You may be a criminal under U.S. law, but as far as I’m concerned, solving a business problem for an untapped market is not a crime.
Failing to report income is a crime, but you strike me as someone who would report and deduct accordingly were your clients not ostracized and criminalized by society.
A real “criminal” with your intelligence would have found a way to simply cut in the right people on the deal to avoid getting caught and prevent lockup. (I’m assuming you didn’t spend enough time inside for that to be insulting).
As you pointed out, the prison-industrial-complex takes advantage of a vulnerable population (i.e. imprisoned people) and forces them into indentured servitude while making no provisions for healing and rehabilitation. (We can’t really call it slavery since you were paid something, but indentured servitude in this context is no better. It’s criminal, really).
You’re lucky to have survived and to not have succombed to depression, substance use, murder, and/or suicide yourself. What kept you going? Was it knowing that your time would be relatively short-lived? Was it having something relatively interesting to do? Making a friend? The sadistic hilarity of it all?
(Tbh, your experience reminds me of my time as a psych practitioner turned psych patient. I definitely needed the medication, but the rest of it was a joke and more like a prison than a hospital. Why law enforcement was and remains involved is beyond me. It wasn’t healing or rehabilitating at all).
Anyway, I’m glad you maintained a healthy skepticism and found ways to use your education and wits to make the best of a horrible situation.
I do hope, however, that you will find ways to “give back” to the imprisoned communities whose voices and stories would otherwise never reach the light of day (e.g. donate to mental health research, fight to end the school-to-prison-pipeline, advocate for prison reform, support mental health reform, etc).
Shining a light on the injustices of “criminal justice” in our country is a great first step and redeems you of any wrongdoing (perceived or otherwise) in my book.
But please do consider the ways in which you might use your education, finances, and other privileges to do more.
And finally, congratulations! Medium may take some time to master, but I know your book will be a wild success. I wish you all the best.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you think of any way I can help support your endeavors along the way.