Going to Club Fed?
Hi. It’s Justin Paperny with White Collar Advice, and I’m very grateful to be with you today. Today, for the second time, I’m going to attempt to film a video on the subject of is federal prison camp like a club fed or country club? I originally filmed this video at a sushi restaurant in Studio City last week called Kiwami. The reason I’m not sharing that video with you is because I filmed the video, and I didn’t save it. It’s actually the second time in the last year I’ve filmed a video, and I didn’t save it, so I have to redo it, which I hate doing.
I look at my videos like my prison blogs. I have thoughts. I want to share them. I do one take on them, and I get them out to the world.
Certainly sometimes I look back at videos and say, “I could have said that a little better. Could have said it differently, a little more clearly. I could have done an edit.” This is a video blog: I hope that it helps you.
I was on a phone call last week with my client and his lawyer. This lawyer, who’s a very good lawyer whom I like, began to deviate into some subjects that he should not be deviating to which is prison advice. Naturally my client is concerned about going to federal prison; he doesn’t want to go to prison. I think the lawyer, in trying to help him, kept saying, “It’s fine. You’re going to a club fed, a country club. It’s boring. You’re going to club fed.”
He said it again and again and again. I didn’t interrupt him. It wasn’t my chance to speak. He just kept going on and on and on. I know he had good intentions. This lawyer actually charges by the hour, and a part of me was thinking, “You know, I don’t think this lawyer should be charging $750 an hour to be giving advice about federal prison that’s totally inaccurate.” It’s part of the reason lawyers send so many of their clients to White Collar Advice. That initial thought came to my mind.
But more than the money, it was that my client has mistakenly believed, through repeatedly hearing this from the lawyer, that this is a country club setting that he’s going to. Now let me be clear. Over the years, I’ve received a lot of messages from defendants, both good and bad who have said to me, “Oh, Justin. You were in a federal prison camp. It was a piece of cake. It was Disneyland,”.
I was in a medium, a low, the penitentiary. I was in transit for a long time.
I understand many of you watching this have had experiences that are measurably harder than mine, measurably more difficult than me. I’m not comparing. I am indeed painting with a very broad stroke. Generally speaking on the subject, is a federal prison camp a country club? I’m not comparing a camp to your experience or your journey. I want to make that really, really clear, because every now and again, I do get these messages, some not so polite, about how your experience was just so much tougher than mine. I’m not going to get into my difficulties here or my successes or failures here, again, because you are not here to learn about me.
You are here to emerge from this experience successfully. Part of the reason why I want to convey that I don’t think a federal prison camp is a country club is because if you think it is a country club, you can get lazy. You can get complacent. You may stop preparing as hard as you should. I’ll give you a baseball analogy. When I was at USC, there were some players on my team that should have had long and lasting careers in the big leagues, but some of them knew they were the chosen one. Some of them thought they didn’t have to work as hard. Some of them knew regardless of how poorly they played, they were going to get drafted early, and they did. But at some point, the cream, as the cliché says, rises to the top. Many of them who presumed they were going to make it in the big leagues did not.
I want all of you to take the approach that my best friend Brad Fullmer took who I graduated high school with, who visited me twice a month in prison. You want to talk about friends. Wow. While some friends run, he came closer. Brad played in the big leagues for eight or nine years, and he said to me when he worked so hard throughout the season and off season, “JP, I never want to look back with regret. I never want to look back and say I could have worked one day harder. This is my chance in life. I want to seize it.”
To all of you, if you think it’s a country club or club fed, if you think it’s easy, if you think it’s a piece of cake, it could prevent you from working as hard as you should.
I began to articulate that to this white collar defense lawyer and my client on this phone call minutes before I was due to have lunch at this really awesome sushi restaurant in Studio City. I stepped in. I began rattling off these things to the lawyer, and following the phone call with this lawyer, I actually said, “This could be a really great video. I want to share these in a YouTube video,” so pulled out a copy of Ethics in Motion and I wrote down really like 10 or 11 reasons of why a federal prison camp is not a country club. Essentially everything that I just said to the lawyer. That’s what I’m going to get into now on this video. 10 reasons or so that a federal prison camp is not a country club. Again, as a disclosure, I recognize some of you watching this may have had a measurably different experience than me or my clients. I’m not comparing it. I’m speaking generally, comparing a federal prison to a country club, so let’s jump right in.
#10 Reason a Federal Prison Camp is Not A Club Fed: Weeks to respond to a request.
Okay, in a country club, generally if you have a problem and you have a question, they’re probably going to tend to it pretty quickly. Well, in a federal prison camp for example, they can wait weeks and months, as crazy as that sounds, to respond to a request. What could those requests be? Visitation. It is troubling when prisoners surrender and their families should immediately be approved to visit because they’re in the PSR, but the case manager or counselor may want your family to still fill out the visitation form. Fine. You send the form. The family immediately sends it back, and then you wait.
The family wants to visit. One week goes by. Two weeks goes by. Three weeks go by. Then you go in and ask your counselor, “Hello. Have you received the visitation forms?” They look at you like, “What are you doing here? What’s the problem?” “Oh, I’m sorry to bother you. My wife and three children would love to come and visit me. They sent in the visitation form several weeks ago. Have you received them?” It’s like you’re such a burden to them, such a distraction to them that you’re actually asking them, and it can take weeks. Same thing setting up the phone sometimes or the email in a variety of ways. That is one clearly defined way that a country club is measurably different, in my opinion, than a federal prison camp.
#9 Reason a Federal Prison Camp is Not a Club Fed; Rewarding Performace
I think this might have been number six as I said it to the lawyer on the phone. Again, I was rattling them off, because I was a little bothered that the lawyer said this so many times, but it’s number nine on my list. From six to nine, number nine, reward performance. In a country club, generally, if you’re the club champion, you get a better parking spot. You’re going to be recognized with your name on the board as the top golfer or tennis player, whatever, something like that. In a federal prison camp, there is no rewarding of performance. Frankly, they don’t care if you spend your full day watching TV, watching the Kardashians, watching Sons of Anarchy, football. Sons of Anarchy was a really popular show when I was in prison. They don’t care if you sleep all day. They don’t care if you spend all day writing a book, like my book, Lessons from Prison, which you should get for free here. Don’t buy it.
They treat you the same. I’m not saying we should be treated any differently. We’re federal prisoners. We have few rights. We’re serving time. We want to get home. But don’t tell me that a federal prison is akin to a country club, where in a federal prison, if you work hard and excel, you’re going to be rewarded, where in a federal prison, if you work your ass off for 20 hours a day, reading, writing, thinking, growing your network, building a business, doing all the things that tax paying citizens should want to see, everything that a tax paying citizen would want to see means nothing to staff.
By the way, before I get some hate mail about staff, I’m not saying all staff members. I’m speaking generally. Certainly, there are some pockets of staff that care, that go out of their way. I know some of them. I do work with pretrial supervision in Los Angeles. I teach a class called Keys to Successful Incarceration. I’ve lectured at the FBI. I’ve done a number of events with them. I’m not indicting every single staff member. I want to be clear, but generally speaking, come on. I’ve been and prison. Many of you watching this have been to prison. They could care less what you do all day, as long as you are avoiding disciplinary infractions, keeping costs down, and not making them work any harder than they need to.
#8 Reason a Federal Prison Camp is Not a Club Fed: Punishing Everyone
Well, when I was in prison, I remember one time, the microwave wasn’t cleaned well enough apparently. At Taft, there was five or six microwaves. Apparently it wasn’t cleaned well enough, so what did the counselor do? “Remove them all. Let’s punish everyone.” I’m not complaining. At the end of the day, it’s not a huge deal if you don’t have a microwave. Again, I’m simply drawing a conclusion that a federal prison camp is not a country club, because at the country club, if you do something wrong, for example take too many mulligans, you drive on the cart path, or you drive on the course when you’re supposed to be on the cart path, you go to the range without a collared shirt when you’re supposed to, they address you specifically. “Fix it. Change it. Come back when it’s approved.”
In a federal prison camp, everyone gets punished. It’s happened with email. It’s happened with phone. It’s happened with the library. When I was at Taft Camp, there was all of these libraries. Well, the warden deduced that one inmate was using it too frequently. God forbid the inmate was using the typewriter. Wow. He was using it too frequently and in matters that didn’t relate to his legal case. What did he do? Remove the typewriter for absolutely everyone, literally for months. You look over; you see typewriters unused. So number eight, everyone gets in a federal prison camp if one knuckle head does something wrong: measurably different than a country club.
Let’s talk about number #7: Guests are welcome in a country club.
They’re not necessarily welcome in a federal prison camp. I can tell you, my mom’s awesome. When I went to federal prison, I wasn’t married. I didn’t have children. I write a lot about her in my book. I hand wrote my blogs and my book, and she typed them all for me. She did a little editing, too. When I was too hard on myself, I later learned, she removed some things when I was too punishing of myself.
Let’s talk about guests. In a country club, if you go for Mother’s Day brunch or Father’s Day brunch and other events, they welcome you once you get there. “Hi. Mrs. Paperny, nice to see you. Here is your table, et cetera.” That’s what you get in a country club. Well, have any of you visited in a federal prison camp? Have any of you seen how they treat some family members in a federal prison camp? Because my mom, God love her, who is Jewish, conservative, dresses wonderfully, nothing inappropriate — of that I’m sure — when she showed up at Taft Federal Prison Camp several times to see me, for fun, they sent her away, telling her she was dressed inappropriately, the colors or something, several times, to the point where she had to bring extra set of clothes in the car.
Maybe they were punishing her for my blog and my book and my routine. I’m not sure, but I can tell you that they weren’t welcoming of her when she had to go to a local Wal-mart or Target … Was it Wal-mart or Target at Taft? Does it really matter? Several hours of my visitation, waiting and calling: “Where are you? Are you safe?” all because some guard wanted to have a little fun by driving my mother away, or telling her to leave because she was dressed inappropriately.
I hear it all the time, so I encourage families to bring an extra set of clothes in your car. Understand that staff may try to have some fun with you. Understand that staff purposely might try to drive you away, because well, they can. They’re indifferent to their own life, let alone your life. I want to make that point clear, and I articulated that to the lawyer last week when I expressed why federal prison camp is not like a country club or club fed.
#6 Reason A Federal Prison Camp is Not a Club Fed: Arrested and sent to the hole for a hard-boiled egg.
Okay. I suppose in a country club, you can take some things that you’re not allowed to. I don’t know what they would be. I can’t rattle it off the top of my head, but let’s just say you take something that you’re not supposed to. Maybe it’s an extra mulligan. You take some tees. You bring a guest out when you’re not supposed to. You get a cart, and you tell me you’re going to walk, so you don’t pay the $16 cart fee. Let’s just say you do that. Odds are, you’re probably not going to get arrested. Not the hugest deal in the world.
In a federal prison camp however, if you get caught smuggling a hard-boiled egg out of the chow hall, if you get caught smuggling a utensil out of the chow hall, you’re getting arrested. You’re going to the SHU. You’re going to the hole. There should be consequences for cheating or stealing or something, but to the extent that it’s comparable to what would happen in a country club is absolutely insane. There are pitfalls. There are precautions. There are things you absolutely have to do well inside of a country club, excuse me, inside of a prison camp.
If anyone knows my work, I don’t prey on fear. I don’t leverage off the vulnerabilities of defendants. I have more leverage, I have said, as a federal prison consultant, than I ever did as a high-producing money manager on real estate agent. I know when families reach out to me, they’re fearful. They’re nervous, because I was. I was leveraged off of and I was easily exploited, because people told me exactly what I wanted to hear.
There’s nothing to be scared about, regardless of the prison survival products you see online.
There is nothing to be scared about, but still you have to adjust appropriately, still you have to watch more than you talk, still you have to associate with the right people. But back to the point of this blog. To compare the consequences of stealing or taking something from a federal prison camp to a country club is insane.
#5 Reason A Federal Prison Camp is Not a Club Fed: Getting help.
Let me explain. Recently, at this country club, Calabasas Country Club, a gentleman was hit in the eye with a golf ball. He ended up losing his eye, but within moments, staff was tending to him. Police had been called. The ambulance had been called. Within moments, you know, all attention was paid to him. Incredibly different in a federal prison camp. The 21st of March, 2010, my good friend, Andrew Altchuk had an aneurism on the track at Taft Federal Prison Camp, and he died.
Over the years, I’ve had clients hurt themselves in a federal prison camp. Ankles, knees, ACLs. I can tell you this: the treatment that you receive inside of a federal prison camp is sickening. It’s tragic. I know the prison wants to keep costs down, but they do so to the point of unnecessarily hurting inmates and their families. If you are going to go to a federal prison camp, if you think the level of care that you would receive and the responsiveness you’d get in a country club, again, because this lawyer said a hundred times, “It’s like a country club or club fed,” and I’ve heard it all over the years from my lectures from coast-to-coast, from USC to NYU to Penn State to the FBI, Chicago to New York to Atlanta. I’ve lectured all over the country, and I always hear, “What’s the big deal, dude? You’re going to a country club. It’s Club Fed.”
If you think it’s a Club Fed, be prepared that if you get hurt, you’re going to lay there, because inmates can lay there … lie. I still get it wrong. If you get hurt, you’re going to lay there. Inmates can’t pick you up. They can’t touch you, and if you’re in an adjacent, satellite camp with few amenities or resources, you could be waiting a long time, before staff makes its way over. If you are hurt, let me tell you what the remedy is. It’s probably going to be ibuprofen, so to think they’re going to treat you the way that your local hospital would is like believing that Philip Morris doesn’t want you to smoke cigarettes, and McDonald’s really doesn’t want you to eat their Big Macs, because they’re bad for you. It ain’t so. Let logic guide you. Okay, so if you’re going to federal prison, be healthy. Exercise. I’m really against recreational sports: softball, soccer, volleyball. You can get hurt, and you can never recover. I ran a lot, but I ran at my own pace around that dusty track.
#4 Reason A Federal Prison Camp is Not a Club: Staff is indifferent.
Again, I’m not indicting all staff. Occasionally, I get messages from staff that say, “Justin, I was that individual that didn’t care if I got called, “Hug-a-thug,” or stuff like that. I really did work hard.” I have no doubt there are pockets of staff that care, just like there are myriad white-collar defendants who are not greedy, and who are not entitled, and who didn’t wake up with intent to defraud. Staff has a perception of us. We’re greedy. “Is this the first time that you got caught? How many crimes have you committed?” That’s the way that they speak to us, so they have a perception of us, and likewise, I have a perception of them.
They’re pretty much indifferent. They offer cliches and platitudes all around the prison about how they’re going to help you prepare for re-entry. They do that to appease shareholders or government officials, whatever. Generally speaking, they’re indifferent. But they’re not indifferent in a country club. They’re incentivized to take care of members, to get membership growing, to perform, to make you feel valued. They don’t have to value you in a federal prison, but to compare the two is ludicrous.
#3 In a country club, I’d never seen anyone question the Holocaust.
As I wrote in Lessons from Prison, I share an experience where I worked in the kitchen, and there were some gentlemen questioning the existence of the Holocaust. I remember putting on my boots. I had finished my shift. I was putting on my boots. I was lacing them up, and I heard these two imbeciles questioning the existence of the Holocaust, questioning if there was really data. I love when people throw out the word data, because it’s kind of like a smart word, like data-driven, stuff like that. He said, “There’s actually no data that the Holocaust actually existed.” I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t say again. I went back to my dorm, sat down, and I began to write it out. I later wrote that experience in Lessons from Prison. In country clubs, I have never been around someone that questions the existence of the Holocaust.
To that, in number two, country clubs that I have seen, I didn’t see a lot of KKK and swastika tattoos on the neck and back and legs.
I had never seen, in a country club, a tattoo of Hitler or Mussolini, unlike when I was walking that track at Taft Prison Camp, and there were some prisoners. I wrote a blog about it. Maybe I’ll put up a link to it. Maybe I won’t. I wrote a blog about these white supremacists running around the track with their boots on, and they had these lighting bolt tattoos. That’s when I remember thinking, I’m ready to get home.” I remember thinking, “You know, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m ready to get home now. I’d like to be around my family. I’d like to get home.”
As a Jew, someone who is bar mitzvah’d, someone who is married in a temple … I can’t tell you I’m the most religious, but it’s certainly a part of my life. To work in close quarters, and to be around people who question the Holocaust, or to work alongside someone that could have a swastika tattoo was indelibly linked on my mind. I’ll just absolutely never forget it. I just didn’t see that in a country club.
#1 Reason Federal Prison Camp is not A Club Fed— and I say this, not to laugh, but to reiterate, there’s a lot of people in prison there are sick.
The estimates vary, but probably 30 to 40% of the people in federal prison are mentally ill. I would say the number one reason that a federal prison is not a country club or club fed is because in country clubs, men don’t defecate in the showers. I say that not to be funny. A few times, I went and walked in to shower, and boom, right in front of me …
To prove my authenticity, I wrote it in a blog. I still have the original blog that I sent home. I remember sitting on my backless, swivel stool in my cubicle writing that I walked into a shower where someone had defecated. I had a great deal of tolerance and perspective. I didn’t freak out, and I didn’t overdo it. I remember thinking, “This is imprisonment. This is difficult. There’s experiences here that I’ll never want to forget, that I’d like to forget, that I won’t be able to forget. They helped shape the person that I am, today.
That’s really what I reiterated to that lawyer, and what I reiterate to all of you. Let me wrap up. I know that none of you want to go to federal prison. It’s not as hard as I thought it was. It’s not as difficult as I thought it was, namely because I had so much time to introspect and reflect and to think and prepare for the next phase of my life. I prepared myself to build a new business. I prepared myself to come home strong, with opportunities. I really came home with my my self-esteem. I came home with a network. I came home with a job, even though I had lost damn near everything.
Occasionally, I get some messages that say, “You know, my experience was different.” I was younger. It was easier. I was some rich, privileged punk from USC who had all the breaks. If people are predisposed to think that it was easier for me, if people are predisposed to think that I didn’t work hard, then that’s their right. You can think whatever you like to think. What I’m conveying to you is, I woke early in federal prison while the dorm slept. While I overcame defecating in showers, the swastika tattoos, staff that would send my mom to Walmart or Target to get new clothes, et cetera, I dealt with all of that as best as I possibly could, because I knew that I was coming home. I knew that the hardest part was coming home with a sullied reputation.
I articulated as much as I could of this as I could to that lawyer, last week. At the end of it, he said to me, “Justin, I will never tell another client, I will never tell another lawyer that a federal prison camp is a Club Fed.” I’m very grateful for all of you watching my work, and I hope you found value in this blog. Of course, if you’d like a copy of Lessons from Prison, it’s free. Simply click here.
Thank you so much for letting me ramble! I appreciate your time.