Thanks to our advancing technology, white collar crime is on the rise, but there are those who prefer the simplicity of mere forgery! Yes, one Michigan man was so ingenious, he physically taped a signature on documents and embezzled almost $500,000! He thought he almost got away with it, but ...Thanks to our advancing technology, white collar crime is on the rise, but there are those who prefer the simplicity of mere forgery! Yes, one Michigan man was so ingenious, he physically taped a signature on documents and embezzled almost $500,000! He thought he almost got away with it, but six months after he stopped transferring funds from the client, who had already moved their account, they realized a large sum was missing.
According to the F.B.I. reports, the losses from white collar crime to the US exceed $300 billion per year. More profound is the amount of children and families that are displaced, left to cope and pick up pieces, or perhaps continue to crumble and fall in a downward spiral never to regain upward momentum again.
The F.B.I. jumped right in as well as the SEC and of course, records were seized and a job was lost. With children of ages two and a half and not even one, more than one life was shattered. The effects of one man’s weakness stretched across the miles and into the homes and hearts of many people. Perhaps the most experienced criminal attorney saved some embarrassing moments (no press, no handcuffs), however, the points still add up the same way with stringent sentencing guidelines. It took two years to process the case and the sentence delivered was 30 months, but did not come until the most appropriate day for this family that put so much trust in their faith in God….Ash Wednesday, 2004, running in tandem to the opening of a new movie, the Passion of the Christ, which was causing quite a buzz within the Christian and secular circles.
Interestingly enough, in this case, Dad (JB) decided to commit wire fraud while I was pregnant with our second child and we had just moved into our dream home after climbing up the so-called arduous corporate ladder! Many sessions of therapy were processed and proved beneficial to all, but could never prepare us for the years ahead. Hopefully our story will shed some light as to how to maintain relationships with the children that are left behind in similar cases.
The last few months were a time of family bonding. A time where nothing else mattered except creating memories and treasuring each waking moment. Perhaps this is how we should all live our lives whether a family member is heading off to prison or not! Special events were planned such as trips to the Toledo Zoo and Mackinac Island, as well as dinner with a Catholic priest and just lots of family fun! If there was ever a time of peace in our lives this was it, for the future held much unrest.
D-day was August 24, 2004, and the release day, though undetermined for quite some time, came to be August 14, 2006. As long as JB did not get thrown into the “hole” he could receive a reduced sentence for good behavior. The children had grown and were told Daddy was “going to school”! Too little to comprehend the truth, that seemed best for a three and five-year-old.
So off we went (he was allowed to self-report), with the support of my sister, on a six-hour drive to northern West Virginia where the mornings were blanketed in fog and the scenery left one breathless. West Virginia University was only miles away; often one could hear the fans cheering during a football game. We watched him walk away to reach a gatehouse where he awaited his escort to the main facility.
The first visit was a solo expedition to track the route that would be so heavily traveled and become ritualistic by nature. More importantly, no one could prepare you for your first trip to a federal prison camp let alone prepare young children. Especially to such a large facility where over 1000 inmates were housed and white collar crime was not the majority offense. Drug trafficking was the norm, but it was not immune to heavier offenses where the inmates were transferred there from higher security facilities as their time served dwindled they were rewarded with a lower security facility with no fences and a lot more freedom. One could walk right off the grounds, but suffer the consequences, of course.
When children prepare for their first trip there are a few things to keep in mind. To maximize a weekend and be as cost effective as possible, driving all day Friday to visit Friday night works best. This allows for a full day visit on Saturday with only one hotel night stay. If two nights are in the budget then research local areas of interest for the children such as movie theater, book store, or just swimming at the hotel. During a two-year visitation schedule, road trips will bring many adventures including vomiting in the car, many rest stops (including roadside), a few wrong turns as well as several detours! Mini vans with DVD players are great or portable DVD players, electronic games, magic pen pads and of course, snacks!
After much discussion with therapists, we arrived at a myriad of things to prepare for the two year absence, preserve the love that existed and maintain the relationships that had been built thus far, following is what was put into play:
1. Written Word: What better way to keep in touch than the traditional pen and paper. For inmates it is just that! No computer, just pen in hand while dressed in layers to buffer any amount of cold that lingers around the cinder block building. Trying to find solace in connecting with family and friends while the hand stiffens, the chair is hard and uncomfortable, lighting is limited, music from other inmates booms in the background and tears stream down his face as he looks at photos of the children…..lonely, fatherless, children.
a. Stationary can be sent in including children-specific paper that makes it more exciting to receive. There is usually an artist amongst the group so in trade for a mere book of stamps, one can send their beloveds drawings as well! At the end of the sojourn, several binders hold these treasures perhaps to never be viewed again. Just tucked away as the memories will fade for some and remain vibrant as today’s headlines to others. Nonetheless, they exist and the emotion, sorrow and pain behind them will never be forgotten.
b. A large handful of greeting cards were bought and pre-written for every occasion. For example, get well, congrats for school and/or sports, miss you, etc. Additionally, award ribbons and stickers were purchased to include for in cards as special treats. All of these items were organized in an accordion-type folder. JB signed all of the cards and put individual notes in them.
c. I found that teacher support was such a blessing! Eventually sharing what family circumstances exist can assist immensely in the education of a young child. As hard as it was, I received heartfelt listening and understanding that gave a single mother at least some of the comfort that she yearned for. When a child struggles in school or is distant there are many reasons, but often not an incarcerated parent! The children in my son’s class even wrote JB letters to his “school”. How proud our son was!
2. Voice Recognition: According to Mary DiPaolo, M.A., LLP, the sound of a parents voice reassures a child that there is still a bond and, if applicable, the parent will return and life will be back to “normal” some day.
a. A trip to Build-A-Bear Workshop was made to record Daddy’s voice only to be tucked inside of a cuddly animal that could be squeezed and heard at a whim! This only lasted one year so one must use creativity to get Dad’s voice back on the recording device being that no recording devices are allowed during visits at federal prison camps nor on the telephone.
b. If one can get past the fact that someone is listening to every word you say, phone calls are allowed and help the realism factor. Phone time can be purchased on a monthly basis and the inmate must wait for a free phone to call. There is a prerecording stating that the call is from a federal prison and then a silence before you actually here a voice. On a caller ID it will come up as “unknown”.
3. Visuals: Perhaps nothing is more stimulating to the mind than what it can see. If Dad cannot be home, then children will have to settle for the next best thing; seeing his face in a photo, on a video or through some other means of visual presentation!
a. Family photos were taken, of course, on exit day. Photos can be taken during incarceration at the camp as well. Inmates can purchase tickets to use for this. Money can be wired in for inmates to buy toiletries, food, clothes, stamps, batteries and other misc. items. Wiring is the best route to go as sending money orders, which is allowed, can take a long time to hit the inmates account and often the inmate does not know who it comes from.
b. A paper “Dad” made out of construction paper was made to sit at the dinner table. This was alternated by an 8x10 photo head shot. The children even gave their paper Dad a plate of food….desperate for his voice, touch and laughter all while trying to please and comfort him. Aren’t they the ones that need to be embraced?!
c. Video ~ the months just prior to his departure we filmed a home video of just day-to-day things. There was also a DVD from a family trip taken earlier in the year that was special to all! Beach time, laughter, and just plain family fun! The children watched it often during his absence and to see his face and hear his voice brought a touch of comfort.
4. Ministry/Faith: If faith is the evidence of things unseen, how could you not have faith in what you do see?
a. Angel Tree, A Ministry of Prison Fellowship ~ The holidays are a doleful time and with the help of such programs as Angel Tree, they don’t have to be that way. When my children saw the bag of presents left on our doorstep they were elated and tears streamed down my face. To this day, my daughter remembers my tears of joy and although there is a deeper meaning of the season, the generosity of fellow Christians helped ease the emotional magnitude that was looming. The tag read: “I miss you. I will be home soon. I love you. Daddy”
b. There is always a time and a place to get to know the Lord, but apparently when one has a lot of time on their hands, say in prison, the odds are quite overwhelming! Increased faith can always help, even if it is temporary. Claiming to be Born Again when confined and incarcerated can appear to some as an act of martyrdom, hypocrisy or an act of a con artist to others. Nonetheless, there were benefits to the children as JB drew strength and appeared grounded to them in written communication, visits, and in phone conversations. Notable books that helped JB during his stay were: Drink this Cup, Nowen, The Alchemist, Coelho, and A Course in Miracles, Schucman & Thetford . This can be a time for a man to grow in spirit even if it is temporary. The friends he finds here will be friends for life as they share something very deep and common – sin, pain, regret, fear, sadness, loneliness, abandonment, and loss.
c. Choosing the right friends and support system(s) ~ to a 5 ½ year old boy, losing his father can be devastating. If the relationship is strong when the father leaves the harder it will be for the child to function socially. We were fortunate that when a breakdown occurred during a play date the parents where abreast of the situation and were able to comfort the child vs. brushing off his needs and using tough love. People of faith have the foundation and basis of love and that is what the children left behind in this situation need a lot of! A mother left to care for children can build her strength as well and in this situation, many avenues were explored and utilized such as Toastmaster’s International, small women’s groups , Christian therapy, places of worship /Bible study, and personal networking and creation of prayer group(s).
5. Visitation: This was once a topic for a speech in Toastmaster’s International titled “How to Prepare for Your First Visit to Federal Prison Camp”. It turned out being a humorous speech due to the abundance of stipulations the government has for visitation. It is wonderful that this can occur, but the guards might as well be Northwest Airlines ticket agents because they do not care at all for the visitors and they are clearly on a power trip! Let’s look at just a few highlights.
a. Regular visiting hours were Friday 5:30-8:00, Saturday 8:00am-4:00pm, and Sunday 8:00am-4:00pm as well as most federal holidays although some inmates work on those days. If visitors do not make it before “count” time or a cut off time, they will not be let in or made to wait. If the “count” occurs when you are visiting with children be prepared to make up a story to say why Daddy is lining up and being counted with the other “students”. If there is too much fog, there may be no visiting at all. Even if you have driven seven hours across four states and the children in the car are restless there is no pity. Keep in mind that first (there are a lot of firsts) you must be an “approved” visitor by filling out paperwork and waiting for approval. Children of the inmate are automatically on the list. On the first visit we made, my mother was not “cleared” so she had to wait outside while I visited. Imagine driving all that way and not being allowed in. Tears run rampant and emotions consume you beyond what you ever imagined! You should also be mindful to come early or before the “count” because there will be a line and then you have to wait for them to call the inmate and they do this at their extreme leisure.
b. There is a dress code, of course. Either leave your coat in your car or put it in a locker because they may search you. Women cannot wear tank tops or short skirts or dresses that reveal too much. No shorts except for children. They will turn you away to go and change if you can or you will have to come back the next day or next time.
c. What to bring - You cannot bring anything to the inmate when visiting so you can tell the friends and family members from day one that “NO, I cannot bring them this or that!” You must mail it; it will be inspected, read, etc. If you are visiting for the entire day there are vending machines to buy gourmet treats and sodas (a bit of sarcasm here)! Your money must be in a clear plastic bag, preferably coins because the change machine may not be working. Do not be shocked when Daddy consumes more junk food in a four-hour sitting than you have ever seen him eat in his life! The food prepared in the kitchen is without butter, salt, flavor, and often the most bland, stale, expired food one has ever eaten! So at this point, anything out of a vending machine looks like a Thanksgiving feast!
d. On a positive note, there are board games, playing cards and a few toys for the children to play and perhaps a TV (maybe even a VCR) or two, depending on the size of the facility. You just have to get past the germs, missing pieces and those who keep the games the entire visitation. This is one benefit to a smaller and newer camp. A transfer is not necessarily a bad thing. Only a few short months JB was transferred to a new minimum security camp where a prison mecca was forming with a maximum security men’s facility, a maximum security women’s facility and eventually a super max underground maximum security facility.
After June 2004, when the Supreme Court ruled on Blakely v. Washington, sentencing guidelines were no longer uniformly applied. Even further, in January 2005, the Supreme Court decided in United States v. Booker that mandatory application of the federal sentencing guidelines violated the right to trial by jury under the Sixth Amendment. Once hopeful that these cases would overturn and reduce his sentence the final verdicts left no hope, thus, these children remained fatherless for 24 months.
One factor that came into play for this case included regional differences in sentencing practices. The rate of imposition of below-average and above-average sentencing for first offenders also increased after Booker. The new methodology implemented in response to Booker uses 11 categories designed to collect and report the nuances of sentencing under the advisory guideline system. Attorneys were hopeful here, but their efforts went unrecognized and broken dreams of an earlier return were shattered.
Whoever is left maintaining the home front plays a critical role. A positive portrayal of the incarcerated parent can only benefit the future relationships of the family members, as hard as it may be. Ill thoughts and words can be processed in therapy or anywhere away from the children’s ears. If they are so fortunate to come out unscathed from such a crime the thing that matters most, family, will be strong in the long run.
People make mistakes. Some forgive and some do not. Choices are made and making no choice at all is still making a choice not to choose. Some get caught when the wrong choice is made and some do not. Could you live with the knowledge of having committed a crime and gotten away with it? In this case, JB thought, for a time, that he got away with “it”. He was not caught until approximately six months after the client moved their account. He was living with sin and swept it under the rug. Choices.
Children are the unfortunate helpless victims in these cases. Spouses suffer emotionally, financially, and physically, but generally gather strength to care for these children that are left behind. To go from a whole family one day to a broken one the next. Going to church and looking around at all of the other families, the fathers, silently weeping. Thoughts of divorce saunter in and out of one’s mind. Anxiety attacks grow, pity is at first welcomed and eventually rejected. Humbleness is an acquired state.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that people do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Deuteronomy 8:3

Today, after a release 18 months ago, the family is broken but healthy. The divorce was final just weeks after JB’s return from prison while he was in a half way house. I still picked him up on August 14, 2006 since we looked forward to that day for so long it could only be shared by the two of us. Our feelings could never be felt by the other as our worlds had changed so much and our experiences so different, so different. The children are happy, well adjusted children and are loved beyond the realms of the universe. The two year absence of their father rarely crosses their minds though for the adults directly affected, memories will burn for a lifetime.
Both JB and I have committed ourselves to helping others overcome adversity through our experiences. He is now speaking in college settings on ethics while slowly breaking into the business sector and I have rekindled my passion for writing. I have also taken steps to lead a small group at a large Christian church in addition to occasional speaking engagements which focus on fears of public speaking. We will continue to use our faith in God to guide us and shape the lives of our children. If we can touch one other life through our misfortunes than we have done our job but will never extinguish the quest.

Author's Bio: 

Borbi, CTM, B.S. in PR from Eastern Michigan University, avid writer and speaker, leader/volunteer at large nondenominational church, survivor of life event dedicated to a life helping others overcome adversity.