Not Quite At Redemption’s Door: 3 Lessons

This week I visited my old CFO in the Maricopa County Jail. She stole some money from our company, we caught her and she plea bargained her way to a two and one-half year term.

As I entered her unit, poverty and tears were everywhere, with a picture of Sheriff Joe Arpaio smiling down on us and the room filled with the ranting of Judge Joe Brown on the TV. “You’re trying to convince me you are the victim,” he said and “you’re not. You must pay the fine.” ESPN SportsCenter would have been preferable.

In the visitation area the overseer told me to sit down at table #21 and wait for my ex-CFO to arrive. Our table was a cheap fast food booth divided by an old 2 x 8 as a barrier. Then she arrived and she was surprised, but she sat down across from me as she was handcuffed to her side of the table and told “no touching or the visit will end.”

After a simple and uncomfortable “hi” she began by apologizing to everyone she had “hurt.” She cried softly and then louder. But ultimately she seemed more relaxed than I had seen her in her last few months of employment. My comment was “I’m not here to judge you as everyone has already done so” and then I asked “why did you steal the money?” From there I heard a story of what she described as “suicide” – she was overwhelmed with her responsibility for her family, she was a terrible mother, and she had let everyone down. She even volunteered that “it wasn’t the money because I had other resources.” While I continued to converse I realized that I didn’t entirely believe her, as an old professional feeling came back to me.

Many years ago I spent considerable time in jails and prisons as a Psychologist. There were incredible stories of tragedy and loss, some hope and a fair amount of sociopathy. Many of us know the feeling of sociopathy which is defined as “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood and early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” Most experience it as the charming con that they “knew” was occurring, but participated in, nonetheless.

The lessons:

  • As I often tell clients, each of us have different Franklin Covey planners. We have our own lives, but a leader’s task is to have some insight for fellow leaders and managers in trouble that may place them at risk for a bad decision.
  • In key operational roles make sure to reduce the risk and temptation of threat by incorporating necessary security. Trust is built over time and is based on consistent accountability.
  • Keep the door as open as possible for key leaders in our organization, because they are just as likely to be at risk as anyone else.

Was the visit worth it? Yes, I came to the meeting with the intention of offering some support, despite her betrayal. I left split between my concern for her well-being and my doubt that she was truly concerned for mine. So be it.