The Unselfish Bernie Madoff
New York magazine’s Steve Fishman just penned a fascinating account of Bernie Madoff’s life behind bars. What I find most fascinating, however, is the reaction from a number of quarters to the effect that Madoff is “thriving behind bars” and living like a “rock star.”
What actually emerges from the article is the exact opposite conclusion: that Madoff was frightened and unhappy before he was caught, and that his life in prison is empty and pathetic.
Take Madoff’s life before he was arrested. According to Fishman:
For Bernie Madoff, living a lie had once been a full-time job, which carried with it a constant, nagging anxiety. “It was a nightmare for me,” he told investigators, using the word over and over, as if he were the real victim. “I wish they caught me six years ago, eight years ago,” he said in a little-noticed interview with them.
And what does life look like for Madoff, now that he’s been caught? As Fishman shows, Madoff lives separated from his family, surrounded by murderers and sex offenders, sweeping floors for fourteen cents and hour, and doing what he can not to fall victim to prison violence. Some rock star.
What comes across from Fishman’s article is that Madoff’s existential life now matches his inner life. A man whose inner life had been a nightmare is now trapped in a literal nightmare.
Madoff is often taken as the preeminent example of selfishness. But what the facts show is not a man who was concerned with his own interests, but rather someone totally uninterested in thinking about what kind of choices would genuinely promote his life. By trying to live like a criminal, rather than as a productive individual, Madoff guaranteed himself a meaningless, joyless, self-destructive existence. There’s nothing selfish about that.
Image: Wikimedia Commons