Intro on Ethics

By · Sunday, March 8th, 2009

As a prisoner confined inside federal minimum-security camps, I served time alongside many white-collar offenders. The other prisoners with whom I shared housing space previously held positions as corporate CEOS, executives, and small businessmen. Others had once been professionals with careers in medicine, law, accounting, and politics. Most of those offenders were new to prison. I was not.

My term in prison began in 1987, when I was 23. I had not been incarcerated previously, though the length of my sentence necessitated that I begin serving my term within the impregnable walls of a high-security United States Penitentiary. After many years, my adjustment pattern persuaded administrators to lower my security level. They transferred me to various Federal Correctional Institutions of medium and low-security. Since 2003, I’ve been confined in camps with men who served time for securities fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion, and other crimes related to careers they once led.

An irony of having served 22 years was that it brought a certain status and credibility within prison boundaries. I had earned an undergraduated degree from Mercer University and a graduated degree from Hofstra University during my confinement. Besides those academic credentials, publishers brought several of my books to market, and I maintain a growing presence on the Internet as a consequence of the daily content I publish at

Some within the broader society may have held a dubious view of such qualifications. In prison, however, they were platinum-plated, superior to degrees from the Ivy Leagues. The work I had done as a prisoner, together with the time I had served, merited a reputation within my community. It assuaged anxieties others had about sharing their stories with me. They knew that I was writing to help others learn more about prisons, the people they held, and strategies for growing through confinement.

Through this commitment to gather data from my fellow prisoners, I stumbled upon an academic project that Professor Jana Schrenkler was coordinating. Professor Schrenkler teaches business classes at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. Recognizing the need to construct courses that would teach future MBAs in the area of ethics, Professor Schrenkler coordinated a questionnaire that she was sending to former business executives who were serving time in federal prison.

Bob, a fellow prisoner who was serving time in the same prison as me, received one of the unsolicited questionnaires from Professor Schrenkler. Bob had been the CEO of a manufacturing company with more than a billion dollars in annual revenues. He was bitter about his conviction and did not feel inclined to participate in Professor Schrenkler’s study. Being familiar with my interests in contributing to society, however, Bob passed along Professor Schrenkler’s inquiry.

I wrote Professor Schrenkler to introduce myself and to offer contributions. Although I was not a white-collar offender, I explained, I served time with hundreds of men who were convicted for crimes related to decisions they had made through the course of their careers. Such men were more accessible to me than to those in society. Prison administrators did not make it easy for researchers to talk with people in prison. Unlike those in traditional academic settings like Professor Schrenkler, I was immersed in the prison community. Further, my status as a long-term prisoner sometimes freed the men to talk openly with me.

Professor Schrenkler responded favorably to my letter. In time, she coordinated permission to visit me in Taft Camp. During the two hours that we spoke, I described my experiences of living in prison and told Professor Schrenkler what I had learned through my work of interviewing others. I also listened to the challenges she was facing in gathering data from former business professionals who were serving time in federal prison.

The articles that follow in the ethics category may contribute to Professor Schrenkler’s efforts to help business students grasp the importance of making value-based decisions. I interview the men I profiled with full disclosure on the project I was working. I wrote briefly about the crimes and convictions as the men described them to me. Some of the men allowed me to use their real names while others asked that I shield their identities. Following the brief introductions of each subject, I asked the men to respond to questions Professor Schrenkler had gathered. The questions include the subheadings of: Ethical Development, Ethical Decision-Making, Corporate Environment, and Reflections.

I hope readers find some value in this work, and I invite questions or comments.

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One Response to “Intro on Ethics”

  1. Jana Schrenkler says:

    My thanks and gratitude to both Michael and Carole for helping to further my research on business ethics.