Saturday, April 11, 2015

Guest: Stephen Arrington, Part 1

My name is Stephen Lee Arrington and I am an ex-felon, who believes that a pardon should be earned. My criminal mistake cost society a lot on many levels. As such, I have an obligation to pay back to the country that I love for what I have taken. If a pardon is in my future, I want it to be cheerfully given—a celebration of forgiveness well earned.

I was arrested in 1982 as a defendant in the John Z. DeLorean case. I had copiloted a plane from Colombia to California loaded with over 600 lbs of cocaine. It was called the Drug Trial of the Century, which is why the prosecutor was demanding that I get the maximum sentence of 45 years in prison. As I stood before the judge 33 years ago, I could not imagine that the prosecutor, James Walsh, would later become my friend and that he would write the introduction to my autobiography, extreme. He said that every youth in America should read that work. You see, it is a book about hope.

I pled guilty because I was guilty. Judge Takasugi noted that I had been coerced into flying the plane under threat of a gun by the Medellin Cartel, yet it was my lack of a moral compass that placed me in that position. Later, the Judge would commute my sentence to three years and then became my main sponsor for a Presidential Pardon.

Like I said, my story is about hope, which is why P.S. Ruckman Jr. invited me to write a short series of articles for the Pardon Power Blog. I draw my material from personal experience and from having spoken at over 3,000 public school assemblies, at dozens of adult and youth lockups, for youth organizations, churches, police departments, colleges, and universities. I talk about choices. Every day we make choices that will determine what path we walk.

Our journey could spiral us downward into the underworld of our darkest nightmares or it could lift us up into the wonder of our childhood dreams. Such as, two years after my release from prison, I would become chief diver and expedition leader for The Cousteau Society diving with whales, dolphins and great white sharks. I was in-charge of a French ship and crew yet I don’t speak French. In the world of choices anything is possible. I shot the picture below of a 17 ½ foot long great white shark from only three feet away, while kneeling on a swim platform just eight inches above the water. See how I did it on my webpage

I begin my presentations with a simple phrase, “With dreams begins responsibility.” We can live a life of meaning and purpose with many uplifting accomplishments, but it requires drive, determination, ethics, commitment to a cause and personal fortitude. I learned this lesson during my incarceration when I was transferred from Terminal Island Federal Prison to Boron Prison Camp.

Have you ever heard of an inmate driving anything? At Boron Prison Camp, I became chief engineer of Inmate Engine Company 52. I left the prison camp 17 times driving a fire truck with the red lights flashing and siren wailing to save lives. Think about the impact this had on me, to strip off the shameful coveralls of an inmate and to don the turnouts of a firefighter—to join a fraternity of true heroes. That uniform demands that the wearer become a person of meaning and purpose—people’s lives depended on it.

In prison, hope saved me. I believed the biggest youth problem in America today is that so many young people are living without hope. To put this in perspective, statistically suicide is the second cause of death for children, youth, and young adults ages 10 to 24 years old. (2010 CDC WISQARS)

When young people don’t have hope it leads to frustration, anger, and potentially to crime. The United States has the world’s largest inmate population by far; almost 2.4 million according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

How do we change all of this? We do it one child, one youth, and one young adult at a time with hope, caring and love.

Today, we live in society where there is a breakdown of the family unit. Not just from divorces, but from isolation. How often does a child’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all live far away. Too many children feel lost, uncared for, and abandoned. It is how I grew up. It is also why my moral compass was spinning without direction. It made me an easy mark. I, who wanted to do good with my life, slipped into a nightmare world. I went from being a Navy bomb disposal frogman, who had worked with the Secret Service, the CIA, and NASA into a drug culture that destroyed an honorable and adventurous career. My ticket to ride was an addiction to marijuana.

In this short series, I want to write about how we can truly help youth to make better choices. For young people who fail at that endeavor, I will share how to prepare for incarceration, along with how to cope with prison life. I will talk about the road back and of breaking addictions. After all, it is all about living a meaningful and purposeful life. See also: Part 2. Part 3.


Cheyenne said...

Yeah, I know this guy seems pretty cool in writing, but honestly, you should see what it's like having him as a dad!! :D

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...

EDITOR: I feel your pain, Cheyenne, I feel your pain :-)

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