- Show Notes
On this week’s Stay Tuned, “Taylor’s Testimony & Full Circle,” Preet answers your questions about:
— The White House’s position not to comply with subpoenas issued in the impeachment inquiry
— Bill Taylor’s explosive testimony and what it means for the articles of impeachment
— The Republicans’ reaction to Taylor’s testimony
Cameron Douglas, the son of Michael Douglas and grandson of Kirk Douglas, served almost eight years in federal prison for drug trafficking, a business he entered to support his addiction to cocaine and heroin. He joins Preet to discuss his battle for sobriety and freedom in his new, brutally honest memoir, Long Way Home.
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Preet Bharara: From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I am Preet Bharara.
Cameron Douglas: It got to the point where I was a heroin addict. It got about as bad as it could get. I honestly thought that I was not put together correctly, and I lost hope for myself. I thought something was intrinsically wrong with me. I was living my life like, unfortunately, I’m broken, and I’m going to live my life and come what may. But, somewhere along the way, that changed. And if it can change for me, it can change for anyone.
Preet Bharara: That’s Cameron Douglas, he’s the author of Long Way Home, an intimate memoir that recounts Cameron’s descent into drug addiction, and almost eight years in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. Cameron’s brutally honest account explores his relationship with his famous family, how he ended up addicted to heroin and selling crystal meth, how prison time forced him to change his life, and the difficulties of solitary confinement and re-entry into society. Cameron and I also have a connection, but not the kind of connection most people would brag about. Cameron Douglas was investigated, charged and prosecuted by my former office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. That interview is coming up, stay tuned.
Anna: Hi, my name is Anna from Englewood, New Jersey. I really have a question that’s been bothering me, maybe you have a simple answer. If somebody in the State Department gets a subpoena, and the State Department says they cannot testify that they received this subpoena, why can’t they make the decision to testify on their own, and still not risk firing? I understand they could maybe resign and testify, but why can’t they just reply to a subpoena which is legal? Thank you, bye.
Preet Bharara: Ann, thanks for your question. And it turns out, a State Department official can obey a subpoena. And we’ve seen a parade of officials come in and testified before Congress, most notably, yesterday, October 22nd, when the chief diplomat in Ukraine from the United States, Bill Taylor, who we’ve been talking a lot about, and hearing a lot about, came in and testified for a lot of hours. That testimony, along with some other people’s testimony, has come after the White House Counsel’s Office sent a letter to the Congress, basically saying, “Your impeachment inquiry is invalid, it’s not found on proper procedure. And so, we’re not going to cooperate it at all.” And various officials in the State Department and former officials from the State Department were asked to come testify, some of them declined based on what the White House said, before they issued subpoenas.
Preet Bharara: And I think, individual diplomats and other officials in the government have made decisions for themselves that they are not going to be held in contempt of Congress, and they’re not going to evade the compulsion of a subpoena, and they have come forward. And I think that’s a really important decision. And that’s why, I think, some people have been using the phrase, “The dam has broken,” because lots of folks are coming forward. Some people still are opposed to coming forward. It is, of course, even easier for someone who has left the government to decide to come in and testify, but we’re seeing people both in and out, come and do their duty.
Preet Bharara: Here’s a question from Howard in Plano, Texas, that we received by email, that’s a little bit putting the cart before the horse. But, Howard asks, “If when the House passes articles of impeachment, and the Senate carries out its constitutional duty to hold a trial, will there be Senate gallery tickets available to the public? If so, how can I get one? If I get two tickets, will you be my guest?” So, let’s see what happens with impeachment first, I think a lot of people predict in good faith that there will be articles of impeachment voted on, and voted on favorably by the majority of the House. And Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader has said, he will, in fact, hold a trial. He’s talked about what that trial will look like, that the Senate will sit every day, six days a week. Still unclear what the procedure will be. There’s a couple of precedents for it, but not a lot.
Preet Bharara: And I would expect, although I was not in the Senate, when this happened with Bill Clinton, but I would expect that as is often the case where the Senate does business, there are seats open to the public up top, so they can gaze over into the Senate chamber and watch the proceedings. I would guess that those tickets would be a hot commodity, and probably, it’s helpful to know your home state senator, to get a ticket like that, or maybe stand in line. But, if you get one, if you score one, Howard, I’m there with you.
Preet Bharara: So, folks, obviously, the big news is the testimony of the chief diplomat in Ukraine from the United States, Bill Taylor, who testified at length yesterday. That news broke since Anne and I spent a lot of time on these issues on the Insider podcast. So, a bunch of questions relating to Taylor’s testimony, which was extensive. We don’t have all the details of that testimony, we do have what looks like someone photographed page by page with a cell phone, his opening statement, which has been circulated, and it’s 15 pages single-spaced. Our listener, Catherine D’Angelo asks, “A heck of a lot of corroborating evidence in the Ukraine scandal reports on Taylor’s testimony. @PreetBharara, your thoughts on the quality and quantum of evidence accumulating here. Compare, contrast to prosecutions you’ve led, #askpreet.”
Preet Bharara: A similar sort of question, a similar kind of question comes in a tweet from listener, Assiduous Rabbit, it’s best kind of rabbit, probably. “#askpreet, is Taylor’s statement and testimony enough to impeach Trump?” I know it’s hard for people with all the work they have going on and real lives they have to live, to read document after document. But, this 15-page opening statement from Bill Taylor is pretty extraordinary. It sets forth his background, as all these witnesses have come forward, in anticipation, I think, of character assassination. Sets forth their nonpartisan and bipartisan credentials, how long they’ve served the country. And Bill Taylor’s case, it’s been 50 years beginning as a cadet at West Point, and then, lays out, in clear detail, the chronology of events leading up to, and following the July 25th phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, whose read-out we’ve already seen.
Preet Bharara: And which, conversation prompted the whistleblower complaint, whose identity we don’t yet know. So, I believe that even before we had Bill Taylor’s testimony, and we just had certain text messages, and we didn’t have what we do now have, overwhelming proof of an inappropriate quid pro quo, that there was enough to impeach Donald Trump. Based on the read-out of the phone call, and other corroborating evidence that the President of the United States, and I’ve said this over and over again, and I think it’s important to be clear about this, that the President of the United States asked a foreign leader to give him help to investigate an important political rival, domestically. That itself is an abuse of power, and that itself is a reasonable impeachable offense.
Preet Bharara: Without stating the fact that the one time acting attorney general went on Fox News, I think, yesterday, and weirdly said that an abuse of power is not a crime, when everyone understands, even if you’ve never served as the attorney general, that exactly what the framers had in mind when they contemplated impeachment, and explicitly put it in the Constitution that it was an abuse of power that they were concerned about. So, I think, even before Bill Taylor’s testimony, enough to impeach the president, and now, going back to the question from Assiduous Rabbit, after the testimony of Bill Taylor, you have more than enough for, I think, succeeding, and stronger articles of impeachment.
Preet Bharara: He makes it very clear that not only was there a request for help in a domestic matter, which was the investigation, but that aid to the country, and a meeting with the White House, he makes it exceedingly clear, aid to the Ukraine, and essential aid, if not given in a timely fashion, according to Bill Taylor, would cause Ukrainians to die. Because they needed that military funding to stave off attacks from Russia. That that aid, and the White House meeting, were conditioned on an announcement of an investigation into Burisma and into the Biden’s. So, there’ll be presumably an opportunity in public, for supporters of the president to cross-examine and to test these statements by Bill Taylor.
Preet Bharara: But, if you see how detailed they are, how meticulous they are, and if you believe the reports, all of these recollections are backed up by contemporaneous notes that he took at the time, and by other people’s testimony, I think it’s going to be very, very hard to put a dent in the conclusions that he draws, and the picture that he paints. I think, at some point, it will be useful to see all the details of what his testimony was about. But, while we’re talking about this issue of complaints about the process, bear in mind that, behind closed doors, presumably, Republicans on the various committees have had an equal opportunity to question Bill Taylor, to question his motives, to question his recollection, to question his conclusions about things.
Preet Bharara: At the end of the day, the opening statement is very strong, but, I think, when you see all the testimony, including how he answers questions, and how he deals with people who are trying to undercut his testimony, that will be even more interesting. The other thing about Bill Taylor’s testimony, by the way, that may or may not relate to impeachment is not just about this inappropriate quid pro quo between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine, he also talks about something that’s very disturbing, and he uses the word disturbing more than once. And he also says that John Bolton, the former National Security Advisor, he used the word disturbing, and seems to have done so more than once.
Preet Bharara: And it’s this entire process of having, on the one hand, legitimate State Department officials, appointed by this administration, who have foreign policy experience, and who are acting within the appropriate chain of command, to try to further American national security, and to strengthen the alliance with Ukraine, as a long standing important strategic partner. And then, separate from that, you have what some people call shadow foreign policy, and he calls an irregular diplomatic process, that’s run by people, including Rudy Giuliani, that’s at odds with what the stated American foreign policy is, and strategic partnership should be all about. And that is something, if probed more, may form the basis for a more general article of impeachment. At a minimum, it should cause a lot of people alarm.
Preet Bharara: Then we have a person like John Bolton, who is pretty aggressive in how he thinks foreign policy should be conducted and how much leeway the President of United States has, to do what he wants. The fact that he referred to this craziness as a drug deal with Giuliani, and wanted no part of it, and abruptly ended a meeting, according to Bill Taylor, when this kind of quid pro quo was discussed, tells you a lot. Bill Taylor also describes John Bolton as being really opposed to a call between President Trump and President Zelensky, because he predicted it would be a disaster. Turns out that was correct. Here’s a related question, in a tweet from Francis Yancey, who writes, “The reaction of Republicans to Taylor’s testimony is an example of why I asked you if you were disappointed in your country, July 4th. Each hour brings disbelief, as one person after another demonstrates a lack of ethics or support for the rule of law, #askpreet”.
Preet Bharara: Well, Francis Yancey, I think it’s an important point that you raised. The reaction to Taylor’s testimony, generally speaking, where excuses are made and clear language is debated in a way that seems quite frivolous, that’s one thing. The other thing we’ve come to expect, as I already mentioned, is, if anyone dares to say something that is not in the interests of the President of United States, the President himself, through his weaponized Twitter account, and other allies of his, will engage in the worst sort of unseemly character assassination we’ve seen. And it doesn’t matter how long your service has been to the country, it doesn’t matter how Republican you have been, or how nonpartisan you have been, if you dare to say something against the President, they will attack you, and they will make up things about you.
Preet Bharara: Look what happened to Bob Mueller, whatever you think about his investigation, he was a man of good faith, and a sincere public servant, who served his country in battle, and served his country at the FBI, and served his country as special counsel. And he had nothing to gain from it, and nothing to prove, and he did his duty, and look how they treated him. And now, you see Bill Taylor, and I think one of the most remarkable parts of his testimony, as we’ve seen with other witnesses, is his recitation of his service to America. Because he knows that that’s going to be an important thing for people to look at, when he has to defend himself from attacks, some of which have already been formulated.
Preet Bharara: I believe, the White House issued a statement, where they refer to him, apparently, and others like him, as radical, unelected bureaucrats. And I agree with those people who have said on Twitter, and on social media, every single Republican, who was supportive of the President, should be asked, “After seeing the opening statement from Bill Taylor, and those who have seen the testimony in the committee, do you believe that bill Taylor is a radical, unelected bureaucrat?” As Taylor writes in his own opening statement, “I have dedicated my life to serving U.S. interests at home and abroad, and both military and civilian roles. My background and experience are nonpartisan, and I have been honored to serve under every administration, Republican and Democratic, since 1985.”
Preet Bharara: He says, “For 50 years, I have served the country, starting as a cadet at West Point, then as an infantry officer for six years, including with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, then at the Department of Energy, then as a member of a senate staff, then at NATO, then with the State Department here and abroad, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jerusalem and Ukraine. And more recently, as executive vice president of the nonpartisan United States Institute of Peace.” That’s not to say that just because you have long, uninterrupted public service for the country, that everything you say needs to be taken as gospel, and that you’re not fallible.
Preet Bharara: But, it does say, I think, without any blemish on your record, up to this point, and by the way, after you’ve gotten to retirement, having approached the age of 70 or more, and you’re handpicked by Secretary Pompeo, to come back and be present to service as the lead diplomat in Ukraine, that you’re owed a little bit of respect, when you come forward and do something that I think is very brave, even if it pisses off the president, and pisses off his allies. So, yeah, I’m really disturbed about how people have been reacting to long standing public servants, who decide to come forward and say something. I think it’s long overdue for people like that to come forward and say something.
Preet Bharara: My guest this week is Cameron Douglas. He’s a first time author, whose memoir, Long Way Home, traces his lifelong struggle with drug addiction, and drug dealing. You may know Cameron’s father, Oscar winning actor and producer, Michael Douglas, of The American President, Wall Street, and so many more. You’ll also know his grandfather, Kirk Douglas, who boasts an equally impressive filmography.
Spartacus: I am Spartacus. I am Spartacus. I am Spartacus. I am Spartacus. I am Spartacus. I am Spartacus.
Preet Bharara: In 2009, Cameron was arrested in the New York City hotel after a three-year investigation into his drug distribution business. He would go on to spend almost eight years in the federal prison system. SDNY, the office I used to lead, prosecuted Cameron’s very public case. In what I think is a very special interview, Cameron joins me to talk about his experience in the criminal justice system, and his rocky road to recovery and redemption. That’s coming up, stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Cameron Douglas, thanks for being on the show.
Cameron Douglas: Thank you for having me.
Preet Bharara: So, I’m holding in my hands your new book, which comes out today, we’re taping on a Tuesday, called Long Way Home. Congratulations on the book.
Cameron Douglas: Thank you.
Preet Bharara: You should be really proud of this book. I didn’t know what fully to expect when I read it, but it’s very compelling, it’s very honest, and I want to talk about how you were able to put all this down on paper. One interesting thing that we share, separate from the obvious thing that connects us, which we can talk about, is that, you and I have the same publisher, Knopf, and we have the same editor, Peter Gethers. And it was a little weird, when he was editing my book, he kept talking about another book that he was editing, which was yours, which he raved about, and I know he’s proud of the book, too. How tough was Peter as an editor?
Cameron Douglas: Well, Peter was great, but I also have to say, he raved about your book, in equal parts as well.
Preet Bharara: You read from the script perfectly. I appreciate that. Kind of different books, look, from different ends of the spectrum. There was one other time, a year and a half ago, I did a series on to the criminal justice system, we had four parts. Interviewed a prominent former prosecutor, a prominent former defense lawyer, who happens to be one of your defense lawyers, Ben Brafman.
Cameron Douglas: Good, old man.
Preet Bharara: And someone who my office prosecuted. It’s only the second time we’ve had this kind of interview, and it’s always, it’s a little odd, but, I think, an important conversation to have. Because, I’ve learned some things, since the time that I left office. You’ve learned some things during the experience you had, what you detail in great minute detail in your book. So, the other thing I want to mention off the bat is, when we get into the thing that brought you to prison, you were arrested two weeks before I started as the U.S. Attorney, so, I was not the U.S. Attorney when you were arrested.
Cameron Douglas: Ah, okay.
Preet Bharara: And given the nature of the case, it was not something I personally supervised, but we’ll talk about your feelings about it, and how you went through the process, and what you think about it. You have some strong statements about some things in the book, which, I think you make in good faith. So, we’ll talk about that. But, I guess my first question is, why did you write the book?
Cameron Douglas: Well, Preet, I can’t go back in time and change what’s happened, the choices and decisions I’ve made are what they are. But, what I can do is try to take all that and turn it into something useful for people and families that are struggling with addiction, that feel like they’ve lost hope, and that was really the effort. And as a byproduct, it was very helpful for me to go back over my life, in the process of writing this book, and try to better understand some of these choices that I made, so that I can be more helpful. And that was really great, that was something that, it’s been very important to me. And then, thirdly, it’s a good way to sum up all those years of my life, and then, put it behind me and move forward.
Preet Bharara: Was it hard?
Cameron Douglas: It was very difficult.
Preet Bharara: What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Cameron Douglas: Well, going back and just uncovering a lot of old pain that I caused others, that I dealt with, and just reopening old wounds. But, on the flip side of that, by doing that, I found it to be very healing, in the long run. Certainly, with my family.
Preet Bharara: You’re very honest about your family, about your mom, your dad, their relationship. Did you have the ability to put all that out in the first draft? Or, did it take a while for you to put in all the honest things that you have in there?
Cameron Douglas: Well, I tried to not make this a book about my family. I feel that my family’s included where their lives affect mine. Really, the purpose was not to write a book about my family, it was to write a book about my journey and what I’ve taken from it. And hopefully, by laying it out in the way that I have, honestly, I feel like that’s the best way to connect with people that are also going through some difficult times.
Preet Bharara: Speaking of family, you do begin the book with a painful story about your uncle.
Cameron Douglas: Right.
Preet Bharara: Why do you begin the book that way? And what happened?
Cameron Douglas: It seemed like a moment in my life that was very traumatizing.
Preet Bharara: Your father, Michael Douglas, gets a phone call.
Cameron Douglas: Yes.
Preet Bharara: And what is he told?
Cameron Douglas: My father gets a phone call from the NYPD, and he’s told that they’ve found my uncle, and he’s dead, apparently from an accidental overdose. And the effect that it had on my father at that moment, I had never seen him in a state like that. And it was, as you can imagine, extremely traumatizing for the whole family. That’s the kind of news that shakes everyone to their core.
Preet Bharara: And what impact did it have on you? And did you worry, as you say in the book, I think, “Am I going to end up like that? Am I like my uncle?”
Cameron Douglas: That was always the sort of, when my father and mother, more at a young age, not so much after Eric’s passing, but leading up to it, his behavior was erratic and my uncle, Eric, was struggling with a lot of stuff internally, and, as a result, it created a tempest around him. And so, as a younger man, my family would use him as an example of like, why I needed to get my act together and to try to learn from his mistakes. And, obviously, as you know, from my book, I was very stubborn, and, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to learn from my uncle’s mistakes, and I had to find out for myself. But, I don’t think that everyone has to do that.
Preet Bharara: So, let’s talk about your family, before we get to the things you experienced. Because, people will be asking the question, what is it like to be the son of Michael Douglas, and the grandson of Kirk Douglas? So, you’ve got Spartacus, and The American President. Was there pressure for you to succeed in the same way that they had? Was there pressure for you to act, because you acted, and I think you’re trying to act again? What was the level of expectation on you? How did that affect you?
Cameron Douglas: My father and my grandfather and my mother really did not create an environment where I felt like I was expected to fill their shoes. They always encouraged me to find what it was that inspired me, and to follow that, obviously. I have great respect for my father and my grandfather and my mother. But, since my grandfather and father are the ones that are famous, I guess that’s what we’re talking about, and I have great respect for them in their accomplishments, and they’ve always been great role models to me, and continue to be.
Preet Bharara: At some point, you began using drugs. When was that?
Cameron Douglas: I believe when I was around 13. I think I was in seventh grade.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. And how bad did that get?
Cameron Douglas: It got terrible. It got to the point where I was a heroin addict, and it got to the point where I did nearly eight years in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. So, it got about as bad as it could get. It got to a point where I honestly thought that I was not put together correctly, and I lost hope for myself. I thought something was intrinsically wrong with me. And so, with that in mind, I was living my life like, unfortunately, I’m broken, and I’m going to live my life and come what may. But, somewhere along the way, that changed. And if it can change for me, it can change for everyone.
Preet Bharara: When you think back, having been very reflective, as was required by the process of writing this book, which is very intimate, as we’ve said, is there something you think could have been different when you were young, either that your family had done, or a path you might have chosen, that might have helped you avoid the difficult path you went down?
Cameron Douglas: Really, what would have been incredibly helpful for me as a young man, if I would have taken advantage of therapy, and really given that a shot. I had so many opportunities to deal with therapists and psychiatrists and rehabs, even when I was younger. And, had I been more open to that, I think it could have been really helpful. So, that’s something that I tell anyone that I know, that I care about, that is struggling with addiction potentially, or really anything. Because, I think that’s extremely helpful to find somebody that you trust, and that you respect to degree, and open up, and let some of this stuff out, and try to find resolutions, rather than holding on to everything and stuffing it down, and pretending like it doesn’t exist.
Preet Bharara: So, how many different drugs did you become addicted to?
Cameron Douglas: Well, I was a cocaine addict first, and then, a heroin addict.
Preet Bharara: But, then, you began, at some point, you made the jump to actually dealing in drugs.
Cameron Douglas: Right.
Preet Bharara: When did you make that jump? And why?
Cameron Douglas: Well, I got to a point in my life, where I was just, I had a role on a movie that was shooting in Ireland, and I acquired this role just months after getting addicted to heroin. And, as you know, when you get addicted to heroin, it’s a physical addiction. And I ended up getting extremely sick on the job, after running out of heroin, and was fired from the job, and basically given an ultimatum by my family, which was to go directly into an inpatient rehab. And I was living with a woman at the time, and to basically part ways with this woman, or else, they were not going to support me any longer, which is totally understandable.
Preet Bharara: So, then, you didn’t have the same financial situation as you used to have.
Cameron Douglas: No, I did not. I was almost living on the street. I was just one motel payment away from living on the street.
Preet Bharara: So, you’re saying you began to sell drugs for the money?
Cameron Douglas: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Even though you came from a wealthy family?
Cameron Douglas: Yes. But, what’s interesting, Preet, is, when I was indicted, or what caused the indictment, was a sting operation that the DEA arranged, and I hadn’t had anything to do with the drug dealing for over a year, at that point. In fact, I had moved from California, back to New York. And while I certainly, probably would have, if it wasn’t a DEA operation that caught me, it probably would have been somebody else, and maybe those drugs would have hit the streets. So, kudos to you guys for that. But, then, after that, I’m just in a conversation about justice. So, I went in on a five-year sentence, ended up doing close to eight years with the BOP, close to two of those years in solitary confinement.
Preet Bharara: My recollection is, and I’ve actually, as I mentioned before we started taping, did some research over the last few days, because I was not supervising your case personally, talked to some of the prosecutors, talked to your defense lawyer, read some of the papers, but, largely, you were arrested for distributing crystal meth. How did you make the leap into crystal meth, when you had been an addict of heroin and cocaine?
Cameron Douglas: It was a supply and demand situation.
Preet Bharara: Business.
Cameron Douglas: Business.
Preet Bharara: But, you, yourself, were not addicted to meth.
Cameron Douglas: No.
Preet Bharara: That was your business.
Cameron Douglas: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: Separate from your addiction, but for the purpose of making money.
Cameron Douglas: For the purpose of facilitating my addiction.
Preet Bharara: And you were doing that in California for a bit, and then you moved to New York. And your arrest happened in New York.
Cameron Douglas: I was doing that in California only, and then moved to New York, after trying to get away from that and sort of restart, and that’s when the arrest happened.
Preet Bharara: Right. And the dealing, just so we understand when we get into a discussion about the fairness of the sentence and what happened in prison, we’re not talking about small bags, we’re talking about substantial quantities of crystal meth.
Cameron Douglas: Absolutely.
Preet Bharara: What would you say the quantity was?
Cameron Douglas: I was arrested for a pound of crystal meth.
Preet Bharara: And a pond goes for how much?
Cameron Douglas: I think at time-
Preet Bharara: Depends on where, it depends on where.
Cameron Douglas: It depends on where. I believe, at the time, in New York, it was around-
Preet Bharara: Up to 30,000.
Cameron Douglas: … $27,000.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. So, between 27 to $30,000.
Cameron Douglas: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: And you were arrested maybe initially on that pound, but there were, during the course of your activities, drug dealing, many, many pounds. So, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Cameron Douglas: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Okay. So, you understand that, in part you got arrested, because there was an investigation going on of a crystal meth ring, and as I understand it, and we’ll talk about your experience with the issue of flipping in a moment, but somebody gets locked up, and they’re jammed up because they’re locked up. And they point the finger at other people. And I think you describe, at the beginning of part two of the book, which is mostly about your experiences with criminal law enforcement in prison, you describe essentially a betrayal by someone who took a room in the same hotel that you were in, which resulted in your arrest. So, someone flipped on you.
Cameron Douglas: Right.
Preet Bharara: How did you feel about that person, when you realize that you had been, I’ll use your words, betrayed in that way?
Cameron Douglas: Well, upset, but at the same time, when I was arrested, the time that the federal government hands out is, I hate to use the word astronomical, but it feels astronomical when you’re sitting in that position.
Preet Bharara: Well, yeah, when it’s you. Of course, it doesn’t. And look, and there would be an argument that it’s higher than should be.
Cameron Douglas: Oh, yeah, no, but that’s fine. So, with life in prison is a possibility. So, I understand, especially more so as I understood the system more, what some of these people are going through and you feel betrayed. But, it’s the way the system works. And I’m not so much, I’m not saying that my punishment was was unfair, I’m just talking about, in regards to the statutes and how everything works and stuff like that. So, I’m by no means saying that. I’m just trying to open the conversation with you about the justice in these sentences, are they appropriate? I mean, do they serve a purpose? In other words, I, myself, was not involved in organized crime, I don’t have any connection to cartels, I have no violence. I, myself, was a drug addict, plain and simple.
Cameron Douglas: There’s millions of people like me, in that regard, that go through the system, and I think what happens, and I’ve seen firsthand, is that, you put a civilian in prison, and you put them in there for a significant amount of time, what ends up coming out is a bonafide criminal. And the way that our prison industrial complex works, the way that we treat inmates in this country, is not an effort to reform them, even if that’s what the taxpayers are told. As the security level goes up, especially, the more you’re treated like an animal, the more you’re treated like an animal, the more you act like one. And then, guess what happens? Then these men and women, they come home, and they’re living next to the civilians. And it’s like, it seems like something’s not working properly there.
Preet Bharara: What do you think would have been a fair sentence for you, based on your conduct?
Cameron Douglas: No, as I just said, I’m not debating the fairness of my sentence.
Preet Bharara: Because, we can debate the fairness of your second sentence, because you were sentenced once, and then, there was a transgression, and then, you got, I think, fair to say, hammered the second time by a particular judge. And I want to talk about that, because I have looked at the records, and I think, even my own folks were surprised at the second she got the second time. But, before we get to that, I want to talk about something that I find really interesting in your thought process about flipping. So, I have overseen the prosecutions of lots and lots of people, and personally prosecuted lots and lots of people. Then I have an entire chapter in my own book, that Peter edited, on the phenomenon of cooperating, flipping. Some people call them snitches. And what the psychology is, of people who decide to flip, and not flip.
Preet Bharara: And for you, I found this to be one of the most interesting parts of the book, because you throughout the discussion, keep going back to this idea of not ever being comfortable cooperating, and not ever being comfortable flipping, even though people are telling you, your lawyers are telling you, “Look, Cameron, you’re facing a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, which you were, based on the quantity on the crystal meth. And the one way in the federal system, there’s another way, but the one way, principally, to get something less than 10 solid years, is to cooperate and testify for the government. And in your book, when you’re considering these things, if I can just read this back to you, because it’s very compelling. And not everyone thinks this way.
Preet Bharara: Some people, you met some of these people I’m sure, they flip on a dime, against family, against their best friends. And some people will never do, and you were kind of in between. And you write, “The DEA is hitting me with the pitch they hit everyone with, to wear down any determination not to cooperate. Someone wore a wire on you, why should they go free, while you go to prison? So, why don’t I just name names and enthusiastically cooperate?” And then, you list out, you enumerate reasons why you’re not comfortable. And you say, “One, there’s a code among criminals, and I believe in it. This is a situation I got myself into, understanding the risks, and I don’t think it’s fair to drag other people into it. Two, I don’t want to give information about some people I genuinely care about, or to live with the weight of knowing I did that to them.
Preet Bharara: “Three, if I cooperate with the government, I’ll forfeit a lot of rights, including the right to appeal. Four,” they’re four reasons, “I know that the stigma of cooperating will make for a much more difficult prison experience.” And you talk about that at great length. So, talk about how you turned over in your head this idea of cooperating or not.
Cameron Douglas: Well, I mean, as I said, just before I got hammered with the second sentence that we started to talk about, I’ve always felt that way, when you’re in the throes of heroin withdrawal, there’s not much you won’t do. It’s a feeling that can’t be described, but I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about it. And anybody listening to this podcast, I’m sure has some interest in it, and probably knows a little bit about it. And so, I was looking for any excuse, I was trying to find a way to, one, deal with that sickness, and, two, I felt like maybe I could somehow manipulate my way out of this, with these people that are very good at their job, which was just, that was the way that a civilian drug addict looks at a situation of this magnitude.
Cameron Douglas: In other words, you just are not seeing things clearly.
Preet Bharara: So, you are torn. On the one hand, “Cooperate, and I’ll get out of prison sooner.” In fact, maybe you should spend a minute describing your arrest, and what the agents did, and where they brought you. And how you had a conversation with your father, Michael Douglas, before deciding what to do.
Cameron Douglas: So, the agents arrested me, and they said, once they took me to the DEA headquarters, which happened to be five blocks away from where I was staying, they said, the first pitch was, “You’re looking at possibly life in prison.” And then, it was, “Your family, do this for your family. If you do this, we’ll make sure this never comes out in the press,” which is all not even possible. And then, I asked if I could make a phone call to my father, because he’s the one person that I look to for the best advice. The person that I trust.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. And he told you to flip.
Cameron Douglas: And, well, what happened is, as I was speaking to him, and I’ll never forget that day, we hadn’t spoken in a while, and he answered the phone, he was so happy to hear my voice. And I had to tell him what was going on, and I couldn’t quite get it out. And one of the agents took the phone, and he walked away with it. And he came back, and he handed me the phone, and my father said that he thought I should do what they asked me to do. Now, I didn’t take that advice. Had I taken that advice more to heart, maybe things would have been easier on me in the long run. But, what I tried to do at that point, was feed these people a bunch of lies and half-truths.
Preet Bharara: So, you lied to the agents, you lied to the prosecutors.
Cameron Douglas: I did.
Preet Bharara: While pretending that you were fully cooperating.
Cameron Douglas: Right.
Preet Bharara: Because you wanted to have it both ways?
Cameron Douglas: Yes.
Preet Bharara: And then, you got neither benefit.
Cameron Douglas: I got neither benefit. I ended up getting neither benefit, I ended up getting, basically, the 10 years that I would have gotten.
Preet Bharara: Well, but, so, initially, you go before the court, Judge Berman, who I know well, and I think is a good judge. And I don’t think, in my experience, I don’t think and especially tough sentencing judge, most of the time.
Cameron Douglas: That sounds about like my luck.
Preet Bharara: Well, no, but you had this shot, and you got out from under the 10-year mandatory minimum. And look, there are lots of arguments that are legitimate, that mandatory minimums probably shouldn’t happen. But, for you, you got out from under that, because you said you were going to cooperate. And in particular, they wanted to know who your suppliers were, go up the food chain, which is what law enforcement does. And they were a couple of brothers, who, unclear where they were, if they were going to be found. And those were the people that the DEA, and, as I understand that my old office was interested in, and they were going to use your testimony, if those folks ever showed up to help convict those guys, right?
Cameron Douglas: Right.
Preet Bharara: Who were bigger folks than you.
Cameron Douglas: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Preet Bharara: And everyone went along with that, and you actually got, I think, the benefit of being able to be sentenced even before any testimony. Because, usually, it’s the case, in most cases that I ever saw, that if a guy like you gets arrested, they want to wait and see how much you assist, and wait and see how your testimony goes. When all the cooperation finishes, and then you get sentenced. Meanwhile, you’re in prison that whole time. For a variety of reasons, it seems like you got the benefit of an early sentence, even before testifying, and seeing how worthwhile your truthfulness was. And you got five, which, I think, in the judges mind, was a gift to you. Did you think of it as such? Or no?
Cameron Douglas: Well, it’s hard to think of five years in prison as a gift. And, at this point, still was very early on my understanding of the system and how it works, and the kind of time that they doled out was still…
Preet Bharara: It’s a lot of time.
Cameron Douglas: Well, I mean, that’s nothing, there’s people that would do anything for five years, that are in our systems today. So, I wasn’t fully understanding everything yet, the way that I would come to, a few years down the line.
Preet Bharara: I don’t know if you think this had a role. I read a lot of the letters submitted on your behalf at that first sentencing, and they’re extraordinary. And I think you write in the book that some people were very honest, which was, I think, helpful, not realizing that their letters would become public. They thought they were only to be read by the judge. But, it paints a picture, I was struck by how many times people wrote. And, obviously, these people know you and they’re trying to help you. A phrase came up over and over again, and I wonder how you felt when you read them. They kept saying you’re a person with a good heart. What did you feel when you read so many people say that about you?
Cameron Douglas: Well, that’s one thing about myself that I do, I have a big heart. When I care about somebody, and I love somebody, there’s nothing that I won’t do for them. So, that is something that I’m not ashamed to own, or even say that I recognize in myself.
Preet Bharara: You should be proud of that.
Cameron Douglas: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: Something to be proud of.
Cameron Douglas: Right. Boy, these people be modest. But, I do. I have a big heart, oftentimes, to a fault. But, yeah, I’ll take it.
Preet Bharara: So, then, you get sentenced to the five years. But, then, some things happen, you violate, in various ways, we don’t have to go through it all. But, among other things-
Cameron Douglas: Well, it’s interesting to me-
Preet Bharara: Yeah, explain.
Cameron Douglas: … Because it ties into the whole solitary issue, which I know is something that you feel strongly about. And so, what happened is, I gave a dirty urine, and they found one eighth of a pill of Suboxone in my cell. So, basically, I was hammered by the prisons, I was given one year in solitary confinement for dirty urine, and one eighth of a pill of Suboxone. I lost my visits for four years. It means I can’t see my family for four years. I lost commissary phone, everything else. But, just for that, I was put in solitary for a year. So, that was that. Then, on top of that, for the same thing, Judge Berman gave me, where I think it was like four years and nine months. Basically, another five years. Yeah.
Preet Bharara: But, in the interim, also, to the extent this is relevant, one of the two brothers, who are your suppliers, end up getting arrested, right?
Cameron Douglas: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Preet Bharara: And now, this thing that you were trying to avoid, which is testifying against someone else, and cooperating with the government, now you’re kind of compelled to do. And you didn’t want to, but you did, in the first trial. Because the brothers, I think, had separate trials.
Cameron Douglas: I mean, and this is why I got the sentence that I did the second time, and I understand it. Yeah, I mean, in the first trial, I basically said that everything that I had said to the DEA, in regards to this gentleman, was not true, and that I was withdrawing from heroin and what have you.
Preet Bharara: Did you testify truthfully at the trial?
Cameron Douglas: That was the truth, yeah. That was the truth.
Preet Bharara: Right.
Cameron Douglas: And then, now, on the second trial, I refused to go back.
Preet Bharara: Right. I looked at the papers and maybe there’s a difference in recollection here, that the prosecutors decided, for various reasons, that you wouldn’t be a good witness at the second trial. So, they didn’t want to use you at the second trial. And based on these violations, you went back before the judge for a resentence. And I wanted to make sure that I understood what everyone’s view was. And the probation department recommended 366 days, a year and a day. The guidelines were something like under two years. And that the line prosecutors in my office, said that, consistent with what they thought the guidelines were, and they thought some false statement you had made to them, that it should be 18 to 24 months.
Preet Bharara: And I’ve talked to some of these folks since, because I wasn’t closely following it at the time, and you go into court, and they all expect you to get something between zero and 24 months, on top of the five. Which the court had felt, I know you don’t feel this way, the court had felt you had been given a break. And Judge Berman was mad, wasn’t he?
Cameron Douglas: Yeah, he was.
Preet Bharara: And the judge at the first sentencing had said, even in giving you what he thought was a break, “Therapeutically, we all need to get over the theme that Cameron Douglas is a victim.” So, it seems that he had a particular view about what responsibility you were accepting.
Cameron Douglas: Right.
Preet Bharara: And then, you have these other transgressions that get you a lot of administrative penalty in prison, as you’ve described, which are not soft. And then, Judge Berman says, “I don’t believe that I’ve had another case ever, of a defendant who was so recklessly and flagrantly and one tonally, and criminally, acted in as destructive and manipulative of a fashion as Cameron Douglas has here.”
Cameron Douglas: I found that a little hard to believe, since he’s a judge in the district of-
Preet Bharara: You said it in the book, it says in the book. I have great respect for Judge Berman. Clearly, he was angry. I’ve not often seen him angry. And it seems that, the psychology of judges, who are just people, is the same as the psychology of other people. And you actually analyze it pretty well, you said, “I don’t know if it’s some combination of feeling like a champ, for having sentenced me in a way that was well below the guidelines the first time, and, or the transgressions, and, or,” I’m paraphrasing, you said it more eloquently. “And, or the fact that I’m a privileged white kid.” And, or the fact that there was this incident with your lawyer, who got into trouble for bringing you contraband, and then, almost getting arrested, and almost getting disbarred herself.
Preet Bharara: The combination of those things made him angry, and he gave you what my folks, two times what my folks recommended, four and a half times what the probation department recommended, and you got four and a half years. So, I think you’ve said how you feel about it. But, explain your feeling in the moment, and how you feel about it today.
Cameron Douglas: Listen, I sort of short-circuited at one point, when I went back to the bullpens, kind of passed out. And then, I was in solitary confinement at the time, at MDC, got back to my cell. And the inmates the unit had been rioting and flooding the toilets, and everything like that. And I remember, you don’t have any shelves, all my books and letters and legal work and writing was all on the ground and it was soaking wet and ruined. And I felt like something inside of me was breaking. And it was a scary feeling. But, I think it was the impetus for the direction that I decided to go from that point. I think, at that point, there were two sort of paths that I could have gone down.
Cameron Douglas: One, very destructive, and maybe never would have made it home as a result of. And two was the path that I chose to take, which was that, I felt that I had to do everything I could do each day to get myself in the best possible position, once I was released from prison, to make a real life for myself. And it didn’t happen with a snap of my fingers, it was a journey. I mean, so, my year in solitary turned into 18 months or something like that. Because, various-
Preet Bharara: You did various things.
Cameron Douglas: I did various things.
Preet Bharara: We can get into some of them.
Cameron Douglas: Well, we should. I mean, when you’re put into a cement box with another man, 23 hours a day, and you don’t get along with this other gentleman, it can get pretty dangerous in there. And so, I had a couple scenarios like that.
Preet Bharara: There’s one scenario in which, you’re the narrator, so, I have to give you the benefit of the doubt in how you describe the danger that you felt yourself to be in. And it was one cellmate you had, who you thought didn’t like you. And if you didn’t strike first, and figure out a way to be separated from him in the cell, and go to a new cell, he might kill you. He didn’t make a direct threat, but you’re a person who’s been in prison for a while at this point, and you make a judgment. And then, one day, if I remember correctly, your cell-mate is doing push ups, and you’re very candid about this, in the book. Your cell-mate is doing push ups, and you realize, you have to take the first shot.
Preet Bharara: He hadn’t done anything to you yet, you just felt a generalized fear, and you kick him in the throat, hard. So hard, that, for a moment, you think maybe it was too hard, and you might have killed him. Explain why you did that.
Cameron Douglas: Well, I think fear is something that makes people most dangerous. When somebody is scared for their life, they become dangerous. And I was fearful of this guy. It’s not uncommon to be hurt badly in your cell in your sleep, by the person that you’re in the cell with.
Preet Bharara: So, you engaged in preemptive violence, you thought, to protect yourself?
Cameron Douglas: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Do you still think that those were the right thing to do?
Cameron Douglas: Probably, probably. This gentleman and I were not in a good place. But, the reason I shouldn’t have been with this gentleman in the first place is-
Preet Bharara: You think the guards were screwing with you.
Cameron Douglas: Yeah, they were, they were. And after him, they put me in with a white supremacist, who hadn’t been able to cell with anyone, he’d been by himself the whole time. And they decided to put me in the cell with him. And-
Preet Bharara: And you attacked him too, preemptively.
Cameron Douglas: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I did, I did.
Preet Bharara: And you think still that was the correct thing?
Cameron Douglas: Absolutely, absolutely. This guy’s dangerous.
Preet Bharara: But you got jammed up for those things, right?
Cameron Douglas: Yeah, I did.
Preet Bharara: And that’s in part why you went-
Cameron Douglas: I got jammed up for those things, but I also got my own cell.
Preet Bharara: Which ended up for you. There’s a lot of paradoxes when we talk about prison, right? So, solitary is terrible in many ways, and a lot of psychologists think it is, particularly for adolescents. But, in some ways, for you, it was a good thing, because you were safer. And at some point, I think you’re right, that you started to appreciate being alone, or no?
Cameron Douglas: Well, I mean, I don’t know if I was safer in solitary confinement. I think some people seek refuge in solitary confinement. And that wasn’t my experience, due to these certain instances.
Preet Bharara: No, you had the opportunity. At one transfer, you wrote, when you went in, the prison staff knew that you might have some trouble with some folks who were at the prison, and they asked you if you wanted to check in, meaning, go to solitary. And you didn’t want to be that person. You didn’t want to look like you were afraid of being in the general population. And so, you refused it.
Cameron Douglas: Exactly. As I did at every prison I went. Every prison you go to, it’s not just me in particular, as you arrive at the prison, a person from the SIS office will give you a brief interview, and they’ll ask you if you’re safe on this compound. And if you feel safe or if there’s any reason that you shouldn’t walk on this compound. And then, once you tell them that you can walk on the compound, they have you signed a piece of paper to absolve them of any responsibility if you’re killed. That’s something that everyone that goes to, arrives at a prison and gets that treatment. I don’t know, I mean, my thing with the solitary is, as I understand, to manage the safety of an individual or the people around him.
Cameron Douglas: But, when you start getting into this long, long stretches of solitary confinement, I wonder what the purpose is. Because you ask yourself this, does solitary confinement make you less aggressive? And I think the answer would be no. Does solitary confinement make your mental state more balanced? I think the answer would be no. And I think you can go down this checklist, and so, it’s another thing I think that really deserves to be looked at, a little harder. Certainly, in certain scenarios and situations, to people’s safety, it’s absolutely a necessary tool, but I think they get abused.
Preet Bharara: Here’s what I’ve been wanting to ask you since going through your book and hearing about your experience, and this is paradox about prison. So, prison is awful in many ways, and some places are worse than others. And by my account, you were in a lot of different places. You were at the MCC, the MDC, FCI Lewisburg, FCI Lorretto, FCI Cumberland, Danbury, and a bunch of places, and we can talk a little bit about what was different about those. But, you say, towards the end of your book, and I found this very compelling, you say, “I can almost say I feel blessed by my prison experience, not in every way, but it was in prison that I began to get my life together, I got my priorities together. I answered questions about myself that I’d always had.”
Preet Bharara: Then you go on to say, “I had gone into prison a boy,” even though you were 30, “And I came out a man.” So, was prison… and I think I get it, but I want to hear how you will describe it.
Cameron Douglas: So, just because it sounds kind of funny the way you said, I went into prison a boy, although I was 30. So, it’s interesting, I think what happens when one starts abusing drugs at an early age, is, you get caught at that age, you don’t necessarily grow up the way-
Preet Bharara: You freeze in time.
Cameron Douglas: I don’t if you freeze, but, just the evolution is a little bit different. So, in a lot of ways, you have a little more adolescent, a little more reckless. And hopefully, that will serve me moving forward as I start to become an old man.
Preet Bharara: You’ve got a ways to go.
Cameron Douglas: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: You’ve got a decade before you reach me, even. But, how do you square this idea? Because I think I know what you’re trying to say, on one hand, a prison is facilitating.
Cameron Douglas: So, I would never sit here and say that prison is the answer. I just, I couldn’t in good faith, with my experience and seeing what I’ve seen. But, what I can say for me personally, is that, prison was this explosion, anything short of this monumental explosion in my life, I don’t think, would have had the gravitas to turn things around. I feel like I did a lot of growing up in prison, I had a lot of time to reflect, and I’d like to think that I’m going to be able to make it work for me. That’s really, that’s a part of this effort here, is, an effort to take some of that time, some of those experiences, and turn them into something that’s productive and helpful. And in the end, useful.
Preet Bharara: If you hadn’t gone to prison, do you think you’d be here today?
Cameron Douglas: Probably not.
Preet Bharara: I mean, you wouldn’t be alive.
Cameron Douglas: If I was alive, I’d probably be wishing I was dead. I mean, the drug addiction, it goes through stages. And there’s a stage when it’s almost cute, edgy, maybe sexy to some. And then, it gets to the stage where it’s just destructive, and sad, and messy. And then, it just gets into this like just, you’re kind of just like squirming through life. Yeah, I know people that are still living in this way and it’s not a good existence, it’s just… So, I feel very grateful today that I’m on a different path. And, certainly, my experiences are a big part of why I’m on a different path.
Preet Bharara: Do you have advice to people who were maybe caught up in the kinds of things you were, when you were 30, before you got arrested? Or, is it not something that simple advice can solve?
Cameron Douglas: Well, one of the areas that I feel strongly about is working with at risk youth. 12 and 13, to like 18, I think are very important years, especially for kids that are starting to go down that path that leads to prison and violence, and then, death, in many cases. I think that those kids need to hear from somebody that has been through it. Because, those kids, they don’t want to hear from just some guy or a woman talking to them, those kids are already starting to go down that path, those kids already have certain ideals, they already look up to certain kind of characters, and they need to hear from those kind of people that have been through stuff like that.
Cameron Douglas: So, I think, advice, I think it, well, as you know, I mean, advice from people that you respect, hits home most of the time. Where, advice from people that you don’t necessarily have that level of respect for, doesn’t resonate quite as much.
Preet Bharara: Did you make friends in prison?
Cameron Douglas: I did.
Preet Bharara: You describe it and you say something that I think most people don’t think about, right? You said something that has stuck in my mind, and that is, I’m paraphrasing again, because you, again, said it more eloquently, “On the outside, you get an hour with somebody, you get their best self.” What are you thinking of me? Over an hour, I think I’ve been fairly well behaved.
Cameron Douglas: Right.
Preet Bharara: You don’t know what kind of person I am, right? And it takes a long time for someone on the outside to reveal themselves, which I thought was a profound observation. Whereas, on the inside, you find out about a person pretty quick. And that allows you, with the people who are on the same wavelength as you, you can make a connection with, and you can become friends with. Is that how it works?
Cameron Douglas: Yeah. I mean, you get the measure of an individual fairly quickly. People are tested daily, and you get to see how people handle different scenarios and situations. And you try to surround yourself with like-minded people. It’s also important, especially as your security classification goes up, you need to find a group of people that you guys enjoy being around each other, and you guys look out for each other. And it’s, I would guess it’s similar to the bonds that soldiers make. There’s a lot of similarities, I think, between the two. Except from the best senses, which are, soldiers are out risking their lives for their country. I’m not making that comparison at all, just, and the camaraderie that takes place.
Preet Bharara: On June 13th, 2016, what happened?
Cameron Douglas: On June 13, 2016, I was released from Danbury, and waiting for me was my mother and three of my siblings, my girlfriend, who’s my rock.
Preet Bharara: With whom you have a child now.
Cameron Douglas: With, we have a beautiful little daughter, and live together.
Preet Bharara: How did you feel that day?
Cameron Douglas: It was special. It was special, but it was tempered by the fact that I had nine months of halfway house. I mean, people think that when you’re released from prison, it’s like, I’d say, [crosstalk 01:00:04].
Preet Bharara: And there’s still the opportunities, you point out. There’s still the opportunity to go back, if you screw up, as you saw people did in the halfway house.
Cameron Douglas: Well, it’s generous opportunity, I’d say. I mean, I think that’s another issue that we have.
Preet Bharara: Setting up for failure.
Cameron Douglas: Yes, it really is. I mean, these guys, it’s hard to convey how difficult it is for these men and women, once they come home, to try to make it work. I was in a situation that almost nobody is in, upon coming home from prison. With the support and love of my family-
Preet Bharara: Yeah, you point out, you say a thing, that’s pretty sad, where, you were different from everyone else. And I forget which institution it was, maybe it was all of them, that when the mailbag came around, there was a lot of mail for you. And the guards would make fun, like, “Cameron’s got mail, Cameron’s got more mail.” And there were people in there, who never got a bit of mail from anybody.
Cameron Douglas: People forget about people in prison. And I understand it. It was a sentiment that I understand firsthand, as I had an acquaintance of mine, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, while I was on the street. And I remember thinking, “Oh, he’s gone.” Like, he’s tantamount to being dead. I mean, 10 years when you’re on the streets is like a lifetime. So, that people are forgotten about in prisons. People move on with their lives, and that’s just one of the unfortunate things that that come with that lifestyle and whatever comes with it. But, most of these people are coming home, and it’s really difficult for them. Even myself, I had a lot of trouble finding a place to live. No buildings wanted me as a tenant, no landlords wanted to rent to me.
Cameron Douglas: Finding a job. I mean, forget about being inspired by your job or feeling fulfilled by your job, but, yeah, just getting one. I mean, it’s-
Preet Bharara: Even just getting, and I’ve just spoken about these issues and got involved in these issues towards the end of my time as U.S. attorney, even a simple thing that you didn’t have is problem, because you have resources and means. A lot of people get out of prison, they can’t get a government issued ID.
Cameron Douglas: I did have that problem. Yeah.
Preet Bharara: You were able to solve the problem more easily than some, I’m supposing.
Cameron Douglas: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I lost all my property in the DEA seizures, and everything like that. So, coming out, I had nothing. I had no IDs, or nothing. The only thing I had was my prison ID card, and I actually had a check from the government, from a malpractice suit.
Preet Bharara: $90,000.
Cameron Douglas: $90,000.
Preet Bharara: They messed up your leg.
Cameron Douglas: They messed up my leg. But, I couldn’t put it into bank anywhere, because I didn’t have a… So, it’s not easy, it’s a real process, it takes several times going to the DMV, you have to find all documentation. It’s not easy, and I think, I don’t know, this is kind of the way I like to put it maybe people can understand, is, I think we can both agree, Preet, that our government and our judicial system is not known for being warm and fuzzy.
Preet Bharara: It is not.
Cameron Douglas: Okay. And so, if the time that our government feels is suitable that they dole out, and they feel that it’s suitable punishment for whatever actions the man or woman have committed, then, that time should be suitable for any landlord, any employer, anybody else that these people have to deal with coming home. That’s what you’re doing when you’re going to prison, you’re serving your time. And as we said, I think we can both agree that, if our government finds it suitable, I think it can be good enough for everyone else.
Preet Bharara: Are you corresponding with anyone you knew in prison still?
Cameron Douglas: I do. I hear from friends.
Preet Bharara: Can they get your book or not? And some prisons don’t allow hardcovers.
Cameron Douglas: They don’t allow. I suspect these guys are pretty crafty. I suspect that a copy of the book-
Preet Bharara: If you can smuggle in contraband, you can smuggle in Cameron’s book.
Cameron Douglas: Well, I don’t think they’ll be smuggling that, and I just think it will find it’s way in.
Preet Bharara: All right, I don’t want to get anybody in trouble. What’s the message you have to those guys?
Cameron Douglas: Man, I mean, any message that I would have for them, I probably learned through them. So, there’s nothing that I could say.
Preet Bharara: Is there anyone who’s going to be mad at you?
Cameron Douglas: Well, there’s-
Preet Bharara: You changed the names.
Cameron Douglas: I hope there’s nobody that’s upset. I mean, my family was extremely generous in allowing me to tell my story. I mean, I can’t think of a more loving way to show how much you care about someone, than by allowing me to write a book that inevitably is going to put some of their life in the spotlight. So, if my family and I can make it work, I don’t think there should be anybody that should be too upset. I mean, I did this all to myself, there’s nobody to blame. But, just trying to move forward and make something useful out of it.
Preet Bharara: I think it’s very brave the book you’ve written, I think it’s a big deal that you would sit here and talk to me for over an hour. But, part of the point I’m making my own book, because everyone’s a human being, right? And from the prosecutor’s perspective, you can sometimes forget that the defendants you prosecute are human beings, until you flip them, and then, sometimes they become your buddies, because now they’re on your side. People who are defendants can forget that judges are human beings. And I don’t know exactly what happened in that case, but judges can color within the lines and still have a reaction to being shown up by somebody. This thing that happened with Judge Berman, I’ve been thinking about it, and I think he’s a very good judge.
Preet Bharara: But, there are some, who I’ve seen, when they have a defendant in front of them, and they give them a break, if they see that person back in the courtroom again, they go ballistic. And they hammer them almost as much, if not more than they would have, had they not given the break in the first place. Is that a function of sort of legal theory? I don’t know. Is it a function of human psychology? Probably more so. The point of all this is, I think it’s a useful conversation to have. So, folks in my line of work, understand what it is that happens in the mind of someone who has to go through the system. I mean, one of the best things I ever did was have Ben Brafman, your lawyer, come and address my office, when I was the U.S. attorney, to explain the perspective of other people.
Preet Bharara: Explain what it’s like for a lawyer to be hired on the case at the last minute, and for the prosecutor to be saying, “Your client has an hour to flip. Otherwise, we’re going to go to court, and the offer expires.” And how does that work, if Ben is trying to build a rapport with the client? And by the same token, one of the reason that I wrote my book is, there’s a lot of people who are not part of law enforcement, who have a view that prosecutors aren’t thoughtful, they don’t consider the possibilities of innocence, they don’t consider the ramifications of their decisions. And help them understand that, just like everyone else, prosecutors are people, they have flaws, they have-
Cameron Douglas: And everyone’s different, right? Everyone’s an individual.
Preet Bharara: Just like, that’s why I thought, in part, the conversation that we had about cooperating, and what you write in the book, because you keep coming back to it, it’s a personal decision. And there have been high-level mobsters, who flip easily, and some who never flip, ever. And that people are different. I mean, I guess, I wonder if you think the issue on flipping and cooperation, if you think that that should be something that should be banned or outlawed? Or, was it just a personal decision for you, that you thought that a self-respecting person shouldn’t cooperate and bring other people into their own troubles? Do you think of it as a personal thing? Or, a policy thing?
Cameron Douglas: Okay. So, I think, from a legal standpoint, and from a justice standpoint, I think, utilizing the testimonies of individuals whose own lives are at stake, I don’t think that that is good enough testimony, to put somebody away for potentially, five, 10, 20, 50 years. These people have a horse in the race, their own freedom is at stake.
Preet Bharara: That’s what we always say, you’ve got to collaborate the hell out of that.
Cameron Douglas: So, when that’s the case, it’s, if you get a civilian witness or something, that’s a different story. So, I just don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s justice when the only testimony you have is from people that, in some cases, let’s just be honest, are being told what to say, by the prosecutors, or by the agents. I mean, this is reality, not in all cases, but this can happen. And then, yes, personally, I do. I feel strongly about that, it’s, I couldn’t live with myself, literally, I thought about it every moment of every day, until I tried to figure out some way to do what I could do to even it out and backed out of it.
Cameron Douglas: It’s, everybody’s on their own journey, their own path. And with every choice we make, there’s an outcome. And within that, we learn and we evolve.
Preet Bharara: And how are you doing now?
Cameron Douglas: I feel like I’m doing pretty good. I, quite honestly, as I said in the beginning, one of the things that I’m looking forward to, through this whole process with the book is to be able to move on with my life. But, now I’m in the process of speaking about this book. And inevitably-
Preet Bharara: First, you’ve got to be on the view.
Cameron Douglas: First, I’ve got to be on the view, that’s right.
Preet Bharara: You’ve got to do the circuit first.
Cameron Douglas: That’s right, I’ve got to do the circuit.
Preet Bharara: You’re acting again?
Cameron Douglas: Yeah, acting again, doing a lot of writing.
Preet Bharara: You started writing poetry in prison.
Cameron Douglas: Did a lot of poetry line.
Preet Bharara: You were not into poetry before prison.
Cameron Douglas: No, I wasn’t. But, doing some screen writing as well. And been acting, been doing a lot of theater. Been acting most of my life.
Preet Bharara: Not now, not here.
Cameron Douglas: Not now, not here, maybe a little bit. But, that goes back to what we were saying about, you get the best version of somebody in that one hour, right?
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Cameron Douglas: But, yeah, man, it’s good. I feel like I’ve been really working hard. I’ve been home for a little over three years.
Preet Bharara: Can you still do… This is a proof that I read the book, can you still do 1,500 pushups in the morning?
Cameron Douglas: No, no, I don’t think so.
Preet Bharara: All right.
Cameron Douglas: But, my life is very simple by design. My life revolves around my family, and my work. And that’s been the way it’s been since I stepped through those gates on June 13th, 2016, and that’s how it continues to be. And it seems to be working out well for me. Things are starting to come together, and I feel like I’m starting to put a life together for myself that I can feel good about.
Preet Bharara: You’re a young man, so, you’ve got a lot of time. Cameron Douglas, thanks for being on the show. The book is Long Way Home. Congratulations, it’s great. I wish you the best of luck.
Cameron Douglas: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Preet.
Preet Bharara: My conversation continues, for members of the CAFE Insider community. To hear the Stay Tuned bonus with Cameron Douglas, and get the exclusive weekly CAFE Insider podcast, go to cafe.com/insider. Try a CAFE Insider membership free, for two weeks, start today at cafe.com/insider.
Preet Bharara: So, I hope you enjoyed the conversation that Cameron Douglas and I had about his experiences in the criminal justice system, his experiences in prison. And I hope you thought as I did, it was a pretty honest, candid discussion. I thought I’d tell you a story that’s further to some of the things that Cameron said and that I’ve talked about in the past. And that is, just because you’re behind prison walls, it doesn’t mean you’re beyond the Constitution. And just because you committed a crime that has caused you to be sent to prison, it doesn’t mean that the system should forget about you, and it doesn’t mean that the system shouldn’t do things to make sure that you have opportunities to improve yourself, to redeem yourself, and to make your way in the world again, once you get out. And that’s a profound failure of the prison system.
Preet Bharara: And even though Cameron Douglas seems to have made it out, with lots of scars, lots of other folks can’t make their way when they come out. Now, there are programs, from time to time, in different places, that I think take that obligation more seriously, to help people who are in prison bring themselves up. And one such program is at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, that is near, by happenstance, Bard College. And there was something called the Bard Prison Initiative, which offers college experiences to men who are incarcerated at Eastern New York. And there was a kind of a big deal story, four years ago, around this time, that The Wall Street Journal reported on, three people who were on the debate team, there’s a debate team at Eastern New York, competed against, of all teams, three members of the Harvard College Debating Union.
Preet Bharara: And after a rigorous debate on a public school issue, the veteran judges of that debate between the three inmates and the three Harvard College students, was that, the people who were in prison had won the debate. This week, The Wall Street Journal did an update on that story, describing where some of those folks in prison, who won the debate against Harvard, have gone. One of them left prison two years ago, graduated from Bard’s program with a math major, ended up working on a congressman’s bid to become the Attorney General of the State of New York. Another, finished his degree in applied mathematics and biology at Bard, worked as a math tutor, and now has a good job and an investment business in Midtown. The third has earned a Bachelor’s in social studies, and a master’s in professional studies, although, he’s not yet out of prison.
Preet Bharara: At the time of the debate, which got a lot of attention, outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “Someone should make a movie about this true story.” Well, I don’t know that a movie has been made, but, there’s a four-part documentary series on November 25th, executive produced by story documentarian, Ken Burns, that profile some of these men. So, as we think about the issues raised by Cameron Douglas in his book, some of the issues I raised in my book, and the public discussion about what incarceration should be, or should not be, how we can lower the rates of incarceration, how we can prepare people for life, think about whether or not we should have more programs like the Bard Initiative. Because, as Bryan Stevenson says, and as I repeat often, you are more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.
Preet Bharara: Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Cameron Douglas. If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me @PreetBharara, with the #askpreet. Or, you can call and leave a message at 669-247-7338, that’s 669-24-Preet. Or, you can send an email to [email protected] Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper, the senior producer is Aaron Dalton, the audio producer is David Tadashore, and the CAFE team is Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, David Kurlander, and Jeff Eisenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara, Stay Tuned.