Justin Paperny on Lessons from Prison

Justin Paperny served time in federal prison as a white collar criminal.

In prison, he wrote a book titled – Lessons from Prison.

Now he’s advising white collar and blue collar prisoners on how to handle life in prison and life after prison. Paperny’s company is White Collar Advice.

He says the prison consulting industry is a sordid one. He wants to clean it up.

“After graduating USC, I built my career as a stockbroker,” Paperny told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “I made some bad decisions on behalf of a client who was running a hedge fund. That led to an investigation and later a guilty plea for aiding and abetting his fraud. After three and a half years of lying to the government, lying to my lawyers, and making bad decisions, I was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison by Judge Stephen Wilson.”

“I surrendered to the Taft Federal Prison Camp on April 8, 2008. I spent 18 months in prison. I realized in prison how many men prepared poorly for their journey. I sensed an opportunity to help others. I then began documenting my journey through a daily blog. I then hand wrote my first book with pen and paper. That book is called Lessons from Prison.”

“Upon my release in 2009, I began preparing white collar defendants for all aspects of the criminal justice system. I traveled the country, lecturing on ethics and white collar crime. My clients include the FBI Academy, New York University, USC and hundreds more.”

You describe yourself as a prison consultant?

“When the Washington Post article on my work came out, I wrote a blog saying — we are not prison consultants. It’s easy to box us in as prison consultants. I’ve done this for more than ten years. And I learned that many lawyers loathe the term prison consulting. Many consultants play lawyer, dispense legal advice, prey on the vulnerabilities and fears of defendants. We are really business and strategic advisors, preparing for sentencing, creating a record, teaching defendants how to work openly and honestly with their lawyers — something I did not do, work openly and honestly with the government, something I did not do, because there was shame and denial.”

How many people do what you do?

“This is going to sound off putting and perhaps arrogant. But I am authentic and speak openly. I don’t consider others competitors or even colleagues, considering the way in which they prepare people for prison. Many of these so-called colleagues have stolen our work, plagiarized, taken it as if it is their own. I am in the process of suing several of them for anonymously defaming me on line because they could sense my rapid growth in this industry.”

“I don’t know how many are in this space. I don’t communicate with any of them nor am I proud to call them my colleagues. This is a sordid, sick industry at times. And one of my goals is to clean up and professionalize this industry so lawyers and others don’t immediately frown on the idea of a prison consultant.”

There is a two-tier system of justice in this country – one for street criminals and one for white collar criminals. White collar criminals get the country club prison experience.

“I will not disagree that there is at times a two-tier system of justice,” Paperny said. “I will not disagree that it might have been unfair that I received only 18 months in a minimum security camp for my conduct while my bunkee, who was raised with no privilege, no opportunity, no role models, no coaches – all things that I had – that he was serving twenty years for a mandatory minimum non violent drug crime. Without question, you could argue that was unfair. And while I benefitted from it, it may not change that it was unfair.”

“As for cushy prisons, I have had the privilege of being a member of a country club. At my country club, men didn’t defecate in showers, I didn’t play golf with white supremacists, I wasn’t told that I could only have ten phone minutes a month, or was told when to eat, who could visit, or be stripped searched before I could see my family.”

“One of the goals of my work is to debunk this misperception or dispel the myth that these federal prisons are country clubs. They may not be what we see sensationalized on television. I get it. The camps don’t have fences or barbed wire. Because we see a tennis court or a soccer field people presume it’s a country club. It is not. There is not a great deal of violence there. But there is very little about it that is a country club.”

“At my country club, if I take a hard boiled egg out of the dining room, I don’t get sent to the hole, locked in segregation for 23 hours of the day, and lose good time or my ability to visit with family. There is very little about it that is akin to a country club.”

In your book, you did say that when you arrived at Taft, it did remind you of the dorm buildings you stayed at when touring playing baseball.

“Yes, it reminded me of a corporate office park. There was no barbed wire or fences. It was almost like a junior college. You see four dorms. There is a chow hole. You see a camp control. You see the track. It looks like a little junior college. The appearance of it doesn’t look like a prison you will see sensationalized on television.”

“I’m referring to the day to day, the living. I’m not complaining. I’m simply educating. There is very little about it similar to a country club. Until you have experienced it and lived it, you may not fully understand it.”

Do white collar prisoners go to minimum security camps?

“A majority of them do go to minimum security camps. Unfortunately, many clients who may be from Canada or South Africa, who fail to become American citizens, are required to go to a low security prison and then get deported. It’s very unfortunate. But yes, the majority of them, if they have a sentence of ten years or less, they are American citizens, they don’t have outstanding detainers, there is no violence associated with their case, it’s not a sex crime, would end up in a minimum security camp.”

Who does better – white collar or street criminals?

“Street criminals or blue collar criminals – they had a better sense of perspective than I had. Maybe they had been in the system before. They were a bit more conditioned to the system or conditioned to setbacks or heartaches in their lives. For me and some other white collar defendants, this was the first big punch we had taken, the first big setback, and it was more difficult for us to respond. For that reason, I spent a lot of time around what you call these street criminals. I learned from them. I admired them.”

“Upon their release, what I admired most was their willingness to do anything to build their career. I wrote about this in Lessons from Prison. I share an experience about a man who was finishing a long drug sentence. He was happy that upon his release he had secured employment at a fast food restaurant. A white collar defendant told this man – I would rather stay in prison than go to work at a fast food restaurant. And I severed my relationship with that defendant because I thought it was so off putting that he would say that.”

“Whatever I could do upon my release to earn a law abiding wage, I did it. Yes, many of the blue collar defendants are incredibly successful. Many of the blue collar defendants are resilient. They have overcome so much. They were humble. And they taught me so much.”

“I was a receptionist when I was in a halfway house. There were some people who would say — I would never work as a receptionist. I would never drive for Uber. I would never deliver food.”

“My response was – anything I could do to earn a law abiding wage, to make my family proud, to make my victims whole, I am going to pursue. I learned a lot of that from what you call street criminals. We were looking for anything to rebuild our lives. Some will say – I need this kind of job or this level of income. It doesn’t work that way. We are starting from scratch.”

What’s a better term than street criminal?

“We are all people. We are all human beings. I would say – white collar, blue collar. We are all human beings who made bad decisions and want to spend the rest of our lives trying to get better. We are all human beings. We are just in for different crimes.”

There is a public perception that the corporate executives who commit the most egregious crimes, generally get off because of their power, influence and status. Was that a public sentiment in prison?

“Yes. That’s often a rationalization for someone’s conduct. They will say – I did this but this person did that. Yes, but that doesn’t excuse your conduct. Let’s stay on point. Once we get past that, I agree. You look at Felicity Huffman in the college cheating case. She accepted responsibility for a $15,000 fraud. She did it, she pled guilty, she is now a criminal. I get it.”

“But there are corporate executives who do far worse and don’t go to prison. HSBC pled guilty for money laundering and no one went to prison. Or all of these other banks that have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars and yet no one goes to prison.”

“It doesn’t excuse someone’s conduct. And it makes it even harder for some in prison. It was not the case for me. I broke the law. I deserve to be held accountable and I deserve to go to federal prison. I’ve never had that feeling. But yes, that is a common feeling in federal prison. And it’s true.”

[For the complete Interview with Justin Paperny, see 33 Corporate Crime Reporter 17(11), Monday April 29, 2019, print edition only.]

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