"How are you doing, young man? My name is Michael Santos," I heard him say.

"Well, considering I just got to prison, not great," I replied.

"How long are you here?" he asked.

"18 months," I said.

"Well, I will make a deal with you. I will serve every day of that sentence with you," he said, with four more years left on his 45-year federal prison sentence.

Sixteen years ago today, on April 30, 2008, I met Michael Santos. When I met him, I knew he had been in prison for 22 years. It was an absurd amount of time, one I could not comprehend. I still cannot, even though we have been partners for more than 14 years.

When I shook his hand in Dorm D at Taft Prison, I did not know the impact he would have on me.

Rather than going on and on about his credentials, which he loathes because it sounds promotional, I will say that learning from him changed my life. I attribute the success I have today—family, career, balance—to the lessons he taught me in prison.

I was in that minimum security camp for 388 days.

I estimate that for at least 350 of those 388 days, I met Michael in that quiet room at 5 a.m. (he would get there around 1 a.m. to work).

For up to 12 hours each day, I would sit alongside Michael, learn, and ask questions. I asked so many questions that it was absurd—insane, really.

More than anything, he taught me the value of accountability and creating a new record. Rather than run from the fact I went to prison, he taught me to own it.

On Thanksgiving 2008, Michael and I spent hours walking around that dusty dirt track in federal prison.

"Will you help me write a book?, " I asked.

"Sure, but if I do, the book is of no value if it just sits in your garage. What is your plan to get it in front of people like you—people who never imagined they would be standing for count in a minimum security camp," he asked.

That conversation created what is now White Collar Advice.

On May 13, 2009, I received a copy of Lessons From Prison at mail call.

One week later, on May 20, 2009, I was released.

Michael still had four years left to serve in that minimum security camp.

With his support from prison and the support from my probation officer, Isaiah Muro, I embarked on this mission to help defendants.

Upon my release, I cold-called law firms--they hung on me!

I cold-walked into law offices (showing up in offices without an invitation). Most lawyers, other than Mark Werksman, threw me out.

Of course, many people showed me kindness. David Willingham, the AUSA who prosecuted me and went into private practice, took the time to send me a note wishing me well—the note still hangs in my office.

I sent emails to lawyers--more than 2,000 without a response.

I attended sentencing hearings and handed out my book to defendants. (I saw some throw it in the trash).

But I never stopped because I believed in what I was doing.

Despite the rejection, I had dignity--something I lacked while living as a defendant.

I lack the skill to describe Michael's impact on me.

If you are going to prison find that mentor, as I did. It changes everything.

Justin Paperny

P.S. To learn more about life in a minimum security camp, access our new digital brochure, which includes six free courses.