The following is a 100% true story published as an interlude amongst 40 lessons for CEOs in my upcoming book, WHEN NOT IF: A CEO's Guide to Overcoming Adversity, Forbes Books, January 2024.
At 4:16 PM on the afternoon of November 12, 2013, my attorney James Broccoletti called. “I’m sorry, Jeff. Your bond has been denied. You have to report to Morgantown Federal Prison by noon tomorrow. Don’t be late!”
To spare my family further embarrassment and pain, I decided to drive myself to prison. For readers who may be facing a similar requirement, let me be upfront: don’t make the mistake I did. You can’t show up in prison with a car. Most people get a ride or take a taxi. I wasn’t thinking. The prospect of prison will do that to you.
So, at 3 AM, I left Newport News in my Audi and started the 382-mile drive to Morgantown West Virginia. I figured it would take me 6-7 hours, plenty of time to report by noon. Without thinking about it too much, I asked the Siri voice assistant to guide me. In the darkness of the night, I started dictating increasingly desperate messages to the few friends still speaking to me.
“Kevin, I’m driving myself to prison, better find a new partner for the Member-Guest tourney.”
“Sean, never ever, ever invest in a solar company!”
“Dave, never hire a defense attorney whose name sounds like a vegetable nobody likes!”
By 8 AM, I was in West Virginia. I think. The morning fog made reading the road signs difficult on the winding roads. Siri was becoming less and less dependable as cellular service faded in and out. I looked for a roadside tavern. I urgently needed a drink. But then I remembered one piece of advice from Broccoletti. He said the second thing they do to new inmates is make them take a breathalyzer test. The first thing is a full body cavity search.
Then Siri died! Why did I not print out driving directions? And the battery on my cell phone was dying. Why did I not remember to bring a charger? I didn’t know where I was. Time was getting short, and my blood pressure was rising. “Just keep it together,” I whispered to myself. It was all I could do to keep the car in the proper lane along the fog-shrouded winding roads.
I finally got to Morgantown and found a corner diner. It was past 11 AM. Plows had lined the shoulders of the road with coal-dirty snow. The diner parking lot was treacherous with slush.
No time for even a cup of coffee. Behind the counter stood a pierced and tattooed server with a name badge that said “Darlene.” I don’t know who I was kidding when I said, “Darlene . . . I have a meeting at the Morgantown Federal Prison at noon today. May I trouble you for directions?”
She sized me up twice in my Hugo Boss sport coat and Gucci loafers. She knew what noon meant. Still, she took pity on me. “It ain’t far.” Darlene pointed a tobacco-stained finger out the window. “Mile and a half down that road.”
Now time was running short. I turned into the prison entrance and pulled up to the guard shack with all the military composure I could muster.
“Jeff Martinovich reporting, Sir!”
The burly guard waddled over. He looked like a Kentucky bourbon barrel with a beard. He leaned onto the car door scanning the situation, looking from the passenger seat to the back seat to see where the other driver was.
“You done drove yourself to prison?”
“Long story, Sir. I’ll just park over there and my buddy, Mike, will pick up the car tomorrow.”
He looked at me like I’d lost my mind, spit some type of juice on my front left tire (I swear!) and bellowed, “You ain’t parking here. Back to town and taxi back is your only option. You got half an hour, or you’ll be starting your sentence in the Hole!”
I wasn’t sure what the hole was, but the way he capitalized it, I was sure it wasn’t anything good. Now driving frantically back to the diner, I knew that getting a taxi out here would be futile. Darlene! My only hope! I ran in.
“Uh, Darlene, I didn’t exactly give you the whole story earlier. If I don’t report to prison in . . . I checked my Seiko . . . 16 minutes . . . they’re going to throw me in the hole! Could I talk you into driving me? You can drive the Audi!” Hell, at that moment I was willing to give her the Audi.
This was my first experience of how my new identity as a felon would be regarded. Darlene took two dramatic steps back, making it clear this would not be a possibility.
There was only one thing to do. I left my car in the diner parking lot, tossed my phone, watch, wallet, and keys into the glove box, slammed the door, looked to the sky, and started running through the slush. “Okay, God,” I yelled to the sky now beginning to snow. “If this is the way it has to be, then this is the way it has to be!”
I ran across the slushy parking lot, dodging cars through the intersection and into a full sprint against traffic alongside county highway 857. The shoulder was deep with plowed snow, I was too terrified to be cold, and a constant stream of F-150’s battered me with spray. The drivers were baffled by this lunatic running for his life in loafers!
I wasn’t going to make it. A second talk with God. “After all this you have to let me make it! Then a sudden break in traffic. I swerved onto the pavement and channeled the best Chariots of Fire my 47-year-old body could summon.
The next thing I knew, I was through the gate, clutching my knees, soaked to the bone, gasping. I heard “Two minutes to spare. Never thought you’d make it.”
There would be no hole today for prisoner 81091-083!