Sunday, July 22, 2007

Genarlow Wilson - Choices and Consequences

The outcome of this case will surely be decided within a week or two at the latest. But, beyond the minimum sentence issue, at hand, a larger question exists: What will Genarlow Wilson do to benefit others from his experience? Certainly, his sentence and incarceration has caused a law to be changed in Georgia. One could say that is good. But beyond that, Genarlow is an example of a simple, yet profound, principle: Every choice has a consequence.

The formal part of the presentation I was making to young people at a church had just finished, when I asked the group if they had any questions. One girl lifted her hand nervously and then asked, “What did your children think about their daddy going to prison?” That question caused me to pause. I wasn’t sure I could answer. I knew what they felt. We shared that with each other often, but I wasn’t sure I ever looked at it from the mental perspective only.

The consequences of my choices were devastating. My marriage was destroyed. It’s hard to share a life together when you destroy someone’s trust. My career was over. When you are guilty of embezzlement you will not keep your license or job as a CPA. My assets were gone. Making restitution meant selling all that I had accumulated. Frankly, that was part of the consequence. Facing prison – well that was rock bottom. The “somebody” that I was once known as had changed to being the “somebody” that few wanted to know.

All that said, the one thing that did survive, by the grace of God, was the love of my two sons. They were both old enough to understand what I had done and what was happening. And, I made a commitment that I would tell them the whole truth. I may have made serious mistakes, but I had no intention to continue that process. If any good would come from this, my sons would understand that every choice has a consequence. I was living proof.

As soon as I finished my answer, out of the back of the room a young man blurted out, “It’s not deceit if you don’t get caught!” I was stunned. As a motivational speaker and founder of the Choices Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the message of choices and consequences to young people, I had just finished a presentation that clearly and unequivocally said there is a consequence.

Wobbled, stunned, I’m not really sure what I felt. What I do recall is the reaction that I saw and heard from the kids. A few looked shocked by this young man’s statement – a look of disbelief at what they had just heard. Others, although a small number, just giggled. It was as if this small, yet vocal, minority were testing me and the message I had just delivered. One thing was for sure, there was silence that followed as the group awaited a response.

The opinion that this young man had the courage to share is not that uncommon among adult audiences. The only difference is – they don’t state it out loud – they demonstrate it through their actions. And, since every choice has a consequence, they will reap what they sow. It’s the law of reciprocity in action – a universal law that we all must live by – and one many think does not exist.

No one is exempt from the law and the law does not discriminate based on age. Yet, young people are often misguided into believing that they can get by without getting caught. In fact, recent studies, concerning the ethical attitudes of youth, indicates that the majority of young people would make unethical choices if they felt they could “get ahead” as a result. Success at all costs seems to be a common theme.

As former inmate from Federal prison, today I share with business executives and young people that simple message: Every choice has a consequence. And, while I am extraordinarily sympathetic to Mr. Wilson's plight, his example has helped other young people evaluate the power of their seemingly simple choices. As the founder of the Choices Foundation, perhaps Genarlow would consider stepping up and helping others understand the power of choice.

Monday, July 16, 2007

But I Was Only Borrowing Money! – An Ethical Dilemma

What causes people to make unethical choices when they know it is wrong? Ask someone who has stolen money – did you ever think of yourself as a thief? Their answer is always a resounding – No! Yet, their unethical choices tend to lead them to disastrous consequences.

As a Motivational Speaker, no matter how much I share my story, people continue making unethical choices. What really saddens me is to watch people I know enter into ethical dilemmas after all I experienced and all that I share. I certainly do not withhold sharing my story, believing that telling my story helps other people.

There are those who learn by observation – the ones my story helps the most. Then there are those who insist on learning lessons by experience regardless of what they hear. Those people are the ones who live in denial who already have rationalized their behaviors.

My friend shared with me a story of a phone call she received from her niece. She was crying and upset. She felt frightened like the world was crashing in around her. She felt like she needed help – she needed a way out.

My friend listened and finally the story was shared. Apparently a few months ago there arose in her family medical issues. They felt they had nowhere to turn. Her husband managed an account in North Dakota. They decided to “borrow” money to help them cover the medical issues. They believed they had a way of paying it back without anyone knowing. Over a period of months they paid back all but $2000. The account could soon be audited. The niece and her husband were terrified of the outcome. There were many sleepless nights and lots of planning on how to replenish the balance – and how to cover up the fraud.

My friend’s heart ached. She knew from my experiences what the possible outcome could be. Her niece knew as well. They could be exposed, lose their reputation, be charged with embezzlement, and even go to jail. It seemed the house of cards was crashing down. My friend was frightened for them and the possible outcome. Her niece had so much integrity and kindness in her. She was shy and quiet. She hated to draw attention to herself. What happened?

This woman had grown up in an environment where lack and limitation was practiced. There was a period of time that she and her mother were homeless. Her mother worked hard to take care of her. This woman as a child, felt ashamed of where she lived, what she wore. She was envious of what other people had in their lives. She didn’t have a father and money was a huge problem. Although she knew her mother did her best and that her mother loved her dearly, she wanted a different for herself and her children.

They have raised their children to have everything they didn’t have. Both parents came from broken homes. Her husband was given everything he could want by his parents, but love. The woman was given all the love she wanted but not the things. They worked hard to have a home in the suburbs, meaningful jobs, name brand clothing for the children. Maintaining the illusion of a happy life was getting quite expensive. There was no savings account. They went more and more into debt. When the medical situation arose, they felt there were no more options and they “borrowed” the money – rather stole the money under the guise of “borrowing.”

Whenever someone enters into making an unethical choice, typically there are three things that occur. First, there is a need. In this case, this young family had a medical necessity and no immediate money to cover the expense. Second, there is opportunity. They had access to the money. Third, there is rationalization. This family had to take care of a medical need, the money was there, and they would pay it back.

They were good people. But then, in reality, most “white-collar criminals” would call themselves good people as would the people they associated with. All the ingredients were in line for them to make an unethical choice and in their mind they were only “borrowing” – a typical rationalized cover for theft.

Now they are faced with another ethical dilemma. They want to turn the finances over to someone else recognizing that they made a mistake. Can they do that without the new person reviewing the account records? Will the leadership demand a financial accounting? Do they hold onto the books so no one will find out? Do they turn them over confessing their situation and hope for mercy? What if there is no mercy? Will there be jail time? What about the reputation?

There is nothing easy about the consequences of making unethical choices especially if you are a person of integrity. In this woman’s case, she had a lot of integrity. She moved away from her authentic self. She did not honor who she is as a person. This just didn’t happen overnight. It happened over time. Once we move away from self-integrity, we are living with illusion and open to attracting more illusions to our lives.

As of this writing, the outcome is yet to be determined. What choice they make today will have an effect on their lives and the lives of their family forever. All I know for sure, is that if they make an ethical choice today, they will reap the benefits in the future. If they make an unethical choice today, eventually it will collapse around them.

My greatest lesson in life came from sitting in Federal Prison 13 years ago. I, too, created an illusory life and my house of cards crashed down around me. I made the exact choices my friend’s niece except mine involved $250,000. Just the amount of the money is different. I had a need, I had the opportunity and I rationalized it. Eventually it caught up to me.

It was the worst and the best time of my life. It was the worst because I lost everything: my job, my family, my reputation, my things. It was the best because I became integrous to myself for the first time in my life. I learned invaluable lessons which I share today as a Motivational Speaker whenever possible. We can all make mistakes. We are not our mistakes. We are more than what we seem…especially when we make choices that create a positive outcome.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Law of Attraction - Ethics, Choices, Consequences

It was a crisp October day in 1995, a day I hoped would never arrive. As we drove up to my newfound destination, I opened the car door, stepped out on the curb and 23 steps into a life changing experience. I walked in to Federal prison.

What I did not understand then, and likely would not have believed then, was that the outer circumstances I was experiencing was a direct result of my inner state of mind. Simply put, I was not the victim of my circumstances; I was the architect of them. Because of my beliefs, my thoughts, and my actions -- I had created the perfect environment for my learning. Of course, learning was the last thing I had on my mind as I walked through those prison doors.

In his book, “Why You’re Dumb, Sick and Broke...," Randy Gage, international speaker (, shares powerful lessons about why millions of people fail to achieve their greatest health, happiness or prosperity. While not new material, Randy, in his own unique style presents the concepts of accountability in abundance in a way that few have the courage to present.

Randy states, “You attract and manifest everything that happens to you. It is the law of attraction. We attract what we think about -- that which we lust after, and that which we fear. Anything that consumes our thoughts gets manifested in the real world.”

I must admit, it took me years. Following this painful experience to understand that I was solely responsible. Every choice that I made -- even the tiny ones that seem insignificant -- contributed to the overall consequence. I had chosen to live a life of illusion -- appearing to be something and someone I was not. At the time I did not understand that the conscious choices I was making were based on subconscious beliefs. The extraordinary misfortune of being sentenced to prison was really the culmination of so many bad choices made earlier.

There is a spiritual law, whether we like it or not, we are forced to live by. You reap what you sow! If the thoughts that permeate your being are in alignment with your higher self, you can expect health, happiness and prosperity. Unfortunately, so many of us find that we make decisions and choices that do not serve us. We can create one bad experience after another, and never understand that we are not the victims.

Night after night, when lights were out behind prison walls, I heard inmate after inmate bemoan their circumstance and claim to be a victim. After all, it wasn't their fault. Someone else should have gotten caught. If only someone had been there to help them. I mean, really, what can you expect, I am disenfranchised by “the man”. Me? I was guilty. I had made choices that brought me despair, sadness and shame. Yet, there was one thing that I did know, everything happens for a reason and this was my time to learn.

In Randy's book -- the chapter on “Letting Go of Victimhood,” Randy describes the cyclical trap that so many of us get caught in. He states the process as follows:

The programming you are exposed to create your core -- your foundational beliefs.

  1. These core beliefs help you develop your vision of your life.
  2. Your vision creates results that conform to it.

What you see, you shall someday be. There is no judgment in that statement. The universe does not judge our choices or our outcomes. Rather, the universe delivers consistently, what we truly desire. Just as our programming can create negative cycles in our lives, such as money worries or consistently poor relationships, we have the power to create a positive vision.

As much as it saddens me to say it, programming, early on, set into motion the patterns I lived my life by. I, like most people, was unaware of the power of the patterning I received and the consequences that would follow my choices. He would never have convinced me as a child, or even as a college student that I would end up in prison. Yet, looking back, I consistently exhibited behavior that any rational person would have known was wrong.

Good news! We can change our patterns. We can change our choices. And, the consequences of our actions, can lead us to happiness and prosperity in life. Is easy? No! But, it can be done. I am living proof. Once I recognized the destructive patterns I was living, I made a choice to change. Of course, I have to admit it took been stripped of my marriage, my possessions and my career -- while sitting in prison -- to get it. I, like so many, had to change my inner attitude, so I can experience prosperity and happiness.

Just like the message stated in “The Secret,” ( which is sold over 6 million copies, there are laws in the universe, which will give you predictable results. The Law of Attraction does not judge what you want. It only delivers.

Looking back on my prison experience 12 years ago, people often ask, “So, what was it like? Or, what did you learn?” My response? “It was the best experience of my life -- in that, it helped me learn about me and understand more fully. My life's purpose.” Today, I am blessed to have the opportunity to share this experience with others -- perhaps helping them find their own truth. And create their own abundance and prosperity.

Every choice has a consequence. It can be either negative or positive. Whatever the consequence, we attracted it. Therefore, we have the power to choose, whatever consequence we prefer.

Choose wisely, look past life’s illusions, and claim your success

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Justice and Ethics - The Scooter Libby Commutation

Just days after Richard Scrushy was sentenced to Federal prison, President Bush commuted the prison term of former White House aide - Scooter Libby. My the media has had a frenzy with all the attention - both legal and political - that these men have had. Quoted below is a blog from Peter Lattman - Wall Street Journal law blog.

We hope everyone enjoyed the Fourth. It was a fairly uneventful day for the Law Blog, as we watched as our two local baseball teams flail into the All-Star break, read a WSJ colleague’s new book on rich people, and took in the continued reverberations of President Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison term. Here’s what’s going on in Scooterville (in addition to Michael Kinsley’s provocative NYT op-ed):

Introducing . . . the “Libby Motion”?: Many commentators — click here and here — are saying that President Bush’s ignoring the federal sentencing guidelines will serve as fodder for criminal defense lawyers. “I anticipate that we’re going to get a new motion called ‘the Libby motion,’ ” said Professor Ellen Podgor to the New York Times. “It will basically say, ‘My client should have got what Libby got, and here’s why.’”

The First “Libby Motion”?: The New York Sun reports this morning that an alleged Hamas operative is likely to be among the first criminal defendants to try to capitalize on President Bush’s commutation. Mohammed Salah, 57, is scheduled to be sentenced by a federal judge in Chicago next week on one count of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors are seeking 22 years under the federal sentencing guidelines. Said Salah’s lawyer Michael Deutsch, who’s seeking a sentence of probation: “What the president said about Mr. Libby applies in spades to the case of Mohammed Salah.We’ll definitely be bringing it up to the judge. It’s going to be a real test, a first early test of whether we’re a nation of laws or a nation of men.”

How Do Federal Prosecutors Feel?: Looking at it from the perspective of federal prosecutors, OSU Law professor Alan Michaels emailed his colleague at the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog: “I do think [the President’s statement] will be thrown in the face of every line assistant arguing for a Guidelines sentence in every district court in the country, and I would expect it to carry weight with some judges. I suspect the President’s action is very demoralizing to AUSA’s around the country for this reason. These are folks who’ve backed the President’s tough sentencing policy in the face of compelling and heart-rending arguments. Now the President makes the same argument they’ve been standing up to!”

How Does Judge Reggie Walton Feel?: We don’t know because he’s not talking to the media. But there might be some indication. In his statement, President Bush said Libby would still serve “two years of probation”; but technically, he was sentenced to two years of “supervised release.” So Judge Walton issued a two-page order on Tuesday asking both sides to submit briefs on the question of how one can have a “term of supervised release after imprisonment” now that the President Bush has erased his prison term. (Hat Tip: Berman)

Certainly there are numerous questions that follow such a bold move on the part of the President. Of course, many people expected Scooter Libby to be pardoned - but the commutation of just the prison portion of the sentence raises numerous questions. Those questions will be dealt with by those smarter and brighter than I. My concern frankly is - what good will come from this action.

As I have said over and over, every choice has a consequence. Most of us are forced to experience the consequences. So the real question in my mind is whether Scooter skating on some of the consequences will allow lessons to be learned? Through personal experience, if we don't learn the lesson from the consequences we face, we will likely have to repeat the learning until we get it. I cannot speak for Scooter Libby, but looking back I feel that if I had been given a pass, I might have missed the true value in the lessons I learned.

Perhaps, as time passes, we will find that good can come from these most recent events. Of then in the face of adversity, we can find positive opportunities for growth. Through the Choices Foundation (, which I established, I find that speaking to others about life's choices and consequences is my way to "pay it forward" and help others learn is a less painful way. Let's hope that Scooter Libby will find redeeming value from his experience as well.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

HealthSouth's Scrushy Sentenced to Prison - Is There Life Following?

While every media outlet is reporting that HealthSouth's founder, Richard Scrushy, was sentenced to six years and 10 months in Federal prison for bribery, there many looming questions that will likely be overshadowed by numerous shouts of judicial victory. As a high profile case, keep in mind that Scrushy was acquitted of a $2.7 billion accounting fraud trial in Birmingham. Following his acquittal, Scrushy proclaimed his innocence in the face of prosecutors who were none to happy.

Immediately there were cheers of judicial joy shouted all over the internet. Scrushy finally got what he deserved stated one blog with no apology for the gleeful tone. It seems that people easily find joy in another's trials. Funny, but focusing on another trials often keeps the focus off of our own issues and the pain of true human growth.

I feel for Scrushy. I know what he has been through and I know what its like to walk into Federal prison. Although in Scrushy's case he was immediately taken into custody - something rarely done in a white-collar crime case. Scrushy has exchanged a life of prestige and power to living in a place void of most worldly distractions. But, prisons are places where real personal changes can occur. Certainly, over then next five years or so, Mr. Scrushy will have time for meaningful self-evaluation.

On a crisp October day in 1995, I took 23 physical steps… opened a door… and began a new experience that was life-changing. Thinking back 12 years ago, I would never have considered that I, a competent, well educated man, would be sitting in prison. That was a life educational experience where I learned, really for the first time, that there are consequences to every unethical choice we make. Though one might think that we can avoid the consequences, the reality is that they are unavoidable and certain. We just don't know how or when we will face the inevitable.

Prison time gave me the opportunity to focus on "choices." Every choice has a consequence. The consequences are inescapable. They can be negative (prison for example) or positive and we, through the choices we make in life, control the outcome. Scrushy controlled this consequence he is now facing. He might have felt that he dodged the bullet when he avoided the first possible conviction, but the consequences of his unethical actions did yield a result.

Today, Scrushy will wake up each day and be counted - known as a number - and will occupy his time working and reflecting. He will be denied the simple pleasures that we take for granted. And, he will learn to regret those choices that he will recall often - the choices in life that earned him this privilege.

But, is there life following prison? Once again from personal experience I found the answer is yes! However, it is without doubt a function of the choices you make. Never forget, every choice has a consequence. We can make from the trials of life what we want. We all journey through life struggling to find some meaningful purpose to our earthly existence. Through this we all make choices and mistakes. From time to time we may receive help along the way and if we are really fortunate we might have the insight to "pay it forward" and help others.

As a former CPA, through a series of bad choices or serious ethics lapses, I became a white-collar criminal. Now, I am a sales executive in a publicly held company (something highly unusual for a convicted felon) and an international motivational speaker. I now take the time to review my lessons from prison and write about those experiences so that others may gain benefit and perhaps learn from the experience of others. Some of us learn lessons the hard way. Yet, through sharing the experience of my incarceration and return to productivity, others have stated that they've been able to look at their choices in a different and more productive way.

I learned a lot in prison. Mostly I became aware that success is not defined by our material possessions, but rather how we can help others. Through the Choices Foundation, which I founded, and my speaking and writing, I find today that helping others is a joy. People often ask, looking back, what I think about my time in prison. My response, "Best thing that ever happened to me." While I won't make the choices that would send me back (I didn't like it that much), I gained great insight while there and know that there is life following prison.

Perhaps, over time, Mr. Scrushy will learn through careful insight that following his time in prison he will emerge stronger and able to be a powerful voice of hope. Meanwhile, let us not forget that his family is experiencing pain, and perhaps we can remember them as they face new trials of their own.