While every media outlet is reporting that HealthSouth's founder, Richard Scrushy, was sentenced to six years and 10 months in Federal prison for bribery, there are many looming questions that will likely be overshadowed by numerous shouts of judicial victory. As a high profile case, keep in mind that Scrushy was acquitted of a $2.7 billion accounting fraud trial in Birmingham. Following his acquittal, Scrushy proclaimed his innocence in the face of prosecutors who were none too happy.
Immediately there were cheers of judicial joy shouted all over the Internet. "Scrushy finally got what he deserved," stated one blog with no apology for the gleeful tone. It seems that people easily find joy in another's trials. Funny, but focusing on problems experienced by others often keeps the focus off of our own issues and the pain of true human growth.
I feel for Scrushy. I know what he has been through and I know what it's like to walk into Federal prison. Although he was immediately taken into custody - something rarely done in a white-collar crime case. Scrushy has exchanged a life of prestige and power to living in a place void of most worldly distractions. But, prisons are places where real personal changes can occur. Certainly, over the next five years or so, Scrushy will have time for meaningful self-evaluation.
On a crisp October day in 1995, I took 23 physical steps... opened a door... and began a new experience that was life changing. Thinking back to 12 years ago, I would never have considered that I, a competent, well educated man, would be sitting in prison. That was a life educational experience where I learned, really for the first time, that there are consequences to every unethical choice we make. Though one might think that we can avoid the consequences, the reality is that they are unavoidable and certain. We just don't know how or when we will face the inevitable.
Prison time gave me the opportunity to focus on "choices." Every choice has a consequence. The consequences are inescapable. They can be negative (prison for example) or positive and we, through the choices we make in life, control the outcome. Scrushy created and controlled the consequences he is now facing. He might have felt that he dodged the bullet when he avoided the first possible conviction but the consequences of his unethical actions did yield a result.
Today, Scrushy will wake up each day and be counted - known as a number - and will occupy his time working and reflecting. He will be denied the simple pleasures that we take for granted. In addition, he will learn to regret those choices that he will recall often - the choices in life that earned him this privilege.
But, is there life following prison? Once again from personal experience I found the answer is yes! However, it is without doubt a function of the choices you make. Never forget, every choice has a consequence. We can make from the difficulties of life what we want. We all journey through life struggling to find some meaningful purpose to our earthly existence. Through this we all make choices and mistakes. From time to time we may receive help along the way and if we are really fortunate we might have the insight to "pay it forward" and help others.
As a former CPA, through a series of bad choices or serious ethics lapses, I became a white-collar criminal. Now, I am a sales executive in a publicly held company (something highly unusual for a convicted felon) and an international motivational speaker. I now take the time to review my lessons from prison and write about those experiences so that others may gain and perhaps learn from them. Some of us learn lessons the hard way. Yet, through sharing the experience of my incarceration and return to productivity, this has taught others to be able look at their choices in a different and more productive way.
I learned a lot in prison. Mostly I became aware that success is not defined by our material possessions but rather how we can help others. Through the Choices Foundation, which I founded, and my speaking and writing, I find today that helping others is a joy. People often ask me, looking back, what I think about my time in prison. My response, "Best thing that ever happened to me." While I won't make the choices that would send me back (I didn't like it that much), I gained great insight while there and know that there is life following prison.
Perhaps, over time, Mr. Scrushy will learn through careful insight that following his time in prison he will emerge stronger and able to be a powerful voice of hope. Meanwhile, let us not forget that his family is experiencing pain and perhaps we can remember them as they face new difficulties of their own.