Those who know me well are probably aware of the personal turmoil plaguing my family over the past 3 years. For those who don't, the sweetened condensed version is that my father was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit bribery in August 2006. My father - a career foreign service officer who received countless accolades and commendations over 25 years of service, had his efforts documented in a book, and was well-respected among his peers - had all of a sudden become a poster child for government corruption.
What ensued was a crazy 3-year spiral into a legal quagmire, not to mention an incredible amount of stress placed on myself and my family as we all attempted to make sense of what happened. My father accepted a gift from someone he thought was a friend. Unfortunately what he did not stop and think about was the perception that this friend was also a user of the bureaucratic process for which my father was responsible for managing. At the end, the judge and the defense agreed to a lesser charge of accepting an illegal gratuity and my father - the man who never even jaywalks - was sentenced to 12 months and a day in a federal prison camp.
I've not talked about this in detail until now and frankly I dont know where this is coming from, but I just sat down and started typing in this moment and this is what come out.
Imagine going along, living your life as always. Going through the motions, addressing your own set of stresses and worries, celebrating the happy times.
Imagine you have hurt your arm at the gym and are on your way to the doctor's office, about to get on the freeway when you receive a phone call from your mother who is in obvious distress. "Dad's been arrested!".
Everything stops. Your head fills with static. You cant focus on the road in front of you so you pull off into a parking lot.
Then you scream:"What?! What are you talking about?!" as your mother begins to sob into the phone.
Then you realize you are still moving through the parking lot and there is someone following you. You aimlessly drive, not sure where you are going and getting really pissed off at the other driver who is still following you. Slam on the brakes and wave them by. "Mom! Calm down! What happened?!"
And then she tells you. They had pictures. And video. He lied to her about that business trip.
He went to Las Vegas with the girls and his friend, the Indian businessman with the jewelry export business. The girls...the Canadian strippers from the bar he was frequenting since moving to Toronto two years earlier. Mid-life crisis, Mom had said. t's ok. They are just friends.
The jewelry - the ruby rings. His "connection".
Friends...Reassure your mother everything will be ok. You lied. Get off the phone and call your brother in Italy. What time is it there? Who cares. He needs to know. He hears the news and says he will call Mom.
Sister needs to know, but she is working and highly stressed at the moment. Call her husband. Ask for his help in breaking the news to her. Not home. Leave a message for him to call you right away.
Call a friend. Ask him to come meet you. You dont know where you are; you cant think straight. Finally you recognize the building across the street and tell him to go there. Static. Nothing but static. Then you remember. You work with lawyers. Call one.
Called one. Then two. Then a third. Friend comes. Listens. Doesnt know what to say.
Awkward...What can he say? Nothing in life prepares you for this.
More static. What to do?
Go back to work. Try and be normal. Like nothing happened.
That doesnt happen. You go back to the office and break down. The static turns into a waterfall. A co-worker tries to console you but you are inconsolable. Where is your manager?
You need to talk to her for she is wise and can help you. She's not there. On vacation. You go home after asking the co-worker not to tell anyone. She promises.
Where is Mom? Call her back. Diplomatic security escorted her home from the Consulate and confiscated some evidence. She is lost. Doesnt know what to do.
Where is Dad? We dont know. Sister calls in hysterics. She talked to Mom already. What do we do?
Dont know. Just dont know what to do.
Calls. More lawyers. Mom finally hears from Dad. He claims it was a setup. She yells at him. He says he wont blame her if she wants to divorce him.
This was Wednesday.
Bond hearing is Thursday. $100K. But they will let him out of jail for $10K.
Sister has the money. Her husband is not working so he flys out to post the bond on Monday.
Over the weekend, you dont know how he is or what is happening to him. Just that he is in a DC jail with drug dealers, rapists and murderers. He is 60 and in poor health. Then the media gets wiff of it. All of a sudden, every single major news outlet is reporting the incident. Blogs are posted. He traded lap dances for missiles with Osama bin Laden. Idiots.
You pray your co-workers dont find out. Get in touch with your manager over the weekend and she does have words of wisdom for you. Everything will be alright. You dont have to talk about it at work. It's a private family matter and whatever help you need, let her know.
Unfortunately, it gets out at work. They read the papers, these lawyers. Manager goes around telling them under no circumstances are they to talk about it with anyone or with me. They seem to listen. But still...pity in their eyes.
Your mother is lost. You take off for Toronto, hoping to offer some comfort to her. When you get there, she is surprisingly composed. At this point, you have been running 24/7 on adrenalin. You let your guard down, sit in the exact middle of the couch and just let it all out. You have to...otherwise, where will it go but to that empty place in the pit of your soul, building in pressure until you finally explode. Best to let it out now.
More Lawyers. More phone calls. Public defender says Plead Guilty. Dad says he is not guilty. Released but with conditions. House arrest. But which house? He doesnt own a home in the US. He moves back in with his mother until Mom can pack up their belongings and return to the US. Eventually house arrest is lifted. He is free to roam about the country. His passport is confiscated of course, but then so is your mother's. What. The. Hell!?
Finally a lawyer is found. $100K retainer.
Savings - gone. Trust - gone. Dignity - gone.
Three years of stress, tears, arguments and false hope. Then finally, it comes. He takes a plea. The charge is lessened, but still - prison. He must be made an example out of.
So there he is. And here I am. And we are each healing in our own way. Our own time.Through the miracle of modern technology, I am able to keep in touch with him via email. His musings from "the inside" are introspective and thoughtful. It's interesting to read how he is going through the process of adjusting to life in prison, as well as allowing for the healing of wounds inflicted since that fateful day in August 2006 and even long before that. In much the same way, my family is healing. We all suffered greatly as a result of this unfortunate episode. We lost trust in him and in the system in which we grew up. We lost friendships and lived in fear that people would judge us for his actions. That fear subsided over time, as we came to the realization that we were not responsible for his actions and if we lost friends over it, then those were not people we should have in our lives anyway.
Lost money, lost friends, lost time.
But we are better people for having weathered such a turmultuous storm.
To be continued...