Lessons From Prison Preface

When I read ‘United States of America Vs Justin Paperny,’ I wasn’t ready to change. Even after Judge Wilson sentenced me to prison, I continued to resist. It was only upon my surrender to Taft Federal Prison Camp in 2008 that the gravity of my circumstances truly dawned on me. In that moment of clarity, I finally understood the extent to which my own flawed character had led to my downfall.

I met Michael Santos in Dorm D on my second day in prison. I knew of Michael because my mother used to send me his blogs, which I ignored. As a federal prisoner, I began to truly understand the value of his insight.  

Within days of my arrival at Taft Camp, Michael became my mentor, guiding me through a journey of profound personal growth during my sentence. His wisdom and guidance were invaluable. I was fortunate to work alongside him every day in prison, learning and evolving. He is still guiding me today!

Now, I invite you to do the same. While you may not have the opportunity to work alongside Michael as I did, through this book, you can access the same lessons he taught me and the insights we developed together.

At the time of publication in 2009, ‘Lessons From Prison’ was a compilation of what I learned from Michael while serving my 18-month prison sentence. Since then, my life—and the world—have evolved significantly. I married and had two children and relocated with my family from Los Angeles to Orange County. The move symbolized not just a location change but also the ongoing journey of personal and professional growth that has defined my life since my release from federal prison on May 20, 2009. This updated preface of the book offers new insights into preparing for successful outcomes and reflects recent changes in the law that affect sentencing and time served.

The successful outcomes produced by our dedicated team have garnered global media attention, amplifying our reach and impact. These opportunities have not only expanded our ability to help others but have also been instrumental in the growth of our business.

Navigating the complexities of a government investigation is a profoundly disorienting experience.

Though I completed my own sentence in 2009, the rawness of the ordeal remains undiminished in my memory. The emotional turmoil, the gnawing uncertainty, the looming specter of incarceration—all these can weigh heavily on a person’s psyche. Along with our team, I am privileged to guide countless individuals through these tumultuous times. This daily engagement keeps the reality of these struggles vivid in my mind. I share a deep, enduring empathy for the distress that accompanies this ordeal—it leaves an indelible mark, one that is both unforgettable and transformative.

In the face of these daunting challenges, I offer you reassurance grounded in lived experience: you can navigate through this crisis and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and clarity. My own path to redemption, along with the journeys of the scores of individuals we’ve supported, bears witness to the indomitable strength of the human spirit. They serve as compelling evidence that even amidst the severest trials, opportunity exists for significant personal recalibration and the discovery of a deeper, more purposeful existence.

Emerging successfully will not happen by accident.

As you will read in “Lessons From Prison,” the hardest part of the process is not prison itself but rather the waiting and wondering. The success you strive for requires embracing hard truths: we cannot change the past, and the reality is that too many people continue to suffer long after serving their sentence. For many, a brief time spent in a minimum-security camp becomes a life sentence.

The passage of the First Step Act in 2018, championed by Michael Santos since his imprisonment began in 1987, is a testament to the power of vision and perseverance. This legislation mirrored Michael’s decades-long commitment to advocacy, education, and reform and underscores a crucial message: with a clear vision and relentless effort, transformative change is achievable. His ‘Preparing for Success After Prison‘ curriculum is now an approved First Step Act course in the Bureau of Prisons catalog.

Lessons From Prison does not explicitly mention the term “release plan,” but that is precisely what it represents.  A release plan changed my life. By documenting my progress and growth, I encouraged all stakeholders – from my family to my probation officer – to hold me accountable.

Whether your release plan is a manuscript like mine or something smaller, it must be created with the appropriate messaging and stakeholders in mind.

Michael Santos often says, “We never ask anyone to do anything we didn’t do.” We are successful because we document our journeys, share them, and hold ourselves accountable. Follow this path, and you can achieve whatever it is you want. Success, whether that means a shorter sentence, early release from prison, or more liberty on supervised release, will not happen by accident. It requires a commitment to a well-thought-out plan and the discipline to see it through.

Moreover, I invite you to join the mission of the Prison Professors Charitable Corporation. Founded by Michael and Carole Santos and supported by our personal donations, this nonprofit organization is dedicated to improving the lives of people impacted by the criminal justice system. From preparing for prison to navigating societal reintegration, Prison Professors Charitable Corporation offers hope and practical guidance. We are a movement committed to reimagining and reforming America’s prison system, advocating for merit-based liberty, and reducing recidivism.

Reflecting on my personal growth since my release, I’ve realized that the commitments and goals I set in prison were the bedrock of my success. Despite the challenges of reentry as a convicted felon, the principles I adhered to – principles shared in this book – have been instrumental in overcoming the odds. As a husband and father, these lessons continue to guide me.

In this updated preface of Lessons From Prison, I address the critical need for justice-impacted individuals to create assets that influence stakeholders. The unfortunate reality is that without documented, shared evidence of reform, many in the legal system remain skeptical. This book aims to guide you in creating that evidence, in expressing genuine remorse and reform, and in charting a path that ensures you never return to a courtroom.

The call to action remains as vital as ever: Read Lessons From Prison, absorb the content, and implement the lessons. This edition, available as an audiobook, allows for convenient and private consumption. Let each chapter guide you, step by step, towards a future where slow and steady effort brings about lasting change. And remember, our team stands ready to assist you further.

As you embark on this journey with White Collar Advice, remember that our collaboration is more than just a path to a shorter sentence and earlier release from prison; it’s a contribution to a larger justice reform movement. Together, we can prepare for the new realities of life post-conviction and work towards a future where your past does not define your potential and where a prison term doesn’t become a life sentence of unfulfilled potential and ongoing challenges.

From my perspective, as you read Lessons From Prison, you’re faced with three distinct choices. Each of these choices carries its own set of consequences, and it’s important to consider them carefully:

The first option is to wait.

Waiting doesn’t require any effort. In fact, while waiting, you don’t have to do anything. As a consequence, however, you may continue to live in fear. You may continue to deny or minimize the magnitude of the problem. Instead of acting, you might cling to a fantasy that events will improve or magically disappear. You may fail to live productively while in that “waiting” mode.

Rather than working productively to restore confidence, if you choose the first option, you might surf the internet looking for information when you can’t sleep. I know this option well. I endured it for several months before my surrender to prison. I felt lost, invaded, hopeless, afraid, and tormented by anxieties about what was to come. It’s not an option that I recommend for anyone.

You have a second option.

To actively engage with our team for guidance through your journey. If the sleepless nights and constant anxiety have become overwhelming, you can choose to work with us. We’ll define a clear scope of work with a fee agreement tailored to your needs.

We’ll collaborate closely to develop a strategic approach if you opt for this path. Our work together will vary depending on your current stage in the journey. We can focus on sentence mitigation, aiming for the most favorable outcome, or concentrate on preparing for prison and ensuring the best possible experience on the inside.

The highly personalized work we undertake together will depend on a variety of factors. While we do not offer legal guidance, we collaborate closely with many defense attorneys who are familiar with our programs and services. Our joint efforts will be primarily focused on preparing you for sentencing and the challenges of imprisonment. More importantly, we’ll develop a clear and deliberate strategy to help you emerge from prison with your dignity intact and enhance your prospects for success upon release.

You’ll find a renewed sense of purpose if you choose this second option. Our collaborative work will reduce your anxieties and support you as you navigate the judicial and prison process.

Of course, there is a third option.

You may choose to retain our team. But more is needed than just hiring our team. Our methods require preparatory work. Our team has developed mitigation strategies proven to be best-practice guides (as taught by the federal judges we interviewed) for getting a shorter sentence and preparing for the prison experience. During an initial free consultation, we would review the scope of work and come to an agreement. Yet, if you fail to engage and participate in the work, progress will not follow.

We cannot purchase restored peace and confidence. We must work to achieve it.

Which option will you choose?

Justin Paperny 

January 22, 2024 (my 49th birthday)