Presidential Job Application: Question #2 (with my answer): What's the biggest personal crisis you’ve faced and how did you handle it?

Slate's John Dickerson recently published a piece entitled:

The Presidential Job Application: Seven questions we should ask anyone who wants to become President.

Over the course of the next seven days, I plan on completing Dickerson's application by answering each of the questions. I've always wanted to be President, so perhaps my answers will be so impressive that a grassroots campaign supporting my candidacy will ignite.

My answer to Question #1 can be found here

Question #2: What's the biggest personal crisis you’ve faced and how did you handle it?

When I was 21 years old, I was arrested and tried for a crime that I did not commit. While managing a McDonald’s restaurant in Bourne, Massachusetts, a deposit that I was responsible for containing a little more than $7,000 went missing. Though losing a deposit was a serious offense within the company, this was not the first time that a deposit had been lost. When you begin working with large sums of money, you eventually stop thinking about the money in terms of cash and more in terms of product, akin to hamburger and catsup and paper cups.

Just another piece of the business.

When this happens, it becomes easy to handle a deposit carelessly. Just two months before my deposit went missing, the manager of a restaurant at the other end of the Cape had lost a deposit as well. She had received a slap on the wrist for her carelessness and nothing more.

One of the security procedures that McDonald's used at the time when bringing a deposit to the bank was to place the deposit bag in a McDonald’s food bag before leaving in order to disguise its true identity. About a year before my deposit disappeared, another manager in a restaurant near Boston accidentally handed a deposit out the drive-thru window to a customer, mistaking it for a bag of Big Macs. The customer never returned and the manager again received a slap on the wrist.

I’m not saying that my loss was excusable. Just understandable and not as uncommon as one might think.

What likely happened to my deposit was this:

Having four deposits to drop at the bank that day, I probably carried all four - along with my briefcase and gym bag - to the car, placing everything on the roof in order to unlock the door (in the days before automatic locks). When I loaded everything into the front seat, I probably left one of the deposits on the roof and drove off, dropping it somewhere along the way and making some stranger very happy.

When it was determined that the deposit had disappeared (after two days of searching), my boss and I went to the police station to report the loss. This was standard procedure when a deposit went missing and was required by our insurance company.

My boss made it clear to me that she did not think that I had stolen the deposit. She said that this incident would likely cost me a year of promotions, but that would be it. I made a very stupid mistake, but the company liked me a lot. I had also offered to repay the loss, since I felt it was my responsibility to do so, but she said that I could not, citing a company policy related to our insurance.

My problems began when I arrived at the Bourne police station. The police officer who greeted us took one look at me and determined that I was a thief. I say this with confidence because he later admitted as much.

Three weeks later, I was arrested for grand larceny. 

During my arraignment (after nine hours locked in a jail cell), I discovered a nasty little part of the justice system:

Not everyone is provided an attorney from the state free of charge.

At the time of my arrest, my roommate was preparing to move to Connecticut for a new job, leaving me behind to find a place of my own. I was 21 years old and had no savings, so I asked the court to provide an attorney and was denied. The judge informed me that I was driving a nicer car than him, a brand new Toyota Tercel, and that someone with a brand new car could afford an attorney on his own.

I hardly owned the car. I had made three payments so far on a $12,000 vehicle.

Nevertheless, because this judge drove an eight-year old Buick, I was forced to retain my own counsel.

As a result of my arrest, I was fired from my job. Company policy, it was explained, enacted by a new regional supervisor who had never met me prior to my dismissal. They brought me to an upscale restaurant for lunch in order to give me the news.

When my roommate moved away a month after my arrest, I was still without a job and homeless for almost four months, living in my car before a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had worked for me in a Brockton McDonald’s took me in. I lived in a small room off their kitchen with another guy and their pet goat for nearly a year, paying them whatever I could afford for rent.

I hired a good attorney, a Harvard graduate who was running for and would eventually win a place on the Massachusetts State Senate. Today he is a judge in the Massachusetts court system.

His fee was $25,000.

In an effort to pay him, I began working two full time jobs. Despite my arrest and pending charges, I managed to land a job as a teller for South Shore Bank, the same bank where the deposit was supposed to be made and the same bank that would eventually testify against me. 

Then I landed a job managing a privately owned McDonald’s where a former colleague of mine had been working. He vouched for me, and I got a job managing the closing shift, working Monday-Friday from 6:00 PM-1:00 AM. I worked 16 hours a day for more than 18 months in order to pay off my attorney’s fees and keep my head above water.

I was also robbed and beaten at gunpoint during the year before my trial (another story in itself), knocking me out of work for more almost a month, burdening me with more than a decade of post traumatic stress disorder and setting me even further behind.

On the day of my trial, the judge asked me how it was possible that I could be working for the two companies that were scheduled to testify against me.

“I guess they know I didn’t do this, sir.”

A week before trial, my attorney acquired the electronic record of everyone who had entered the McDonald’s safe on the day that my deposit went missing. Though the safe had a combination lock, it also required the manager to insert a key into a slot that left behind an electronic fingerprint. My attorney identified more than eight different people who had entered the safe that day other than me and made the argument that any of these people could have taken the deposit.

Though I knew that none of them had taken the deposit, it gave the judge enough doubt to find me not guilty.

“I think you’re probably guilty," he said. "But the prosecution hasn’t proven their case. I hope you realize how close you came to going to a conviction."

Free to leave the state now that I was found not guilty, I moved to Connecticut.

How did I handle the situation?

I worked like hell. Before I was able to move in with the Jehovah's Witnesses, I "moved" to Somerville, MA, parking my car there at night and getting day work at construction sites and a selling perfume on the street. I earned enough money to make my car payments and eat but not much more.

Once I had an address again, I found a job and then another job. While my friends were in their last year of college and off starting their careers, I was working menial jobs for menial wages, taking side work from a marketing company and a church whenever possible as well. I did all of this while suffering the burden of possible imprisonment for something I didn't do.  

I stayed positive. I reminded myself constantly that I was the only person who could save myself. Even after the robbery and the start of more than a decade of post traumatic stress disorder, I tried to look ahead to a future that might never happen. 

When I was found not guilty, I restarted my life, enrolling in community college and beginning my journey to becoming a teacher and a writer. I didn't waste a second, knowing how fragile and unpredictable life can be.  

How did I handle this personal crisis? I worked like hell and kept moving forward.

It's a good formula.