Sunday, December 7, 2008


Well, the answer to that is South of San Francisco, in a county where he knows not a single soul, because he is forced to live there for at least a year as a condition of his parole from Folsom State Prison this past August. And hardly any of the two million readers of my book, MONEYLOVE, have a clue of where I've been for the past twelve years, let alone why.

In 1996, I was arrested for trying to hijack a motorhome and sentenced to 12 years in prison. How the hell did this happen?
Well, it started with a network marketing company that sold some excellent nutritional products. More on that later.
I had originally been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for an investment scheme involving underwriting bonds in Europe. It had paid off successfully for eight years, when something went wrong--I still don't know what, but the bottom line was all the money was supposed to come back through one of the most respected banks in England, Barings, and you may remember they had one of the biggest bank busts in history in 1995. I then went a little crazy as the date approached for me to report to federal prison. I decided I needed to avoid prison--I was panicking--by stealing a motorhome and becoming a fugitive, since I had almost no money, having lost it all in the overseas investment. I didn't know why I did something so out of character, a fact testified to by several character witnesses, including old friends Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, the co-creators of the Chicken Soup For The Soul books. But as soon as I got locked up, my mind seemed to clear, and I started writing, something I hadn't done for several years prior to 1996. In 1998, my cellmate, Keith, who was a meth addict, told me some of his symptoms, and they seemed to fit what I had gone through. I then, for the first time, began to suspect one of that network marketing company's products designed for energy and weight loss...and it really worked. But it contained high grade Ephedra, one of the main building blocks for methamphetamine. I had taken it three times a day for five years. So I could no longer be self-righteous about never having done drugs or alcohol, or even tobacco or coffee. A very humbling experience to realize how stupid I had been and how unaware of what was going on in my own mind and body.

But I used my time in prison productively, writing a full-length mystery novel, which is now going out to publishers, and planning a self-help book based on the tools I used to overcome the dehumanizing, debilitating prison experience. I was broke and in prison, but never defeated. I had two stories published in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE PRISONER'S SOUL, which I helped Jack Canfield plan and title. I also had two stories in the follow-up book by their editor, Tom Lagana, SERVING TIME, SERVING OTHERS, the title of which was taken from one of my stories in the first book. I also wrote cartoon gags,including many for Bunny Hoest and John Reiner in PARADE magazine, read by about 100 million people in Sunday newspapers, and for such top cartoonists as Roy Delgado, Ed Blais, and Bob Vojtko, who sold cartoons based on my gags to Harvard Business Review, Barron's, The Wall Street Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, The Sun, Medical Economics, and others. Not much money in gagwriting, just 25% of whatever the cartoonist gets, which is meager pickings at best. My most recent check for The Sun was $8.75. It shows a man on the phone saying, "I can't make it to the poker game tonight, my wife called my bluff." I may include some of the cartoons on this blog site. They paid for about $80-$100 worth of canteen items at the prison store each month, like my daily Coca Cola, ramen noodles, tuna, mayonnaise, potato chips, and so on.
I therefore got to live in relative abundance for an inmate.
I also got one of the most prestigious jobs in any prison in the world, as a member of the Folsom Blind Project, which translates texts into Braille, records books on tape, and prepares closed captioning for educational videos.
My radio training prepared me well for recording books on tape. And, from my point of view, one of the best things about the job was that it wasn't working to support the corrupt prison system, but rather for junior colleges and various charitable organizations, including The Lions Club.
There were many areas of deprivation in prison, especially at Folsom, where I spent most of my incarceration. No citrus fruit, sugar, tomatos, onions, cable TV, napkins, (toilet paper, single ply, was used for everything, including blowing your nose and wiping your face at meals and it was in short supply, often being sold on the thriving black market).
But two of the things I missed most were dried fruit and dark chocolate.
Raisins, dried apricots and figs, and dark chocolate of any kind were not available for over ten years of my life. And these were the first things I wanted when I got out, not filet mignon and lobster, though those were further down on my list.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I met Jerry one day after he addressed my church group and we became long distance pen pals. I lost money in the financial tragedy he faced and then lost touch altogether. Having read his astonishing story, I am awed by his resilience. My best wishes ol' friend.
Todd Puntolillo, writer, author, cartoonist.