After the Madness: A Judge's Own Prison Memoir

Sol Wachtler

In the course of one year, Judge Sol Wachtler fell from the top of New York's legal establishment to the very bottom of the criminal justice system -- locked up in solitary confinement at a federal prison. This is Wachtler's remarkable account of what he saw behind bars, how it changed him, and why it all happened.

Wachtler was driving home on the Long Island Expressway when a van swerved directly in front of him and three carloads of FBI agents arrested him. He was New York's Chief Judge, the man many thought would be the state's next governor. Instead, he wound up pleading guilty to harassment and was sentenced to a medium-security federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.

This was no Club Fed. Wachtler was stabbed, caged in solitary confinement for no reason, and regularly berated by prison guards. Perhaps the most serious threat was when Wachtler found himself face-to-face with men who were affected by decisions he had written during his tenure on the Court of Appeals. But Wachtler defused the tensions surrounding him and became friendly with many of his fellow inmates: the counterfeiter who hadn't been able to bring himself to tell his fiancee how he really earned a living; the farmer whose business had failed, tempting him to support his family as a marijuana distributor; the FBI agent who had killed his girlfriend in a crime of passion; Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, holding on to the hope that the Israeli government would secure his release; plus an assortment of mobsters, thieves, and drug traffickers, each with a sad, strange story and an unusual way of explaining his fate.

Wachtler also offers his own explanation of how he wound up in prison, describing in poignant detail how romantic obsession, manic-depression, and drug abuse contributed to his shattering act of self-destruction.

With unflinching honesty, Sol Wachtler presents a unique portrait of life in prison, an illuminating look into the souls of criminals, and a resonant warning from America's most dangerous realm.

About the Author

Sol Wachtler began his government career in 1963, when he was elected a councilman of the town of North Hempstead. He was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court in 1968 and elected to the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, in 1972. In 1985, he was appointed Chief Judge of the State of New York and the Court of Appeals. He lives in Manhasset, New York, with his wife, Joan. They have four children and seven grandchildren.

Advance Praise

After the Madness is the riveting prison diary of one of the most powerful judges in America, a sure bet to succeed Mario Cuomo as governor of New York in 1995, who fell abruptly into the abyss of the criminal justice system, landing in "the hole" in two federal prisons, and emerging from thew lower depths at last to bring back fascinating observations about crime and punishment, many of them startling, some of them bitterly funny.

--Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities

Sol Wachtler has written a very funny, chilling, sad, and cautionary memoir about his precipitous fall -- from the glory of lofty judicial life, into the solitary confinement of a squalid prison cell at the bottom of the world. It took courage for the author to expose his soul and relive his scandal, but we come away from his bizarre and eloquent story feeling that though jurisprudence lost a most significant official voice, that voice, at another moral level entirely, is still being heard, and very valuably so.

--William Kennedy, author of Ironweed

You saw the story on television and you read it in the newspapers. Now you owe it to yourself to read the real story behind the story. After the Madness is a cautionary tale about the abuse of prescription drugs, and an honest and frightening look at compulsion, mental illness, and depression. It is a remarkable story of life in prison observed from an incredibly unique perspective. Sol Wachtler's writing is sharp, incisive, engrossing, and, above all, heartfelt.

Nelson Demille, author of The Gold Coast