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 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.’
Mayra Calvani: In a nutshell, please tell us about the events in your life that compelled you to write your memoir, ‘I Should Have Stayed in Morocco.’
Stephen Caputi: I was blessed with everything a man could want until I got tangled up in Scott Rothstein’s billion-dollar Ponzi scheme in 2009. Scott was my business partner, attorney, and friend for decades before everything came crashing down on him… and on me as well. Prior to that time, I’d been a successful entrepreneur—owner of Café Iguana, the most successful nightclub in South Florida history. By the time the legal fiasco had finished, I’d lost everything… including my freedom. So began my journey through the Federal Bureau of Prisons… and my quest to find out what happened, how it happened, and why!
M.C.: What made you decide to sit and write the book?
S.C.: 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.
M.C.: How long did it take you to complete it? Can you talk a bit about your writing process?
S.C.: I finished the book three years later, a few months after my release. Writing from a prison cell was far from idyllic. I wrote after every meal, and started by chronicling every mundane event—like the trips marching to and from the ‘recreation’ cage in handcuffs. Or the shackled treks to the showers, or even the actual delivery of every meal. Every night I’d write for an hour before crashing, after the last of the day’s insipid counting rituals were duly completed.
For my protection, I was forced to stash the written notes I was taking in-between pages of books that I was reading. I couldn’t risk mailing them out from the Hole, so I waited until after I left to transport them out. Which presented another challenge, since everything we mailed out was subject to being inspected and read. My writing was risky due to its content. If any of the brass got wind that I was keeping a diary of their antics, there were no limits to how they might retaliate. For 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.
M.C.: Did you have the support of family and friends, or did you meet resistance?
S.C.: I had little-to-no support at the beginning. The consensus was that I would be taking too great a risk by exposing the system for what it was, and they feared retaliation would be taken against me. They all advised me to cease and desist. However, once they actually read the second and/or third drafts, they started to understand why and how the story needed to be told… and why I was compelled to tell it. They eventually came to understand what I meant by being “intimidated, scared, humiliated and bent over by the system”. Regardless, they were afraid for me!
M.C.: How did you find your publisher, Twilight Times Books? Did you search for an agent first?
S.C.: I was recommended to Twilight Times Books by another author and friend. I had many opportunities to engage other publishers, but Lida Quillen at TTB was most attentive and sincere in her appreciation for this type of manuscript. As much courage it took to write, its requiring additional courage by many others to get it published!
M.C.: What has been the most rewarding aspect of writing this book?
S.C.: 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.
M.C.: The most difficult?
S.C.: The biggest challenge I faced in my writing 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.
M.C.: What has the writing of this book taught you?
S.C.: Writing the book forced me to sharpen my focus on all the subjects in my story, since I was determined to keep my objectivity… despite my environment at the time. I didn’t want to write anything resembling the propaganda and drivel that had been written about Rothstein. I became better at stepping back from my emotions, and took great care to substantiate my conclusions (or disprove them) based on solid research of the issues. I trained myself to look for the reasons behind the apparent reasons, and to be open-minded to whatever truths I found.
M.C.: Will you be writing any more books?
S.C.: Absolutely! The next book will be the second in the ‘I Should Have Stayed in Morocco’ series entitled: ‘Club Fed Confidential: Inside the Perpetual Prisoner Money Machine’. This will be a more in-depth look at what really goes on inside prisons. The final (untitled) book will become a professional analysis of the real cost of the criminal justice and prison systems, a critical look into the skullduggery of the prison industrial complex.
M.C.: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
S.C.: 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!