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Interview with Stephen Caputi author of "I Should Have Stayed In Morocco": "Trust …doesn't have to be treated like its a four letter word."

Interview with Stephen Caputi, Author of ‘I Should Have Stayed in Morocco’

My guest today is businessman and author Stephen Caputi, whose controversial debut memoir, I Should Have Stayed in Morocco, was just released by Twilight Times Books.

caputi_author_pix300Caputi is best known for his involvement in the creation, building and management of successful nightclub and hospitality businesses. As an Ivy-league student-athlete, he graduated from the renowned Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 1979. His career experience was equally as fortunate as he was trained by the best club management experts in the business while managing the Texas billionaires’ favorite watering hole – the ultra-private, magnificent Houston Club. After redesigning and opening Club Paradise in Las Vegas, Steve became a partner in South Florida’s most successful long-term nightclub chain ever, Café Iguana. Over the decades, businesses under his direct control amassed nearly a billion dollars in revenue.

Caputi was blessed with everything a man could want until he got tangled up in Scott Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme in 2009, at which time everything was lost–including his freedom. He shares with readers his experiences in I Should Have Stayed in Morocco.

Welcome to Blogcritics, Stephen! Congratulations on the release of your book, I Should Have Stayed in MoroccoWhat compelled you to write this memoir? 

I was stranded in the “Hole”, (slang for solitary confinement) in a dingy federal prison in Jesup, Ga., with literally nothing to do but ponder the past. I had nothing to read, nothing to do, nothing to look forward to until the next bowl of gruel was tossed into the cell through a flap in the door, and nothing to watch since the tiny three-inch window slit was old and yellow and glazed. Total emptiness, which was driving me crazy. For a career claustrophobe, being thrust into a seventy two square-foot space that contained only a bed, toilet and sink constituted the worst case scenario. My worst nightmare had materialized, and there was no getting away from it. No relief. I knew why I was in prison, but I didn’t know why I was in the Hole.

I began writing out of desperation. My mind was still scrambled from the shock of being thrown in the Hole. As a last resort I started to chronicle everything that happened… which wasn’t much. I wrote down every item served at every meal, everything that the guards did and said, and kept a diary of sorts that was chocked full of their shenanigans. I figured that there was no way people knew how inmates were treated in prison… and wondered if anybody cared.

The process of reflection prompted me to search for answers… about my life, about the sequence of events that led me to federal prison, and about the system that put me away. It evolved into a full-fledged quest for the truth.

Morocco_medI suffered flashbacks of my life and times with my partner, friend and attorney, Ponzi-schemer, Scott Rothstein. Our escapades over the decades before his fall from grace played like looped video clips in my head. Then it struck me that nobody knew him exactly the way I did, nor did they understand him. I later learned that people were interested in what really happened. The human side of the story, not the forensics. Writing was a much-needed distraction from my newfound, hellish reality, and I never let up. I finished the book three years later, a few months after my release. 

What was your writing process like? 

Writing from a prison cell was far from idyllic. I wrote after every meal, and started by chronicling every mundane event—even the actual delivery of the meal, and trips marching to and from the ‘recreation’ cage in handcuffs. Or the nuances of being shackled for our treks to the showers. Each night I’d write for an hour before crashing, after the last of the day’s insipid counting rituals were duly completed.

For my own protection, I had to stash my written notes in-between pages of books I was reading. I couldn’t risk mailing them out from the Hole, so I waited until after getting out of solitary confinement to transport them. This presented another challenge, since everything we mailed was subject to being inspected and read.

Due to its content, my writings were extremely risky. If any of the brass got wind that I was keeping a diary of their antics, there were no imaginable limits to how they might retaliate. As an example, an inmate buddy of mine had been the unlucky recipient of “diesel therapy”—an intimidating tactic so commonly used by the Bureau of Prisons that it commanded its own nickname. Since his arrival, he was overly insistent that his rights not be violated.

Because of his annoyance, he’d been kept suspended on a perpetual road trip for a year and a half. The guards would transport him in chains in a Twilight-Zone-like ride to nowhere, on an endless bus ride from one federal prison to the next. It took months and a dozen letters from his Congressman to get him anchored somewhere. Their explanation was that they “lost” his paperwork. No apology. Acting with impunity was a routine… a matter of policy for the gatekeepers who harbored little or no fear of outside pressures or intervention. 

Writing about serious real-life events can’t be easy. What type of challenges did you face? 

The biggest challenge I faced in my writing these exploits was finding the best way to properly and effectively communicate the emotion of the roller-coaster ride I was on… while I was on the ride! I had no alternative but to write about all the horrible things that were happening—to me and other inmates… while I was suffering the indignities that I was writing about in real time.

The awful physical conditions, inedible meals, harsh treatment, lack of medical attention, arcane and oppressive rules and regulations, lack of exercise, heavy-handedness and the calculated, dehumanizing protocols of the Federal Bureau of Prisons were overwhelming. I struggled every day to produce a balanced and accurate representation of what was happening, without it being overridden with emotion and dripping with hate by the time my thoughts were scribed to paper. Controlling my own emotions was of paramount importance. I had to keep my sense of humor intact and my wits about me in order to maintain at least some semblance of objectivity.        

 Were there times when you wanted to quit? If yes, what made you persevere?  

Absolutely. But to me, it wasn’t a viable option. I am very competitive by nature—as are most old athletes and ‘ex jocks’—and I had no intention whatsoever of letting my situation and environment beat me down. My mental state was the only thing under my control, and I was going to be damned if I was going to let them ruin it. So, I made it a game… a game that I would pronounce myself the winner of, if I were able to get it published someday. I set out to expose the system and those who ran it for who and what they really were. To get the truth out.

What do you hope readers will get from your book? 

Several things were important to me. For one, I wanted to tell the story of my two-decade long friendship with Scott Rothstein, and the events leading up to and including the climax in Morocco. I was there, and as you might imagine, the experience of it was somewhat different than what was reported in the mainstream media. I Should Have Stayed in Morocco should be a required read for ambitious entrepreneurs of all ages, since it describes in great detail how even a person of intelligence and education could be unwittingly roped into the schemes of others. Manipulated and used. My primary goal was to widen the eyes of everyone in business, in the hopes that enlightening my horrific personal experiences would prevent future catastrophes for others.

Along the same vein, I set out to expose the prison system for its inhumanity, as well as the criminal justice system that drives it. To showcase its archaic, ineffective and predatory policies regarding the mass incarceration of Americans for profit… possibly the most un-American thing that is happening in America today. The perpetual prisoner money machine needs to be shut down, and the prison industrial complex disbanded. I wanted to know and share the truth, about why and how this all happened—and why this nonsense still existed in our ‘free country’. People of intelligence need to know what’s real and what’s hype… and sometimes the truth is ugly. 

What has been the readers’ response so far? 

 “I couldn’t put it down!”

“How could this happen in America!?”

“I wanted more…”

“When’s the next book coming out?” 

You were a successful businessman, and now you’re an author. As an author, how do you define success? 

Success for me was accomplishing the mission, getting my story told and my book into print. It was important for me to go on record detailing the sordid realities of the prison system, and analysing the criminal justice system from an ‘insider’ perspective. I hope that someday life and times will afford me the luxury of being able to improve conditions for the next generation. I also wanted to give some much-needed perspective on Scott Rothstein, the man. Not to defend him, of course—he was the driving force behind me going to prison—but to augment the narrative written about him as a criminal. All in all, it’s been a cathartic experience for me, and now I’m ready to move on.        

What has been most rewarding about writing this book? 

That’s easy—finishing it! Organizing thousands of pages of notes into a polished, coherent book that effectively communicated my journey—despite the severity of my prison environment and the relentless pressures applied to me—was its own reward.    

Leave us with some words of wisdom. 

Despite what happened to me, I haven’t given up on friendship, love and trust… which doesn’t have to be treated as if it were a four-letter word. However, people who have a trusting nature (like I do!) need to learn to place limits, keep reasonable checks and balances intact, and listen to their instincts—their ‘guts’. If you’re in tune with your intuition, you cannot go wrong.

This equates to making the conscious choice of not ever engaging in any kind of behavior that you feel might be illegal, or just doesn’t feel right for any reason—or no reason. Not for friendship, love, or money!

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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