to the Liberty Building where I was to meet, it brought back childhood memories of taking the metro from our home in the suburbs to downtown for a visit to the dentist office, my Uncle’s office, which was located in the same office building I was about to enter. As I entered the elevator and punched the tenth floor, I could see those old days of my mother, myself and my brother and sister waiting in the elevator until it reached my uncle’s floor. I also started to feel the nausea and anxiety start to hit me as it always does during dental visits.
As I exited the elevator and stared down the hallway, it was just like my childhood stress, looking at the entrance to my uncle’s office. Once I entered the legal office, I could still smell the aura of the dental office. The smell of antiseptic environment, the Novocain, the sound of drilling against enamel, and the fear that rushed to me every time I enter that environment.
However, this time, I was met with my lawyer, Terry who was in his sixties, a little over six feet tall with a slim runner’s body and graying hair. As soon as I was through the doors, he made feel welcomed and supported, not judged and a criminal. Terry came highly recommended, rated as the top defense lawyer in New York State.
We met in a large meeting room for over an hour where we discussed the issues at length and strategies for my defense which would include another lawyer from the Albany area where the charges would be filed if came to that. He was very honest, stating things would get worse, a lot worse before they get better. He stated I needed to ignore the media, the rumors, the lies, the sensationalism of events, and focus on my defense for however long it would take.
Terry’s demeanor and professionalism melted much of my anxiety and stress. To have someone who was a stranger listen and believe me was refreshing. He provided me with hope and sound advice. The one advice he gave which has been the most accurate was that I was going to find out who my true friends were. It didn’t sink in that day, but I live it daily now.
As I left his office, those same feelings of relief rushed through my body I had when leaving my uncles dental practice. Except the numbness front tube shots of Novocain were going to wear off. I wasn’t sure about the numbness I felt that day regarding what was ahead of me. All I could think about is how my life has been affected. Sure, I have had many setbacks before and had to reinvent myself. But, how was I going to get through this life altering issue and reinvent myself now?
Intro Part 2
The conversation was not making sense to me. Her description of events was not adding up.
As the conversation progressed, she stated that she could not consent if she had been drinking and told everyone earlier in the evening she does not drink. This too was confusing since she stated in police reports she had 5-7 drinks in an eight-hour span of the evening. It also became more confusing at trial when she admitted she stopped drinking at eleven pm and started drinking water. What was the most confusing aspect of her claim was at trial she testified she was texting her boyfriend at ten thirtyish stating I was trying to get her drunk, yet stopped drinking at eleven, only consuming water the rest of the night. When did she get intoxicated?
It was clear she was going to try to say I planned on getting her drunk to take advantage of her. Even during the grand jury hearing she player this theme. She stated she does not drink because her brother was killed by a drunk driver, yet our investigation found out that was not true, and we were able to find fourteen pictures of her drinking at a bar and two Instagram’s where she was falling down from drinking. Unfortunately, we were unable to use those pictures at trial.
What was disturbing was the fact that my attorney brought this to the attention of the assistant DA and when she questioned her, the response was “I was fake drinking.’ Fake drinking? and the DA bought that excuse just like the e/cause I meant to say “almost died” about her brother to the grand jury. It all kept coming back to the fact that I bought the drinks.
The local media even picked up on this and ran a sensationalized headline about a heavy bar tab. I spent two hundred and thirty dollars at the bar that night. What the article did not explain was I bought drinks for over ten people which included judges, attorney’s, and administrators from other counties. All this occurring at a hotel bar where if you break down the cost minus the thirty-dollar tip, I spent twenty dollars or two to three drinks a person. At no time was anyone forced to drink and at trial she testified she was dumping some of her drink because she did not want it.
Although she was able to testify regarding being intoxicated, during pretrial arguments, my attorney motioned to preclude the testimony describing her as physically helpless due to intoxication because that was not the charges I was indicted with. That the charges were a no means no case, if she was able to testify using those allegations, we would have to defend against my indicted charges as well as a far more serious charge of a Class B Violent Felony. The court denied the motion opening confusion on the part of the jury.
Section Six of Article One of the New York Constitution mandates that no person shall be held to answer for a capital crime unless on indictment of a grand jury. The grand jury voted to indict me on two Class E nonviolent felonies. The court permitted the case to move forward introducing into evidence Class B violent felonies depriving me of a fair trial. Unfortunately, the prosecution was also allowed to use evidence from their witnesses that were inaccurate, exaggerated, or completely out of context that painted an inaccurate picture.
Although I will write an entire book regarding every detail of the alleged incident and trial, to highlight a few inaccuracies will demonstrate the inappropriateness of the events of the trial. The only conclusion I can up to the way the events moved forwarded, is that as so many others have expressed, the legal system is flawed and needs to be fixed.
When the plaintiff is allowed to state she never invited me to her room, never gave me her room number, yet it is clear on video that I was led to her room and let into her room by her points to her not being truthful on the witness stand. To state she does not drink, yet I have over ten photos and two Instagram’s of her drinking and intoxicated in bars, yet not allowed to enter into evidence is a travesty. It protects false allegations, not my civil liberties.
The testify no one forced you to drink, you were dumping drinks, and you texted your boyfriend at 10:30 pm accusing me of trying to get you drunk, yet stopped drinking alcohol at 11:00pm per her testimony, only drinking water, when did she get intoxicated beyond remembering anything. Not being able to remember anything in the room except saying no, remembering everything but walking into the room, remembering everything after I left the room.
The physical evidence is extremely confusing. The police did not conduct a toxicological report on her blood alcohol content. The nurse testifies the injuries to her vagina can be caused by consensual intercourse, especially will the amount of foreplay and sexual contact. The discussion regarding blood on the sheets being made out to be pools of red blood was highly exaggerated. When it was a smear of bodily fluids that look a very light pinkish that took up a small area on the top sheet. Finally, the fact another set of DNA was found in her cervix made for a strong case of reasonable doubt.
Following my conviction, the court imposed a five-year aggregate term of imprisonment for the two Class E nonviolent felonies. When I appeared for sentencing, I did so with no prior criminal history whatsoever. I provided the court with over 50 character reference letters attesting to my 30-year career in public service, as a father, a professor, a college coach as well as many other contributions to my community. Nothing in my history was commensurate with the sentence imposed. Being my first ever offense, the court could have imposed a sentence as little as probation considering I was offered a misdemeanor, no jail, no probation as a plea deal. The imposition of such a sentence can only represent an unjust punishment for defending myself by exercising my rights to a trial.
Recreating yourself stats at a very young age. There are events that shape us and redefine us. The earliest memory I have of changing how I represent myself happened when I was five years old. We lived in a very diverse poor neighborhood in Buffalo. We lived upstairs in my mother’s parents’ house next to a vacant lot and across the street from a bar. They were both off the boat immigrants from Sicily. They were both hard working and my grandfather was my savior. Anytime i would get in trouble, I would run to him for comfort. The street we lived on connected to main streets, acting as a way to pass from one area of the city to another. It was a busy street with many cars passing our house at a high speed.
On a nice summer day, we were outside playing, and I was supposed to be watching my younger brother. unbeknownst to me, he started to cross the street on his tricycle. All I can still hear is the screeching of the tires of a vehicle coming to a stop nearly hitting my brother and possibly killing him. What followed that incident not only scared the daylights out of me with the possibility of being responsible form my brother’s death. It signified to me the responsibility my parents were putting on me and the wrath my father could inflict if I failed.
As usual, my grandfather was there to pick me up. As I was shaking in total fear, not of my father, although he could be loud with his anger, he rarely ever physically disciplined us, but what could have happened to my brother. My grandfather was there to comfort me. He engulfed me with his hugs and kisses and handed me brandy to drink to help calm me down. Another incident was when my brother and I were wrestling in our bedroom and I accidently slammed my brother’s forehead into a table causing a gash in his forehead. No matter the circumstance, he was always there, until one day he wasn’t, dying from cancer at such an early age.
After his death, we moved to the suburbs. One day we were packed up and told we were moving. I was seven years old, Sal was five and Lori was two. It was an early Saturdays in the summer when we took what seemed like the longest ride but was actually 20 miles into a neighborhood that look so strange. We went from a neighborhood that was run down, a local bar, beer bottles all over the street, little to no grass on your property to houses that were well kept, front lawns that looked like putting greens and a place that was very quiet. All houses look beautiful, except the one we moved into.
The house was on a steep hill, the lawn was more weeds than grass, the paint on the house was peeling that there was more bare wood than paint on the house, and the garage looked like one board was holding it together, tilted ready to collapse. No matter what it looked like, I can remember the pride in my parents. They looked at the house as if it were a castle. They didn’t see any flaws, on the vision of hope.
As the moving truck backed into the yard to unload, my brother and sister and I were enjoying the sight, playing on the front lawn. While enjoying the time, it became apparent there was an issue. A commotion at the side door to the house was occurring. My fast her could not get into the house. An elderly lady would not let him in adamantly stating this was her daughters house. What she failed to realize was her daughter sold the house, moved out without telling her. After a brief time with the police, we were able to move in and she had to move out by the end of the weekend, so my grandmother cash move in upstairs.
We met a lot of new neighbors that day. The next-door neighbors, neighbors across the street. However, it was clear as they say, we are not in Kansas anymore Toto. First thing I noticed is there was no one of color. It was a sea of white families. The other thing I noticed was our neighbors had so strange habits. I sat in confusion watching the neighbor across the street cut his lawn, then bring out a vacuum to pick up all the grass clipping and learned to never, ever walk on his lawn. The neighbors down the street let their two dogs which were as little as a stuffed animal roam freely, always willing to chase anyone who walked near their home. They were harmless, but as a young child, the scared the crap out of you.
On that day, we met a family that lived around the corner, a friend of my fast her from work. They came over to welcome us to the neighborhood. They too had three children. As my sister and I were walking with the mother of the family exploring the neighborhood, my sister sand I decided to demonstrate our wrestling skills on someone’s lawn for her approval. Instead, we got a lecture on not going on individuals’ neighbors’ lawns, and wrestling is not appropriate. This played out once I went over thier house later in the easy to see if their son wanted to play. He stated no, maybe when you are less aggressive and he lectured me on addressing his mother as Mrs., not by her first name. It was clear that I was going to need to recreate who I was to fit into this new, strange environment I found myself now immersed into.