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LESSON: When facing great adversity, the high-profile leader must understand public opinion and system opinion will likely be entrenched against them. Leaders must realize their efforts, arguments, remedies, and solutions must be far beyond what they would previously have found proportionate and equitable. Leaders must accept, and commit to, giving outsized efforts many times greater than everyone else in order to achieve a survivable, or, better yet, victorious, solution.


The below lesson is an excerpt from my recently released Amazon #1 Best Seller, When Not If: A CEO's Guide to Overcoming Adversity, Forbes Books, 2024.


I reset my endgame to persuade the Bureau of Prisons to transfer me to a minimum-security facility camp generally housing nonviolent inmates convicted of white-collar offenses such as insider trading or tax evasion. To have even the remotest possibility of challenging my conviction, I needed an environment where my physical security was not in question every day.


Surviving at FCI Fort Dix was a full-time job. Despite my best efforts to keep my head down, I collected two physical scars to show for my incarceration, unfortunately with no great heroic stories. And I knew that if I didn’t get out, the mental toll of just staying alive would crowd out any opportunity to work on my case. If I could manage to get transferred to a prison camp, I would have better opportunities for programs and resources that just might allow me to make it home sooner.


For four years I had failed repeatedly with the Bureau of Prison’s Administrative Remedy program to achieve this transfer. I continually filed grievance after grievance in their system: Form BP-8 to the counselor. Denied. Form BP-9 to the Warden. Denied. Form BP-10 to the Regional Office. Denied. Form BP-11 to the Washington D.C. Headquarters. Denied.


Not to be deterred, I would begin again. Sometimes, the denial would not even make it back to me before the time allotted to be able to file the next appeal up the chain, so I would be administratively disqualified. In that case, I needed to start the entire process again. This cycle achieved zero results for four years.


Then one day, I received a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) package at mail call.

FOIA is the system put in place to grant US citizens access to public documents and information, as a reminder that the government is actually organized for We the People and its purpose is to serve the people.


In addition to filing hundreds of court motions and petitions, I had also filed a number of FOIA requests seeking any information possible with which I could understand the charges against me, as well as the proceedings and the reasons for the continuous failure of my efforts. I wrote to the FBI, IRS, Treasury Department, Bureau of Prisons, and numerous Department of Justice administrative divisions, to include the Inspector General.


They would deny my requests, or claim I had to pay them thousands of dollars for copying expenses. Of course, I had no way of paying large sums for copying costs. I would simply redouble my efforts and send more requests, more letters, more appeals.


To my astonishment, this new package contained multiple answers to my requests for copies of communications between FCI Fort Dix and the office of the Norfolk, Virginia, US attorney. I had sought information on why I was being held at a higher security violent prison against the BOP’s own policies.


The pages all had “FOIA EXEMPT” boldly stamped at the bottom, the nomenclature I came to learn meant do not release for FOIA requests. According to the Secret Service, the exemptions “protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security, the privacy of individuals, the proprietary interests of business, the functioning of the government, and other important recognized interests.”


I wondered why my placement at FCI Fort Dix would be exempt for national security, and how did these documents end up in the package sent to me. Was it a clerical mistake, or did the universe intervene again and nudge a government clerk to forward the pages despite the markings on the documents?


The memorandum and email copies stated, “Mr. ‘redacted’ indicated that he cannot recommend the inmate to a camp but the (sic) is up to the Bureau of Prisons.” In bold it continued, “He also indicated not to reveal to the inmate about the pending cases.”

Finally, it concluded, “(B)ased on the email from the AUSA about outstanding/unresolved charges in his first case, request a MGTV to keep inside the fence.”


An MGTV was a Management Variable for Greater Security assigned to an inmate if keeping him at a higher security prison instead of placing him at the safer, minimum-security facility his charges and current length of sentence dictated.


Given that I finally exhausted all administrative remedies, four years later, I was legally permitted to file for resolution in the federal courts. In the US District Court of New Jersey, I filed Martinovich v. Ortiz, Warden, FCI Fort Dix, explaining I had been wrongfully kept at a higher security institution for all these years with my large stack of submissions for transfers summarily denied.


Remarkably, within days, after four years, FCI Fort Dix’s legal department submitted a response motion to the courts claiming this issue was moot and should be dismissed because “he is currently awaiting re-designation to a minimum-security prison camp, and the transfer will likely occur within the next few weeks” [submitted by Craig Carpenito, US Attorney, March 15, 2018].


How ironic. The courts and the BOP, of course, never want to have a consequential decision that could be used as precedent by other inmates. True to their word, I was shortly transferred to FCI Beckley, West Virginia, a minimum-security camp with no fence and two hundred, instead of four thousand, inmates. I took the job as the new head law library clerk and resumed my mission to make my way back home.


Just as Andy Dufresne never stopped getting that library built in Shawshank Redemption, we all must never stop in our mad pursuit of our own justice.


Have a great week!

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