It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of everyday life and forget what’s really important. My journey from living an ordinary life in the suburbs to being the focus of an FBI task force began with an over-emphasis on my life’s minutiae - my job. Now, a job that pay the bills may not seem like a minor thing, but is it as important as God? Or, your faith? Your soul? Your spouse? Your children? Your freedom? The truth? Unless your job is serving God or others, which mine was not, a long list of life’s assests precedes a job in importance and relegates it to the realm of minutiae. Unfortunately, I made my job the most vital aspect of my life and, as such, it defined the rules – the right and wrong – of my life. And that, my friends, led to the FBI task force.
Of course, not everyone who puts his/her job first ends up in a federal prison. But there are other kinds of prisons: the prison of possessions, the prison of lust, the prison of pride. Freedom comes when life’s minutiae are kept in their proper place and God alone in allowed to rule our lives. I’ve heard several men in prison say something like, “I’ve never been so free as I have been in here.” Looking back, I think I understand. For the first time in their lives those men put the minutiae of thier lives – their prison existence – in its proper place and elevated God to His.
This past week former Illinois Governor Rod Blagoyevich (Blago for short) was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. Among his crimes (he is now covicted so we need not say “alleged”) were: the attempt to “sell” Obama’s vacated senate seat (the governor has the right to appoiont an interim senator); the refusal to release state funds for a children’s hospital until they donated to his campaign (slush) fund; and his shake-down of race track owners by theatening to take away racing dates unless they too made campaign contributions.
So, was his a condign punishment? He’ll end up serving a total of 11years, 5 months in prison. I’ve met inmates with seemingly less serious convictions who were hit with more time. And I’ve met some with equal offenses (corporate CEO fraud) who got less time. Blago is probably in a penalty range that’s fitting.
I can’t laugh, joke or feel smug about Blago’s impending prison time though, because I know what the man is going through. In my book I write about this – the twilight time between sentencing and prison. It’s awful. There’s the persistently depressing thought that everything you are now experiencing – your family, a restaurant meal, driving a car, wearing your own clothes – will soon come to a crashing halt. That oppressive sadness dampens any possible joy or happiness. As I worte in the book: “The threat of prison imposes its own prison….Where once there was laughter now there were smiles. Where once there were smiles now there was nothing.”
And of course his wife and two young daughters are suffering along with him. Here’s the rub: once Blago gets settled into and develops a routine, his daily life should actually improve. But as time goes on, conditions for his family will probably worsen. Money will become more scarce, life-styles will change, friends will desert them and the unavoidable comparisions between what was and what is will only aggravate the deteriorating circumstances.
When Balgo enters prison on February 13, 2012 it will mean that Illinois’ two most recent governors will be seving federal prison terms concurrently. No, there should be no rejoicing or high-fiving. We all lose on this one.
Do you go to the movies? Probably not – or not very often. At $10 a ticket and maybe $10 of concessions for each person, going to the show can be prohibitively expensive. And one reason it’s so expensive is that not much has changed in theaters in the past 80 years to make things more productive. Sure, sound has progressed from “Academy Sound” (single-track mono in the old b&w’s) to Dolby stereo to digital. And projection equipment has gone from reel to reel to fully automatic, self-threading projectors. But those projectors still run 35mm film at the speed of 90 ft.per minute (24 frames a second) just as it was done in the 1930′s. (About 20 years ago I worked at the Biograph Theater in Chicago – where John Dillinger was gunned down – and I could’ve sworn that the booth equipment I operated was in use the night Melvin Purvis shot America’s Most Wanted.)
Even the distribution system hasn’t changed in generations. A two-hour movie is shipped in two film cans that weigh about 40 lbs each. And the cost of printing each movie at the lab costs thousands of $. Multiply those expenses by 4,000 movie prints, add in advertising and promotion and you get a sense of the monumental risks involved before the first ticket is even sold.
And those boxoffice figures you hear about are deceptive. If a film costs $50 million to make and it has grossed $100 million, it’s a big loser. Roughly one-third of that gross goes to the movie theater, another third goes to the distributer and a third goes to the producers.
There are two ways to change that matrix; make movies cheaper to produce (hence the trend to film outside union-ensconced California) or cut the distributers (the group that bears print and distribution costs) out of the loop. ”Filming” movies digitally instead of using film stock, then mailing out dvd’s to theaters would do exactly that. So what’s stopping Hollywod from going 100% digital? Fear. Producers are terrified that a movie digitally shot will be copied on a laptop and sent around the world before the film’s release – wiping out their $100 million investment. About ten years ago I ran a premier showing for some schlocky horror flick. When the film cans were delivered to my booth they came with their own security guard – who stayed in the booth, watching my every move as I ran the film. (I don’t hink the movie even had a theatrical release. I can’t even remember the title.)
If the producers of “F” rated scare fare are so worried about video-tape piracy, imagine the terror the backers of a “major motion picture” must feel about digital copying. Hence, things in the theater business have barely changed in decades. And that’s a shame becasue technolgy has changed everything else. Home theater systems compete favorable with movie theaters. Movies are now sometimes sinultaneously released into theaters and on pay-per-view. Clearly, unless some major changes occur, the future of movie theaters is in doubt. I believe their demise would be a great cultural loss.
For those of you who have read CRIMES OF A CHRISTIAN, my sentiment here might seem at odds with the crimes I committed. But I fought to save the job I loved. That feeling may not be obvious in the book but to those who have read the book I suggest you re-read page 189 – it was written with the sense of loss and pain one might feel when a love affair ends.
My name is Kent Dickinson. I wrote the nonfiction book, CRIMES OF A CHRISTIAN, published by One Body Press. Orignally, it wasn’t my goal to write a book. My goal was to save the jobs of my 400 fellow union members – and stay out of prison. I failed at both. In Chicago, a labor union is never a benign, noble entity. It is an extension of the city’s political machine with ties to the Mob. As I rose through the union ranks I learned things I didn’t want to learn and did things my Christian upbringing told me I shouldn’t be doing. I was no naive, wild kid. When the United States Attorney General John Ashcroft held a press conference to announce the federal indictments of myself and my union colleagues in 2003, I was a 53-year-old grandfather with a wife of 28 years. But more importantly, two years before the FBI “approached” me I had already quit all illegal activities and given my life over to God. And because of that, I believe He was watching over me during the time I was an FBI informant, and later, a federal prison inmate.
I wrote the book for two reasons: One, to show and share that we all struggle with the snares of the Earth and the demands of heaven. In prison I met many men – good men – who also fell prey to earthly snares: politicians, corporate CEO’s, bank presidents and even a Baptist minister who robbed banks on the side. You’ll meet them all in CRIMES OF A CHRISTIAN. The second reason I wrote the book is because God told me to. I didn’t want to write CRIMES OF A CHRISTIAN. My original manuscript was entitled OF MOVIES, THE MOB AND ME. It focused on my cirminal activities and prison time, with little mention of God. Like any project without Him, it went nowhere. It took a lot of listening to my heart, a few major re-writes and an inspired title before CRIMES OF A CHRISTIAN was born.
This blog is open to comments and thoughts about any of the major themes from the book: Christianity, unions, the Mob, prison life and even movies. I have two rules for all posters: Truth always, profanity never. God bless.