Category Archives for "Family Impact"

Aug 28

Knowledgelink Podcast: A Warning to White-Collar Professionals

Criminal Justice , Ethics , Family Impact , Life after Prison

When it comes to ethics, what you don’t know can hurt you.

J. Kevin Foster

I was honored to sit down with Jon Tota, CEO of Knowledgelink, to talk about the common ethical traps that can bring people and companies down the wrong path, and how to prevent failures of integrity through training, seminars, and consulting.

In this episode of Learning Life with Jon Tota, hear about my journey of a real estate executive turned-convict turned-ethics expert, who formed a plan to end the slippery slope of bad ethical decisions in the business world during his 28 days in solitary confinement.

This is a great interview for those in the business world that are concerned about the pitfalls that everyday people can find themselves inadvertently in.

Oct 14

From Adversity to Authenticity

Family Impact , My Life Before Prison , My Spiritual Journey , Prison Life

[guestpost]This blog post is based on my “From Adversity to Authenticity” speech I gave this week. I discuss the circumstances of my criminal charges and my personal and spiritual transformation. I thought I would share it in the blog.[/guestpost]

My World is About to Change

Imagine being on a plane landing after a business trip. Like everyone else you turn on your phone and notice numerous missed calls, and then your phone rings almost instantly.  It’s your corporate attorney. He tells you he needs you to shut up for minute while he reads a press release to you.

The press release states that the State Attorney General just sued the company that you work for and all its officers, WHICH INCLUDES YOU, for alleged fraud.  The press release also states that there is a criminal investigation. A criminal investigation run by a U.S. Attorney’s office.

You know that your life will never be the same. There is a good chance that you will lose everything that you worked so hard for.  Now, imagine having to tell your wife all this.  Well, this happened to me in June 2007.

For Better or For Worse

My wife’s name is Christine. She picked me up from the airport to go to pre-arranged dinner with an overseas guest.  In the car, I told her about the lawsuit and the criminal investigation. I also told her that the whole ordeal will go on for 10 years – our lives will never be the same.

I said, “Honey, I love you too much to put you through all that is ahead. It will be agony. I will give you a divorce and everything we own. You can have it all.  And she replied, “For better or for worse”. Now, that is true love. At least I knew that I was doing something right. But, for better or worse sums what our lives were like for the next 10 plus years.

Case Background

To give you a little more background, I was a financial executive for a real estate company. One of our projects was a large mountain land development in North Carolina that failed – for a number of reasons.  However, the company and its officers were accused of defrauding lot investors and banks.  I was not involved in the sales and marketing, or in the lot financing – but I was an officer, and I was listed as the “Treasurer” on the North Carolina corporations’ registration filing. The state Attorney General simply picked up my name from the public registration.  The FBI and the US Attorney’s office assumed the criminal investigation.

This was a project that I had been trying to save, and we had a shot to save it. But, investors complained to the state authorities, and, now, there was no chance to save the project. The state shut us down. My time, and that of the other officers, needed to be spent defending ourselves.  Since there was national press on the case, my reputation was shot.  I was now unemployable and all I had had to go to paying for my defense.

The state case was problematic, but, the big problem was the federal criminal investigation.

Criminal Investigation

Criminal investigations drag on for years, and you feel helpless in the meantime.  The fact is a prosecutor can find some charge to stick you with, no matter how small, just to make an example of you. They will bleed you dry in the process.  Conspiracy and obstruction of justice are the two most popular charges that white-collar targets fall into.

I wasn’t being accused of directly defrauding anyone. Instead, the feds were accusing me of conspiracy. Their claim was, as an officer of the company, I should have known that there was fraud being committed and therefore I must have participated in the overall scheme.

The law doesn’t differentiate between someone who actively defrauded someone and someone who conspired with them. The penalties are the same. The feds only had to show that I “touched” the conspiracy in some way to charge me with the entire conspiracy.

To give you an idea of the gravity of this accusation: There were about 345 lot sales totaling $100 million. The feds said that each of those 345 lot sales were fraudulent, and each carries a separate criminal count with a five-year prison term.

Time to Decide

Two years into the investigation, and $250,000 in legal fees later, the feds told my attorney that I had to plead guilty to one count to avoid an indictment.  So, I had two options:

My first option was to go to trial.  I wanted to prove my innocence, but the odds didn’t look very good.  My attorney advised me that he would charge me an additional $1 million.  He wanted $350,000 now and I had to prove that I had the other $650,000.  If this wasn’t enough, he also thought that my chance of acquittal was less than 5%.  I was looking at 20 to 30 years in prison.  Given my health problems, I would probably never get out of prison alive. Even if I wanted to accept these odds, I couldn’t afford the legal fees.

My second option wasn’t very appealing either. But, I could cut my losses and stop the bleeding.  I could plead guilty to one count with a likely prison sentence of five years.  With good time and a little luck, I would serve 36 to 50 months.  Even though I believed in my innocence, pleading guilty would stop the stress of uncertainty and the bleeding of legal fees.

I decided to plead guilty to one count. It was the best business decision I ever made in my life.

Seven months later on March 1st, 2010, I stood in front of a federal judge with my whole family present to have my sentence imposed. The judge said, “Five years in prison!” It was the most humiliating day of life.

Time to Report to Prison

Two years after pleading guilty and four years after the initial complaint, I would report to the Low security prison in Butner, North Carolina.  It was surreal. I felt like Alice dropped down the rabbit hole. Strange land, strange people and strange customs, but this would be new my home.

Slammed into the Hole

About two weeks after entering prison, I was placed in solitary confinement for “protective custody”. This was the “hole”. It was a cellblock that looks much like this.

Inside the cell was dreary and sparse. Only a small window to the outside. I had no one on either side of me but could hear voices of other inmates down the hall.


The only interactions I had was with the morning guard to ask for an additional milk carton. Being very lonely and totally out of my element, I was mad at the world, at the justice system and at myself. I was literally going crazy and my mind couldn’t keep up with all the negative thoughts.

After about two weeks, my case manager came to see me and I blew up at him. I yelled all sorts of vile things at him. He looked at me like I was crazy, and I was.  He walked away. I knew I had to change. This was not me. How could I go on living and thinking the way I was?

I decided to reframe the experience and imagine myself in a silent retreat.  Shifting my thinking to finding meaning for my experience calmed me considerably.

Transferred to the Camp


Finally, I was transferred from the hole to the minimum-security prison camp at Butner. This is what I looked like after the 28 days in the hole. It looks like I could have a starring role in Breaking Bad. Pretty gruesome, huh?

Chris visited me shortly after my transfer. Don’t I look much better?

I would spend the following 36 months at the prison camp and I devoted myself to finding purpose in my journey.

How Does My Adversity Relate to Others

You just read my story of adversity. But, you have all probably had your tough times, right? And, you do look for meaning in your life, don’t you?  In many ways, my physical incarceration is a metaphor for those who have been imprisoned by circumstances in their lives, such as addiction of any kind, troubles at work or in a marriage. You name it.

In my search for meaning, I had to look at myself first.  It became clear to me that I was operating out of the ego. I had scared myself when I was in the hole, so ego was a good place to start.
Does anyone know what ego is? ………….how about, “Edge God Out”.   By this, I mean some believe we are separate from God.

Meaning of Ego

In our society, many of us define ourselves by what we have and what we do. Before going to prison, I defined myself by my job, the money I was making, my houses and cars, the size of my bank account, my relationships with others – who I knew and who knew me. These things were all important to me, and they seemed to give me a sense of purpose – mostly to perpetuate more of what I already had, but bigger and better. Notice that none of this included any real form of spirituality. I had done a pretty good job of edging God out of my life.

The problem was that I could no longer to lay claim to anything in my pre-prison life. It was all gone except my marriage and family.

I knew that I had a false sense of myself from my distorted ego.  Everything that was once true in my life was now a lie. I had a feeling that I needed to make a shift, and that shift had to be something greater than myself and it had to have spiritual meaning.  Most of us probably don’t know how to make a shift to a meaningful phase for our life, and I certainly didn’t. My legal problems forced me to kickstart my shift – a shift that never would have occurred unless I reached the abyss that I was now in.

Hero’s Journey

Not long after I went to the camp, I met a fellow camper who introduced me to Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. Campbell was a 20th century mythologist who found a hidden pattern in every story ever told ….. that includes our personal stories.

Campbell’s pattern is an archetype of the human condition.  Sometimes that human condition involves suffering. I found that life is not about avoiding suffering, life is about finding purpose in spite of, or through suffering.  It is in this human abyss that we find our true self, our treasure of life – that part of us that we never really knew existed.

Life doesn’t always work out how we planned it.  Campbell is telling us that we must be willing to change, to grow. As such, this growth is beneficial. Campbell also used to quote the Native American saying, “a snake must shed its skin or perish”.

On this spiritual path, doors will open for us that are closed for others. We will meet people and be introduced to experiences that are synchronistic. There are no accidents or coincidences in life, only synchronicity. This is what happened with me on my prison journey.

I was where I had to be. All my life events brought me to this point for a purpose.

Life Conspires With You, Not Against You

What I learned was that life conspires with you, not against you. Belief that life conspires against you paints you as a victim. Who wants to be a victim?  This was a difficult lesson for me. I wanted to blame everyone but myself. It was convenient and my ego would not allow me to blame myself.

The Course in Miracles teaches us that we either move towards fear, which is a feeling of loss, or towards God, which is love. God longs for us to move closer to him, and we do that by moving towards love.  All that happens, good or bad, provides valuable lessons, that if learned, advance our souls. We then become our true authentic selves as God intended.

But, being a victim keeps us in a state of fear, and I was in a constant state of fear.

In my case, life conspired for me to bring me to prison. It was in prison that I could transform my old-ego self to my new authentic-self. So, the irony is that I had to be incarcerated to find my freedom.

When you look at your problems in life, these are opportunities to grow. As I look back on the past 10 years, it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In reality, how often has it happened to you that the fear of the moment never materialized to the extent you thought it would?

Embrace all that happens to you. Embrace everyone you meet. They are all there for your growth. God bless you all.

Aug 09

Patience Required

Family Impact

Sunday, May 6th, 2012 |

“The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace. Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” James 3:18; 5;7

There is no doubt that the spouses have the hardest times with our incarceration. I have no doubt that the men do not understand all that our spouses are dealing with. All of this could lead to misunderstandings that could have been easily resolved with a few words when they arose.

I really pray for patience because I need it so bad. My priority is always Christine and our relationship.  And, I realize that without patience, it will be difficult to resolve misunderstandings. Patience is always necessary here because of all the BS that the BOP reaps on us. But, all that we must endure is nowhere near the same as what the spouses require at home.

I listen to the frustrations of the other men, lamenting the problems their wives are experiencing.  These guys are powerless to help their wives and family.  You cannot underestimate the effect of incarceration on the family.

I am so sorry that we must go through all this together, but apart.

Jun 23

Felon Visitor Approval

Family Impact , Prison Life

Monday, March 5th, 2012 |

Every potential visitor at the Camp must fill out an application and be cleared by an inmate’s counselor before being approved for a visit.  The counselor runs a criminal background check on the visitor to verify that the person is not a felon.  The counselor notifies the inmate whether the visitor has been approved or not.  Felon visitor approval is a big issue because criminals seem to run with other criminals, and their family members may also be felons.

A guy came to me yesterday asking if he can appeal a visitation denial of a family member. Apparently, this family member had a criminal charge 30 years ago that showed up on the background check. The guy’s counselor would not approve his application on this basis.  This family member was approved as a visitor when he was at the Low.  It is up the individual institution to make these approvals. From what I have seen at the Camp, this administration routinely denies these requests.

They can deny visitation rights to ex-felons but the warden or camp administrator can approve such requests.  Denying someone with a criminal charge going back 30 years seems a little extreme.

There is another camper whose wife had caught the same charge as he did.  However, the judge did not sentence her to any prison time. She was also denied visitation at the Camp.  His wife appealed to their senator who made the call to Butner. Butner eventually approved the visitation request.

I have another friend here whose wife also caught the same charge as he did and she is incarcerated as well. He could talk to her when he was at another institution.  But, the Butner Camp will not allow them to have any telephone conversations. BOP likes to tout its family friendly policies as evidence of its concern for inmates’ families. Unfortunately, this is not true at the Butner Camp.  Go figure.

Jun 09

Prison Wives Have Real Hardship

Family Impact

Monday, February 6th, 2012 |

Christine visited over the weekend.  We really enjoyed our time in visitation.  She tries to visit at least once a month.  This is a real hardship on her and other prison wives in terms of time, stress, effort and money.  Christine’s commitment is truly a sign of love.  However, the real struggle is at home.  We shared our responsibilities of the house, and I was certainly the breadwinner of the household.  This is probably true of most marriages prior to a loved one going to prison.  But, this is all changed now.

Kevin and Christine at visitation

We don’t have any children, but understand the pressure with children in the household. It is amazing how many guys I see agonize about situations at home.  The children are growing up without a father-figure in the household, the mother is working and there is very little support from others.  The families have a terrible time coping with the realities of prison.  And, many can’t cope!  Children of inmates are 50% more likely to go to prisons themselves.  Most families are on some sort of welfare support.  It is tough.

I feel so bad that Christine is having a challenging time with me in prison. I am in no position to support her in all ways. The wives have the worst of it. We get three meals a day, housing and generally laidback days. The wives are home to pick up the pieces. They are worrying about the inmate, housing, supporting themselves and dealing with the mundane things in life. It is no wonder that 80% of the women of inmates leave their guys.

I am so blessed to have Christine as loyal and loving spouse. I know it has been very difficult for her.  At visitation, I noticed it was the same thing with the other wives. We only see a small portion of families in the visitation room that have our type of relationship. It is very evident who the loving couples are, and you see them consistently. These are the lucky ones. There are so many guys who get no visits, or rarely so.



May 03

Thanksgiving Day Thanks

Family Impact , My Spiritual Journey

Thursday, November 24th, 2011 |

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it is truly about family and the focus on our blessings.  This is my first Thanksgiving in prison – away from all that I love.

It is easy, in our too busy and hectic lives, to not consider our blessings daily. The focus of today, though, is only sharper when we are separated from our loved ones. I have witnessed broken families and marriages, the effects of substance abuse, loneliness, illiteracy, and the loss of all hope. The silence and solitude of my month in solitary confinement, and that during my nightly prayers, gave me the opportunity to hear and listen to the voice of God. In the silence, God spoke. It is within this context that I have had the time to reflect on my blessings and the love of my family.

So, I give much thanks to God for my family, friends and for my loving and dear wife, Christine.  She has stepped forward to do things she should not have done on her own.  Her love and support has been unfailing.  I also give thanks for my health and the health of our family and friends; for my faith in God and the comfort He gives me, and the faith that I will be worthy of my suffering.

Like Job, my faith in God is deepened, and I trust God that He will amply restore, in abundance, all that was taken from me. I pray that we all become more than we are in the next year.

Apr 04

Visitation at the Camp

Family Impact , Prison Life

Saturday, October 8th, 2011 |

I got my first visitors (my siblings) at the Camp!  Christine is still tied up with her move into a new house so she could not make it.  Visitation is huge for a family man like me.  Here are my first impressions of visitation at the Camp:

Visitation from the Visitor’s Perspective

The visitation room at the Camp is in the lobby to the facility and space is very limited.  They only allow three adult visitors (16 and over), but they do not limit the number of children.  The parking lot is right in front of the facility so visitors can essentially walk in to sign-up.

Visitation at the Camp is very different from Low and much more low key.  The Camp takes a lot less time to check-in since there are no metal detectors and bag checks.  At the Low, a group of visitors had to be escorted to and from the prison reception area to the visitation room.  This can take some time, and it was often that I would get to the visitation room before my visitors.

The visiting times at the Low was more extensive in some respects.  Visitation at the Low was every other weekend rather than every weekend at the Camp.  But, Low visitation was open to everyone on Thursday and Friday (both 2:30 to 8 pm), and every other Saturday, Sunday and Monday (8:30 to 3 pm).  This was more convenient to visitors coming a long way for more visiting time. The locals like the weekday visitation availability at the Low, which is not available at the Camp.

Like the Low, the vending company fills the vending machines once a week so the good items go very quickly.  I suggest buying everything you think you will need at the beginning of the visit.  You can only bring in quarters.  The bill exchange machines do not work.

Visitation Room Restrictions

Kevin with his siblings

Both places are restrictive on visitors’ clothing.  You essentially cannot wear anything that is strapless, show cleavage, too short shorts/skirts, and anything that is too tight.  They will turn you away, which is the real bummer.

In addition, they allow very modest touching and kissing.  Kisses and hugs are allowed at the beginning and end of each visits.  You must be very discreet in holding each other during the visit.  In both places, there is a CO that has a full view of the room so any inappropriate behavior will probably get noticed.

You cannot sit outside at the Camp, but can at the Low after the initial count and before dark.

In regards to contraband, don’t even try!  You may lose visiting privileges for a very long time, maybe even permanently.  It’s not worth anything that you can think of bringing in.  The Low has cameras and I’m told that they review the tapes.

Visitation from the Camper’s Perspective

The residential units are a lot closer to the visitation center so it takes less time for the inmates to get into the visitation room than at the Low.   The camper check-in is only a pat down at the beginning and end of the visit.  At the Low, it was a pat down at the beginning of the visit and a complete strip search at the end of the visit (i.e. all stitch of clothes had to be removed).

For the inmate, it is also a lot easier in the visitation room.  You have more freedom of movement in the room.  Inmates are still subject to the counts.  They are done in the visitation area, but out of sight from the visitors.

Inmates really enjoy the visits and are energized afterwards.  A lot of guys get no visitors, or very few, so these are real treats.  Enjoy the visits and be cool.

Mar 20

No Communication from the SHU

Family Impact

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 |

We can’t communicate while Kevin is in the SHU, and he can no longer call us.  This is very frustrating since I will not be able to visit him for at least the next three weeks.  I have found that the easiest way to keep him updated is with snail mail! There is a wonderful system called Send Out Cards.  Someone can send real cards from an online portal for very little money.

I packed all of Kevin’s clothes…couldn’t be brutal. Every time I thought about giving something away, I would see Kevin wearing it. Too many memories. I got space bags at Costco and vacuum sealed all his clothes in the bags. They have a chance of keeping without mildewing due to lack of oxygen!

As I get closer on finalizing the house sale, I am looking for a place to live.  This is so hard without Kevin, especially since I can’t talk to him about the possibilities.  The reality is that I am on my own.  The families truly have it bad.

Mar 15

Four Days of SHU Visitation

Criminal Justice , Family Impact , Prison Life

Saturday, September 10th, 2011 |

We have been blessed that we could spend 5 hrs./day together these last four days to talk, hold hands and “drink each other in”.   It was hour after hour of brainstorming/strategizing about the house being under contract and all the negotiations with the bank. We also got a chance to talk about the broken prison system and Kevin’s experiences in the SHU.

There is no doubt, since we were relegated to a small area of the visitation center on very hard plastic chairs, that the bottom gets numb!  The other difficulty at visitation is the lack of decent food in the vending area.  And, the vending machines don’t work half the time and eat up your money!  But how can one complain when you see all the other atrocities going on with what Kevin must endure?

Kevin Gets His Personal Belongings

I tried in vain to leave a message for Kevin’s counselor, unit manager and case manager to find out why Kevin didn’t have access to his personal belongings.  I made a call to the Butner general number.  The good news was that I was lucky enough to talk to a nice guard.  He said he would make a call to the head of the SHU.  I was so grateful when Kevin came into visitation flashing his wedding band! It meant he finally got some personal items after eight days. But, they wouldn’t let him have a razor (he might slit his wrists), and many of his books and photos weren’t there. Frustratingly, he forgot to pull his stamps out so he couldn’t mail the letters he had written to everyone.

Kevin thought I had talked to the head of the SHU, but I told him it was a just guard who answered the phone. Normally, if they get a call like that from the outside, they put you at the back of the pile and you must wait longer! We got lucky, if you can call it that!

Broken Prison System

There is no doubt that this system is made for people with loose screws, not for the likes of Kevin. Sadly, there are far more men like Kevin in the system than we first realized. What we discussed is how to revise the system. Truly, it would be a miracle if anything this broken could be revised. I think it would be like undertaking the revision of the IRS code, if not worse! The overcrowding is one thing that must be addressed for several reasons. Our government doesn’t have the financial ability to build more prisons.

Our solution was that it should stop sending in first-time white-collar offenders (and perhaps all non-violent first-time offenders) to prison.  Let them have home confinement with restitution. The fact that felons can’t find work is punishment enough, given the impact on the family and their self-esteem. In addition, there is a proposal that time off for good behavior should go from 52 days/year served to 120 days/year served. Those two things would probably send 25% of the inmates back on the streets.

While that might be a scary thought, what is scarier is that there are so many old men (80+ years) that rely on their walkers and wheelchairs in prison. Can you tell me how they could be dangerous to society if they are released? They don’t even know what life on the outside is like. For this, the taxpayers are paying $50+k/year to support those that are living in this broken system!

There’s so much money involved to support the criminal industrial complex – from law enforcement to the prosecutors’ offices to the defense attorneys to the prison employees and all the industries that support the prisons – that it seems very unlikely that true change can ever occur.  There isn’t enough time for me to tell all the stories about how broken this system is!

Sad That I Won’t be Able To Visit For A Month

Even though we were satiated after our four days of visitation, we knew the next 4-8 weeks were going to be bad.  I can’t come to visit until after I sell the house, pack, move and unpack, all in the next 25 days.  There just isn’t enough time for me to take-off four days for another trip to Butner. In addition, it is costing $300 in gas for every trip, so $600 for this past month! And, now I have the expense of a move!

I can’t begin to think of what Kevin is going to endure.  We just don’t know when he will finally be moved out of the SHU.

1 2 3