This is the third and final essay in a three part series written by women from the group The Secret Lives of White Collar Wives who have described their own heart wrenching experience about the events leading up to their husband's incarceration. There is no typical path to jail/prison for white collar criminals. Each case comes with it it's own set of circumstances and law enforcement procedures. State vs. Federal, etc. The following is my own account of the days leading up to my ex-husband's incarceration. (My ex-husband is known in this piece as Tom).
The Sins of The Father by Lisa Lawler
My husband Tom retained counsel when he learned he was being investigated for embezzlement and his attorney at the time told him he had a "better than good"chance of being summoned to court rather than arrested because he had been cooperating. This was because he had offered to surrender himself on more than one occasion and had given his change of addresses in a timely manner over the course of two years. I was newly separated from my husband at the time because what had begun as an epic mid-life crisis, (with all of the predictable accouterments), had turned into a full on meltdown and Tom wasn't interested in help from me or anyone else for that matter. In fact, he was under the delusion that he had his life well in hand but the sad truth was that he was dangling dangerously over a cliff that was beckoning him to jump and was woefully oblivious to the fact that if he fell his family would fall with him. The news of Tom's criminal investigation was the final blow to our marriage. I filed for divorce but remained actively supportive for the sake of my son. Needless to say this turn of events was a rude awakening for a man who had thought he was on top of his "game". When weeks of waiting for the grand jury to bring indictments turned into months we began to live our lives in an excruciating state of limbo. When would the blade fall and how deep would it cut? How the hell would we survive this nightmare? Many white collar families agree that the waiting is the hardest part. That is until the next hardest part comes along.
A year later there was still no word from the grand jury and the terrible waiting continued. With our divorce final we had sold our home and moved to another state where Tom and I both had family nearby. We sat our son down before the move and revealed to him his father's legal issues and possible outcome. He was of course shocked by this news. He had always looked upon his father as a man who was better than most and in fact larger than life. To see his father in this new light broke a part of his young heart and soul that can never be healed. Once in our new town in our rented homes we were all trying to adapt to the fact that we were no longer the strong, happy family we had once been, our lives and surroundings now beyond recognition. We had become the walking dead going through the motions of living but not really alive. Since our separation our son spent one weeknight and every other weekend at this dad's place and after our move we continued this schedule. Tom and I attended our son's sports practices and games together and even went to dinner as a "family" once a week as a reassurance to our son, (and to ourselves), that all was not lost and that we were all still a "team", still connected.We made a gallant attempt to live life as normally as possible under acutely abnormal circumstances.
We were living off the proceeds from the sale of our house during the pendency of the AG's investigation so money was tight. I had been job hunting for nearly a year but there were few jobs available for a "professional stay at home wife and mother." In hindsight I should have taken ANY job because if I'd had a crystal ball I'd know that the market was about to crash and there would soon be even fewer jobs. Tom was too paralyzed to look for work so he spent his days trying to keep busy with projects. Another five months passed and another school year had begun for my son and still no word from anyone regarding the case. We were all well beyond our breaking points as the stress, fear and anxiety were nearly unbearable. Later that year, as it had been so long since we had heard anything about Tom's case we began to entertain the idea that maybe the AG had decided not to pursue charges. Delusion is sometimes a great coping mechanism. We continued to live our lives the best way we could under the circumstances.
Late one evening a few weeks before Thanksgiving my son came into my bedroom covered in red, itchy hives. He was miserable. I asked him if he'd eaten anything out of the ordinary or been in the woods as he was highly allergic to poison ivy. He said he had not. I thought it odd because he was fine before going to bed a couple of hours earlier. I gave him an anti-histamine and swabbed anti-itch cream all over his back and then handed him the remote control on my nightstand. T.V. wasn't permitted after nine p.m.on a school night but I felt badly because his hives were inflamed and painful. It didn't take long for the Benadrly to kick in so he said good night and returned to his room. He reappeared in my doorway twenty minutes later with his pillow, "Mom can I sleep in here with you tonight?" I pulled the covers back and he crawled in. This was unusual for him but he fell asleep quickly. I could tell that something was up and it wasn't just the hives. I read my book for a while longer and then snapped off the light. A few hours later I awoke in full on panic mode. No nightmare prompted my awakening and I was so unnerved that I knew going back to sleep wasn't an option. I got up and made myself a cup of decaff tea and checked the locks on the door as I waited for the kettle to heat. I sat on the sofa in the dark sipping the soothing hot liquid trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I thought about my son's hives, his unease and my rude awakening and couldn't shake the feeling that somehow they were all connected. I had to stop my racing mind so I turned on the television. It's amazing how comforting Dan and Rosanne are in the wee hours and it made me sad but hopeful to see a reminder of how a regular, loving family operates.
The next morning I was awakened by my son standing over me smiling from ear to ear as he lifted his shirt, "Mom my hives are gone!" I was happy for him and relieved that it was just a fluke. Then he asked, "Mom why did you sleep on the sofa?" It took me a moment to remember. I could tell by the light outside that my son was late for school and realized in my haste to deal with the rash I had forgotten to set my alarm clock. We were out the door in twenty minutes. Later that day after a thankfully uneventful stream of errands I arrived home to a ringing phone. Racing to answer it I tripped over our Yellow Lab, Max and dropped one of the bags of groceries I was carrying. I experienced the crashing of the glass marinara jar before it even hit the ground. An assortment of fruit rolled onto the floor and into the sauce that was now splattered everywhere. I swore under my breath and told myself to slow down. Yup, things were back to normal. The home phone rarely rang. I maintained a land line only because it was necessary with a child in school so I expected that the call was coming from the nurse to tell me my son's hives had returned, (or worse), and that I needed to come pick him up. I reached for the receiver and quickly glanced at the caller ID out of habit. I was caught completely off guard when instead of seeing the school ID I saw Hays County Jail. I quickly retracted my hand as if it had just been burned on a hot stove. Taking that call meant life would be forever changed because the thing we never wanted to happen but had tried so hard to prepare for was about to be real Tears filled my eyes as I reluctantly picked up the receiver. "Hey. It's me. I wanted to let you know that it's finally over. They picked me up about an hour ago at my house." I braced myself against the kitchen counter, bit my lip and tried to speak. "Did...how...um, are you okay?" Tom sounded too upbeat and I realized he was doing it for me. I quickly collected myself and returned the kind gesture. "So, do they have you in an orange jumpsuit yet?" He laughed. And then we were silent. There was so much to say. So many emotions of care and concern but at the same time, so much bad blood between us. "You need to call my attorney and tell him to get in touch with me." We were both relieved to get to the business at hand rather than struggle through emotions we weren't prepared to deal with. The elation of having the horrific waiting finally be over was tempered by the crushing reality that the man I had known and loved since we were in our teens and the father of my child was going to be behind bars for an undetermined length of time in a place where nightmares can come true. I tried to be strong for him. To reassure him that we would be okay for however long he would be gone. I told him about our son's bizarre rash and my panicked awakening from the night before and we both agreed that our connection was still so strong that they were likely a foreboding of his arrest.
Since Tom would be extradited back to another state he wasn't eligible for bail. We had long since discussed whether or not to have our son see his father in jail and had decided to have a wait and see approach. If he were going to have a very short sentence then we agreed that we wouldn't have our son visit him unless he really needed/wanted to but if it were to be a very long sentence then of course arrangements would be made. "I'm not sure how long I'll be here before they fly me back." Then silence. I knew what he was going to say next and it took everything I had not to release the pain festering in my soul from exiting my mouth. "Do you think you guys will be able to come see me before I go?" The million dollar question that my son and I had pondered for two years in our sparse conversations about this subject had finally been asked. I took a deep breath so that my answer would come out in words and not sobs. "I thought we agreed that we didn't want Hunter to see you in jail." The truth was that I not only didn't want my son to see his father in jail, (a tormenting memory that would haunt him his entire life), but I couldn't bear to see him there either. "Tom this is so hard and I'm so sorry but I don't think we can come." It was difficult to get the words out. There was a brief pause and then he said, "No. I understand. It's okay. I know how hard this is for you guys." I could hear the disappointment and fear in his voice and it crushed me. I wanted to get into my car and drive to the jail to support him, tell him how much I loved him, be there for him. Say goodbye. But I couldn't afford to go back to that dark place in my soul where I could barely function. I had worked too hard to come to terms with all that had transpired up to that point. My husband's hateful treatment of me during his epic mid-life crisis which resulted in a "nightmarish affair", (his words), that led to his embezzling millions to begin a new life with his mistress and the grueling process of the investigation, our divorce, and the list goes on. No. I had to stay on the path of strength to protect myself and my son against any further damage. And I had to stay strong so that I could face what was yet to come. "Tom let me get off the phone so I can call your attorney. Get in touch with us when you can. I know Hunter will want to talk to you. And hey, we really will be okay. " At that moment an awkward pause was inserted where "I love you" should have been but we were both painfully aware that after thirty years it was something we no longer said to one another.
It's true that we reap what we sow. Four days later Tom was put in hand cuffs and leg shackles by two Massachusetts State Troopers and escorted onto a commercial jet like a murderer who had been hunted down and finally caught. This was done needlessly and at taxpayer's expense and served no other purpose than to traumatize a young boy further. So much for cooperating with the AG. It was an election year and Martha Coakley had to prove to the Commonwealth that she was tough on white collar crime. Tom fired his attorney a week later. Although eligible for bail and wanting desperately to leave the jail, I persuaded Tom to accrue time served while waiting for his trial/plea date. What else did he have to do? It turned out to be another year of waiting and wondering before his case finally got to the sentencing phase. We were three years in by then and far, far from where we began in our bubble of happiness in the solid and secure life we had worked hard to build. Home was a distant memory by then and a place none of us would ever truly find again.
White collar crime serves no purpose other than to destroy EVERYTHING it comes in contact with. It destroys lives. It destroys families. It is utterly ruinous. And the fallout is without end...
(This is a modified version of a chapter from my book, House on Fire: A Cautionary Tale which is still in the works. )