Rich men, poor men

By Joseph Pou with brother William Pou

While Marc Rich sat down to a gourmet meal in luxury surroundings to enjoy his Presidential pardon, my brother, William Pou, and I stood in the chow line at a federal prison. Willy and I have two things in common with Mr. Rich: we ran afoul of the law, and we sought executive clemency. Beyond that the two families have very little in common. Mr. Rich has lived comfortably in Switzerland for 17 years as a fugitive. Quite differently, Willy and I stood at trial, faced judgment, and paid a horribly high price for our youthful indiscretions. The many stories of ordinary people who tried and failed to win clemency have yet to be told. What works, and what doesn't, can tell us volumes about justice and injustice today. The question is, "Could you afford justice?"

Two and a half years ago Willy and I applied to President Clinton for executive clemency, not a pardon. We have recognized the errors of our youth. To this date we have received no response, not directly for sure. Although the list of those recently granted pardons and clemencies did not include our names, we still have hopes that our new President will take favorable action in the near future. But what circumstances and resources would be required to make our hopes realistic?

Successful petitioners, like Marc Rich, had someone on the inside who lobbied for their cause. For example, 65-year-old Mr. Rich, pun intended, had his ex-wife, Manhattan songwriter Denise Rich, doing lots of work. She sponsored fundraising dinners and contributed more than $320,000 to Democratic Party causes in the past two years. It's painfully obvious that without access to large amounts of money and special invitations into the inner circles of the White House, no other applicant for mercy can expect much justice from the President.

Our story is not complicated. In fact, it is probably as common as any other similar story that captured news headlines many times during the past twelve or so years. Two first-time, non-violent young Hispanic males, in the midst of their 'youthful indiscretions', were convicted on December 12, 1991 for conspiring to distribute 5 kilograms of cocaine and sentenced to 30 and 21 years and 8 months respectively. Our story is not about excessive sentences, minimum mandatory, or even about how the government was able to convince a jury to convict us with the testimony of former drug-using snitches who would say anything that pleased the government in hopes of not going to prison. Although there is enough evidence of the aforementioned, this, too, is not what this story is about. What we are about, though, is how two brothers made the best of a bad situation and achieved remarkable objectives behind bars.

For example, we have each maintained a clear conduct record throughout incarceration, completed an Associates Degree in Business Administration and are currently working towards a Bachelor in Business Management degree. Other achievements include excellent work evaluations, letters of commendation for outstanding work performance, completion of the 500-hour residential drug abuse program, voluntary participation in parenting, victim impact, and release preparation classes, and not the least, saving funds for our eventual release.

We have done all this in anticipation of the day that when we are finally given a chance to start over, we would be ready to succeed. We maintain a close relationship with our mother, our number one supporter, as well as the rest of our thirty-five plus family members. We have wholeheartedly accepted responsibility for our youthful indiscretions, our selfish acts. What should be obvious to any observer is that we have come a long way since those days. We believe that our debt to society has been paid and that our record of reformation speaks for itself.

This year alone the U.S. Justice Department estimates that over 550,000 county, state and federal prisoners will be released into someone's community, neighborhood, town or city. Most releasees have no formal education, few skills, no family or money. Communities have petitioned in vain for help from members of Congress to find a way to better prepare ex-offenders before they are released; all this to little or no avail. But this is yet another story.

Willy and I have done our part in an era where prison officials have shifted their attention from the possibilities of rehabilitating inmates to the no-win task of warehousing us. If society is willing to give some ex-offenders a second, third and fourth chance, don't you think that we too should be given a first chance? We have accomplished so much that it would be plain shameful not to allow us the opportunity to be law abiding and contributing members of our community. Remember that the cost of keeping someone incarcerated continues to rise. At last account it was $25,000 a year. The questions remain the same, "Can anyone afford this justice?"

This is our story. No childhood traumas. No child abuse. There is no sad story about being poor children or having no food to eat. We were normal happy children raised in a stable and loving home with a mother and a father, especially a hard working mother who gave up her own dreams in hopes that one day her sons' dreams would become reality. And most importantly, we are not looking for sympathy, just support and encouragement.

It is not too late for our dreams to come true. Willy and I have come to a crossroad in our lives once again where we must make yet another choice. Do we let this recent disappointment stop us from achieving our dreams, or do we continue fighting for what we believe to be right? Judging from this letter I think you know what we have chosen to do.

Can you afford justice? The truth of the matter is - considering the rich standards of bribery and graft set by Mr. Clinton and his Rich friends - few can. We need your help to enter the inner circles of the White House, much like Marc Rich and others have done.

Now the new question for us is this, "Does it matter that we are not rich men, but in fact poor men?"