January 6, 2019

I’ve been working on a white collar crime show with a writer and executive producer I respect. Odds of bringing a new show to market are low. Still, it happened once with the movie I made with NBC Universal and Esquire. If it were to happen again, this would be the time and the people to do it with. I will not get into their resumes, but both have impressive resumes that give me hope this could happen.

While having lunch with them at the Beverly Glen Deli they asked me, “what are some things that really smart white collar defendants do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?” I immediately¬†rattled off some answers, then told them I loved their question so much I would write a blog and film a video on the subject.

Later today I will film the video, 9 Smart Things White Collar Defendants Do.

I will post the video to our White Collar Advice Youtube channel on Monday, January 7th.

This blog will provide a quick summary of the 9 smart things white-collar defendants to. I may also use this blog in my video as a reference–time will tell!

Okay, so let’s get going with 9 things all smart white collar defendants do…

#9: Ask Tough Questions

smart white collar defendants

Smart white collar defendants learn how to ask tough questions and they do not buy into myths about what their life will be like as a convicted felon. Four days ago a white collar defendant told me, “My lawyer said I could never be a lawyer because of my conviction. That sucks, right? I always wanted to go to law school.”

Keep in mind going to law school and becoming a lawyer are two different things.

Still, this white collar defendant should have followed up with, “What makes you say that? Do you know of a specific law that precludes a felon from going to law school or becoming a lawyer? After all, Shon Hopwood is a lawyer.”

Another example–AN ACTUAL VOICE MESSAGE I RECEIVED FROM A MEDICAL SALES REP IN COLUMBUS, OHIO. (Note, I am now working with this person and I got permission to share this).

“Justin, hi this is (insert name) calling. I am really bummed. I watched the videos you guys filmed with Judge Bough and Judge Bennett. Great stuff. After watching the videos I sent an email to my lawyer asking him to send my narrative to my probation officer, just as Judge Bennett said. My lawyer told me he has never had a client turn in a narrative at the probation interview and it would not help anyway. Totally sucks but it is what it is. Thanks.”

Wait, what??!! That is it? Give up? Cliches…That is it? The lawyer says no and we give up–despite the overwhelming benefits of turning in the narrative? Not on my clock!

I called back and left a message that went like this.

‘Hey (insert name), thank you for calling me. I am really pleased to know you find value in our work. But to be clear you will only get the benefit of our work if you take appropriate action. Thinking is great but the key is implementation. I thought about running 10 miles this morning. It did not happen until I did it. My point? Take action and ask better questions. Do not give up. If you take one thing from this message let it be this: ask better questions and learn how to hold people you hire accountable. Please grab a pen. I will wait. Okay, write this down. After you have written it down send this to your lawyer.

‘Hi (insert laywer name), your message confused me. The personal narrative was written in part to influence Judge (insert name) at my sentencing. If I wrote a narrative to influence Judge (insert name), does it not also make sense to give the narrative to the probation officer who will make a recommendation on how long I should serve in federal prison?

In fact, a federal judge on Youtube said it would really impress him if he saw that a defendant showed up to their probation interview with their narrative. Frankly, if this letter is going to Judge (insert name) it seems illogical we would not send it to the probation officer–and prosecutor. For these reasons please send my narrative to the probation officer.

I hope you found this message helpful. If you would like to speak call me.


He called. He hired us. The letter got to the probation officer. It will help him.


#8: Understand Their Tendencies

Are you a people pleaser? Can you be easily influenced? Are you arrogant, dogmatic or tough to reason with? Are you afraid to take a stand? Do you purposely avoid confrontation?

Smart white collar defendants embrace their tendencies and seek to understand them–then improve them.

  • How many reading this blog did not have bad intent, yet ended up immersed in the jaws of the wretched criminal justice system?

Can you be exploited again? Can you be swept in again? Learning to understand our tendencies is something all successful white collar defendants do.

To learn more, read this blog I wrote on the subject.

#7: Understand the End Game

When I met Michael Santos in federal prison he asked me, “what does success look like for you?“.

My response? “Good question. My focus now is decompressing for a bit…I have been fighting my case for 3 plus years ( I was looking for sympathy I did not get!). Also, I may want to learn Spanish. I took Spanish through my senior year at USC (I was name dropping USC to impress him. It did not seem to impress him). Other than that maybe lose some weight. Hang out. All good.”

“When you have interest in clearly defining some goals and understanding what the rest of your life will look like because you are a felon who served time in federal prison, let me know,” Michael said.

smart white collar defendants

Well, if you have read Lessons From Prison you know what happened next. I spent all day every day focusing on the end game; namely coming home from federal prison better, stronger and more prepared than when I entered.

If you wish to succeed in this endeavor focus on the end game, then take action. If you are obsessed about the end game (as I was), you will push yourself to work on days you would rather do something else.

#6: Recognize This Is Harder on The Family

Smart white collar defendants understand this experience is harder on those that love and support them. Embracing that reality will minimize complaining from the inside of federal prison. I will share a specific example in the video I film…

#5: Focus On What They Can Control

In federal prison, I wrote a class about this subject. In sum, smart white collar defendants recognize there are only so many things they can control. Federal prisoners or white collar defendants cannot control the one-sided press releases the Department of Justice may release. Perhaps we cannot control our bunk or job or the people with whom we share space.

What we can do, however, is control our attitude. We can control what time we wake, how we treat our family, how we use our free time and how we work to create a new record as a law-abiding citizen.

Let me remind you that as a white collar criminal I am fully aware of the stigma (oh my gosh you were in prison, you look so normal), but through deliberate and constant practice I have learned to let go of what I cannot control and focus on what I can. Now to be clear letting go does not mean we do not care.

As an example, while we may not be able to control the press release the government issues we can control how we hold our lawyer accountable (see #9 above). We can control how we take care of our body and mind. We can control how we respond to our family (see #6 above).

Successful and smart white collar defendants learn to focus on what they can control. If you wish to be successful, follow their lead.

#4: Focus on Resouces They Have

One of my tendencies while fighting my case was to focus on all I lost as a result of my conviction. For example, I used to tell my good friend, Sam Pompeo:

1: I lost my ability to sell stocks.
2: I may lose my ability to sell real estate.
3: These lawyers have taken me for hundreds of thousands–I could use those resources to rebuild.
4: I have imperiled my ability to do deals and raise money for buildings we may want to buy–I was buying and selling apartment buildings before I surrendered to federal prison.
5: I will soon lose my freedom.
6: and more

Rather than obsess over what I lost or was losing, I should have focused on the resources I had remaining. What were those resources?

1: A loving family…
2: My competitive drive…
3: Discipline and an ability to just buckle down and work, work, work.
4: Youth. I was only 33 when I went to federal prison.
5: Perspective–as bad as I had it, I knew most defendants had it worse.
6: That I had the ability to use struggle as a path to self-improvement. (In federal prison I read the work of Epictetus who echoed the same thoughts).

If you are reading this stop focusing on what you do not have and focus on what you do have.

I am about to use a cliche–any reader of mine knows I loathe cliches. But I guess they are cliches for a reason.

Here it goes…If you approach each day believing the glass is truly half full rather than half empty you will feel better. I believe that. It could always be worse. Focus on what you have, as stoical as that sounds.

3 Stages of A Federal Prison Term

smart white collar defendants

#3: Embracing Reality Leads To Ethical and Authentic Rebranding

It was either in Rand’s Philosophy: Who Needs It or in Atlas Shrugged that she wrote: “You can avoid reality but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”

Experience as an executive and federal prison consultant for more than 10 years tells me that smart white collar defendants know exactly what they are trying to achieve or acquire. They do not meander around aimlessly hoping that things will just magically work out. We cannot pursue this path to achievement if we are avoiding the reality of our new life.

We cannot pretend the Department of Justice has not issued scathing releases or that banks like Bank of America shut down our accounts. It is impossible to avoid the stigma that comes from serving time in federal prison. Or as I wrote a moment ago, you can try to avoid it but you cannot avoid the consequences of living like the proverbial ostrich that lives with his head buried in the sand.

Smart white collar defendants embrace reality, then they take action to rebrand, rebuild and to create a new record. As I wrote in my first book, they embrace the slow and steady wins the race approach. Over time that branding and value-based content will trump the one-sided version of events the Department of Justice currently owns.

#2: Appreciate What Cannot Be Taken Away

I have not seen the research, but I am sure it exists somewhere. If you can start your day with a win, you will feel better. For example, I run three-four days a week at 5:00am. Some runs are hard, brutal, even miserable. Sometimes the runs are wonderful, easy and almost life-changing.

Regardless of how I feel during the run, when I am done I feel a great sense of accomplishment. Regardless of what happens that day, that run and the feeling I have cannot be taken away from me.

Smart white collar defendants find time in their day where they complete tasks that cannot be taken away. That time for me is the early morning where I am more driven, energetic and focused.

What is your perfect time?

I suggest the mornings because accomplishing things early gets me going for the whole day. When I exercise in the morning, I tend to eat better throughout the day. And so on…

If you win the morning or accomplish things each day you will feel better and build a solid record over time (see #3 above) with a lot of wins. No one can take those wins away from us!!

#1: Remain patient and embrace done is better than perfect.

Smart white collar defendants are patient. When I surrendered to federal prison I wanted it all: a new career, a new body, a new reputation, a wife, kids, more money, etc, etc.

My goals were so overwhelming I did not know where to start.

Rather than try to accomplish my goals in one day, I set an agenda that would take days, weeks and even years. That agenda started by identifying what I could today! Perhaps it was running three miles, or reading a book on ethics that would help me better understand both the motivations behind my decisions and the decisions themselves. Perhaps it was writing a letter to a University from federal prison offering advice to business students.

smart white collar defendants

Patience and a clearly defined plan allowed me to stay the course and gain momentum over time.

To close, successful defendants embrace the mantra done is better than perfect.

Could this blog be written better? Sure…

Are there some typoss? Probably…

Do I have some tenses incorrect? Perhaps…

Could I spend hours and hours and hours refining to the point where it is perfect? I guess, but why?

One of my most valuable resources is my time. Smart white collar defendants recognize that same fact. As I reflect back on my work, there are a number of things I could have done differently. In fact, when I read some of the blogs I wrote from federal prison, I am stunned at some of the messages I was conveying and in some cases how poorly I conveyed them. But I did as best I could at the time. I am no different today.

As long as I am patient, authentic and stay focused on my mission to provide value to good people in struggle, done will always be better than perfect.

Justin Paperny

P.S. Wondering what it takes to work with me? It starts by scheduling a call here.