After time behind bars, former Penn State president Graham Spanier writes a book

In a suit coat and collared shirt, Graham B. Spanier looked very much the part of the college president he used to be, speaking from his home study in State College, a desk, a stack of books, and lamp as his backdrop.

And to top it off, he was there to discuss a book he’d just written.

“Let me just begin by thanking all of you for your interest but also for your support,” Spanier, 74, told about 60 people gathered on the Zoom call to hear his presentation.

» READ MORE: Ex-Penn State president Graham Spanier’s conviction is reinstated by a federal appeals court

But this wasn’t a book about the usual academic or fund-raising fare of college presidents. In The Lions’ Den: The Penn State Scandal and A Rush to Judgment, Spanier tells his side of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal and its aftermath — maintaining that he and two other former university administrators were falsely accused and treated unfairly by the criminal justice system and the media, and blaming university leadership for failing to correct the narrative.

The 493-page book published by Gryphon/Eagle Press covers his 10-year odyssey, including a 2017 trial and a series of appeals that landed him with a two-month sentence in the Center County Correctional Facility for misdemeanor child endangerment, followed by two months of house arrest. Spanier, who had led Pennsylvania’s flagship university for 16 years before resigning in 2011 as the scandal unfolded, found himself in a yellow jumpsuit, subject to strip searches — he endured 39 of them, he writes — and nearly a week of solitary confinement.

Although he was convicted of child endangerment, Spanier has maintained that he did not know Sandusky sexually abused boys and that the former coach’s behavior with a boy in a campus shower was characterized to him as “horseplay.” Neither he nor other administrators notified police, and instead planned to inform Sandusky’s children’s charity the Second Mile, prohibited Sandusky from bringing boys on campus, and urged him to undergo counseling. Prosecutors later discovered an email that Spanier wrote at the time that said: “The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it.”

» READ MORE: Former Penn State president guilty of endangering children in Sandusky case

During his 90-minute talk, Spanier gave his views on current university leadership, then-Attorney General (now Gov.-elect) Josh Shapiro’s decision to push for jail time, what he thinks the university should do for late football coach Joe Paterno, and his ongoing relationship with Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the other administrators convicted in the case.

Spanier, who said he has been working as a consultant in the national and global security arena, said he’s given 30 presentations in person about the book since it came out two months ago, with about 15 others in the planning. One topic that readers found most interesting, he said, was the chapter on his incarceration.

He writes in detail of experiences he had in prison, which he described as dehumanizing.

“I had some knowledge of our system of justice before being incarcerated, but my firsthand experience has opened my eyes widely to its deep flaws,” he wrote. “Our justice system is broken and I need to be an advocate for change.”

He later said in an email that he has shared his impressions with the chair of the county commissioners and county administrator and an official with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, met with people who have established a “prisoner journalism project,” and has become involved with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which advocates for people wrongly accused and incarcerated.

But on a lighter note, he wrote how he looked forward to Friday nights when prisoners could purchase ice cream for $3.75 in commissary funds. Specifically, Cappuccino Crunch.

He also wrote that he found purpose in his stay, becoming “resident listener and counsellor” to some and answering questions about getting admitted to college.

“I helped one inmate refine his small business idea, a way for prisoners to send flowers to their loved ones,” he wrote.

But Spanier said he never wavered on his decision not to take a plea deal, and of his few regrets, he wishes he had taken the stand during his trial against his lawyers’ advice.

“It is not within my ethical standards in my value system to plead guilty to something I am not guilty of,” he told the Zoom audience. “I would rather go to trial and be found guilty and be imprisoned as an innocent person than to claim I’m guilty of something I’m not guilty of.”

He also talked about former Gov. Tom Corbett, who he said wanted to get rid of him before the Sandusky scandal broke, and slammed Louis Freeh, the former FBI director whom Penn State hired to investigate what happened and whose report Spanier says falsely accused him of conspiring to cover up Sandusky’s abuse , a charge he was not found guilty of at trial.

Shapiro, he said, insisted that he serve time in jail, even though he had recently had open heart surgery and was battling prostate cancer amid an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m not a friend of his, but I thought he was a pretty good attorney general in virtually every respect,” Spanier said of the governor-elect. “He just made one big mistake, the one pertaining to me.”

As the scandal unfolded, Spanier said that he lost 25 pounds, couldn’t sleep, and suffered from depression, but that he was bolstered by the emails he received from alumni, donors, and friends.

He has remained close to Curley and Schultz, whom he described as “two of the finest people I know,” noting that he had lunch with Schultz that day and had talked to Curley on the phone.

Of Paterno, who was fired by the board and later died of cancer, Spanier said the university should never have taken his statue down and that it should go back up. In the book, he also talks about his ongoing relationship with Paterno’s wife, Sue, who he wrote had inserted a written prayer for him into the cracks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem and gave him a St. Jude candle to light.

He spoke highly of current Penn State president Neeli Bendapudi, the former president of the University of Louisville who started in July.

“I told her that I would do anything I can to be helpful to her, as well as to members of the board,” he said.

He said he does not plan to run for Penn State’s board of trustees, but he will continue to stay involved with the school. Even since he lost his job as president, he said, he has visited dozens of donors, urging them to continue to give to the university and has brought in tens of millions as a result.

“You can take me out of the university, but you can’t take the university out of me,” he said. “My heart is still there.”

Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.


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