Summary List Placement
April 28, 2008 was a typical sunny day in California.
My mother Tallie and my brother Todd were by my side. In hindsight, it would have been better if my mom hadn’t come along. Seeing her standing there with tears streaming down her face still haunts me today.
Yet there we were, the three of us, standing in front of Taft Correctional Institution, a minimum security federal prison camp, saying our final goodbyes as I prepared to self-surrender and begin my 18-month federal sentence for violating securities laws while working as a stockbroker at UBS, an international investment banking company.
Prison was not part of the life trajectory I’d envisioned.
I’d enjoyed a relatively privileged upbringing in an upper middle class Jewish community in Encino, California. Ever since l picked up a baseball bat at the age of seven, I’d dreamed of one day going pro.
In 1993, I attended USC as a student athlete, playing baseball for The Trojans while majoring in psychology. While I’d always been a star player, it was soon clear I’d hit my baseball peak in high school and would have to carve out a different path for my future.
Playing baseball had always given me an adrenaline rush, and now I would need to find that rush somewhere else.
After graduation, my mother arranged for me to shadow a successful cousin of ours who was a broker at Goldman Sachs. As I watched my cousin and other brokers on the desk shouting trades into their phones, I was hooked by the high energy and excitement. I’d found the adrenaline rush I’d been missing.
By my mid-20s, I’d built a successful practice as a professional investment advisor, managing money for MLB players and executing bulk trades for hedge funds.
In 2001, my business partner and I were hired by UBS, an international investment bank, where a joint million-dollar signing bonus awaited us. A year in, we started feeling the pressure of meeting our goals, so when a former colleague reached out to me about handling $6 million in investments for his hedge fund, I jumped at the opportunity despite knowing he’d been dishonest with investors in the past.
It turned out he was running a Ponzi scheme by operating a fraudulent hedge fund. In time, me and my partner and UBS began to grow suspicious of his actions, even drawing up a disclosure letter and trying to distance ourselves from our client’s actions, yet we retained his hedge fund as our client.
Instead of blowing the whistle on him, I kept my mouth shut to allow the commissions to continue to roll in, which made me complicit. Since I was the one executing the trades on the fund’s behalf, I was in essence aiding and abetting the fraudulent fund. In the end, the fund’s clients lost approximately $9 million.
I’d let greed and self-interest run its course, leading me down a path where I eventually pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and securities fraud.
I was 33 years old. I was tired and angry. After three and a half years in court, I was actually kind of relieved to begin my sentence and start getting credit for serving time.
Within a few hours of surrendering that morning in 2008, I went from being Justin Paperny to Inmate #44499-112. Reality hit as I was handcuffed, strip searched, fingerprinted, DNA sample tested, and photographed for a mugshot. The expensive running sneakers and watch I’d assumed I could keep were quickly confiscated and replaced by prison-issued slip-on sneakers, khakis, and t-shirts.
I’d been unwilling to embrace the reality that I was going to prison, so I hadn’t prepared at all, which made my entrance into lockup much harder.
Things might have been a lot different had I not met Michael Santos, a fellow convict, on my first day inside.
Michael had already served 20 years and immediately took me under his wing. While incarcerated, he’d earned both an undergraduate and master’s degree and written extensively on the complexities of America’s criminal justice system as well as about people who’d been convicted of white-collar crimes.
Michael changed my perspective on prison by teaching me not to buy into the myth that there’s nothing I could do during my time in prison to advance myself and prepare for my release. He helped me understand that prisoners discount how much control they have and oftentimes focus solely on what they cannot control. Not enough federal prisoners use their time to self-reflect and analyze the motivations behind their choices.
If I hadn’t gone behind bars, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to reflect on my decisions and come to terms with what I’d done.
During my time, in addition to my assigned job duties such as cleaning pots and pans in the kitchen that paid fifteen cents an hour, I spent my free time getting back in shape, handwriting letters to people in my network to prepare for my reentry into society, and writing a daily blog.
As my friendship with Michael grew, we began to plan to build a business together once we were released from prison. During the last five months of my sentence we wrote a book, “Lessons From Prison”. We also created a curriculum we could use to help anyone who was facing a sentencing hearing.
We wanted to build a business to support and empower people during their time in prison.
We began writing, doing research, and talking to people while at Taft. Since Michael’s sentence was longer than mine, we decided upon my release, I’d work on launching the business from the outside while Michael would work on it from the inside until his release in 2013.
Now, our business White Collar Advice helps clients through all three stages of the process: sentencing, prison, and probation. The more you understand about prison, the better able you’ll be to navigate it successfully. Upon Michael’s release, we also launched Prison Professors which provides digital resources to help improve outcomes of the country’s prison system.
We’re not lawyers nor do we provide legal advice, instead we’re a team of ten that often works in tandem with lawyers on behalf of clients to help prepare their sentencing mitigation packages with the goal of getting the shortest sentence possible.
Showing up to your sentencing and saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough to convince a judge to shorten your sentence.
It’s critical to express your remorse, identify with your victims, and most importantly, demonstrate that it’s the last time you will break the law.
We prepare clients for what life will be like behind bars and help them create a blueprint of what life will be like upon release. We work with clients on everything from helping them create content in the form of blogs and podcasts, to ghostwriting books on their behalf, to helping them run or manage businesses while in prison.
We’ve managed to build a successful business in an extremely small niche market. Based on the scope of the work involved, our costs can range from a flat hourly fee of $400 to more inclusive packages that can run from $5,000 to six figures.
Recently, we signed a $4,000 contract with a New York physician to help prepare him for his sentencing and another contract for $50,000 for a client who is under investigation and wants our guidance through the investigation, sentencing, prison, and probation.
On August 16, 2009, I was released on three years probation and went to live in a halfway house in Hollywood for three months.
At the time it was an economic recession, and I was a convicted felon stripped of my licenses to sell stocks and real estate, which I’d done up until my sentencing. I was still paying down $535,000 in restitution I owed the government, which took me until May 2019 to fully pay back.
Since my release, I’ve written four books, some which have been required reading at my alma mater USC as well as other universities. I also do a public speaking all around the country and have even spoken at The FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Because I spent my time in prison preparing for my release, good opportunities awaited me and still continue to come my way.
I’m now 45, married since 2013, and I have two small children. I recently signed a deal with CBS Studios to sell a pilot comedy show loosely based on my life and produced by Will Arnett to CBS All Access. My and Michael’s business has helped more than 1,000 people rebuild confidence, prepare for the toughest challenge they’ve ever faced, and recalibrate their lives afterwards.
We can’t change the past for anyone, but we can help guide them to the best possible future with the circumstances they’re facing in the present. By doing this and making the most of your time behind bars, a prison sentence doesn’t turn into a life sentence.