Interview with Stephen Caputi, Author of 'I Should Have Stayed in Morocco'by marbob00 marbob00 on 11/09/15
Steve Caputi is best known for his involvement in the creation, building and management of successful nightclub and hospitality businesses. Decades of experience in the industry and the good fortune to work with a succession of the best performers in the world gave him a broad base of skills… skills that were instrumental in his entrepreneurial quest and subsequent sparkling career.
As an Ivy-league student-athlete, he graduated from the renowned Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 1979. Rostered as the ‘smallest player in NCAA Division 1 football’, he lettered under George Seifert, world-champion coach of the San Francisco 49’ers and played centerfielder on Cornell’s EIBL championship team of 1977, led by hall of fame coach Ted Thoren. Steve set several all-time team and NCAA records, one of which still stands 37 years later.
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. In the early 1990’s, Steve was President of Michael J. Peter’s gentlemen’s club empire, featuring the world-famous Solid Gold, Thee Doll House, and Pure Platinum. It was during that era that adult clubs became legitimized. 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.
Steve 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. So began his most recent quest upon his release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons… to find out what happened, how it happened, and why!
About the Book:
Stephen Caputi’s memoir, I Should Have Stayed in Morocco, is not just another forensic account of billionaire Ponzi-schemer Scott Rothstein’s life. Caputi opens his heart and soul as he takes the reader on a journey through two decades rife with personal experiences, misadventures and wild escapades with Rothstein, climaxing with their now-infamous ramble in Casablanca. It’s a frighteningly true story of how friendship and loyalty was dedicatedly served to a master-manipulator, just to be rewarded with deceitful betrayal and a prison sentence.
Read the First Chapter
Q: Congratulations on the release of your memoir, I Should Have Stayed in Morocco. What made you decide to write your own biography?
A: It was kind of a happy accident, the result of an unfortunate circumstance. 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.
Q: Did you write by the seat of your pants, or did you structure the book in advance?
A: Actually, I wrote this by the seat of myorange jumpsuit!
Q: How would you describe your writing process? Did you find the process easy or difficult?
A: Tormented is the first word that comes to mind. 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 after 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. Due to its content, my writings were extremely risky. If any of the brass got wind that I was keeping a diary of their antics, there were no imaginable limits to how they might retaliate.
As an 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.
Q: Did you suffer from writer’s block at any given time? If yes, how did you overcome it?
A: It was more like “cell-block” than writer’s block. 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 balance giving an 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, since I had to keep my sense of humor intact and my wits about me in order to maintain at least some semblance of objectivity.
Q: That’s an interesting title. Did you choose it?
A: It kind of chose me… but I knew it would be the perfect title the second I wrote the first line of the prologue. I was reliving the experience of the train pulling away from the station, on my way to federal prison, as my girl waved goodbye. It was a devastating moment for me, and that short sentence that I muttered to myself captured the essence of the book. In that singular moment, the trauma and drama of everything that I’d been feeling for the twenty-three months prior to my incarceration collapsed upon me. I was engulfed in a quagmire of heartbreak, despair, frustration, regret… and fear. It was the first moment that I really believedthat I Should Have… Stayed in Morocco.
Q: Why should anyone read your book? What do you think they will gain from the experience?
A: For one, the book gives a human portrayal of Scott Rothstein, the fourth largest Ponzi-schemer in U.S. history, from the perspective of a close friend… not from social media posts. I lived the experience with him, which was very much different than reading about him through regurgitated internet blogs. My experiences with him spanned several decades, and most of my stories are still unknown to the general public. What happened to me could have happened to anybody that was vulnerable enough to have complete trust in a valued friend of many years. A friend that suddenly went ‘AWOL’ and betrayed everyone around him without any conscience. This makes my story relevant to anyone who has close, trusted friends or business colleague whose integrity seems to be unimpeachable.
Additionally, I used my misfortune to fuel a truth-seeking mission. I wanted to know why and how the current prison system evolved into the monstrosity that it is. How millions of our citizens have been corralled into prison, and why there had been 518,000,000 arrests in this country since 1970. Why seventy million men and women now have criminal records. I was living in a prison population that consisted mainly of drug dealers, the vast majority of whom were non-violent marijuana ‘offenders’. The injustice of it all struck a nerve, and I decided to do a bona fide journalistic investigation of the subject. My findings are part and parcel of the book… and the truth is ugly. People need to know what’s really going on in America today—as well as what happened yesterday to facilitate it—and not rely solely on the mainstream media for information. The time for sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring the truth is over.
Q: How was your experience working with an editor?
A: Outstanding… and humbling, to say the least. Their input was just what I needed. The process enabled me to view things from different perspectives, and to visualize alternative (and improved) ways to effectively communicate my thoughts. I also enjoyed being challenged and forced to defend my positions regarding different elements of the story that I felt were important. The editing process required me to validate and support the facts as I presented them. It was actually as much fun, as it was constructive.
Q: What have you learned from the writing of this book?
A: Writing the book forced me to sharpen my focus on all the subjects I was writing about, since I was determined to keep my objectivity despite my environment. I didn’t want to write anything resembling most of 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 facts behind the apparent reasons, and to be open-minded to whatever truths I found.
Q: What’s on the horizon for Stephen Caputi?
A: I am going to finish the last two books in the I Should Have Stayed in Moroccotrilogy, and then reenter my career as a nightclub and restaurant entrepreneur. 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. It will be a more in-depth look at what really goes on inside prisons. The final (untitled) book will provide a professional analysis of the real cost of the criminal justice and prison systems, and a critical look into the skullduggery of the prison industrial complex.
Q: If there’s one thing you wish readers will take away from your book, what’s that?
A: 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!