Thursday, December 8, 2011

More Than Meets The Eye...

I've blogged a lot about how great it is to be able to reconnect with old friends via Facebook over the past 1 1/2 years or so. However, there's another dimension to that which has surfaced, and it has to do with the fact that sometimes we discover that there are even more interesting facets to the people we once knew and become re-acquainted with than we ever imagined.

Recently there are two people (both with the same first names even) for whom I have MUCH respect and adoration who both are surprised at how different I am than the way I was perceived as a youngster and who both have surprised me with how multi-dimensional and deep they are than I would have ever imagined.

I've also recently discovered, after announcing my soon-to-be-released book about my experience with the federal criminal legal system, that there are many people from my younger days who have also had similar experiences of which many of their former classmates are not aware.

Today I had lunch with a dear friend whom I hadn't seen since Dad's funeral in 1985. When I was 4, and I think he was probably about 18, I had a huge crush on him and made him a ginormous Valentine's Day card once. I also think I had plans to marry him one day. Now, of course, I'm 42 and the very idea of marriage scares me to death, so I'm happy to say that he's very happily married to his wife of 20+ years after tragically losing his first wife to cancer the year after Dad died of brain cancer.

He still looks the way I remember him, very tall at 6'6" and could definitely be intimidating to anyone who didn't know him. We know one another because Dad was the organist at the church where his father was the pastor back in the 70's, and many of the people from that church are still like family in my mind and it's always nice when we run into one another and/or reconnect.

I've recently had some serious issues to contend with regarding the mental health of a family member, and we were able to share stories about that since he experienced the same thing with his sister years ago. Sadly, she was beginning to get her life back together when she was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly thereafter.

What was most comforting to me about this meeting, however, was that both he and I have had some experience with the federal legal system, and we shared our stories today.

The synopsis of his experience is that he was an attorney and was building a successful law firm when he and his wife were falsely charged with misappropriation/theft of millions of dollars by someone who had a beef with him. (I can relate to that - people who have a beef with me about political issues have been known to make unfounded accusations as well. It's disturbing.) He was arrested and spent a few days in jail, but that was it. Luckily, he had enough money to fight the charges and was also able to make bail (something my situation did not allow).

The end result was that all charges were dismissed, but it took ELEVEN YEARS and totally bankrupted him and his family. Yes, folks, people in this country who are COMPLETELY innocent of all charges against them can have their lives destroyed, lose their professional licenses, and be driven into bankruptcy simply because someone makes false accusations, even if all charges are eventually dropped and they do no prison time.

And yes, some of us are partially responsible for things that we are accused of, even if not 100%, and we end up going to prison once we realize we'll spend more time in prison by standing up for ourselves than we will if we take a plea, because the system really is that jacked up and that slow in many cases.

One of the things I found solace in was the fact that I was sitting across from someone who knows just how misleading newspapers can be, and more importantly, just how willing some people are to believe whatever negative things are reported in the newspaper by the journalists covering the court cases.

To be fair, the journalists are often just quoting the prosecutors. However, what a prosecutor says and how it is said is often so distorted that it doesn't even begin to give a clear picture of the true situation.

In my case, I was accused of defrauding customers by "selling items she didn't own or even possess" I believe is how it was worded. It seems that few people understand the very old (think: Sears catalog) and very common practice of businesses using drop-shippers to supply their customers with the products the business is selling.

In business, when one sells large items that are expensive to ship (and sometimes even small items) it is common practice that, instead of ordering large quantities of the product and paying to have it shipped to the business and then paying for storage facilities for said inventory, when the catalog or online retailer receives an order for a product, they pay the wholesale price of the item plus shipping to the supplier and the supplier then ships the product(s) directly to the customer. It's the only way most catalog/retail companies are able to make a profit.

Unfortunately, being a small business and not having a lot of experience and/or resources, I had managed to secure business with some drop-shipping suppliers that turned out to not be so reliable. I had successfully run the business online via a company web site and eBay sales as well for more than 1 1/2 years with NO problems whatsoever and very happy customers. Then, suppliers began not shipping products after I had paid them for the product, and I didn't find out about it until the customers were threatening me with legal action because they hadn't received what they had paid for.

Customers don't understand what drop-shipping is, and they don't care. They are concerned with the fact that they aren't getting what they paid for, and sadly, explaining to them what's going on often results in them accusing you of ripping them off. (Never mind the fact that true fraudsters just take your money and you never hear from them again - not even to explain to you that there are issues with suppliers or shipping.)

It also seems that some people are so cynical that they would RATHER believe they have been ripped off in order to reinforce their cynical view of the world and/or satisfy their need to direct their anger at things not going smoothly at someone rather than deal with the fact that sometimes things simply don't go well and it is beyond the control of the person who is responsible.

I should have done more due diligence when securing suppliers. I should have secured more capital before getting into a situation where suppliers not shipping an item I paid them for left me without enough money to make refunds in a situation where I was getting ripped off by the supplier.

Ultimately, I was the one who received payment, the business was in my name as were all of the related accounts, and I was the one held responsible. I accept that. Still, it's nice when you have a conversation with an attorney friend who totally gets where you're coming from, since most people don't get it at all. (In fact, this was the main reason I was told I couldn't win in court, because the jury wouldn't be allowed to hear expert witness testimony explaining what drop-shipping even is, much less that it happened to be the cause of my customers not getting items they had paid for. Things just don't work in court - especially federal court - the way they do on television.)

My long-lost friend shared his experience with how some of the people he considered to be very good friends of his totally turned their backs on him/judged him when they read what they read about him in the paper. Again, another experience which most have never had and yet which we both could relate to and share.

Ironically, it is often those who consider themselves to be skeptics of everything printed in the newspaper who will turn around and share stories from that same newspaper with friends when it is about someone they know, and they never even question what it says, assuming it is all 100% true. For some, skepticism ends where the desire to believe what is scandalous and interesting begins.

After some very stressful and disturbing issues my brother and I have had to deal with this week regarding a family matter, it was nice to relax for a couple of hours and share experiences with a kindred mind who understands that which most lack the information or experience to even fathom.

I have much respect for this man and his family, as I can't imagine going through what I went through and also having to be concerned for a spouse and children as well. I am happy to know that it is possible for some people to prevail in such cases, but I am saddened at the devastation it has caused them.

My friend will have a hearing early next year to see if he can get his law license reinstated, and if he doesn't, something is very very wrong with the disciplinary board and the people making the decision. The world needs more attorneys who know FIRST HAND just how unjust the criminal "justice" system can be.

Yes, it may be one of the best in the world, at least in theory. Still, that's no excuse for some of its shortcomings not being addressed, and if we value our country we need to start paying more attention to it, because with more people in prison per capita (most for non-violent and/or victim-less crimes) than any country in the world, we are quickly losing our title as a "free" country.

So, my advice to anyone reading this is that you might want to exercise more skepticism the next time you read a newspaper article about anyone who is accused of anything. Who knows, one day we may be reading something similar about you in the same newspaper.


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