Most people have seen or heard of the movie “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray’s character gets to repeat a situation multiple times until he gets everything right. Looking back on my federal prison incarceration journey, there are some moments I wish I could do-over. Not a ton; luckily, I received great advice and used my time well. But let’s pretend I have that chance. What lessons did I learn? How would I change my experience in federal prison?

This reflection isn’t just about my journey—it’s about providing valuable insights for anyone beginning their incarceration. Learning from my experiences and mistakes can help you make better decisions and make the most out of your time. Here’s what I would do differently and the advice that can help you navigate your own path:

1. Interview My Federal Attorney (treat this situation like your life depended on it).

The criteria most people use for selecting attorneys is based on their status and whether they had won high-profile cases (how impressive they are). This is great criteria if your attorney is entering a popularity contest.   But since our main goal is to see if they can help us with sentencing or other incarceration issues, we need to reassess how we choose this essential person in our lives. We need good communicators, strong writers, and fearless negotiators.  We need to interview these attorneys with our goals in mind.  

My first attorney was brilliant and beautiful but young and still gaining experience. I knew this and was fine about the trade-off (youth is no guarantee of innovation, just age is no guarantee of experience).  The major issue was that she didn’t like to be questioned, which was a big deal.   Your relationship with your counsel needs to be strong.  We clashed over strategy and didn’t see eye to eye on several key issues. This led to an awkward relationship, one where I was always second-guessing things.  I should have worked these issues out (if possible), but instead, I let things fester.  Eventually, I hired another attorney (which was a mistake & a massive waste of money for me). One thing you will find is a lot of attorneys do not know anything after sentencing. They don’t understand the BOP or how things work with regards to incarceration. And that’s an essential part of the entire process.

My second attorney had me grasping at straws, hoping a change of voice might help. He had a remarkable story about arguing in front of the Supreme Court, but as smart as he was, he was not a good communicator, and Batman was easier to get ahold of. 

So what would I do now….I would question my attorney thoroughly. We often play it wrong with doctors and attorneys, holding them on a pedestal and giving them too much leeway. No, go after them. Be fearless. Prepare.

What are some questions you should ask your Attorney?

a.  Do you have experience with my judge/prosecutor?

Understanding how the decision-makers operate is a major win if possible.  Relationships are everything.  Why would it be any different in the courtroom

b.  How are you going to communicate with your attorney? 

I want your cell phone number and assurance that I can track you down if needed. Will you be my main point of contact, or will an assistant handle my case?  I am hiring the attorney, not his assistants or some junior associate.

c. Can we schedule weekly calls? 

 Let’s ensure they are doing their job with regular check-ins. If there is nothing to talk about, we can move on. But it would give me peace of mind knowing we have a plan (which includes us talking weekly). 

d. Can I review a motion you’ve written?

Writing is a huge part of being a lawyer. Let’s see what kind of writer you are. A well-written motion changed my life. If it wasn’t for the motion written at my trial, I likely would have been in jail for another 15 years. That motion convinced the decision-makers that I was not given a fair trial and that the prosecution had overstepped in a number of areas. You can learn a lot from reading what an attorney puts on paper.  

E.  Can you provide a client reference? 

What’s wrong with talking to some former clients?  Get some real feedback. Hear how your attorney handled his clients. Ask them the tough questions.

2.   Hire a Consultant Before Sentencing  

We did a ton of research but somehow missed key advice areas like preparing a release plan and having a compelling narrative. I hired my consultant too late. That may have been the difference between me going to jail and getting just probation.  

I made mistakes like providing hundreds of letters to impress the judge, but she didn’t care.

I learned more from White-Collar Advice than anywhere else. It was money well spent. I wanted help and peace of mind.

The big regret I have … I said ZERO when it came to my judge.  

Unbelievable.  I should have the speech of a lifetime prepared.  But that’s really the beauty of white-collar advice, and that’s why I believe in this company so much.  All the info is there for you should you want it.  If you’re willing to put the time in you can build most of the stuff White Collar offers on your own.  Most people don’t want to do the work required.  That’s fine I get it.   Personally, I wanted a live connection, someone to help them through the process. I ultimately hired them for their experience and advice, which was invaluable. 

If I had only received the advice to document my journey, then it would have been worth it. I wish everyone understood this concept. I know people will read this and say it’s not for me. It is. Documenting your journey was life-changing for me. 

3.   Detox Before Entering Prison 

I trusted the BOP to let me take the meds on their formulary plan. Here’s the kicker….relying on info you get from the BOP is a risky thought—it’s up to the institution (it’s up to that particular staff on that particular day).  If they don’t want to follow the rules who will stop them.  You can’t rely on the BOP’s website or some of its guidelines.  I was told I could have my meds.  It was written plain as day on the BOP formulary plan.  Except the LPC (Leavenworth Prison Camp) didn’t feel like administering it so it didn’t happen.  Are you kidding?  But that’s life in the BOP. But had I known I had plenty of time in Pretrial….I could have safely tapered off everything rather than detoxing on a metal bed with hundreds of other inmates. 

4.   Teach More Classes 

I thought there was some semblance of organization in the BOP. Nope, they don’t care. You can teach if you want, but it took me a while to figure it out.  If you want to teach or hold a class make a sign and do it yourself.  

5.  Not Push Myself as Hard Physically 

I was obsessed with losing weight and worked out twice daily—three hours in the morning and 1.5 hours later. Anytime I had a free moment, I exercised. The reality is, there is no adequate medical care in prison. If you hurt yourself, you’re in pain for the rest of your stay. So be careful.  I borrowed a story from Will Smith that I thought was clever.  I would tell people who wanted to try and bike with me three possible outcomes (compete with me). They would lose….The bike would break…. Or I would die.  I took it too far.

I got a hernia & a back problem that I’m still dealing with today.  Don’t risk it 

6.  Set Up Specific Times to Talk to Loved Ones/Family

Your family wondering when you’ll call is unfair to them. You should set up a schedule.  You need to remember your family is also going through it.  The sun doesn’t revolve only around you.  Set a plan and stick to it 

7.   Check If Your Institution Has a Group—and If Not, Set One Up

Leavenworth has a fantastic Facebook page, and having a support group can make a significant difference.  There are FB pages for just about every institution.  If there isn’t one make one.  People will thank you. 

Overall, I don’t have many regrets about prison.

I feel like I made the most of my time. Taking RDAP (even though it really didn’t do anything for me time-wise) was a blessing. People don’t understand the boredom that comes with prison. You need productive activities. I made my schedule so jam-packed that I wasn’t bored.  

If I had a chance to do things over, though, these are the things I would address. Small changes can make a big difference. I hope this helps you make the most of your experience. Don’t have regrets.  

author avatar
Scotty Carper
UCSB graduate certified in Real Estate Law by UCLA, had a notable 16-year tenure at CBS Outdoor as a top U.S. real estate representative. Founder of SCMN Consulting, his accolades include Cannes Film Festival finalist and executive producer of 11 films. Following a conviction in early 2022, Carper served 11 months in Leavenworth, where he led the RDAP, authored “Coops Weekly,” and achieved a paralegal certificate. Now, he shares his transformative journey, advocating for learning from one’s mistakes and utilizing time constructively.