Beware of Roman Frabrizi in Prison

By · Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I’ve met scores of con artists during the more than 21 years I’ve served in prison. New prisoners should avoid interacting with them.

I say con artist, I’m not talking about the men who led Ponzi schemes or who were convicted of the various fraud statutes. Those types of white collar offenders filled federal prison camps like Taft. Many were nice, well-educated people who made some bad decisions. I’m sure that some did not set out to defraud anyone deliberately, but financial reversals and personal pressures pulled their sense of discretion and judgment asunder. Those types of men lived with shame and humility; they served their sentences unobtrusively.

The con artists that I suggest avoiding live more flamboyantly. They speak loudly, always bragging about daring exploits. Such men regularly misrepresent their backgrounds and experiences with elaborate enhancements. They fabricate stories that link them with high-profile personalities and celebrities. I came to refer to all such loud-mouth prisoners as Roman Fabrizis.

I advise new prisoners to watch out for the Roman Fabrizis in their institutions. It doesn’t matter where the new prisoner requests to serve his time, he is bound to encounter at least a few Roman Fabrizi types just as surely as he will encounter prison rules.

In higher-security prisons, I knew many men who lived the Roman Fabrizi swagger. They told tales about having led massive criminal organizations, or about adventurous capers they orchestrated. One Roman Fabrizi liked to describe how he broke into an airplane hangar to steal a Cessna. He said that he flew to Columbia, struck a deal with a cartel, and packed his plane with cocaine. He went on to describe how he flew across Mexico and into the canyons of Arizona, beneath the radar to avoid detection by authorities, landed in darkness on the packed sand of a desert road, met his crew of accomplices who helped unload the cocaine, and made millions in the scheme.

Other prisoners, most without teeth, listened in awe as Roman described the money he scammed and the hundreds of women he bedded. To those locked inside prison walls, Roman could spin yarns that were more exciting than any action film. His facade crumbled, however, when a former naval pilot who was serving time for smuggling began puncturing holes in his story with questions about aviation that Roman could not answer.

In minimum-security camps where I served time, the Roman Fabrizi characters I met told tales of a different order, but they were no less fantastic. Although the men couldn’t afford to purchase simple commissary items, they liked to describe the prestigious universities from which the supposedly graduated, and the billion-dollar business deals they had put together. While deliberating over whether they would live in Beverly Hills or Bel Air, about whether they would purchase the newest Bentley or Rolls upon release, they asked others to lend them a package of coffee until their money order came in.

New prisoners shouldn’t have any trouble identifying the Roman Fabrizis in prison, and they will ease their time inside by avoiding them.

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