Last week, someone called to tell me I was only successful because I went to federal prison young, met Michael Santos in prison, was raised with money, and because I’m Jewish, “I must be good in business and at making money.”

When someone questions my success, I see an opportunity to teach. That is the purpose of this blog…

For clarity, there is some truth in his message: meeting Michael was transformative, as I better explain in the updated preface of Lessons From Prison (available on next week!) In sum, Michael helped me accept responsibility and taught me how to recalibrate through crisis. He encouraged me to share my plans with the world. By putting my goals online, I invited people to hold me accountable. It helped that I saw him lead the way everyday.

Some individuals might not see the benefit of creating a release plan, or they might be influenced by fools who dismiss the importance of developing a release plan to share with their network or stakeholders. If you’re among this group, that’s okay—our goal is to help you grasp the potential consequences of this perspective. (Sorry mom! Even at 49 years old she will call to me I should not use the word “fools”).

Yesterday, I got a message from someone in our community.

Someone called him selling swampland in Florida—guaranteeing prison placement, home confinement within two weeks and more nonsense. That person also said my release plan was worthless and too long.

Here’s part of what I told them: “My success in federal prison and after was because I documented my progress in a release plan. Do you think USC or Stanford or the FBI invited me to speak because they liked me? No. They saw my work and my release plan. Mississippi State Professor, Mark Lehman, called me in 2011 after reading my plan. That led to an event you benefited from.”

The irony is my release plan is now about 2,000 pages. The longer it gets with more evidence of change, the more successful I become. Do the opposite of what fools tell you—make it longer, grow the plan, assuming you want more liberty. Too long. My goodness.”

Let’s get back to the person who called me. He went to federal prison for two years for a failed cryptocurrency investment and owes $1.2 million to more than 50 investors. Even though he pleaded guilty, the mistake was not his: he blamed China, who he said created COVID (the irony, of course, is Bitcoin was $7,300 when Covid exploded and a year later was around $46,000), and his investors turned victims for not being more patient.

He complained about not getting medical treatment in prison after a softball injury and wants to sue the BOP for poor medical treatment.

I asked him, “How many days a week did you play softball in prison?”

He said, “Oh yeah, you and Santos hate softball, I read your Times piece.”

I told him, “I like softball. I’m just asking how playing softball five days a week in prison is helping you now. As much as I like softball, I liked learning to overcome my crime even more. It was a values play, nothing more. You should start documenting your progress. It is never too late!”

“No chance, nothing I do matters. People won’t read it anyways,” he said. (It is startling how many times I have heard that.)

If you want to succeed after a criminal charge, avoid people who always find an excuse and people who tell you that documenting your journey is a waste of time.

Learn to accept responsibility, never blame and never take the bait! That’s what inspires people and gets you on the path to success, as you define it. To learn more, watch this 55-second YouTube short I filmed about an encounter at my high school reunion.

If you are too busy to watch, the text is posted below:

“White-collar defendants. If you’re home from federal prison, do not, I repeat, do not take the bait. Here’s what happened. A few years ago, I went to my 25-year high school reunion. So I’m running into dudes and they’re like, hey, man, I heard you went to prison. Did you make it out alive? I’m like, alive. I’m standing right here. They’re said, I know, but it was prison. I never expected you to go to federal prison. You were a baseball player in high school. I’m like, I also thought I would never go to federal prison. Then a couple of them were hey, I know you didn’t do anything wrong. I know you were the fall guy. I know that it was UBS’s fault and they made an example out of you. And I’m like, hold on a second. I haven’t seen you in 25 years. I may not see you for another 25 years, but if you take one thing away from our time today, let me be really clear. Dude, I did it. I made a mistake., was held accountable and I went to prison. It was all my fault. If you’re going through this system, people are going to give you an opportunity to take the bait, to blame, an excuse. You can take it and look weaker. Or you can say, I made bad decisions. I was held accountable. This is what I’ve learned. Life is great and this is what I’m doing moving forward.”

Mom look away! Defendants if you are in crisis, ignore the fools and document your journey. It makes all the difference.


Justin Paperny

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