White Collar Support Group 350th Meeting Reflection: “Paying it Forward While Paying it Back”, by Fellow Traveler Fred Aaron
Fred Aaron is a member of our White Collar Support Group that meets on Zoom on Monday evenings. On March 6, 2023, we will hold our 350th meeting – 7 years of community! In honor of this milestone, we’ve asked our group members, guests and supporters to contribute written reflections for publication on our websites, emails, newsletters and social media. If you would like to submit your contribution, please contact us at email@example.com. Thank you!
The woman handed my wife her passport, then took mine and walked away. Anita and I looked at each other. Such is the life of someone who has been convicted of a felony. You always expect a catch. We saw the woman walk over to one of the uniformed men on the side. They were talking animatedly for a few minutes, glancing down a few times at my passport. Then the woman turned and started walking back with an enigmatic smile on her face. She handed back my passport, and stated, “Bruchim Habaim. Enjoy your trip to Israel.”
If you’ve traveled on El Al to Israel, then you know this routine. As the national airline of Israel, El Al has its own security procedures. In addition to onboard anti-missile defenses, armed air marshals on flights, and Glatt Kosher food, El Al also has a process of interrogating prospective travelers to determine their reasons for traveling to the Jewish State, their eligibility to enter the country upon arrival, and whether they fit the profile of someone who can cause a safety problem on the flight.
This was not only my first trip to Israel; it was also my first trip abroad since completing my term of Supervised Release and retrieving my passport from the lockbox at the EDNY Pre-Trial office at the D’Amato Courthouse in Central Islip. The good news was that I pretty much knew that the passport control process when I arrived at Tel Aviv 12 hours later would go smoothly, which in fact it did.
As you can probably tell, I am further along in the justice-impacted process than many other Fellow Travelers. I completed my one-year term of Supervised Release in 2019. This followed 38 days of home confinement, 3 days at the Brooklyn Halfway House, 328 days at FCI Otisville Camp, and 5 years and 2 months of pretrial process from my arrest at home on April 5, 2012 until I self-surrendered at Otisville on May 31, 2017.
An odd fact is that these dates also coincided with major Jewish holidays, the arrest on the date of the Fast of the First Born before Passover and the self-surrender on the first day of Shavuot. This is why I was greeted at Otisville by a Chassidic Jew bearing a slice of cheesecake. You can’t make some of this stuff up!
Some folks ask me why I still participate in the White Collar Support Group even though I’ve been a “free” man for almost 4 years now. There are three reasons for this. First, I am still struggling with my own demons from that time. You can’t have gone through what each of us has dealt with without having some damage inflicted upon yourself and your psyche. Mine usually visit late at night in dreams. Coming to the meetings is incredible therapy.
The second reason is about paying it forward. There are those who helped me along the way. Some of them were at Otisville, others at the Brooklyn Halfway House, and still more in the Group. Now, there are more new people joining us, newly minted justice-impacted people. I owe it to the people who helped me along the way to help those who are now joining us, who are early on in this process. I hope that my words can give some solace or provide some guidance as each member confronts his, her or their own personal battle with the criminal justice system.
Finally, I have hopes that our meetings will lead to a movement. Justice-impacted people are the only identifiable group that it is both socially and legally acceptable to discriminate against. We are the butt of jokes. We are considered less than people, and treated like we bear the Scarlet Letter. That will only change by getting organized and taking the necessary steps to change the laws and change public perceptions. This is part of the work that I am doing at Interrogating Justice.
Congratulations to Jeff, Bill and the WCSG on the upcoming 350th Meeting. This is a testament to the important work you are doing. You are not just guiding the Fellow Travelers facing incarceration, currently incarcerated, and re-integrating into society. You are also creating the community we need if we are going to effect social change. Thank you.