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Richard Bistrong: Reflections on Thanksgiving dinner wrapped in aluminum foil

Thanksgiving 2012 was my worst day in prison (other than the day I self-surrendered).

When I was sentenced to a net fourteen and a half month term for FCPA-related violations, I knew I would spend some holidays in prison, including Thanksgiving.

But the reality in 2012 that I would be in the same place, in the same chow hall, with the same food, on Thanksgiving the following year, was one of my life’s lowest moments.

On most of the major federal holidays, the Federal Bureau of Prisons serve special meals. On Thanksgiving, the special meal consisted of a pre-weighed serving of turkey wrapped in aluminum foil, with some vegetables, sweet potato, bread and desert. It’s actually a well-served meal but with much smaller portions than you might enjoy at home, and in prison there are no seconds.

Because the meal goes beyond the usual fare, Thanksgiving is an exciting time for inmates. I was eager for the Thanksgiving meal in 2012, but even my own enthusiasm depressed me. I never thought I would look forward to standing in line with five hundred men for a meal that might be considered minimalist at many tables, but was extravagant from the perspective of feeding the masses.

When I realized in 2012 that Thanksgiving in a Federal Prison Camp would be repeated another year, my spirits sank to a new low. As Thanksgiving was the only holiday when I was incarcerated for multiple years, it is one that I never forget. Today I appreciate Thanksgiving as a moment of gratitude that transcends the dinner plate.

Over this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, I finished a book called Blind Spot by Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel. It is a must read for those in compliance and I will write more about it in the future.

There was a passage that really gripped my holiday attention: “When faced with a tempting but possibly unethical choice, ask yourself whether you would feel comfortable sharing that decision with your mom (or your dad or someone else you respect).”

The authors call it the “mom test.” I take it one step further. Don’t ask yourself what mom would think — instead call mom, or as I usually describe it, “call home before compliance.”

Hear what a loved one might think about your decision. And then maybe think about turkey wrapped in aluminum foil.


Richard Bistrong is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog and CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC. He consults, writes and speaks about compliance issues. He can be contacted here.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing Richard. Maybe corporate compliance departments should sponsor an aluminum foil wrapped holiday meal as a reminder to employees of what could be the consequences of their behavior!

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