Before my prison term, I was not an introspective man. Yet, that year on the inside really forced me to look inward and make some changes. That year shaped who I am. It’s defined the rest of my life in good ways. And I hope you have a similar experience if you’re going through the federal prison system. And I think to have that experience, you need to engage in and you need to create really good habits. So the goal of this video is to share some destructive habits that I saw during my prison term.

I’m not saying all of these habits will apply to you. I hope none of them do, but maybe one of them does. And it will help you. I want to share some habits that I saw during my prison term that were destructive. Of course, I’ve been doing this now in our team for 13 years, so I’ve heard a lot of these same stories since my release. And I want to share some ideas on how to kick these habits.

Bad Habit #1 – Too much complaining:

The first habit that I heard prisoners engage in each and every day was complaining too much to their family, to their loved ones, those that love and support them. And as you know, imprisonment is harder on those that love and support us. When we call home from prison, it’s a really big deal. They’re waiting for the phone to ring. They put so much effort into visitation. They get your email. Wow, it’s such a big deal. So you’re going to get desensitized to imprisonment, to standing for count, and the food and the job and the routine, but they’re never really going to get adjusted. So when you call home, if you’re having a terrible day and you’re mad and you’re angry, I hate to tell you to lie. Fake it to make it. Tell them things are great. I’m strong. As Michael Santos taught me to tell when I called home, tell your mom and dad you’re one day closer to home. So do not complain when you call home, because it can really derail their progress.

Also, some people in prison, this may sound crazy to some of you, are having fantastic times. I mean, sometimes too much fun. A lot of exercise, reading, writing, gambling, sports. If you want to play softball four days a week, federal prison is the place to do it. But yet, they’re having the time of their life and they call home, and part that I think they feel forgotten. They want to make it seem harder, like it is. And they’ll say, “Oh, it’s so hard. And if it wasn’t for you, I would do this and that.” And then they create fear. They stoke fear in their family. And again, it will derail the rest of their day. So no complaining during your prison term, I beg you.

Bad Habit #2 – Begging for more halfway house time:

A second problem I saw, or habit I saw was begging for halfway house time. I filmed that video, Federal Judges Hate This . Judges don’t like when you ask for probation. I assure you judges know you want probation. What record have you created to prove worthy of probation? It’s really no different if you’re in custody. Do not stand outside of your case manager’s office like a dog begging for a treat, begging for more halfway house time. It will work against you. They know it. Instead, rather than beg and ask and create this habitual habit of it, just demonstrate why you’re worthy of it.

In our work, we talk a lot about creating content. Now you need to have different content for each stage of the journey. The content for a probation officer will be different for a judge. That content for a case manager may be different for a probation officer. So once we hammer out what type of content we’re going to produce, we can then use that to influence the case manager. For example, we have two current clients, Scott Laney and David Litman, who have created beautiful websites and are documenting their journey through struggling through confinement. And I can assure you their case manager is going to review their blogs. They’re upbeat. They’re positive. They’re talking about lessons learned, how they miss their family, and they’re proving worthy of a second chance. So don’t beg. Instead kick the habit of begging by creating content that is going to influence them. You’ve got to do the work rather than just asking.

Bad Habit #3 – Offering unsolicited advice:

A third bad habit is offering unsolicited advice. I only saw a few fights during my prison term. This fight was kind of more like a white collar guy got his face slapped. We were standing in line to the chow hall and this was during the market meltdown of 2009 when banks were imploding and they were getting bailed out by the US government, and a long-term prisoner said, “If we’re going to bail out, JP Morgan, why don’t we bail out Circuit City? Circuit City is my favorite store. Let’s bail them out.” And some prisoner standing in line to go into the chow hall in an unsolicited manner said, “Let me walk you through why the bank shouldn’t bail out Circuit City.” And that’s when federal prison goes bad.

Avoid the habit of offering unsolicited advice, frankly, even when they’re friends of yours or you think they’re friends of yours, because prison’s emasculating. We’re without women, and people are sending us money, and many are insecure, and have some mental health issues. So be very careful about offering unsolicited advice. It could be off putting. It could lead to problems. Just keep your mouth shut.

Now the one time you can offer advice, I think, is if you teach a course.

So we have clients through our team Compliance Mitigation, Prison Professors and White Collar Advice. We create courses that gets disseminated to prisons and jails. In these courses that we can create, the prisoner should teach the course. It’s better than scrubbing toilets and showers for a job. Go get approved in education to teach your course. People are then going to sign up. You have permission to teach. They’re coming for your advice. I think that’s the only time you should offer advice.

Bad Habit #4 – Caring what other people think:

Another habit that is detrimental during a prison term is giving too much concern to what people think about you. And I saw some prisoners who had good ideas, who were really working to prepare, and whose routines got derailed by other people telling them it’s a bad idea. It’s not going to work out. It’s a waste of time. Don’t nobody care that you’re a felon. And they would really encourage that person to pivot. We’re all influenced by what people think. I mean, I know people say it, but I just don’t think it makes sense. I mean, it’s just, we’re human beings, and prison is really a microcosm of society. So to the extent that you can stay focused on your own routine and avoid the habit of being influenced by what other people think, you’re going to be more successful. And in a way you have to derive some satisfaction in doing the right thing, you have to derive satisfaction in that process of creating your own routine of spending time alone.

Like Michael Santos, my business partner. When I began to form a friendship with him, people said to me, “Dude, that dude’s crazy. He’s been in jail for 22 years. Do you see that he’s always smiling? Do you know that he wakes up at 1:00 AM in the morning? He’s nuts. Why are you spending time with him?” And I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t know. He seems pretty smart. And he’s helping me. And he’s done a lot through prison.” But even then in those early days, people were influencing me to not spend time with Michael Santos. Maybe they were jealous, maybe they had good intentions, or maybe they literally thought he was nuts. I had to make my own decision. Of course, that decision to associate and work and learn from him changed my life. And you speak with any of our clients on our team who have worked with Michael Santos, you know what they’re going to say to you? The dude has changed my life.

But by making my own decisions finally, not by being influenced by what other people thought finally, really put me on this path to have an introspective, wonderful experience through custody. So it will derail your experience if you’re so concerned with what other people think. You’re never going to see them again. You’re not going to talk to them again. Nobody really cares. The more you stand out, the more unique you are, the more people are going to admire you, respect you. And I’ve learned that over the last 12 or 13 years.

Bad Habit #5 – Reading without a purpose:

Another habit that is somewhat frustrating, even for clients of ours who have MBAs, who have Doctorate degrees, who are very educated, have made a lot of money, who are very smart: reading without a purpose. So you could read 50 books in prison, you could read a hundred books in prison, and that’s great. And I get those calls from people who are home from prison. They tell me how much they read. And I’ll say, “Well, what was the most impactful book? Why? Why did you read it? What did you learn from it? How will it help you upon your release?”

And many of them can’t share those insights with me. So a bad habit you have to break is just reading without a purpose. You might as well go to the TV room and watch a movie. It’s kind of the same thing. So I think you should read books that relate to the life you’d like to live when you come home, to develop skills that will help you when you come home, and books where there’s retention. You’re actually writing book reports or taking notes from the book.

Perhaps in the YouTube description here, I’ll put up a book report that I wrote from a book while in prison. I fell into that same trap. I used to tell Michael, I read this book. He’s like, “What did you learn from it? Why did you read it? How will it help you?” And I’m like, Hmm. He’s like, “What’s your note taking strategy? What if you need to refer to something you read in a book nine years from now, and you don’t remember what book it is and you’re going to spend hours going through? You’re like, Hmm, very good point. So reading without a purpose during your prison term and not having a note taking strategy can be disastrous. I think it’s a habit you need to break.

Bad Habit #6 – Gambling:

Additionally, gambling. Sounds so obvious. Everyone with whom I speak before they go to prison, say, “Justin, I’m not stupid. I’m not going to engage in disciplinary infractions. I’m not going to get into trouble. I’m not going to make mistakes.” Then you get comfortable in this environment, and you think you’ve kind of mastered this environment. Then you think, how can I begin to manipulate this environment by way of the person hustle or gambling, whether it’s cards or betting on sports and whatnot. So I encourage all of you, do not get into the habit of gambling. Eventually you’re going to get caught. Some informant may turn you into staff so they can get more halfway house time. You’re going to lose commissary, lose visitation, potentially get a new charge, potentially get transferred. It’s a whole nightmare. Avoid the habit of gambling. You got to avoid it.

Bad Habit #7 – Too much exercise:

Another destructive habit is too much exercise. Now I say this, just having finished a long run on Tuesday, January 1st. But it was not a run that’s going to take eight hours. It was six miles over one hour. Then I’m going to go on with my day. A destructive habit in prison is too much exercise, like eight hours a day, 10 hours a day. There are people who will exercise 15 hours a day, walking the track. Here’s part of the problem. One, when you come home, you’re not going to be able to exercise eight hours a day. So you need to exercise in dosages you can maintain when you come home. And if you haven’t created the habit of effective exercise and eating habits, the majority of people, when they come home from prison, put all of the weight back on, including some of our clients.

Some of the toughest calls I’ve had with clients upon their release from federal prison, or maybe three to six months after they’re released from federal prison is, “Damn, I put the weight back on. That was like my biggest accomplishment in prison.” And if we retraced through introspection, what they did, they’ll say, “Yeah, I was walking the track for eight hours a day. I can’t do that now, dude. I got a job. I got bills. I got a probation officer that’s breathing down my neck.” So you’ve got to also, besides the gambling, which is a totally disruptive habit, exercise and in dosages you can maintain, creating healthy habits.

Bad Habit #8: Never start preparing for life after the prison term ends:

And the last habit I want you to avoid, and something that was pervasive on the inside. And this comes back to not caring what people think, because in time people began to say that I was crazy and a little nuts by running so much every single day. I didn’t wake quite as early as Michael Santos. That was a little nutty. I mean, he’d get up at 1:00 AM. But I began to get up at 4:00 AM and work alongside him. Sometimes alone, a lot of time with him. The habit you’ve got to kick is delaying till you have like six months left or a year left on your sentence. And in a separate video, I talked about the three stages of a federal prison term, the U shaped Curve. I’ll put up a link to that as well. I think you should watch that video.

But a lot of prisoners get there. They settle in, they get adjusted. And before you know it, it becomes a routine of table games and tennis and sports and TV, and habits are a hard thing to shake. I mean, look at things in your life, things that you say you’re going to do, changes you want to make. I constantly fail. I have goals of reading more, and drinking less coffee, and drinking more water, and spending more time with my children. Yet, sometimes I find myself consumed with work and growth in these areas. I fail consistently, but I’m trying to improve. I’m not waiting. I’m constantly taking action. Like when I want to create goals, I don’t wait until January 1st. I’ll say, I’m going to do it today, June 7th, whatever.

So what I want you to do is not wait. It will destroy your prison term. If you wait until say six months to the house, which is prison parlance for six months to the halfway house, by then, you will never start. And then what happens is you try to play catch-up, and then you reason, “Well I’m in prison, there’s nothing I’m going to do anyway. Kick the can down the road. I’m going to start at this time. And then this time.” Then you come home, you shake hands with your probation officer, and he or she says, “Go across the street and get that job for 15 bucks.” No disrespect to a job for $15. When I came home from prison, that’s what I did.

But the probation officer’s going to say, “You owe restitution. Go get a job for 15 bucks.” And you’re going to say, “Well, I’m self-employed, I’m an entrepreneur. I work from home. I have this business.” And they’re going to say, “Well, I don’t care. Go get a job for 15 bucks.”

So then this comes back to how you adjust earlier in routine of not caring what people think, of reading for the purpose of developing your plans, developing your business, creating that content specifically for a case manager and probation officer when you shake his or her hand. As I did in the halfway house, you can hand him or her a book that demonstrate what you did while in custody, what you’re hoping to do with the rest of your life. And rather than seeking permission, may I, please, I beg you, you’ve shown through your own efforts while you are worthy of that job, worthy of them giving you a little bit of a leash, to stick with that dog analogy I used earlier in the video, I think.

You’re worthy of why you should go be self-employed. You’re worthy of them giving you some time. But if you don’t have that record, and if you don’t demonstrate why you’re worthy of it, you’re going to get a $15 an hour job.

And that’s why some people in the halfway house or on probation say, “Damn, I should have turned it down. I wish I was still in federal prison.” And then guess what? That comes back to item number one, complaining, because that’s only going to make it harder for your family. Because I can assure you, you’re going to complain when you don’t have the job that you want.

So I can go on for days and days. I will not. Thanks for watching this video on Tuesday, June 1st, 2021. I hope this video about destructive habits and how you can shake them, helps you have a very productive prison term. Of course, if you find value in these videos, subscribe. You can still get Lessons From Prison for free. All you have to do is invest the time to read it. And if you’d like to schedule a call with our team, click the schedule call button. I’m going to go spend the day with my business partner, Michael Santos, and work. Goodbye.

Justin Paperny

P.S. If you have questions about your upcoming prison term, reach out for help. Click here to schedule a call.