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Crime does pay

Back in the 90’s, Charles Keating got four years in federal prison for stealing $200 million. (In contrast, I got six years for selling some marijuana.)

How many of you would give up four years of your life for $200 million? And referring to the prison experience as ‘giving up your life’ is actually misleading as you don’t really ‘give up your life’ — you are still ‘living’ when you go through it — and going to prison also provides a great opportunity to catch up on your reading!

Anyway, why should anyone deal with all the problems associated with actually making things (and thus having to deal with all of the taxes and regulations and labor problems and all the other problems involved in actually producing actual wealth) why should they do all of that when it is so easy to simply steal things?

Especially when the consequences for getting caught are often so laughably small?

The federal prison system has various levels of security. Basically, they are minimum, low, high, maximum—and the fairly recent new classification of ‘super-max’ (i.e. solitary confinement with absolutely no human contact).

Thanks to the Shawshank Redemption, everyone thinks that everyone in prison claims to be innocent when actually they are all guilty. While Shawshank Redemption is one of my favourite movies I’ve ever seen—that part is total bullshite. Most people who are guilty not only freely admit their guilt but they often boast of it—and most of those who claim to be innocent actually are.

I myself spent two of my six years in one of these federal minimum-security camps. While it definitely did not resemble a country club (though I have heard that those do indeed exist) the fact is that there are no fences or guard towers at federal minimum-security facilities.

If you care to—you can simply walk away.

Since I had four different charges in four different jurisdictions it took me nearly three years simply to get convicted for everything that they threw at me, and since I had pending charges for that entire time this meant that I had been classified as ‘medium’ security for that entire time. This meant that I was constantly either surrounded by several layers of razor wire and armed guards or—whilst in transport —I was draped in chains and surrounded by armed guards.

When I was transferred to the camp I was, as usual, draped in chains and surrounded by armed guards for the two-day bus trip. (The armed guards sit in a cage inside the bus.) Then, after I was processed into the camp, they told me to simply walk out of the front door and across the street to the housing facility.

I walked outside alone without any chains or armed guards for the first time in three years.

It was amazing. I never had any intention of walking away from that camp — but the knowledge that I could if I wanted to radically altered the entire psychology of being ‘locked up’.

Since you can simply walk away from a camp, one of the requirements for being classified minimum security is that you don’t have a long time left to serve. When I was there, I don’t remember anyone else at the camp who had more than four years left on their sentence.

Anyway, a few years ago a local gentleman named Frederick Darren Berg stole $150 million in a Ponzi scheme. He became known as Washington State’s ‘Mini-Madoff’. In 2012 Mr. Berg was given an 18-year prison sentence — and since the feds only give 15% ‘good time’ then that meant at least 15 years actually in prison.

(I am thinking it very likely that the relatively harsh prison sentence came about because — like Mr. Madoff — Mr. Berg made the mistake of pissing off the wrong people by ripping off other rich people. He probably should have confined himself to stealing pension funds or your grandmother’s life savings or whatever.)

While Mr. Berg lost most of his loot when he was caught trying to transfer it into a Cayman Island bank account, a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee for Mr. Berg’s old company said that there was “at least a couple million” dollars still unaccounted for.

However: Even though Mr. Berg is only 55 years old and even though Mr. Berg still had eight years left on his sentence and even though the feds knew that Mr. Berg had very likely squirreled several million dollars away somewhere — Mr. Berg was placed in a minimum security camp.

He promptly walked away and has now disappeared without a trace. One thing that was true in Shawshank Redemption: Regular prisoners have to crawl through sewer pipes or something like that in order to escape. Rich people get to simply walk away…

Dana Walker lives in Olympia and produces The Thunderbolt, an on-line compendium of news, commentary, events and jokes…

More on Berg at www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/official-prison-escape-of-washingtons-mini-madoff-like-shawshank-redemption-without-sewer-pipe-crawl/

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