I’m filming this video today to help all of you who may someday go to federal prison, or if you’re watching this and you have a loved one in prison, I want to offer some guidance that will ensure the time is productive, fulfilling, and you don’t feel like how so many prisoners feel, dealing with the inevitable boredom, watching calendar pages turn. Literally watching paint try. So, I’m going to offer my insights on how I think anyone should focus and spend their time in federal prison.
As a disclosure, my routine was rigid. I formed a closed friendship and partnership with Michael Santos, who had been in prison for 22 years, and I liked his routine. I liked that he woke early. I liked that he created content. I liked that he was focused and didn’t waste time. If you create your routine, let’s start with any decision you make, any choice you make, I think you have to make your own choices. I think every choice has to relate to the life you’d like to live upon your release.
I’ve shared this story. My wife every now and again says it’s a little off-putting, or maybe arrogant, or something like that when I say, I don’t think you should play softball in prison unless you’re going to be a professional softball player upon your release. Some people say to me, “Justin, relax. It’s some downtime. It’s some fun.” I get it!
There was no downtime for me. There was not a whole lot of fun for me.
I was a convicted felon, I’d embarrassed my family, ruined my reputation, destroyed my career; I was going to release in 2009 to the worst economy since the Great Depression. There was no fun for me. Fun time was over, okay? I had to work.
And how did I focus? How should you focus? Well, it started with creating content.
Creating value in the lives of others. Seeking to create a win-win. When you’re in prison and it’s Tuesday at 11:35 in the morning and you’re thinking, “What do I do now? I’ve done my job. Should I go exercise again? Should I go do that ab class? Should I go play soccer, softball, bocce ball, foosball?” Whatever…
I’d encourage all of you, on that Tuesday at 11:35 in the morning, to think, “How can I create value in the lives of others?” Because that will simultaneously help you.
A lot of people come home from prison, and I’ve no doubt they did really good things. I’ve no doubt they were productive. When I ask many of them to show me the documentation, to walk me through what they did, they are unable to. Now, I’m not saying they lied to me; I have no doubt they’re telling the truth. For example, when that Washington Post article came out on our work, it went totally viral; there was more than 10 million views, and more than 1,000 people who were released from prison reached out to me with hopes of working together.
I spoke with some of them and I said, “Well, walk me through what you did all day in federal prison.” Some were productive, some were not. None of them could document what they had gone through. None of them were able to clearly show me what their days were like, and how it contributed to the lives of others.
Now, you may say to me, “Justin, big deal. Why does that matter so much?
That’s how they served their time.” That’s exactly right. You’ve got to serve your own sentence. You’ve got to make choices that you think are in your best interests, so I’m not judging anyone here. Prison is hard. It was easier for me; I served a very brief sentence. I was in and out in just over a year. My experience was measurably easier than many of the people with whom I work, many of the good men with whom I served time. I was not married; I did not have children; I understand the experience was easier for me.
But I was still in federal prison, releasing to a very difficult climate without a path forward. And that’s how I spent my time: focusing on creating value. So, how can you create that value in federal prison?
Well, it’s easier than ever now with email. There was not email when I was in prison. You could email a blog every single day. Email what you’re working on every single day. And you can begin to distribute that content, that valuable content, to your network. You may never go public, right? I wrote a blog in prison, with the help of my colleague, Michael Santos, and I chose to put that online; you don’t have to. But I can assure you, if you’re looking for employment after prison, and the employer asks you about your experience, you can expect them to default to the stereotypical stuff they’ve seen on TV; Shawshank, Cool Hand Luke, Orange is the New Black.
And it’s your obligation and your responsibility to debunk the misperceptions they have about federal prison, and about you as a convicted felon. And how can you do that? Well, you’ve got to be reading the right literature that helps you better understand your conduct. Focusing on tasks that will ensure you tell your story properly without rationalization, without excuse, but focuses on the value that you can provide.
And I think it would be helpful if you were able to provide some content, whether it be a narrative, character reference letters that I continued to cultivate both in prison and upon my release; demonstrate that, “Yes, I made some bad choices, but look at who I’m becoming. In fact, I wrote about it as a tool to help others.”
If you can spend your days focusing on creating content in goodwill that will improve the lives of others, federal prison will fly by. You won’t be watching paint dry, or watching calendar pages turn to the next. You’ll in many ways feel as if you’re building your business, or rebuilding your reputation.
You’ve got to find, if you’re going to be a federal prisoner, you’ve got to find a sick, twisted irony in letting the US taxpayer, who is warehousing you in a minimum security camp, fund the rebuilding of your life.
Do you understand that?
I’m passionate about it. I believe it. I get too many calls from people who tell me what their days in prison were like, and… yes, they avoided disciplinary infractions. Yes, they avoided problems. Yes, they got into RDAP and they got the time off. But who cares if you get the time off, if you come home and you’re like, “Wow, now what? What do I do now? I wanted RDAP so badly; I got it, which is great. I’m now home. The probation officer wants 10%. He won’t let me be an entrepreneur, go work here; he wants me to go work at Panera Bread.”
Nothing wrong with Panera Bread. All work is honorable. I picked up phones in the halfway house upon my release. Some of the media that’s come out on our company in the last few months paints me as this pricey consultant who only works with wealthy people, could not be further from the truth. We work with anyone willing to invest the time to prepare. And there’s this perception that perhaps I’m some rich, wealthy guy because I went to USC and I only served a year and I was a stockbroker.
It’s not my goal to change the perception. My goal is to convey to all of you that I’m authentic, and I did it, and our team would never ask you to do anything that we have not done. Like picking up phones when I came home from prison, for my first law-abiding job. All work is honorable. I lined up that job in a tough climate by virtue of goodwill and content I created in prison.
I’ll wrap up with, if you can find a way to create this content to goodwill, if that could be the total focus of your day; from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, if you’re focused on creating value in your life and in the lives of others, of finding ways to give back and document and create a new record, the time will fly by. You’ll be incredibly productive and, frankly, you won’t be concerned or scared on that last day of prison. Many people say the two toughest days in prison are the first day and the last day. Well, it’s hard on that last day if you’re not ready.
I’m always seeking to deliver value and goodwill. For example, I recently finished a book called Living Deliberately. I’m not selling the book; don’t buy the book; I’m not going to market and try to sell you anything at all. If you’d like the book, I’m happy to send it to you.
The book talks about, over the last decade, how I was able to use my experience through federal prison as an asset to help tens of thousands of people emerge successfully, to prepare better than they would have had they not known our company.
And I document it, because I want to be authentic, I want to be transparent, and I want to help people.
I will admit, it was harder to write and work on these projects with a terrific marriage and two children and clients we’re serving, and we’re growing, and media tension; it’s been a good time for us, but I still said, if I said I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it. I’m still seeking to provide value. So, I encourage all of you to read that whether you’re going to prison or you are not going to prison. If you can do that, provide value, it’s going to make things easier on your family.
Never forget: this experience is harder on those that love and support you. Never forget when you call home, they’re worried and wondering how you’re doing. Never forget that while they might not share all of their concerns with you, they’re worried. They’re wondering what the rest of your life, their life, will look like as a result of your time in prison. And I believe if you’re focused on creating value, sharing that value with people, to share the way you think, the way you articulate your thoughts, you’re going to be much further ahead.
And I guess the last thing I’ll say is, do you really want it?
Every person with whom I speak who’s going to prison always says, “Justin, I want to build the business again. I want to be successful. I want to make the money. I want to make my family proud.” And then, at times, they see the work associated with it and perhaps they don’t really want it. They’re in love with the idea of what they can achieve; they’re in love with the idea of what they can have; the question is, are you in love with the process?
The process is the hardest part, doing it on days you do not want to. When it’s Thursday at 12:50 and it’s 103 degrees in federal prison, and you’re a little depressed and you miss home, and you don’t feel as if you should be there, or the sentence was too long and you feel like life is moving on without you, will you put in the work?
You say, “I got to keep going. I got to work. I got to provide value. I got to stay focused and create content. Because only by doing that will I make this experience a little easier, a little better,” and ensure that it’s not the train wreck that it is for so many people.
That’s all I got for today, Saturday, August third, 2019. If any of you would like my book, Living Deliberately, it’s free. Don’t buy it. I’m not going to market you anything. But if you get the book, read it, implement some… implement what I teach. Without implementation, we got nothing.
Thank you all for your time. Hope you found value in this video.
P.S. Grab your free copy of Living Deliberately here.