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David Wichman

David Wichman

Palm Desert, California

Author, speaker, and sexual healer for those seeking freedom from shame and fear around sex, love, and intimacy. Co-founder of Heal-VR, a software development company providing immersive meditation experiences.

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About the author

David Wichman is an author, speaker, sexual healer, and entrepreneur passionate about his message. He is respected and well-known all over the world to those who seek to renew themselves and explore ways to live a fulfilling life free of stigma, shame, and fear around sex, love, and intimacy.

Raised in Fremont, California, David survived a childhood marked by severe neglect and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The trauma of his early life led him into years of homelessness, alcoholism, and drug addiction. After decades of struggle and rehabilitation failures, he finally obtained freedom from his addiction in 2005. He remains an active member in New Thought and recovery movements to this day.

In 2006, when David began his journey into sex work, unbeknownst to him he found his calling. While working with sometimes marginalized men, such as seniors, the disabled, and those with severe intimacy issues, he discovered the profound transformational power that sex work creates for both client and provider.

In 2009, David founded travel-companion company The Male Adventure through which he has accompanied clients on life-changing adventures to all seven continents. His trips have featured safaris in the Serengeti, bungee jumping in New Zealand, swimming with humpback whales in Tonga, treks to mountain gorillas in Uganda, and much more. He believes his connection to conservation, wildlife, and different cultures has given him a more intuitive ability to respond to the human condition.

He is an activist, vocal ally, and grateful member of the LGBTQI2 community and stays connected to current or emerging issues that dominate marginalized communities. He is a passionate fundraiser for HIV- and AIDS-related causes and other nonprofits supporting other-abled persons and benefiting animal rescues.

In 2011, he created and began facilitating a workshop called “Sex, Love, and Intimacy: Writing Your Way to New Relationships” for recovery conferences and retreats. Groups have used his highly sought-after writing workshop in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Sydney, Australia, with great success.

In 2016, David and his partners, Carl and Todd, founded Heal-VR, a software development company that merges ancient spiritual principles and meditation techniques with modern virtual reality technology. Heal-VR creates content that offers users a deeper and more profound meditative experience.

Undergirding all of David’s personal and professional efforts has been a deep and abiding mystical spirituality. He is currently a student of the Course in Miracles and utilizes New Thought practices, such as life visioning, creative visualization, and meditation. While he has studied the works of many modern healers, his deeper healing in recovery has been under the guidance of his spiritual mentor, T. J. Woodward. David’s spiritual practices have brought him an overwhelming sense of gratitude and an unending wealth of forgiveness and joy on his journey to true wholeness. 

David's coauthor is Heather Ebert, a professional writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. She has more than fifteen years’ experience in print and digital publishing and has written for a variety of publications. Heather specializes in memoir, fiction, and narrative nonfiction, helping nonwriters tell their stories with power and beauty. She has written eight other books to date. One of her recently published books is Sole Survivor: The inspiring true story of coming face to face with the infamous Railroad Killer by Holly K. Dunn with Heather Ebert (Diversion Books, November 7, 2017). Learn more at 

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Heather Ebert

Heather specializes in memoir, fiction, and narrative nonfiction, helping nonwriters tell their stories with power and beauty.





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Success! Every Grain of Sand sold 536 pre-orders by March 20, 2019, was pitched to 147 publishers, and is in discussions with publishers.

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Every Grain of Sand

A journey to gratitude

After a tormented childhood, a young man succumbs to addiction, sex work, and white-collar crime, until a brush with prison awakens him to recovery and a discovery of his wholeness.

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Memoirs Spirituality
60,000 words
25% complete
18 publishers interested


The first time David took a hit of LSD was one of the most profound experiences of his life. After ingesting a square of gel he bought from a dealer at school, he strolled around his old neighborhood until he found himself standing in front of his family’s home—the setting of his stepfather’s merciless abuse until the day he escaped to the safety of foster care. 

Despite the painful memories, his acid trip escorted him into a new dimension—his mind opened to an experience of pure, unending love and forgiveness for everyone who had harmed him. In this sacred state of awakening, he fully comprehended that every human being—no matter what they’ve done to others or themselves—is redeemable. 

Over the years that followed, this initial revelation faded into the far recesses of memory, and David descended into the deepest pit of helplessness and despair. He aged out of foster care and ended up homeless on the streets of San Francisco. He turned to sex work to survive, finding support in transgender street workers, gay hustlers, drug dealers, hookers, and misfits of all kinds. He sought refuge in homeless shelters and stood in food lines at local churches. Occasionally, he found temporary jobs filing papers, answering phones, or sweeping floors, after which he returned to the shabby and squalid Delta Hotel on Sixth Street, San Francisco’s Skid Row. 

David’s life pivoted sharply in September of 2004, and after decades of struggle and failure, he found his way to freedom from addiction. His spiritual journey has gifted him with inner peace and an abiding gratitude for the wonder of his own existence. The spiritual experience he longed for never needed to be “found” in the first place—he was already living it, but completely unaware. 

David’s story is not merely about recovery from addiction—it’s for anyone trapped in loneliness and limiting beliefs about their worthiness. This story is meant to illuminate and eliminate the shame and self-loathing that plagues communities across all demographics and socioeconomic lines. It’s about liberating our minds and hearts to give and receive love. We all need freedom from shame—especially the self-destructive and often deadly shame of our complex sexual experiences, traumas, and desires. 

The essence of every individual is whole, pure, and beloved. When we wake up from the illusion that we’re broken and begin to live from this incorruptible place of being, we heal, we find peace, and we begin to live out our purpose. David’s hope is that anyone who reads his book might find liberation from the illusions of brokenness and identify how to forgive the unforgivable. His story will also encourage readers who have awakened and emerged from their own darkness to now carry their message and shine their light so others can find their way home to love.



Chapter 1On September 20, 2004, David sits in jail, preparing to face sentencing for numerous white-collar crime charges. After another inmate returns to the holding cell stricken by an unexpected ten-year sentence, David braces himself for the worst. 

Chapter 2At six years old, David’s innocence and wonder are shattered after an encounter with the neighborhood pedophile, whose religious condemnations only add to his traumatic shame. 

Chapter 3During his earliest years, David remembers kindness from his new stepfather, but tender moments give way to cruelty and constant confinement that he tries desperately to escape.

Chapter 4: As an adolescent, David first experiences the mind-numbing effects of alcohol and low-level drugs as a way to escape the abuse and chronic incarceration. 

Chapter 5: After calling the police to remove him from his home, David enters foster care and discovers freedom and love like he’s never known in his life. But during a home visit, his family convinces him to move with them to Missouri.

Chapter 6David hatches a new escape plan by blackmailing his former molester into rescuing him. He returns to the San Francisco Bay Area and goes to live with friends until his drug use results in burned bridges.

Chapter 7: David finds himself in a Los Angeles County jail for grand theft auto. Released on his own recognizance, he takes a bus back to San Francisco where he walks the streets and sleeps at hotline hotels, finding sugar daddies to help make ends meet. 

Chapter 8: At a shelter, David befriends a man whose spiritual inclinations ignite his own curiosity and longing. He reads Louise Hay and Shakti Gawain, and beautiful truths struggle to break through his drug-induced haze. After jaywalking, he’s arrested as a fugitive and returned to Los Angeles for a four-month jail term. 

Chapter 9Back in San Francisco, David has a promising future at a new job until his past catches up with him. After he loses his job, he takes up escort work. Though a means to survive, David finds meaning and purpose in caring for men others consider “untouchable.” 

Chapter 10: David’s drug addiction reaches new lows after he discovers the particular highs of shooting up crystal meth. He tries and fails repeatedly to get clean. 

Chapter 11: While living at a halfway house, David secures a solid job, and he stays clean and sober for fifteen months until a trip to Mexico leads to relapse. To fund his ongoing addiction, he and his partner engage in white-collar crime until his arrest. 

Chapter 12: In police custody, David feels relief that his life will finally change for the better. He spends nine months in jail before a dramatic day of sentencing and a second chance. 

Chapter 13: David begins his lasting recovery, and a fledgling dog-walking business turns out to be a deeply healing spiritual experience. He gives up his business to return to escort work, only now sober and a sexual healer for men wracked by shame.

Chapter 14: David achieves his childhood dream of traveling the globe through his travel-companion company, the Male Adventure, and he discovers every trip is a spiritual awakening. 

Chapter 15: In 2011, David meets his partners, Todd and Carl, on a cruise. He also creates his workshop on sex, love, and intimacy, which he teaches at recovery conferences and retreats.

Chapter 16: In 2016, David’s older sister sends him a photo from when he was six. Poignant memories open him to new levels of grief and healing. He embarks on a retreat where he meets this young inner self on a deep spiritual level.

Chapter 17:  David and his partners delve into their newly founded virtual reality company, Heal-VR, as a means to awaken and nurture others' spiritual journeys. While in Bali, he takes part in a “self-marriage" ceremony, which illustrates his message: We are all messengers carrying the truth that we are whole, perfect, and infinitely loved.


Every Grain of Sand will appeal to men and women ages 30-65 with moderate to progressive political and spiritual views, especially anyone who has battled addiction, depression, anxiety, or low self-worth. 

Fans of memoir, especially inspirational stories of overcoming adversity

  • Biography/Autobiography/Memoir ranked third out of 15 adult nonfiction categories in sales in 2016 and 2017, according to Publishers Weekly.

Recovery communities and others struggling with addictions

  • 30% of Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder at some point in their life (Hasin et al., 2007).

  • An estimated 1.3 million people in the US are members of a 12-step program, according to Time magazine.

  • Nearly 52% of people over 12 reported drinking in the past month, while a quarter of the population over 12 admitted to binge drinking in the past month, according to a 2017 report by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse

  • There are 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the US (National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse), not including those who never reported. 

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys have been victims of child sexual abuse, according to Crimes Against Children Research Center. 

Survivors of childhood abuse and neglect

  • More than 7 million children come to the attention of Child Protective Services every year, according to a 2015 Children’s Bureau report.

  • More than 250,000 children are placed into foster care  every year (National Foster Youth Institute, NFYI).

  • More than 23,000 children age out of foster care annually, and 20 percent of those are instantly homeless (NFYI).

Spiritual seekers, including people who are religiously unaffiliated or affiliated with alternative spiritual movements such as Course in Miracles, New Thought, and conscious evolution.

  • Nearly a third of Americans are “spiritual but not religious,” according to a 2017 report by Pew Research Center.

Fans of self-help and personal development

  • In 2016, the US self-improvement market was worth nearly $10 billion, forecast to post nearly 6% gains until 2022, reaching more than $13 billion, according to Marketdata.

  • The book market for self-help is estimated at $776 million.

  • 18,000 personal coaches operate in the US, and personal coaching is the second-fastest growing industry in the world, worth $1.08 billion in 2017, up 6.5% from the previous year.


Leading up to the preorder campaign launch, David has been rolling out short preview videos to promote the book to nearly 5,000 Facebook followers.

His email list of at least 1,980 contacts includes influential former clients, colleagues, and personal growth coaches who will help promote preorders and book sales on his behalf.

David will also hire a publicist to supplement and enhance marketing and public relations efforts for Every Grain of Sand.

Foreword by T. J. Woodward or Michael Beckwith, leaders in the New Thought movement and Agape International Spiritual Centers in California. 

Speaking engagements

David has established himself as an expert on sex, love, intimacy, and healing shame through an original writing workshop that he conducts for private groups. He is also a frequent speaker to men's groups, recovery groups, and private retreats. 

He will conduct bookstore readings, meet-and-greets, and personal growth workshops once the book releases. 

Previous media 

David's impact as a sex worker has been featured in significant publications including Out magazine, with a readership of 203,000: "Price of Intimacy: The Time I Hired a Sex Worker" by Andrew Gurza. He also contributed his perspective to research on male escorts for Australia's Queensland University of Technology.

His company Heal-VR was featured in, a VR news site with 50,000 page views per month: "Heal-VR Offers Guided Meditation in Chakra VR on the GO" by Dean Meyers. 


These memoirs focus on a combination of addiction, prostitution, recovery, or dysfunctional families, along with the journey toward forging a new life. Every Grain of Sand weaves a mystical thread through the phases of David’s life, culminating in an inspirational message for any reader who has ever struggled with shame, isolation, and abuse. 

Stray: Memoir of a Runaway by Tanya Marquardt (Little A, September 1, 2018)

After growing up in an abusive home, Marquardt runs away. At 16, she must learn to take care of herself, finding a chosen family in her fellow misfits. She fights to embrace the vulnerable parts of herself and heal the wounds of her past. 

I Forgot to Die by Khalil Rafati (Lioncrest, December 22, 2015)

Khalil Rafati worked with movie stars and rock legends before bottoming out on heroin and cocaine. At 33, he was 109 pounds, a convicted felon, and homeless junkie living on LA’s infamous Skid Row. He details how he turned his life around to become a speaker, author, and wellness entrepreneur. 

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff (Atheneum Books, February 19, 2008)

The story that inspired the major motion picture Beautiful Boy recounts Sheff’s harrowing addiction to methamphetamine. As he plunges into the depths of his addiction, he paints a picture of a person at odds with his past, his family, his substances, and himself.

Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent by David Henry Sterry (Soft Skull Press, February 2002)

While looking for off-campus housing on Sunset Boulevard, Sterry was lured into a much darker world, servicing lonely women of Hollywood. The story shifts back and forth from tales of his youth in a disintegrating family to his experiences as a sex worker.

In My Skin: A Memoir of Addiction by Kate Holden (Arcade, July 1, 2013)

After Holden's first hit of heroin, the drug took over. She lost her job and her apartment and stole from her family. Her memoir details both the darkness and the empowerment she found in her life as a sex worker, and how she ultimately defeated her drug addiction and left the netherworld behind.   

Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex by David Henry Sterry (Soft Skull Press, July 7, 2009)

These writers who have exchanged sex for money are PhDs and dropouts, soccer moms and jailbirds, $2,500-a-night call girls and $10 crack hos. This anthology lends a voice to an underrepresented population simultaneously reviled and worshipped.

18 publishers interested Express interest
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Atmosphere Press is an independent full-service publisher for books in genres ranging from non-fiction to fiction to poetry to children's picturebooks, with a special emphasis on being an author-friendly approach to getting a book into the world. We're professional, honest, and kind.

Here’s what we stand for:

Honesty: because our mission is to be author-friendly, that means always giving honest advice about the ins and outs of the authorial life. We are dedicated to sticking by one of our founding precepts: “if I were the author, what would I want to know?”

Transparency: publishing is rife with dodgy behavior, from predatory vanity presses who promise the moon to traditional presses who make book changes without the author’s permission. We’re dedicated to letting you see the wizard behind the curtain, so you can rest easy that everything’s on the up and up.

Professionalism: with decades of combined years of writing, editing, designing, and publishing experience, our staff knows the ins and outs of the industry, and will be responsive and helpful. And of course, we will only publish books that truly contribute something wonderful to the world.

Kindness: as an author-friendly press, we take the word “friendly” seriously. A good publisher shouldn’t be just a business partner, but should be full of people you’d want to invite to dinner. Whether it be making a good joke or allaying your worries about being an author, kindness is our hallmark.

Making Your Book Awesome: we really can’t settle for anything less. We want our authors and their readers to be blown away when they first hold that book in their hands. It needs to look good inside and out, and feel good to the touch. And, of course, the words need to be top-notch, and our editors are devoted to making that the case.

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Authors Unite logo Authors Unite

We've now worked with 250+ authors.

Learn more about what we do and see some testimonials here:

We look forward to working with you.

Tyler & The Authors Unite Team

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Business, Health, Lifestyle, Memoirs, Mind & Body, Politics, Professional, Religious, Science, Self-Help, Sports, Technology, Travel


Bookmobile logo Bookmobile

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bookmobile provides book printing, graphic design, and other resources to support book publishers in an ever-changing environment. Superior quality, excellent customer service, flexibility, and timely turnarounds have attracted nearly 1,000 satisfied clients to Bookmobile, including trade houses, university presses, independent publishers, museums, galleries, artists, and more.

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Business, Children's, Cookbooks, Fantasy, Health, History, Journalism, Lifestyle, Literary Fiction, Memoirs, Mind & Body, Mystery, Politics, Professional, Religious, Romance, Sci-Fi, Science, Self-Help, Sports, Technology, Thriller, Travel, Young Adult


Crescendo Publishing logo Crescendo Publishing

Crescendo Publishing is a boutique-style, concierge VIP publishing company assisting entrepreneur authors with writing, publishing, and promoting their books for the purposes of lead-generation and achieving global platform growth, then monetizing it for even more income opportunities.

In addition, we also support authors of novels, memoirs, fantasy and other fiction genres in the production and promotion of their books, too.

Check out some of our latest best-selling AuthorPreneurs at

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Business, Fantasy, Health, History, Journalism, Lifestyle, Literary Fiction, Memoirs, Mind & Body, Mystery, Novella, Politics, Professional, Romance, Sci-Fi, Self-Help, Thriller, Travel, Young Adult


Happy Self Publishing logo Happy Self Publishing

We have helped 250+ authors to get their books self-published, hit the #1 position in the Amazon bestseller charts and also establish their author website & brand to grow their business. And the best thing is, we do all this without taking away your rights and royalties. Our publishing packages start at $699! Let's schedule a call to discuss the next steps in your book project:

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PRESStinely logo PRESStinely

At PRESStinely our most paramount purpose as a publishing service organization is to partner with authors and entrepreneurs to bring their creative projects to life. Deciding to be an author is terrific; determining to be a published author is impressive; deciding to properly write, edit, design, market and launch your book is a must. Collaboratively, we strategically move through the publishing process ensuring mistakes are avoided and the end product is not only a book you are proud of but will be used as a tool to build your brand.

Partnering with PRESStinely means you as the author retain all creative control, all future revenues from your book. Our approach is simple -1 - Partner with authors and entrepreneurs to guide them through the entire publishing process. 2 - Customize every package offered to fit each client's needs. Pricing for our partner services vary from $500 USD - $7,500 USD. 3- Provide the vision, skills, and tools necessary to ensure success. When our clients succeeds, we succeed. 4 - Identify gaps and opportunities to build a brand efficiently. 5 - Become our client's “right hand” and bring their creative vision to life.

You should spend as much time publishing and marketing your book as you did writing it, together we will leave a mark on the world.

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Project Bestseller logo Project Bestseller

Bestsellers are great. Long-term sellers are even better. We'll help you do both.

Project Bestseller is about creating bestsellers. More importantly, it’s about building author platforms and long-term success. We’re building books that sell well over time, generate income for their authors, and create a lasting impact for their readers.

How? The surface answer to this question is:
- crafting each book for maximum appeal to readers
- editing, design, and production with quality to match or exceed traditional publishers
- building an author platform to build loyalty and reach
- optimizing marketing elements such as keywords, categories, and sales copy
- leveraging promotion and advertising to generate sales at a profit

A deeper answer is: with strategy, curiosity, and intense passion.

Why? We believe good books should sell. If you're like most of our clients, you have a big vision for your book. It represents you. It says something about who you are. Now you’re ready for it to start touching lives.

You can probably think of half a dozen books that have become part of the grain of your life, because they gave you exactly what you needed at the time—whether it was a feeling, an experience, a different perspective, or just the information you needed to unlock your next possibility.

Now it's your turn. We can help you impact your readers with your book. It's what we do.

We've been helping authors finish and publish their books since 2012. Services include: ghostwriting, editing, cover design, book design, formatting, publishing guidance, launch planning, marketing.

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Business, Health, Lifestyle, Memoirs, Mind & Body, Professional, Religious, Self-Help, Travel


SEPTEMBER 20, 2004

I swung my legs out from under the thin cotton blanket and rested my feet on the cold concrete floor. In the early morning hours, my cellblock remained still and dark. Despite the weariness permeating my bones, I’d barely slept at all. 

This was it—Judgment Day. 

The Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, had confined me for the past nine months, but by the end of the day, I would know whether I was leaving jail at last or here to stay for decades to come. 

I stood up slowly and pulled out my clothes. For appearance in federal court, I had the right to dress in normal clothing, whereas county prisoners went in prison uniforms. But whatever normal clothes I was wearing the day of my arrest had gotten lost inside the county system, so I had no civilian clothes at all. The best I could do was a clean, ironed white T-shirt that José, one of the jail trustees, had secured for me from the laundry and a pair of red scrub pants I’d been given during intake.

Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County was an enormous facility that houses more than four thousand inmates—typically convicted felons sentenced to county jail or those still awaiting arraignment, trial, or sentencing. The men in our maximum-security pod were under protective custody and segregated from the general population. Our group of inmates included informants, gays, transgendered women, and horny straight guys who wanted an easier stay—all rather harmless people at risk of being killed or maimed by the violent felons and gang lords on the other side. 

Our pod also kept federal holds—guys like me facing prison time for federal crimes. My list of charges included possession of controlled substances, conspiracy to commit credit card fraud, fraud and related activity, possession of stolen mail, and possession of stolen identities—all of it the racket my then-boyfriend, Richard, and I had used to fund our relentless drug habit. Addiction owned me then, mind, body, and spirit. I wholly and completely belonged to the oblivion. And as a result, I’d spent nearly a year in this hellhole with the possibility of many more to come. 

Dressed and cleaned up, I sat tensely on the edge of the metal bed, my hands clasped and my gaze down, when the cell door buzzed. The sound jolted me like a bolt of electricity. The next thing I heard was the deputy calling my name. It was time to go. 

The deputies entered my cell to cuff my hands and shackle my ankles for the transport to the federal courthouse in San Francisco. Hindered by the restraints, I could only shuffle between two guards out of my cell and through the ward. The cellblock had begun to come to life, but the other inmates, still drowsy from sleep and knowing where I was headed, spoke few words, mostly just offering a nod or a look that meant good luck. Tamica, one of the transgender women, yelled out, “Miss David!” I usually hated being called that, but she said it with love, and I needed to hear it that morning. “You gonna be fine—don’t worry,” she said, waving.  

Outside, the transport unit, a motor coach with different sections of interior caging, stood ready to receive the line of us en route to court. The guards placed me in a seat within the locked cage for prisoners in protective custody before unshackling my arms and legs. I rubbed my wrists and stared through the tinted windows, seeing nothing. I thought back to earlier conversations with my defense attorney, Nina Wilder. 

For much of my time in Santa Rita, I’d had little communication from Nina or anyone in the court system—no dates, no guidance, no news from the outside world. I had written letter after letter to the court asking for even one iota of a clue as to what to expect. Nina had asked me to be patient while the prosecution built their case. And once they did, she said, “You’re going to have to take a plea deal. Federal court has a 98 percent conviction rate. You’ll never fight this, and if you do, you’re going to prison for a long time.” So, I had agreed to take a plea deal, but that morning, I still had no idea what Nina had negotiated on my behalf. The stress of not knowing made me crazy. 

On the bus across from me sat a county prisoner, a handsome, muscular black man named Marius who had been busted with ten grams of speed. He too was headed for a sentencing hearing, but unlike me, he remained calm and at ease. 

“Yeah, my baby momma gonna hit me up with some cash on the books, and I’ll do my thirty-six months and be outta there,” he bragged.

I didn’t know how many baby mommas he had, but even in his yellow jailhouse clothes, he was the kind of sexy that could have commanded a harem. 

Given the sentencing guidelines for drug possession with intent to distribute methamphetamines, Marius was looking at thirty-six months to ten years. He had a girlfriend and a baby and a life on the outside, so he trusted he would get a lenient sentence. I wished I shared his confidence. Maximum sentences on the combined total of my charges added up to fifty-five years. But since I didn’t have a long criminal history and I wasn’t a violent offender, I was also looking at more like thirty-six months to ten years as well. I could barely tolerate the thought of even one more day in that jail, let alone a decade.

After the forty-mile ride into the city, our transport unit pulled into a parking garage beneath the Phillip Burton Federal Building and US Courthouse. The monolithic concrete and glass structure runs the length of a city block on Golden Gate Avenue in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center. One by one, we submitted our hands and feet back into the shackles and descended from the bus. 

Fear coursed like ice water through my veins. The weight of exhaustion bore down on my whole body. I found myself in almost constant prayer to a god I barely believed in. Beyond a miracle, what hope did I have left? The only thing that consoled me was knowing one way or another the waiting would be over. After such a long, harsh battle, the closure would bring a measure of relief, even as I dreaded the possibility of being locked indefinitely in a human cage.

A team of deputies led us through a system of tunnels, hallways, and secure elevators until we arrived at a large holding area on an upper floor of the courthouse. I waited there until my name was called again, and then a guard escorted me down to a smaller holding cell outside of my judge’s courtroom. The cement cell had no windows—just an entry door and a side door that led to a glass conference room where inmates could meet with their attorneys in advance of their hearing. 

In my holding cell sat four other guys, including Marius, all of us slouched on cold metal benches bolted to the wall. I stared at the floor, trying to piece together the years of my life and series of decisions that had led me to this place. I shook my head in disbelief that this was what I had become. If only I could start over again, do a few things differently—but it felt useless to hope or dream. 

When Marius’s case got called, I straightened up a bit and nodded at him. “Good luck, man.”

He smiled and gave a thumbs-up before following the bailiff out of the cell.

I wondered how he would fare in his hearing. This was no county courthouse. This was a federal institution where everyone dressed in their Sunday best on a daily basis to appear before the judge. And no low-level magistrate either. Inside the courtroom presided a stern district judge named Phyllis J. Hamilton who had been appointed by President Bill Clinton and made famous for her controversial decision to strike down the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act earlier that year. She followed the rules. Her court went by the book. That’s just how it was.

While I waited, Nina appeared at the glass side door; she was a small but fierce Jewish woman who spoke straight and sharp. I exhaled loudly when I saw her. She motioned for me to join her in the conference room next to the holding cell.  

“David, you have to stop writing letters to the court! You’re not helping your case,” she said, straightening a stack of papers on the table before her. After a brief explanation of the plea deal she’d worked out with the prosecutors, she continued, “Listen, I have no idea what’s going to happen. This could go in any direction. We don’t even know what kind of mood the judge is in today. Just don’t expect any mercy. And don’t you dare go in there and talk about how you found God.” 

After a bit of coaching on what I should say to Judge Hamilton, Nina released me, and I returned to my spot in the holding cell. I was staring at the ceiling, rehearsing my prepared speech, when Marius returned from his hearing. 

The moment he entered, the outcome was evident; his face revealed his devastation. He rushed to the corner of the cell, fell to his knees before the toilet, and threw up his breakfast. When he finished retching, he fell back against the wall, catatonic. He’d gotten maxed out—ten years, a year for every gram he’d had in his possession. And he would have to serve 85 percent of that time, no matter what. The federal system had no good behavior program, and though there were ways to get a sentenced reduced or be granted an exception, such motions were extremely rare.

Marius shook his head slowly back and forth, his mouth hanging slightly open. A few minutes later, a deputy buzzed the door to take him back upstairs. 

After his sentencing, I could barely breathe. He had been so confident he wouldn’t get maxed out, but he did. I wasn’t confident at all about my chances before this judge. No one, not even my attorney, had been able to discern what would happen in my case. She might be lenient and give me the lesser sentence, or she might decide to make an example of me to deter other white-collar criminals. After what she had handed to this guy, my last ounce of hope dissipated altogether. 

My case wasn’t called until late in the day. When the door clicked and the bailiff finally said my name, I nearly jumped out of my skin. This was it. I took a deep breath and stood up to go. No matter what happened in the next few minutes, I knew only one thing for sure—my life was never, ever going to be the same again.