White-Collar Prison Is A Great Networking OpportunityCommentary • Opinion • crime • scandal • rich • prison • ISSUE 42•37 • Sep 13, 2006 By Lawrence Bean This is turning into the best six to 10 years of my life. Serving a mandatory sentence at a federal prison is exactly the shot in the arm my career needed. No stress, no deadlines, no ongoing investigations. Just the freedom to learn and grow as a professional and—I'm not going to deny it—to have a little fun while I'm at it. This has got to be the best opportunity available for people in my line of work.I am loving it here!First of all, I can't say enough about the contacts I've already made between these walls. They are, bar none, some of the most skill-diverse colleagues I've ever had the pleasure of doing business with. We've got every kind of specialty man: the tech guys, the administrative types, the slick one-on-one cats, the gonzo all-in go-getters. The best of the best. In my cell block alone I could set up one of the best creative-accounting teams American free enterprise has ever seen. And to think, they're here 24-7, always ready to share their expert advice.I've made so many contacts, I've had to start keeping track of them by scratching the numbers on my cell wall. I've got 17 new contacts so far! This kind of access is invaluable.It's amazing how quickly you get to know people once you're removed from the cutthroat competition of the business world, and realize that everyone in here is working toward a common goal.I know I've accomplished a lot in life—and I've seen it all laid out ad nauseam in some of the finest courts of law in the land. Still, this experience has really made me rethink my priorities. It's amazing to be able to absorb the wisdom of those hardened veterans who have been around longer than me, to learn the lessons they've learned. It's made me realize that I'm capable of so much more. I see how important it is to take care, watch the little things, and be passionate about the work you do.My roommate, Bill Halpert, is a perfect example of the kind of take-charge, no-nonsense, clear-thinking businessman I'm talking about. One time, on laundry detail, he slipped me a little tip about how important it is to make sure, when using deceased people's names and Social Security numbers to collect a couple dozen extra paychecks, that the CFO's grandmother doesn't end up on the payroll. Or to be careful not to use purchase-order numbers that could be traced back to your department when earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in false invoices. This is stuff I could never pick up at some team-building exercise. This is the kind of gold you can only get from real insiders. These are the lessons you find in the most unexpected places, but wind up carrying with you for the rest of your life.I don't have to tell you that dealing with S.E.C regulations is enough to drive any average junior VP crazy. In here, I've learned how to channel that rage it into other outlets. "But what about all those infuriating applications that make it harder for people like us to do an honest day's work?" you might ask. And I might answer, "What if I spot a guy at the bench-press who happens to work for the Feds, and what if he happens to have some pretty ingenious ideas for streamlining our bottom line?" Brainstorming sessions can happen at anytime. There are just so many people here at the top of their game that the energy can sometimes be hard to contain. Still, nothing gets things done like a good old-fashioned lunch meeting. The stuff we come up over Salisbury steak or chicken patties in the mess hall is so brilliant that I'm scared to tell you about it—and that's not just because one of the guys involved could arrange for someone completely unconnected to him but still on one of his tax-shelter company's payrolls to put a bullet in my brain!But it's not all business in here. Outdoor activities provide some of the best opportunities for working on camaraderie with potential associates. Shooting hoops or playing softball really breaks down those barriers. The atmosphere is so natural and relaxed that there's never any reason to be shy. I've found that if you get in there and have a good sense of humor about yourself, people will respect you for it. The fact is, I've made so many new friends here that I know I'll have people I can turn to for support once I get on the outside. And when it comes to any professional relationship, isn't trust the key ingredient?Sign me up for another stint anytime!