A Geek in Prison - A Life Series by Charlie Shrem (Part 1 - Sentencing to Surrender)

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December 19th 2014, I stood up facing the judge and said:

Bitcoin is what I love and all I have. It’s my whole life. It’s what I’m on this earth to do, is to help the world see a financial system that does not discriminate and provide for corruption, and I think that bitcoin will do to money what e-mail did to the postal service. It allowed everyone to be equal. People in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, will have the same opportunities now with bitcoin, and because of this now, because you can move money instantly and information on a peer-to-peer system. And I think that’s really important. And if your Honor grants me that, I’d love to be back out there helping the world and making sure people don’t do stupid things like I did.

In a letter to the Judge a few days earlier, my lawyer had written:

Had the Greeks known of crypto-currencies and of certain provincial Brooklyn neighborhoods, a tragedy could have been written about a boy who, through Dionysian passion and a little hubris, helped nurture an idea—bitcoin—that was new to the world, and that could change how the world—the whole world—passed value from one person to another.

This new idea would take the boy from from his neighborhood. The boy would see himself as an almost sacred guardian of this new idea, charged with the awesome responsibility of bringing it out of the darkness and into the light of widespread, mainstream acceptance. However, in the chaos of developing the new idea, he would drop his guard, and allow the dark forces to caste it in shadow.

He would be to blame. He would be viewed not as its protector but as its destroyer, the destroyer of the one thing—the idea—he loved most. He would be sent back to his provincial neighborhood and, for a while, would live in his parents’ basements, all the while dreaming of the time he could return to his lifelong task of helping—of being just one of many—to bring this new idea further into light.

The rest of the story remains to be written.

However as fate would have it, I was heading to prison.

The court room cleared out while I stood back to take it all in.

Putting all those factors, as well as all the other facts under Section 3553(a), which the Court has considered, into the equation, the Court thinks that the appropriate sentence is two years. Accordingly, the defendant will be sentenced to two years in prison, 24 months.

Two years in Federal prison. At this point I had been under house arrest for about 18 months and I thought I would get probation or maybe another year of house arrest, but two years?

The New York Times wrote:

Before Thursday’s hearing in New York federal court in downtown Manhattan, Mr. Shrem, in jeans and a dark suit jacket, sat alone on a bench outside courtroom 14B, his right leg crossed over his left as he read a book. He appeared calm, fidgeting only slightly once he entered the courtroom. Known for his charisma, he was instead stoic, his voice unwavering. (http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/09/04/charles-shrem-bitcoin-supporter-pleads-guilty-to-federal-charge/?_r=0 )

Looking back, this day, December 19th 2014 was one of the most important days of my life and even one of the happiest. Why? Finally there was light at the end of the tunnel. I was facing 30 years and went to sleep every night since my arrest thinking that I would spend the rest of my adult years in prison. When the Judge said two years, I breathed a sigh of relief. After good time, it would be a little over a year. I could make it, I think.

It was agreed I would be given 90 days to get my life in order and prepare for my self surrender on March 30th. At this time, Courtney and I were living in New York City, just enjoying things that I wouldnt be able to do once I was in jail. We spent the days and nights living like it was our last. I continued to be apart of the Bitcoin community, skyped into conferences and consulted for different companies to pass the time until my impending incarceration.



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Two months later, March 1st and I’m not ready. I had been living life as if nothing was wrong and I wasn’t about to go to prison. How do you mentally prepare yourself for this? You don’t. You physically get prepared, drive up to the prison and walk in.

So thats what I did. Called up the moving company and packed up my life into boxes. Cancelled my lease, suspended my cell phone number, added multi factor to my email accounts, Bitcoin accounts, and hoped to god that a hacker wouldn’t get into any of my account while I was away.

  • Cell phone: I called up Verizon and had my phone number suspended. I needed to keep my number and many cell phone companies allow you to pay $10 a month to keep the line in a suspended state.
  • Gmail: I made sure 2 factor is working and gave backup codes to my loved ones. It's important to make sure I had enough storage to cover a years worth of emails. I had to pay Google $10 a month for extra storage on my various email accounts.
  • Bitcoin wallet- Without giving too much away, I had to secure various wallets. I even set up honeypot wallets assuming someone would try and break in (Spoiler- someone tried)
  • Physical stuff: In our apartment the furniture was rented so scheduling a pickup was easy. We had a moving truck come a day before and pickup the rest of our things.
  • Bank accounts: Spoke to my bank and let them know my situation. At the time I was banking with the Internet Archive Credit Union and was good friends with their staff. They understood and suspended any transfers in and out of my account.
  • Power of Attorney - Very important before going to prison, or even a surgery. Have someone able to make decisions on your behalf.

March 30th, 530 AM it was freezing in New York City. We all packed into the car and drove up to Lewisburg, PA. After a quick breakfast at Panera, which would be my last, we drove up to the prison.

My good bye to Courtney was quick. I told her I loved her and would see her at the first visit. I didn’t cry even though I wanted to, I needed to be strong. I walked through those doors and did not look back.

It would be 13 months before I walked though those doors again.

Next post, Prison Day 1.


$ 2271.525 SBD