I received a call from a business student at USC after he my book, Ethics in Motion. He asked me: “What was the best part about going to federal prison ?” At first, I couldn’t see anything positive about my situation. I had lost everything – my reputation, licenses, career, money, and most importantly, my freedom. But then, something remarkable happened when I arrived at federal prison.

Inside that federal prison camp, I encountered individuals who had been incarcerated for years for non-violent crimes. These men had endured hardships that I could hardly imagine, and yet, they never complained. They inspired me with their resilience and determination. It was there that I met my now-business partner, Michael Santos, who was serving a 45 year federal prison term. He mentored me and introduced me to literature that would change my perspective forever.

One of the books that profoundly impacted me was Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl’s journey through the horrors of the Holocaust taught me about finding purpose and meaning even in the bleakest of circumstances. It made me realize that I, too, could find meaning in my journey. I began to appreciate the simple things in life, like watching a beautiful sunset or handwriting a letter home in the prison library.

Another influential work was John Locke’s “tabula rasa,” which translates to “clean slate.” This concept resonated with me deeply. Federal prison, in a way, provided me with that clean slate. It was an opportunity to start over, to redefine myself, and to focus on rebuilding my life.

When I finally came home after serving my 18-month sentence, I had a new perspective. Instead of dwelling on everything I had lost, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what remained. My parents had stood by me, my friends had offered unwavering support, and I had a home to return to. I still possessed my youth and the opportunity for a second chance at life.

I must admit that at one point during my sentence, it felt like a life sentence. Federal prison transformed me in unexpected ways. It taught me to appreciate all I still had, rather than obsessing over what I had lost. In sum, I valued my fresh start daily.

As you reflect on your own journey through sentencing and, perhaps, federal prison, consider the following questions:

  1. What can you learn from the experiences of those who have been through similar challenges and emerged stronger?
  2. Have you explored literature or philosophical concepts that can provide you with a new perspective on your situation?
  3. In what ways can you find meaning and purpose in your journey?
  4. Are there simple joys in life that you may have overlooked but can now appreciate more fully?
  5. How can you use your time during and after your sentence to redefine yourself and embrace your fresh start?

Embrace your clean slate, your fresh start and make the most of the your time on the inside.

Justin “Fresh Start” Paperny!!

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Justin Paperny