Five minutes before 2:00 p.m. on March 4, 2013, I went to the administration building at Royal Graduate University (RGU)—somewhere in the Middle East—and took my seat on the soft chair outside the office of the Provost. The local Executive Vice President of Administration and Finance (EVP), a man who was much feared by everyone, walked past me and into the office. He was described in an article published in an international science magazine as a person who “does some strange things” and the “de facto head of the university.” His presence in the office conveyed the message that whatever I was summoned for was rather serious, which—if I’d allowed any doubts to sneak in and suggest I had been summoned for something else, a minor violation perhaps, or maybe even to accept a promotion—this man’s presence dispelled those naïve hopes. I was almost certain that they knew.

The secretary nodded that it was my turn. I stood up and walked in. I sat in the middle, with the Provost on my right and the EVP on my left. I was hoping they knew. I was sure that if they did know about my past, then they must have heard only bits and pieces. The mere fact that I was not simply called in by Human Resources and told I was terminated meant that I still had bargaining chips, and that they were afraid of a scandal at the national level. Later, this proved to be semi-true. The Provost started by asking me if there was something in my past I needed to tell them about.

I took a deep breath and said to myself that this might feel horrible, but it wouldn’t—couldn’t—be half as excruciating as sitting on a concrete floor in solitary confinement for months on end, as I’d done twelve years earlier. It couldn’t be half as unpleasant as being awoken with a whack on the head by a prison officer, and marched down a forsaken, filthy hallway to my morning shower as guards watched from behind a reflective window.

Ever since November 25, 2000, I have had limited options with regards to many things in life; some have been really bad options, while others have been quite interesting. How did someone like me make it this far, professionally and geographically, after being in California’s Lompoc Federal Correctional Facility (FCI) as a federal prisoner, and then at one of the world’s finest academic institutions, Cal Sci, as a doctoral student?

The story you are about to read is true. It’s the story of a mistake that will cast its shadow on me for the rest of my life.