Afternoon In Prison
“Justin, I read your blog about how to master mornings in federal prison. Curiously, what did you do all afternoon in prison?” a real estate agent under indictment for mortgage fraud asked me yesterday.
“After I completed my job in the chow hall, I spent the afternoons continuing to work on my values,” I told him.
“Can you give me an example?” he asked.
“Sure, the value of independence. Prior to going to federal prison, I struggled making my own decisions and accepting responsibility. My self-esteem was shattered and so was my judgement. For those reasons, I usually followed the advice of others. I rarely stopped to question the soundness of the advice.”
“I can relate and I feel worthless right now, like I have no control over my outcome,” I could feel his sadness.
“You must take action as I did. In prison, I wanted to learn how to trust my own judgment and accept responsibility for my own choices. Moving forward, I wanted my choices to be my own. Even if those choices turned out badly, at least I could own them, because they were mine. Learning to think independently in federal prison, helped me accept responsibility for my own life. Just like my mornings in federal prison, my afternoons were vital to my success. If you go to prison, I wish the same for you,” I told him.
Over the last week I lectured to eight business classes at USC. In those lectures, I discussed the importance of doing more than simply identifying our values. We must act on them.
That same advice is true for a white collar defendant facing a federal prison term. Most of the white collar defendants who reach out to me can easily identify their values, including:
- Making amends with their victims
- Building a new career
- And more
Most of the men serving time in federal prison can express what is important to them as well. So, what separates those that succeed from those who do not? As I teach through our Blueprint Program, it is all about the implementation.
Most white collar defendants can identify their values, but the question is do they live faithfully to them?
This real estate agent who called me seemed eager to prepare. He’s watched my videos, read my blogs (including the ones I wrote from federal prison), and he read Lessons From Prison. That is a great start. But watching videos, I told him, together with reading blogs and books is not enough. Those actions are passive.
“The only way for you to succeed,” I told him, “is for you to implement what you are learning. Some people might call you nuts—trust me I know!—but it is the only way.”
I went on…
“If you do not have the confidence to follow through on what you are learning, you will stop at the first hint of criticism. A lot of men in federal prison have great business ideas, but stop pursuing it the second someone tells them it is a bad idea. Some of those men who give up so easily don’t recognize the prisoner offering the criticism does not have their best interest in mind.”
Working on becoming independent helped me tune out the haters, those who said I was a fool for writing openly and honestly about facilitating a Ponzi scheme.
Being aware of my surroundings, after all I was in federal prison, forced me to discover where my prior actions had gotten me. In my 20s, I tended to follow the pack, defer to the judgment of others and I never took a stand. I was weak. It is no surprise I ended up in federal prison.”
“Wow, I was not expecting you to say all of that,” he said.
I went on, “Values are not just buzzwords for me. People frequently ask me why my journey was different. There was no secret. I identified my values, then followed them. As a federal prison consultant helping others identify then pursue their values is as important as anything I do. Why? You cannot serve the shortest sentence possible unless you are pursuing what matters most to you. Independence is a value worth pursuing to get to your desired end: a shorter prison term and a better life.”
Too many defendants succumb to the wishes of others and have no sense of independence. They give up too damn easily. If their lawyer does not agree with their idea, for instance, they give up. There is no discussion, no Socratic dialogue to discuss the pros and cons—it is shut down.
I have a new client in New York. He reached out to me after grabbing our free report on how to get the best outcome at sentencing.
This white collar defendant totally owns and accepts responsibility for his actions. He also wrote a beautiful, compelling narrative. At my urging, I suggested he turn in the narrative at his pre sentence interview.
After all, if we are going to try to influence the sentencing judge with the narrative, why not turn it in to the probation officer who will make a recommendation on how long the defendant should serve? Logic would suggest we would want to use the narrative to influence each government stakeholder.
Well, the lawyer was against it. He said he would not turn it in. In fact, he never even read it. Most defendants would ignore their judgment and default to the lawyer.
My client was visibly upset that his lawyer blew him off and disregarded his ideas and hard work. We enacted a plan to change the current reality.
Below is my note and the email I asked my client to send to his white collar defense attorney.
“Hey bud, before you hired me, you said you wanted me to help you hold your lawyer accountable. You told me you welcomed directness and were not afraid to express your views. This is one of those times to express your views and show your directness.
I think you wrote a wonderful narrative. It shows your remorse, what you have learned, and you focus your attention on your victims. I am sorry your lawyer did not even take the time to read it. Because he has done it a certain way for so long makes him shut out any new ideas.
Let’s change that. Please send him the note below—modify to your liking, but do not change the heart of message please.
“Dear (insert name of lawyer),
I am upset. I paid you $250K. That might not be a big sum for some of your other clients, but to me, that is a lot of money.
I invested at least 50 hours writing that narrative. I cannot believe you did not even take the time to read it. You simply responded, “I have never had a client in 20 years turn in a personal letter of responsibility at the pre sentence interview. I will read this before you get sentenced, not now.”
You agreed with me that the pre sentence interview was important. You told me that the probation officer who wrote the report would influence how long I serve in federal prison. Why would I not try to influence her? Why only try to influence the judge?
That you have done it a certain way does not mean it is the right way. Regardless, I accept responsibility for any fallout. Please read my narrative at once. I need your feedback and thoughts. I will be turning this in at my probation interview. As my lawyer, I need to know you have reviewed it. I am open to your feedback, but to be clear, some version of this letter is getting turned in at my pre sentencing interview.
Are you available to speak at 2:00pm or 4:00pm tomorrow to share your thoughts on my narrative? I really believe it conveys what I learned, and shares how I will spend the rest of my life making amends. I am anxiously awaiting your feedback.
It is easier said than done, but to succeed through this process one must build up an immunity to what people think or say about them.
I saw it each day in federal prison. Rather then pursue their own goals, too many prisoners become beholden to someone else’s routine. The value they get, I suppose, is feeling as if they fit in or are accepted. I was not after acceptance: I simply wanted to prove worthy of the love my family gave me. Becoming more independent was part and parcel to that process.
Now, exercising independence does not mean we will always be right. The goal, of course, is to make the right decision, to be accurate. Making the right decision is easier if we understand the subject at hand and know what relevant questions to ask. Without that knowledge, we make decisions in the dark. Most defendants are too concerned about what the food in the chow hall is like; as a result they ignore the relevant questions, like: What will the rest of my life look like because of my prison term? I spent my afternoons in federal prison working on that question.
I recently filmed a video titled, 12 Books You Must Read in Federal Prison. Atlas Shrugged, by Rand, was on that list. In that book, Midas Mulligan said, “Don’t rely on our knowledge of what’s best for your future. We do know, but it can’t be best until you know it.”
Think about that. If defendants do not invest the time to study and learn, they can never make decisions they can defend. Instead, they will simply do what others tell them to do. To succeed, federal prisoners must derive a sense of satisfaction in being different, of going down a different path.
The more defendants learn the more confidence and self esteem they will have. I did not have the confidence or knowledge to push back when my lawyers did things I did not agree with. In the end their decision may have been best, but I didn’t even know how to address or question them. I just rolled over.
As I make my descent, let me state the power that comes with independence. By investing the time in prison, and now, to learn I feel responsible for my life. I have self esteem and confidence because I know the effort I put in to achieve my success. It is freedom at its best—perhaps it is part of the reason I felt so free in federal prison. I wish the same for every defendant and federal prisoner.
P.S. Because of our efforts, the probation officer read the letter at the pre sentence interview. And I am pleased to report she was incredibly impressed by it. In fact, she copied and pasted the whole narrative in the pre sentence report. They also spent 30 minutes talking about my client’s background and how he overcame struggle as a young man. The narrative set the tone for the PSR. All of you should do the same. Grab my free course to learn how…