At 6 AM, the sky outside my apartment is still purple-black. It’s too early. I stagger out of bed and stand under a scalding jet of water in the shower, trying to remember where I’ve been, where I am, and where I need to be. Oklahoma. Austin. Houston. In less than eight hours I have to climb a stage and tell a roomful of strangers my story. As far as stories go, it’s pretty interesting, I guess. It’s got thrills, heartbreak, what technically counts as crime, and even a little bit of vindication. But telling it wears me out. Living through it was more than enough.
Three years ago this month, thanks mostly to poorly written laws and a vindictive judge, I turned 27 while incarcerated in Mid-State Correctional Facility in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
I got sentenced to seven years in prison for legally owning guns. I had purchased them in Colorado and brought them with me to New Jersey, home to some of the harshest gun laws in the country, where I moved to be closer to my young son. I complied with all of the regulations, but one day the police searched my car and charged me with unlawful possession of a weapon—even though my handguns were locked, unloaded, and in my trunk. The court said it was on me to prove that I wasn’t breaking any laws, which obviously was very difficult. When Reason magazine covered my case, it wrote, “Even the jurors who convicted him seem to have been looking for a reason to acquit him. But the judge gave them little choice.”
On the road south out of Austin, my phone buzzes with a new email. It’s from the Manchester Business School, where until recently I was trying to get an MBA. It’s one of the world’s more prestigious business schools, and I was on a partial scholarship for “exceptional entrepreneurship,” but the last time I flew out there for a workshop I had my passport seized by a customs agent. My problem, he explained, wasn’t with the UK government, but with the US. Thanks to my status as a convicted felon, I was no longer free to travel to other countries.