What Books Should I Read In Prison?

Summary: A White Collar Advice client encouraged me to share an email I sent to him about the books I think he should read in federal prison. After he read my email he texted me, “Pay it forward dude. This is good stuff. Share the knowledge!!! Below are excerpts from my email, with some personal references removed for privacy.

“Bud, thanks for sharing your book list with me. I admire that you want to read so much in federal prison. Reading was an essential part of my prison experience at Taft Federal Prison Camp,” I wrote to a client who will surrender to Fort Dix Federal Prison Camp on January 18, 2017, two days from now.

What Books Should I Read In Prison?

What Books Should I Read In Prison?

I went on, “I appreciate you seeking my opinion on what books you should read at Fort Dix. I spent some time working on it last evening after my family and I returned from the zoo. Since you asked my opinion, I will share my thoughts with you.”


What Books Should I Read In Prison?

What Books Should I Read In Prison?

“The books that people read are in direct relation to their value system.”

Since no two-people value the same thing, I would not expect you to read every book on my list. Still, the books I share will help prepare you for the pressures you will face upon release. I know you have interest in re-building your family, reputation and business. I had the same goals.”

“While not on my list, many of the books you sent me, I think, are solid. I have yet to read Shoe Dog, but I heard it is excellent. I feel the same way about In the Plex and Idea Man. Who would not benefit from learning how Nike, Google and Microsoft were built? No one..

I would shy away from books that are essentially a movie in paperback.

I am not saying you cannot learn from the beautiful writing in Don Quixote or the amazing storytelling in The Pillars of the Earth. You can. My preference, given the values and goals we identified, is to focus on business, entrepreneurship, philosophy, perspective and learning from those who have overcome struggle.

You mentioned reading will help you pass the time.  If you’re looking to pass the time in prison, there are plenty of other choices besides reading. I believe we read to learn, to have a better life, to benefit and learn from the experiences and wisdom of others.

What Books Should I Read In Prison?

What Books Should I Read In Prison?

I share this with you because there will be days where reading and implementing what you learn may feel like a chore. You’ll miss home and think about all that’s missing from your life. You’ll be craving freedom, and may find it hard to focus on reading.  It might be easier to walk the track or watch TV or play spades—anything but reading.

Ironically, the time I felt most free was when I was reading. I urge you to stick with it and commit to powering through on those days when you’d rather be somewhere else, which will happen often.

Trust me, the way to feel free in prison, is through knowledge and education. I share my book list with those goals in mind: knowledge, education and to feel free.

Here are 12 Books I think you should read in federal prison.

#12: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (I wrote about this book in Chapter 18 of Lessons From Prison), Marshall Goldsmith

#11: How To Live: Or A life of Montaigne, Sarah Bakewell,

#10: Altas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

#9: The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

#8: 6 Months to Six Figures, Peter Voogo

#7: Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X, with Alex Haley

#6: Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl

#5 David & Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell

#4: 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene (note, this book might not make it pass the prison mailroom)

#3: Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill

#2: Law Man, Shon Hopwood

#1: Earning Freedom, Michael Santos

This list could on and on, but given your goals, I think this is a good place to start.


Video Transcript

Hi, everyone. Justin Paperny coming to you from a very rainy Los Angeles on Sunday, January 22nd, my birthday. I was privileged to spend the morning with my beautiful wife and baby girl and now, while they’re relaxing and my beautiful daughter’s taking a nap, I’m going to film this video. Over breakfast this morning, my wife said, “What were you doing on your birthday in prison?”
I said, “Well, I was probably writing,” and I actually have a blog up that I wrote from prison on the 22nd of January 2009, where I talked a little bit about maintaining perspective from prison. Indeed, throughout my prison term, I felt gratitude for what I had, perspective because I recognized some very good men with whom I served time had much harder experiences than me.
I formed many of those perspectives through reading incredible, wonderful books. Books are the greatest teachers. Philosophers for a thousand and 2,000 years, their words still live today for a reason. They are the best teachers. I get frustrated at times when defendants will say, “Well, I’m bored in prison. What do I do all day and what do I do to pass the time?”
You have the greatest teachers in the world right in front of you through that library in federal prison or through books that your friends or family may send to you. Today, I’m going to talk about 12 books that every federal defendant should read.
Now, one of those books is not ‘Lessons From Prison.’ It would be incredibly self-serving to say that my book should be on that list. It is not but while I’m talking about my book, you should read my book ‘Lessons From Prison’ and implement some of the strategies I teach. That’s relevant because whether it’s ‘Lessons From Prison’ that I continue to point to because you should go to WhiteCollarAdvice.com and get it for free.
My marketing team has told me I need more calls to action and I tell them, “YouTube is to teach not sell.” They said, “Let us stick with the marketing and you stick with the ethics and prison consulting.” This is for the marketing team. Go grab my book, it will help you. Whether it’s my book or any of the books that I discuss today, if you do not implement what you learn, it’s useless, it’s garbage. It means absolutely nothing.
It’s the reason that some people will read a book and get incredible benefit from it, someone else will read it and say, “Wow. This is terrible.” It’s simply the implementation. With implementation comes the key. Of course, my recommended book list may differ from yours because our values might be different. I spent my time in prison wanting to build a business, connect with my family, better understand philosophy and ethics, leadership, better understand how I made bad decisions that separated me from my family.
There are men who spend their days in prison who aren’t reading those same books and that’s their choice. They’re reading Stuart Woods and John Grisham. I suppose there’s some value in that but I look at some of those books as, essentially it’s a movie. It’s just a paperback movie in your hand. I wanted to read books that would advance my agenda upon my release and I wish the same for you and I hope you do it every day while you’re on the inside.
Today is Sunday. It is a big football day in prison and all across our country. If you want to watch football, that’s terrific, but after, you’ve got to get back to work and you’ve got to get back to preparing yourself for the inevitable obstacles. Let’s transition to books that I think will help you.
One this list, number 12, ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.’ I wrote about it in chapter 18 of ‘Lessons From Prison.’ Another shameless plug to read my book but ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’ is an excellent tale about moving forward, making progress. You should go to ‘Lessons From Prison’ to read it.
Number 11, this is a wonderful book, ‘How to Live” A Life of Montaigne.’ There’s a reason that Montaigne, the 15th century essayist, essayist, yes, I think I said it correctly, why his words still shine true today five or 600 years later. This is a bestselling book that talks about how to live, how to die, how to be in relationships, how to overcome struggle, how to find perspective and to be tolerant, answered in a way that he would have answered these questions five or 600 years ago. It’s a book I’ve read many time and still listen to repeatedly through Audible.com. I’ve shared the book with probably 100 clients or so if they have interest in that philosophy type-thing.
Number 10, ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ I am not going to get into Ayn Rand’s idea of parasites and producers and providers and the entrepreneur that the big government comes to rip apart. A number of men in federal prison will tell you ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is based on their life. I know we incarcerate too many people. I was a proponent of Atlas Shrugs and I suggest it for you because, through her words, it helps you understand and identify your values.
That’s what ‘Atlas Shrugged’ did for me. Rather than reading an ethics book that could put you to sleep, I began to understand my values and began to identify how I was going to pursue them. I think, through this book, you begin to understand sacrifice and choice. These comments come up, sacrifice and choice come up a lot in my work when people will say to me, “Well, you really sacrifice to get up at 5:00 AM every day.”
I said, “It’s not a sacrifice. It’s a choice.” I choose to do it or people said the same thing to me in federal prison when I would run a lot or I would wake early. They’d say, “Wow. You really sacrifice.” I’d say, “No. It’s not a sacrifice. It is of higher value to me to get up and work than it is to sleep.” It is a choice and I encourage all of you to understand sacrifices versus choices.
Another thing about a book like ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ you’ll learn two or 300 new vocabulary words, always building my vocabulary. In fact, I was that guy standing in line to go to the chow hall holding white index cards, learning vocabulary words. Indeed, I learned probably more than 100 through ‘Atlas Shrugged.’
Number nine is a wonderful book called ‘The Glass Castle.’ I was told or thought it was going to be made into a movie but it’s a wonderful book that anyone on the inside should read. You should learn about hope and perspective.
Number eight is a book I recently finished called ‘Six Months to Six Figures.’ The title’s a little misleading because it’s very hard to get to six figures inside of six months but it talks a lot about forming habits and that’s something I talk a lot about in ‘Lessons From Prison.’ The idea that the daily pursuit of incremental tasks, that tortoise and the hare, that it take time for something to become a habit.
If you’re expecting our blueprint program or my private consulting program to work by just hiring us and getting on the phone for one call with us and suddenly everything’s going to be fixed tomorrow, it doesn’t work that way. You shouldn’t opt in to get the book. You shouldn’t hire us. It takes effort each and every single day and it can be uncomfortable. It can be very hard.
While others might guarantee a certain outcome simply by writing a check, we work under a measurably difference approach here. It’s really, really hard. The obstacles in front of you are really hard. Life is too short to make the wrong decisions or hire the wrong team.
I think a book like this helps you understand how hard it is to do anything successfully. You can have the greatest program or process in the world but without daily implementation, it’s not going to work. I think this book does it in a very practical way.
The ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ number seven. I read this book twice on my honeymoon in Italy and regardless of some of his philosophical or political views, Malcolm X was uneducated in prison. He rebuilt his life in prison. He learned to write effectively, to think effectively, all from the inside of a federal prison and that’s incredibly inspiring to me.
Number six, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ that I also write about in ‘Lessons From Prison.’ This is the type of book you read every year for the rest of your life, as Viktor Frankl summarily watched his family get executed and tortured in these concentration camps. On days where I missed home and I was lonely and I was lamenting over the, at times injustices, I thought came my way, I would read a book like ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and recognize my life, you can’t even compare.
It’s like one to 15-trillion-trillion. I’m the one. His agony was 15-trillion times a million. You couldn’t even compare it in any lifetime. If he can endure it and find meaning through hope, I could certainly endure 18 months in a measly federal prison camp.
Number five, ‘David and Goliath.’ I don’t love all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books but this one did influence me because he writes a lot about becoming an underdog or learning to live as an underdog. He shared some interesting data that said over the last couple of hundred years, I think a third of the wars have been won by the underdog but it wasn’t through traditional tactics. It wasn’t going head-to-head, guns blazing. They had to invoke different strategies to win.
When I read it, I felt, in a way, affirmed that some of the work that I had put in over the years was worthwhile because some people told me my routine was flat-out nuts and crazy, that I was writing and blogging and talking openly about my conduct and facilitating a Ponzi scheme but I recognized early that to succeed as a convicted felon, I couldn’t compete one-to-one. I’d have to embrace my underdog status and take a different approach.
If you are watching this and you’re going to federal prison or you have been to federal prison, it is time to own and talk about your story. Be totally transparent, approach it from an underdog way, as I did. I think that book will really help you get there.
’48 Laws of Power.’ I have so many books in my office, it’s crazy. My wife walks in sometimes and says, “Can you get any more books in here?” I’m actually going to have book shelves put in. ’48 Laws of Power.’ Now, I don’t know if this book is going to make it into a federal prison. Some federal prison camps, you’ll find it. They block it a lot of times in the mail room.
Why is this book helpful for you? Many of you watching this have been exploited. Many of you were swept into your conduct. It was aberrational, the government probably would say, that if it wasn’t for someone bringing you in, you never would have committed this crime. That’s what the government said in my sentencing paper.
A book like ’48 Laws of Power’ will help you understand how you were exploited and manipulated and taken advantage of. You will understand all of your … Help you understand your weakness, your tendencies. You will, if you understand these tendencies … Wow. I feel like I’m giving an ethics talk to a business class.
If you understand your tendencies, you’ll recognize if someone is trying to take advantage of you or exploit you. ’48 Laws of Power’ is a national bestseller for a reason. If you want to understand how others are thinking so you can never be manipulated again, I’d read the book. It’s one of the books I listen to on Audible annually.
Number three, ‘Think and Grow Rich.’ I have that around here somewhere, an updated version. ‘Think and Grow Rich.’ You’ve probably all read this. If not, you certainly should. It isn’t necessarily how to get rich but it’s the power of positive thinking, of writing out exactly what you’d like to do, how you’re going to attain it and then repeat it constantly. It focuses on the power of thinking individually, of making your own decisions, of using your own judgment.
I got a call a few day ago from a defendant who said, “My lawyer is against me hiring you and he says I do everything and there’s no need for it. He can prepare me for prison.” He said, “You know what? I’m going to use my own judgment. My lawyer can’t prepare me for everything that’s coming. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a felon. He doesn’t know what it’s like to go to prison. He doesn’t know what it’s like to rebuild his reputation.”
Then, this defendant said, “I also think my lawyer fears some of the oversight that you’re going to help me bring. I’m the one that’s going to serve time,” he said, “Not you.” I think he took that from a video or something like that but we’re moving forward. He used and exercised his own judgment because he believed that he could do it. Books like this will help you exercise and use your own judgment and know that you are on track.
Okay. Number two, ‘Law Man’ by Shon Hopwood, who I am so proud to call a friend. I met Shon with Michael Santos. I read his book in one day, so did my wife. Shon served 10 years in federal prison for robbing banks. While in prison, he was a jailhouse lawyer, began representing defendants. He wrote a piece that went to the Supreme Court and won. He has since written another piece to the Supreme Court and won.
Upon his release, he obtained a law degree. He is now a professor at Georgetown Law School. I believe was a recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is incredible. Everyone who’s on the inside needs to read ‘Law Man.’ Frankly, people who aren’t even going to prison should read ‘Law Man’ too.
I get a lot of calls from defendants who are licensed through lawyers, doctors, dentists and real estate agents and they feel that they can never earn a living without a license and there’s no hope, there’s no future. Shon is a convicted felon who eventually obtained a law license. With or without that license, it proves what’s possible from prison.
It’s a story of hope but beyond hope, active daily implementation that has led to an incredible career and I’m proud to report that I send clients to Shon. He works on 2255s and appeals and habeas corpuses. He’s a master of understanding BLP policy because he served 10 years on the inside. Any of you, or all of you, should read ‘Law Man,’ without question.
To close, with number one, the most successful federal prisoner in the last three decades, probably 50 years, I know I’m biased, is Michael Santos. I was so fortunate to meet Michael Santos upon my surrender to prison. He saw that I wanted to work hard, he saw that I wanted a better future and he invested hundreds … He still invests time helping me. He’s my mentor.
You should read all of his books but if you only read one, it should be ‘Earning Freedom,’ that chronicles the discipline, the patience, the work ethic that he put in each of the 26 consecutive years that he served in prison. You should read ‘Earning Freedoms.’ It takes you from his decisions as a young man, through his time in the penitentiary, all the way until the time that I shook his hand at Taft Federal Prison Camp, until his release.
You should read ‘Earning Freedom,’ for those of you wondering what’s possible on the inside. Is it possible to overcome a felony conviction? How do you maintain discipline throughout the journey? There’s one book that every federal defendant should read to answer that question and the answer is ‘Earning Freedom.’
As I close, this list, like our values, will change. Nine year, eight years ago at this time when I was in prison, I wasn’t married. I didn’t have a family. Of higher value to me, was running, writing, blogging. Now, those are still important to me but now I have a family. My values are changing just like my book list will change. In fact, if I did this video six weeks ago, the books could have been different.
On the honorary mention list, if you want to become an individual thinker, I’ve found a lot of value in this book called ‘Enemy of the People.’ It’s a little 82-page book and the last line of this book says: “It is this, let me tell you, that the strongest man in the world is he who stands alone.” Excellent.
Seth Ferranti is another friend that Michael Santos introduced me to. Seth served 20 years in federal prison, became a prolific writer, got an undergraduate and Master’s Degree in prison, as did Michael, wrote all these books from the inside. You can learn from them.
The ‘Four-Hour Work Week’ by Tim Ferriss, for those of you that want to work on building a business from the inside. I can go on and on here. For those of you that want to blog, I carry this around with me still, ‘100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.’ I can go on. I have ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli, same thing.
This book list will change frequently but for now, form your book list. I encourage you to buy these 12. Learn from them, take notes from them and implement what you read, implement what you learn. Okay. If you have any thoughts for me or if you’d like to share some books that you think I missed, send me an email. JP@WhiteCollarAdvice.com.
Of course, you should go to WhiteCollarAdvice.com and grab my book. If you find value in this video, click the subscribe button up here, or it’s somewhere on the page. Subscribe to my channel, like the channel and leave a positive comment. I’d love to hear from you. Thank you again for your time and letting me share my 42nd birthday with you. Bye, bye.