Justin Paperny: Hi. I am Justin Paperny with White Collar Advice. Today is a treat for me. I’m going to welcome my new fried, Isaac Williams, to the program. Hi, Isaac.
Isaac Williams: Hello. How are you doing tonight?
Justin Paperny: I’m good. Thanks. I’m good. Thank you. Quickly, Isaac, on January 11th, sent me an email that I’m going to read. Then, I’m going to turn it over to him. On the 11th, Isaac send an email that said: “Dear Mr. Paperny, my name is Isaac Williams. I’m a senior in high school at the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Each year, each senior is required to write a research paper on a topic that is interesting to them. My paper is on the topic of does the federal prison system truly rehabilitate white collar criminals.
“Upon researching my topic, I came across your channel and your video on comparing a federal prison camp to a country club. I watched this video and I found it to be very helpful to my research. I was wondering if you’d be willing to be primary research for my paper and allow me to interview you in some way for my research paper. Thank you so much for your time, Isaac Williams.”
I responded to Isaac and said, “I’m just crazy busy right now. I’d love to help, so perhaps we can do a YouTube video where others can benefit and I can answer your questions about federal prison,” and of course Isaac could complete his paper. So, Isaac, let me turn it over to you and ask where you had this initial interest in white collar crime, of all the things you could’ve researched.
Isaac Williams: Well, as a child I grew up watching a lot of different movies with my dad. One of my favorite movies is actually Catch Me if You Can, which is about Mr. Frank Abagnale. He’s portrayed by Leonard DiCaprio in the film. That initially sparked my interest, which is white collar crime in general. My father is a financial advisor with Regions Bank. Because of that, I wanted to kind of follow in his footsteps. Mixed with that movie and a law enforcement background in my family, as well as my interest in just, I guess, white collar work field, I wanted to do something that combined all three of those into one topic. So, doing research I kept finding a lot of different things about white collar crimes and with the prison system, especially. After discussing with my family and my teachers at school, this was a topic that we all felt would be beneficial.
Justin Paperny: Excellent. Frank Abagnale, he’s very nice. I’ve spoken with him. In fact, in my office, I have a … Maybe I’ll put an image of the letter. In my office, I have a letter that he sent me after he read some of my blogs. I followed him in speaking at the FBI Academy in Virginia many years ago. So, he’s had quite an interesting story, so excellent.
Let’s jump in a little bit to questions. For transparency, Isaac sent me the questions about federal prison and white collar crime. I actually haven’t even reviewed them, though I’ve probably been asked them a lot. Okay, so why don’t we jump in with your questions and see if we can help ensure you get an A on your paper.
Isaac Williams: All righty. Sounds good. Our first question about federal prison is: Why were you initially sent to a federal prison?
Justin Paperny: I plead guilty in 2008 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and securities fraud. I was a graduate of USC, was a stockbroker for many years at firms that included Bear Stearns and UBS, managed money for professional athletes and hedge fund managers, several $100 million under management.
Yet, several years into my career, I found myself making some bad decisions on behalf of a client who was managing a hedge fund. I learned that he was lying to his investors that he was reporting to have returns that really did not exist. Rather than address it, I turned the other way. Then, I helped him facilitate the fraud. As a result of those terrible decisions, I was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for securities fraud.
Isaac Williams: While all of this was happening, did it ever cross your mind that what you were doing was illegal and that you would have to potentially face consequences for your actions?
Justin Paperny: Sure. Since this is YouTube and I market some through YouTube, I’ll plug my books, which are free so anyone who’s watching can get them for free. See, I sent them to you at no cost. I love it. Excellent. Actually, I think I wrote in the caption, “You will be further along than your friends if you read … ” What did I write inside? Something like that.
Isaac Williams: Let’s see. “P.S. Reading this book at your age will give you an advantage in life.”
Justin Paperny: Very good. Excellent. Great. As I wrote in my books, I always knew that it was wrong, what I did. I was raised a lot of privilege, a lot of opportunity, parents had held me accountable. I know you’re a baseball player. I was a baseball player. Coaches that were disciplined held me accountable. If I showed up late for practice, I didn’t play. So, suffice to say, I always knew that it was wrong. Yet, I rationalized, while breaking the law, that others were doing it. I was in an aggressive culture, that the culture encouraged it. My peers knew, so it was a lot group think that everyone said that it was okay.
But to be clear, very few white collar defendants wake up and say, “You know, today’s the day I’m going to cross the line, break the law, ruin my reputation, create victims, and some day go to prison.” I always knew that I was doing something wrong, and I lacked the temptation. I gave into temptation. I lacked the discipline in character to make the decisions, so I always knew.
Isaac Williams: What federal prison were you sent to?
Justin Paperny: I served time in Taft Federal Prison Camp, which is about 35 miles west of Bakersfield, about two hours from where I lived in Studio City, California.
Isaac Williams: You said you were there for … You were sentenced to 18 months. However, how long were you actually at Taft Federal Prison Camp?
Justin Paperny: My sentence was 18 months based on good time that you get the day of your surrender. I was given two, and I think 20 days good time, which meant my total sentence was 15 months and 21 days. I received three months, or 87 days to be exact, in the halfway house. Initially, I was looking at 45 days. They gave me 87 days. I served, I think it was 368 days inside of a federal prison. Then, I transitioned to the halfway house in Hollywood, California, and then home confinement, so just over a year at Taft.
Isaac Williams: Now, what exactly is the halfway house?
Justin Paperny: It’s a place that I hope you only hear about through me. I hope you’ll never attend and you’ll never go to, of course. The halfway house, it’s a transitional place. When you release from prison … It’s actually technically not a release, it’s a furlough. So the day of my release, or furlough, was I left prison at 7 AM. I had to get to the halfway house in Hollywood, California by noon. It looks, at least in Hollywood, it looks kind of like a rundown motel where you have, in this case, both male and female prisoners from both federal and state prison, all types of crimes, including sex offenders, transitioning to the halfway house where you’re allowed to leave during the day to work, to go to the doctor, to go to the DMV, to get passes, to go to school.
So, it’s kind of like quasi freedom, right? You’re still confined and locked up. You’re still drug tested. You still take a breathalyzer when you come and go. But, it is certainly one step closer to freedom. I’ve had many clients who purposefully choose not to go to the halfway house for a variety of reasons. Most do, presuming you have the right job lined up, and a plan, and the length of time you’re going to get. But, the halfway house is one step closer to freedom, and sometimes not such a desirable community.
Isaac Williams: Now, upon your release from both federal prison and the halfway house, how has your life changed?
Justin Paperny: Well, it changed a great deal, and I didn’t the … I didn’t fully recognize how it would change until I got to prison. Something things hit me, like a little … takes a little longer. I didn’t recognize the severity of my actions until I was in prison. I was very much in denial, which is a common trait for white collar defendants. I blamed my lawyers. I blamed the judged. Blamed everybody but me. Then, I got to prison. I was like, “Wow. Life is different. I’m a conflicted felon.”
One thing that I embraced in prison and upon my release is this, I feel like I’m an underdog now, which is very different for me, because I’ll the first to admit that I had opportunities, unlike many very fine men in prison. I had privilege, and opportunity, and a great education, and wonderful parents. I hit the parent lottery in life. I had all of these breaks, and everything had always gone my way. Then, in prison, my felony conviction sort of evened things out, even things out sort of bit.
So, I knew when I came home, to be successful and to adjust properly, I’d have to embrace this underdog status that I’m a conflicted felon. I have ruined my reputation. I had to work to rebrand, to rebuild. I had to begin to help people, and my motives began to change. I used to be very opportunistic when I was a stockbroker. It was, “What could I make? How could I advance my career? Who could I work with to advance my agenda?” Then, in prison, I just wanted to begin helping people, so I was writing a blog with the help of my business partner, Michael Santos, and then my book, Lessons From Prison.
To make a long story short, I embraced my underdog status, never ran from my conduct, owned what I did, told people that I could be better than some bad decisions I made, told them that I was working towards a second chance, and that, much as you reached out to me, and I hope you now see me as a mentor and someone that’s willing to guide you as you advance into college and your career, I too began to reach out and grow my network, because I lost so much of my network, right?
Isaac Williams: Yeah.
Justin Paperny: Yeah, that was some primary changes. I began to think differently rather than complain. I had complained enough.
Isaac Williams: All right. Can you describe, just briefly, just a typical day for you while you were in federal prison?
Justin Paperny: Sure. I started really early. I started at 5 AM every single day. Well, towards the end, about 4 AM. I liked waking early while the dorm was still sleeping. I’d have time to think and reflect. I’d wake up early, I’d have a cup of coffee. I’d begin reading and writing. I was known to have index cards, because I was building my vocabulary. People thought I was a little weird, but the last thing I cared about was what people thought about me in prison.
Get up at five, I’d work for 90 minutes, go to the chow hall from 6:30 to 7:30 or so, 6:30 to 7:00. Then, I ran every day. I exercised every day for a good two to three hours. I went to prison over weight, out of shape, bloated, sort of miserable, so I became a runner in prison. Within a few weeks, I was running 10 miles a day. Exercise took up my morning till about 10:30. Then, I did my job in the kitchen till about noon or 12:30-ish. About two hours a day.
Then, I had the afternoon either to go back and exercise, which I did the first few months. They were two-a-days. Then, after about three months, I realized no one was going to pay me to do pull-ups, or pushups and run, so I actually had to develop new skills. So, I spent the afternoon working. I was reading, and reading can be a great activity in prison, though passive. So, I began to write blogs, and build my vocabulary, and build my network, and reach out to business schools, like DePaul University and USC. I spent all my time in the library or the quiet room. I avoided the TV room. I avoided the hustling. I avoided the drama.
Then, come five or six o’clock, I’d go to the chow hall for dinner or I’d cook in my cubicle. And I’m telling you, dude, by the time 6:30 came around, I was so wrecked, so exhausted, so tired from running 10 miles, from getting up at five, from intellectually stimulating myself all day. I could literally sleep through any noise or anything that was going on in the dorm, because it was noisy, loud, and a lot of lights.
So, my day was focused. It was driven. I didn’t talk to a whole lot of people. I kept to myself, but I knew the end was coming and I had to be ready, because I came home in ’09 during the great recession with a felony conviction and an inability to get licenses, so I worked very hard every single day to come home, and it started by waking early.
Isaac Williams: How would you say that a federal prison is similar to a country club? In what ways would it be similar?
Justin Paperny: Some similarities to country club, tennis. I could play some tennis. God, people hate hearing that, because it’s just they don’t like it, but some tennis is in a country club, I suppose. In a country club, you might hear some men talking about the money they make, the deals they did, the cars they drove. There’s a chance that in a federal prison camp, in the chow hall, you may hear some good talking about the money they made, the deals they did, the cars they drove. There’s some similar characteristics, especially if some of the white-collar guys, who were my friends, and … So, those are some similarities. You could have similar exercise facilities. You know, you can go there and spend a lot of time, and relax, and veg, similar to a federal prison camp. So, those are some similarities that come to mind.
Isaac Williams:Now, what are some of the major ways that a federal prison is different?
Justin Paperny: Well, when I was a member of a country club, I never saw any men with Hitler tattoos or the lightening bolts. When I would shower at the country club, I never saw anyone defecate in the shower, like I saw in prison. But more than that, I never … You know, in a country club, the people who work there are there to serve you to a degree, and help you, and cater to you, because you’re paying a lot of money. Whereas in a camp, you’re subjugated, basically. You are beholden to staff, and you’re told where to sleep, and you’re told when you can eat, and you’re told when you can go to the chow hall. I think I just said that each chow hall, same thing. You’re differential. You’re patient. So, it’s two totally different mindsets.
But I remember, I lectured all over the country, as you know, on white-collar crime. Every now and again, students will say, “You know, isn’t it worth it maybe try to steal the money if you get a year and a day in a prison camp, and it’s so easy, and … ” I kind of get it, because they might compare it to a country club. As I wanted to convey in that video, I had heard it one too many times because there was this lawyer telling a client like, “Don’t worry. You’re going to jail. It’s a country club. It’s party time.” It’s not. It’s still federal prisons, and it was frustrating to me.
I will never forget, till the day I die, seeing a Hitler tattoo. Not just as a Jew, just for all of humanity it’s incredibly offensive. That was probably the most glaring difference that I’ll always remember.
Isaac Williams: Why do you think that typically the general public has that view? Yeah, you mentioned that lawyer telling his client, you know, it was okay. He was going to a country club, but he couldn’t leave, basically. Why do you think society typically has that view on the federal prison system?
Justin Paperny: Well, what I’d say a couple of minutes ago, right? What’s a similarity between prison and a country club? A tennis court, right? Some people hear the tennis court, and there’s a volleyball court, and there’s a basketball court, and there’s a softball field, so those are a lot of things that are like in a country club. They see no fences or bars, which is the case with a minimum security camp. They just figure it’s kind of like big boy timeout for a little while.
Many years ago, there was this article, maybe the ’80s or ’90s. CNN or ABC did this big piece on minimum security camps. There was like swimming pools, and tennis courts, and everything basically, but golf. If there was golf, I would’ve played it. But basically, everything but golf. People, there’s just this perception. It’s a white-collar country club. Because some of the sentences are so brief, you know, you steal $5, $10, or $15 million, big numbers, for a variety of reasons. You pay the money back, you cooperate, you accept responsibility, a whole host of reasons, you can get a very short sentence. They say, “Well, you’re going to a country club for a little while.”
I will tell you this, the easiest part of the sanction is federal prison. It’s clearly defined with a beginning and an end. The hardest part, my friend, is coming home with a sullied reputation. I hope through this video you’ll always think clearly. The reason I sent you my books, you’ll think clearly about every decision you make and how it can influence the rest of your life. Had I done that, I wouldn’t have gone to jail, and we wouldn’t be doing this video. So, perceptions of it being a country club are not true, and it’s important you know that.
Isaac Williams: Yes, sir. Do you feel as if the federal prison system has fully rehabilitated you?
Justin Paperny: My sentence was so … For me, yeah, I guess. It actually worked in my case, right? It did its job. I went to prison for 18 months. I think I came out as tax payers would expect, with values, and skills, and resources that would enable me to pay my restitution, which I still pay every single month, and to build a better life, and to accept responsibility. I’ll admit, I’ve become a little desensitized to prison, because I’ve been talking about it for so long, and now our company at White Collar Advice and Prison Professors has worked with so many wonderful people, it’s not such a big deal to me anymore. It’s my life, right? Kind of like the first you may have hit two home runs in a game, or got three hits in a game, it was a big deal. Then, it’s like you do it 5 or 10 times, it’s like, “Yeah, it’s what I do,” right? You grow used to it.
I would say that I guess it rehabilitated me. But if you look at it on a national average, the rate of recidivism, and how many people go back to prison, you can argue that we could do a better job as a country of rehabilitating and incentivizing prisoners for excellence. I think we can do better, and I think prison reform is going to come with this administration because it’s public safety factor, right? All these people are coming back to our community. 95% of people who go to go prison come home, and if they don’t value, skills, and resources, they’re going to revert to crime and maybe hurt someone we know or love, and us taxes payers will continue to subsidize and warehouse them. It worked for me, but we could still do better as a country.
Isaac Williams: You mentioned prison reform. What do you think are some major areas within the prison system that do need reform?
Justin Paperny: So, my business partner, Shon Hopwood, who’s a confounder of Prison Professors, Shon’s a remarkable man, along with my other partner and mentor, Michael Santos. Shon served 11 years in prison for robbing banks. He was recently featured on 60 Minutes. He’s won two cases in front the Supreme Court. He’s now a professor of law at Georgetown. He’s been advising this administration on prison reform and how we can incentivize excellence.
As Michael Santos wrote through the 26 years he served in federal prison, too often we judge success or release by the turning of calendar pages. You go in on June, you’re going to go home in December or by whatever it might be. There’s no excellence or metrics associate with getting home sooner. So, I would propose, and I think real reform would include earning your way out. In fact, one of Michael’s books is Earning Freedom, earning your way home. That’s what tax payers want, I think. So, that is what I’m hoping will happen with reform, measurements, and objective measurements that enable prisoners who are working hard to obtain early release, white collar, drug offenders, any crime, frankly. That what I hope.
Isaac Williams: Sir, well, thank you so much for answer all of my questions for me. Thank you again for sending me both of your books.
Justin Paperny: I will tell you the sequel, unfortunately, Ethics in Motion, apparently, is not nearly as good as the first one. I know you’re busy. I know you play sports, so if you have a chance to read either of the two, I’d probably read Lessons from Prison if you have the time.
Isaac Williams: Yes, sir. Actually, when I told my teacher, my English teacher, that you sent me your books, he told me that I’m required to read them for my secondary research. I told him that was not going to be a problem at all. I’d already started with Lessons from Prison.
Justin Paperny: Well, that means a great deal to me. Part of the reason … Some of the first talks I ever did when I got out of prison, before I was going to great places, like the FBI or NYU, I was going to local high schools to speak. It was hard and a little difficult, and certainly a little humbling, but I know that it impacted some of the students to think more about the consequences of bad choices. I’ll say to you as we close, I guess the main takeaway from my talks and something that I hope will influence you as you advance towards your very productive life, before any time you send a text message, any time you send an email, any time you engage in a business deal, if you think about how that email, text, or conversation could influence your life 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 30, or 40 years from now, you’ll never make bad decisions like I did, short-sighted decisions that may enrich you today. But, what’s the point of making a ton of money today if it’s to your long-term detriment?
I’m sure that’s not different than what your … You know, your father’s done it the right as a successful advisor. I had that opportunity. Many of the wonderful people with whom our company works did not have bad intentions. They’re good people that didn’t wake up with intentions to hurt people, but we lack character when faced with tough choice. I hope my books and this video will help you do better and you live the life that I know you’re working towards. Thanks very much for reaching out to me. I hope we can stay in touch.
Isaac Williams: Thank you very much, sir.
Justin Paperny: My pleasure, bud.
P.S. Text “QUICKLY” to 44222 for a free copy of our new book, How To Master Prison Quickly.