Was it worth it, Mr. Madoff? You knew all along, but you kept it going, you kept it quiet. You had the ability to end it years ago, you could have saved thousands of loved ones, friends, retirees and charities from financial ruin, but you kept going deeper into the quicksand of your crime, without a struggle, without remorse, as if our lives and yours were just another deal.
We cried like babies that night three months ago when we learned how you robbed us. Did you cry, Mr. Madoff? A thousand, maybe 10,000 cried that night. We shivered in our collective adrenaline-fueled shock. We were physically unhurt, physically just fine, but that night our bodies shook with fear everything was gone. A minute before the phone rang, things were good, even great. Afterward they would never be the same. All our hard work, all our savings, all our plans were wiped out forever. (Watch the video of Madoff pleads guilty.)
You knew what you were trading: 40-plus great years for 15 or 20 horrific years behind bars, until death. How could you not see what a tragic deal this was? Or maybe you did and didn't care; you imagined yourself impervious. You slipped past regulators. You fooled your family, friends and customers. You fooled yourself. You are perhaps the final symbol of our times greed at any cost, even at that of your own life, that of our entire system. (See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.)
It's not hard to see the arguments you must have made to yourself: "Look, I got into it innocently. I needed to pay people, and I thought I could work my way out. But it never happened and I kept quiet, and I got in deeper and deeper. There was no turning back." There's the justification story that goes: "Wait a minute all you investors were just as greedy as me. You didn't complain when the money was good. I gave you a lot of good years. More than anyone else, blame yourself." Then there's the cleansing argument, the one about all the charitable good: "I did the best I could. I gave back millions. Don't I deserve some credit?"
No, Mr. Madoff, you took our money for yourself and gave away our money for yourself. You earned nothing; you did nothing with your life. Your life was ultimately about inflicting pain, taking what you could and holding on to it like a common thief. You understood the irony of it all too, those thousands of false statements representing your false life, a great, mad construction you slowly began to embrace up in your secretive 17th-floor fantasy world, the way a young boy believes he's Superman when he puts on a cape. The difference is you never grew up, Mr. Madoff, and we're all paying for it now. But maybe because of what you've done to us, the rules of regulation will be changed so it doesn't happen to others.
I feel sorry for you, Mr. Madoff. You wasted your life and devastated thousands. But there's a fundamental difference between us: we're still in the game, we're still fighting, reinventing ourselves, learning hard lessons and moving on to perhaps a better life, if we survive.
You, on the other hand, have been a dead man walking for a long time, and you've known it. Now you are about to take the most harrowing final steps imaginable. You will be handcuffed, placed in a cell, and you will have nothing but the time of your final days to reflect on what your life has stood for. You're among the greatest white-collar criminals in history. Was it worth it, Mr. Madoff?
Tell us you are sorry, Mr. Madoff. It would mean you are human and not a monster. We can forgive, we can move on. We still have time to forget this and enjoy a spring day, make love, smile at our children knowing we did the best we could, while you, Mr. Madoff, cannot. In a way, we are reborn, while you have died. Was it really worth it, Mr. Madoff?
Robert Chew is a former investor with Madoff via a feeder fund. He lives in Colorado.