Uncuffed

An older story, a chance to catch up, and a tale of redemption. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Almost 20 years ago, John Rusnak's life spiraled out of control. He’s the first to admit now that it was 100% his fault.

Rusnak was a currency trader at what was then called Allfirst Bank, part of Allied Irish Banks. To cut to the chase: he lost $750 million of AIB's money.

Rather than own up to it, resign, and take the hits, Rusnak hid the losses, and even tried to make up the difference.

It didn't work. The FBI caught him. He went to federal prison for more than five years.

I first talked with Rusnak, post-prison, after some former colleagues had given him a job, and he was overseeing a group of dry cleaning outlets in Maryland and Virginia. What caught my eye then was that he was making it a priority to hire other ex-convicts, along with recovering drug addicts.

I wrote about him in 2014, and came across my article for Inc. recently. Time flies, I thought. So, we caught up again on Thursday.

Rusnak said he’s out of the dry cleaning business now, and making a living running three restaurants in Baltimore (a franchise called Sofi’s Crepes). His real passion, however, is his work with a prison ministry called Uncuffed.

“Dry cleaners are hard as heck, and customers are so angry,” he told me, but he said he still recruits ex-convicts to work in the restaurants. “We only hire felons and recovering alcoholics and drug addicts — including [me]. It’s a pretty funny model.”

As for Uncuffed:

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I struggled with feeling worthy enough to use my time in prison to bless other guys locked up.

I don’t dictate to people outside my culture and tell them how to change, but I do walk alongside them, meet them where they are, and hopefully start a discussion … try to restore life in their lives and call them to a higher calling. …

It’s been awesome. Maybe that sounds kind of weird because it’s prisons, but last year we saw 700 kids, each one an average of 10 to 12 times.”

We all screw up sometimes—maybe not three quarters of a billion dollars worth of screw up, with the FBI knocking at the door, but we all have our moments.

So, consider Rusnak a willing case study: someone who says he made horrible choices, got caught, and started life over (even as he still potentially faces a lifetime of restitution payments). Here’s what he told me he’s learned:

1. Humility

This is right at the top. Rusnak says being unwilling to admit his failures back in the day only led to even bigger failures. So, he had to learn to be humble and take responsibility.

“There's strength in humility. It's not a weakness. Learning to apologize is a massive skill,” he said. “I wish I'd figured this out as a kid.”

2. Service

Make your life’s mission one that benefits others first and foremost.

“It's not just about what I want. It's what my want leads to,” Rusnak said.

3. Transparency

I asked Rusnak via text after we talked whether it would be needlessly embarrassing if I were to clarify that his wife actually owns the restaurant franchisees he operates, not him, since he left prison with a massive debt to the U.S. government.

His reply: “My wife owns them and I oversee them. It’s fine to mention, I try to live transparently.”

4. Accountability

Rusnak said he especially recruits ex-convicts and recovering drug addicts who are living in structured settings, since they’re more likely to have peers and others who will push them to take advantage of the opportunity.

"There are huge obstacles, and [without accountability] most guys coming out don't do well,” Rusnak said. “You need to have people around you, who you've given permission to correct you.”

5. Encouragement

The flipside of accountability is that you need to be around people who are invested in your success. In Rusnak's case, this includes his wife of 32 years and his children, who stuck by him during incarceration, and the friends who hired him after he got out.

6. Faith

Although going to prison was painful, Rusnak said he's grateful, because it led him to develop faith. Before that, he said, “I didn't give an 'F' about anybody. [But now], my faith is absolutely everything. ... You might have a secular audience, but still, to have a sense of something out there beyond you, something bigger than you, is crucial.”

7. Planning

Prison itself wasn't truly horrible or dangerous, Rusnak said:

“As long as you pay respect and mind your own business, there's very little violence against the guys consider[ed] to be civilians … The punishment in doing time was the deprivation of contact with your family. It's just extremely boring. ... So, that's what you do when you have five and a half years in prison. You make plans.”

7 other things worth your time

  • Getting Covid-19 news on Twitter? A new study concludes 50 percent of the accounts tweeting about it are actually bots. (NPR)

  • Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband pleaded guilty in the college admissions bribery scandal. They’re looking at months, not years, in prison if a judge accepts prosecutors’ recommendations. (CBS Boston)

  • The Chinese government says it’s dedicating 10 trillion yuan ($1.4 trillion) over the next five years to try to overcome the United States as the world’s technology leader. (South China Morning Post)

  • I wrote about pools yesterday, and now we have federal guidelines. The CDC has a long list, including advising people to stay six feet apart and wear masks, but “not … in the water. Cloth face coverings can be difficult to breathe through when they’re wet.” (CDC)

  • A recent separate CDC update says Covid-19 primarily from “close contact from person-to-person.” But, it likely “does not spread easily” “from touching surfaces or objects,” or between people and animals. (CDC)

  • Amazon Prime Day moves to September. (WSJ, $)

  • Facebook will ultimately let about 50 percent of its people work remotely for good, but if Silicon Valley employees relocate, their pay will be cut. (CNBC)

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