An Honest Admission – Standing up for Yourself

This is the fifth part by Lyle Prouse

At my sentencing, the judge offered to let all three of us remain free pending appeals, since this was the first time this law had ever been applied and there were many complex legal issues. The other two opted to remain free. I told the judge I had been convicted and it was time for me to go into prison…because I had learned how to “live life on life’s terms” as we said in treatment, and I refused to whistle in the dark.

I was terrified of walking in there but I recalled something I’d learned as a Marine, that “Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the ability to continue in the face of it.”

No one who has ever walked into prison will ever again glimpse life or the world as he or she once did prior. When I speak from the podium I never talk about prison…because I think it’s irrelevant to my recovery. But my recovery, the power of what I learned in each of the 12 steps, and the principles behind each one, greatly impacted how I handled prison.

The comments that follow are simply a narrative; they are NOT a plea for sympathy because I deserved none. I did what I did and I got what I got, and it was fair. However, as my judge said when he sentenced us, “The greatest sorrow is reserved for the wives and children, but I do not have the power to ease that.”

The public at large,…, has no clue about the impact of being locked up in the midst of 24 hour insanity that seemingly has no end.

The smell of rain is different in there, the moon looks different at night, and the feel of a breeze on one’s face is not the same as free air. I was accustomed to being free…and it was not easy for me. So I did it one day at a time…shorter when necessary…for 424 days.

There are two incredibly sick groups in prison and the sickest group goes home every night. It is a system that is so sick, twisted, and obscene that no one believes it and it’s self-protected in that regard. It is a system designed to emotionally castrate and permanently scar all who enter. And it is usually successful.

No one can describe the feeling of having a wife and children come visit their convict husband and father, dressed in drab prison khakis, treated as a sub-human by the guards, and surrounded by the oppressing prison atmosphere.

I had been the standard bearer in my family for duty, honor, country. I had been the one who espoused character, honesty and integrity as my kids grew up. But in the disgrace I brought upon myself it all seemed hollow and for naught.

In the long term I was able to experience something one of my meditation books said. “My father didn’t tell me how to live,” it said, “He lived and let me watch him do it.”

I never expected to have to be the example that was forced my way. But hopefully, what my children witnessed as I made the long climb back out of the blackest valley of disgrace and despair to the beauty of the sunlit mountain top, may have more impact on them than all the words I spoke in all the years preceding. Walking the walk will always take precedence over talking the talk. And it was a long walk indeed. A million miles, one step at a time.

There are those … who cavalierly dismiss and declare, with a wave of their hand and a smug smile, how frivolous prison seems to them. But no one who has been there, or who has had a son or daughter there, will do that.

Or they will utter what I consider the most inane comment of all: “Well…they should have thought of that before they did it.” Think about it a moment. If people did actually did that there would never be any crime. What I did, and what the other pilots did who’ve gotten in trouble with alcohol, was not pre-mediated; it was not intentional. We didn’t sit down and weigh the pros and cons. Not one of us said, “I think, given the wonderful life and career I have, that I’ll go out and destroy it tonight, end up in the headlines, and go to prison.” It’s a stupidly ridiculous comment that most of us simply nod affirmatively to and never give any further thought. It may sound good but it flies in the face of human nature.

I will not take time nor space to share with you the experience I had with the attorney representing me. He was as impacted by this whole experience as I was and our relationship became a unique one as we went through this together. He worked for me for several years afterwards, refusing to take a cent (which I didn’t have but would have paid over time) – and his response was always the same – “I believe in you and I’m staying to the end, wherever that is.” And he did.

So many others also did.

Two weeks after I entered prison my wife came in and told me nine of my fellow pilots had self assessed themselves and were making our house payments. Two of them I didn’t even know. And they did this for nearly four years in spite of four concerted attempts on my part to get them to stop.

There are many good people in this world…and then there are the grandiose, the smug, the superior, and the ignorant. To those who somehow feel they’ve lived a life free of fault I simply suggest they may have set their standards far too low.

Read the sixth part: “Judge not, that ye be not judged (Mathew 7:1)”  

You can read the complete account of Lyle Prouse’ autobiographical account of his tryst with law and his redemption against alcoholism in his book, “Final Approach“,  by ordering the book online at


Permission of Captain Lyle Prouse to use his posts on an aviation forum for the purpose of this blog is gratefully acknowledged.

Grateful thanks to Brian Abraham for introducing me to the story of Lyle Prouse, and to Rob, Forum Administrator, for consenting to use the material on their forum for the larger public good for information and knowledge dissemination.