The Price of Suicide

One of the worst possible things you feel while being imprisoned is experiencing the death of a loved one, especially your own flesh and blood. What’s even more powerful is when you have direct responsibility for the death. Without a doubt, the weight of Bernie’s one hundred and fifty year sentence wrapped tightly around Bernie’s neck when he found out his son Mark had committed suicide by hanging himself from a pipe in the ceiling of his apartment with a dog leash.

According to published reports, Mark had been in a fragile state of being due to the bitterness he had towards his father following a series of lawsuits that were launched against him and other family members. His life was far different now than when he was enjoying the rich and famous life style. What might have pushed him to committing suicide was the speculative news reports that he might have criminal charges filed against him. Maybe the thought of doing hard time was too much for him to handle. He probably imagined what his first night in prison would be.

If his thoughts were anywhere near the reality of my experience, I can see why he did himself in. On my first night in Sing Sing prison where I was serving a 15-to-life sentence for a non violent drug crime for passing an envelope of four ounces of coke for the sum of $500 bucks, I was awakened by the screeching cries of a cat. It sounded like it was being murdered. Yelling and curses erupted and echoed throughout the prison housing unit. “Puta!” “Maricona!” they yelled in their native tongues. I washed my face and moved toward the front of my cell.

I stuck my mirror between the bars and looked for the source of the noise. Max, my next door neighbor, was doing the same thing. “That’s Chief, fucking a cat,” he said. What the hell?” I muttered. “Yeah, you heard me right. He’s one sick mother fucker. He locks down on W gallery with the mess hall workers. The guy has a thing for cats. He buys them from prisoners who catch ’em in the yard. There are a lot of crazy things going on here. You’ll see.” I soon found out that the prison had more than a few sadistic psychopaths like Chief, who was serving a life sentence for murdering a couple of kids. Soon after this, I tried to commit suicide when my wife left me. My world as I knew it did not exist anymore. I had become part of the labyrinth, individuals that lost their identities and became part of the institutional life.

For sure, becoming part of the prison labyrinth is what happened to Bernie Madoff. Why else would he refuse to attend his son’s funeral service? His lawyer on the other hand, reported that he did so out of consideration for his family. In my view, not saying goodbye to his son shows us how institutional life has overtaken his senses.

Like I told Bernie before, you have a tough road ahead of you. When you look in the mirror you will think of your crime and how you wound up in prison. You will re-live your crime over and over. And as you pace back in forth in your small prison cell, the reality of you dying in that cell as a broken man will occur, over and over.

The suicide of Mark Madoff, who leaves behind his wife and young children, is a tragedy. Sad to say it is part of Bernie’s punishment for the $64 billion dollar Ponzi scheme he created that destroyed the lives of the many clients that trusted him. This is the fourth suicide linked to Bernie’s actions. The others were clients Christen Schnoe (hung himself), Theirry de la Villehuchet (slashed his wrists and bleed to death) and William Foxton (shot himself). Maybe the death of his clients did not bother Bernie, but now the horrible death of his own son will haunt him until he can bear it no longer.

ANTHONY PAPA is the author of 15 Years to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom and Communications Specialist for Drug Policy Alliance. He can be reached at:


Anthony Papa is the Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance and the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Lockdown.