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A Felon's Recipe for Martha Stewart's Prison Living

March 12, 2004|R. Foster Winans

Like Martha Stewart, I broke an essential clause of the social contract -- trust -- when I was caught by the Securities and Exchange Commission in a highly publicized insider trading scandal 20 years ago while a columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Like Martha, I betrayed my colleagues, ruined my reputation, left a good deal of wreckage in my wake and earned myself a stretch in federal prison.

Like me, Martha faces a monumental task in trying to redeem herself. I have a recipe for her, tested and refined over two decades of my own search for redemption, and it goes something like this (season to taste):

* Announce that, despite what you said a few days ago, you will not appeal your conviction. Tell the world you respect the decision of 12 thoughtful jurors and a prudent judge, that you have no desire to drag yourself or the rest of us through another year or so of the media circus.

* Apologize publicly to your shareholders, your business colleagues, your supporters, your family and anyone else who has suffered as a result of your poor judgment and your stubborn refusal to take responsibility for your actions. Concede that, whatever you may be innocent of, you are guilty of arrogant thinking.

* When you get to prison, you will be assigned a humbling job, such as washing dishes, mopping floors or scrubbing toilets. Attack your work with gusto. Do not complain. Do not pay someone else to do your job, or make your bed, or wash your clothes. Immerse yourself in humility. It's good for the soul.

Expect at times to be shunned, ridiculed, importuned for money and otherwise humiliated in prison. Try to avoid the instinct to become bitter at your own misfortune. Instead, spend your free time in the law library helping other inmates.

* Once you are released, become an advocate for prison and sentencing reform. You will know how ridiculous and wasteful it was to send you to jail, and how destructive prison is for so many other first-time nonviolent offenders. You will learn how overcrowded the prison system is, how unfair the federal sentencing guidelines are, how flawed the judicial system is. You will know that community service, education, family counseling and drug treatment are what many convicts need to get back on their feet.

* Offer to host or appear on "Saturday Night Live." Your situation, in the context of all the horrible things that can happen to people, is a tempest in a teaspoon. Poke fun at yourself.

* Dedicate your life to a cause -- but make sure it's something you believe in. Do not brag about your efforts, do not show up at fabulous celebrity charity events.

* Write your memoir, tell the unvarnished truth and donate all the proceeds to your favorite charity. Your public will fall in love with you all over again.

*

R. Foster Winans is the author of "Trading Secrets" (St. Martin's Press, 1986).

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