16. Who are you?
My name is Justin Paperny. I am a 34-year-old man who grew up in Encino, California. I attended Montclair Prep before moving on to the University of Southern California, where I earned my degree in 1997. From USC I went on to become a stockbroker at Bear Stearns and UBS, then as a real estate agent in the distinguished house of Sotheby’s.
In 2007, I pleaded guilty to securities fraud. In 2008, I began serving a sentence inside a minimum-security federal prison camp. In May 2009, I will walk out from the federal prison in Taft, California, carrying the lifetime stigma of being a convicted felon.
Since crossing over into prison boundaries I have worked hard to atone for my bad decisions while working as a stockbroker. I understand the journey to restore my good name will take a lifetime. I am committed, however, to the process, to the struggle of overcoming the reckless decisions I made that led to my conviction.
Since surrendering to prison in the fall of 2008, I have committed to a daily routine that is both rigorous and challenging. Since October 2008 I have written a daily blog describing my experience through the criminal justice system. I also allocate ample time to exercise and to tutoring my fellow prisoners on subjects ranging from mathematics to English to geography.
I am a man who is trying to prove to others that it is possible to overcome the struggles of confinement. It is no doubt a system that breeds contempt and failure. All prisoners, however, with work and discipline can put steps in place to ensure that we leave a little better and stronger than when we went in. That is who I am.
17. Describe your background with regard to your education, vocation or career, troubles with the law.
I grew up in Encino, CA, then graduated USC in 1997 with a degree in Psychology. As a young man baseball defined me. I had the privilege of playing in three separate World Series baseball tournaments, and was a proud member of the University of Southern California Baseball team that lost in the national championship game in 1995.
After graduating USC I built my career at Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, then UBS. Some awful decisions I made regarding a clients hedge fund account led to my conviction for securities fraud and the 18-month sentence I am wrapping up at Taft Federal Prison Camp.
My background, I know, is not one suggests a brief stint in federal prison. I was raised to know right from wrong, I had positive role models in my life; I had coaches and parents that held me accountable; I had all the breaks. In prison I realized the opportunities that I took for granted—opportunities that most of my fellow prisoners could only dream. Some will always judge me for my bad decisions, I know. That I cannot undue. All I can do is work to become better, stronger, and more prepared to overcome the tough challenges ahead.
18. What are you going through now?
I am nearly complete with an 18-month prison term for violating securities laws. I am proud of my accomplishments through prison. I surrendered to prison out of shape, unhappy. I now run on average of 10-miles a day, or approximately 60 miles a week. I am reading nearly a book a week, and write a blog every day. I have some trepidation about my pending release, however, I am comfortable knowing there is not much more I could have done to thrive through prison. I put in the work and feel ready to go home, to see my family, to start my new life.
Describe your vision of the best person you can become during the following time frames:
19. Time remaining to serve.
My vision is to continue to work deliberately towards the goals I have set. I envision a life centered around balance and perspective. My vision is to allocate ample time to work, exercise, family, community, and education. My vision ensures that I contribute to society, that I use my experience through the justice system as a positive rather than a negative.
20. One month after release.
One month after release I hope to be on my way to building my new career as a speaker on the subject of ethics, finance and white-collar crime. I also hope to have my new website established so others who are struggling through their own complications with the justice system can reach out to me. I will also spend that time reconnecting with my family.
21. One year after release.
One year after my release I hope to be thriving! I will have completed my first year on federal probation; I will hopefully be traveling the country sharing my story; and I also hope to be consulting several offenders a month as they prepare to surrender to prison. I also hope to be in better or at least the same shape as I am the day I leave prison.
22. Five years after release.
Five years after my release I will be 39 years old. By then I should be an established authority on ethics and the justice system. I expect to be one of the most sought after speakers in the country. Today marriage and children is not a priority, but within 5 years after my release I hope to be married with children.
23. How do those in society perceive people in prison?
I never thought about it till I became a prisoner. Had I thought about it before I went to prison I probably would have assumed that most of the men were bad, full of vice, lacking in character. That is not really the case. I know now that many of the prisoners are good men who for one reason or another felt the need to judge the line between right and wrong. I expect perceptions of me to be all over the board as a result of my prison term. I consider it one of my many obligations to correct the myths that others have about our prison system that confines more than 2.3 million people.
24. Describe how television programs and movies depict prisoners:
Films, etc do nothing but feed into the myths that people associate with prison. They create the idea that we are inveterate criminals who are always looking for a way to scheme, to rob, to get ahead. It is sensationalism at its best.
25. Compare and contrast your prison adjustment with the prison stereotype.
I will explain in better detail below.
26. In what ways is your adjustment similar?
It is similar in the sense of how staff perceives me. I am not looked at any differently than any other prisoner. I am not saying I should be looked at differently, however, my efforts to work, to give back in prison, I think, are laudable, noteworthy. Not to staff, however. To them I am just another number.
27. In what ways is your adjustment different?
I do not complain about my job nor housing situation or food or anything else for that matter. I make the most of what I got! I am proud of what I have done since surrendering to prison. Completing multiple goals, while introspecting daily has put me in an enviable position to thrive from the moment I leave prison boundaries. That adjustment, I know, is different—but not one that should be extraordinary. All prisoners can do it!
Describe what opportunities for personal growth and development exist in the different prison security levels:
28. High security.
Having never served time in a high security prison I cannot comment on the opportunities that exist. I have learned from the writings of Michael Santos, who served many years in the Atlanta penitentiary, but other than that cannot comment.
29. Medium security.
Same as above
30. Low security.
I have never served time in a low though my experience convinces me that the low is not too much different that a camp. The average sentence is longer and more men usually reside in the low. I assume hostilities are reduced in a low versus higher security prisons, in part, because prisoners have clearly defined release dates. Some men, I have learned, prefer the low to the camp and often wish they were back. Some find the camp boring. I do not. I presume the same opportunities remain.
31. Minimum security.
It is very easy to serve time in a camp. Every day presents me with opportunities to strengthen my body, my mind, my spirit. My work assignment is not terribly difficult, and the dorm is quite comfortable. Truth be told I really like the men, and will miss many of them with my release. I have accomplished more in the camp than I did the prior 3 ½ years fighting my case.
32. Prior to release, what do prisoners generally say about their prospects for returning?
Most of the men talk of their plans upon release. Some seem far-fetched, some are unrealistic, and some plans are outright foolish. But none of the plans revolve around committing crime and returning to prison. Yet so many of us do. I consider it my duty to ensure that I am prepared to beat the odds. That means I focus on tasks that are both realistic and attainable.
33. In what ways, if any, do those who never return to prison serve their sentences differently from those who do return to prison?
I am always thinking about the road ahead. Sure, there are days I am not in the mood to read, to write, to run. But those feelings wash away when I remind myself of the challenges that await me, that await all convicted felons. In Prisoners Come Home, a book by Joan Petersilia, I read that approximately 70% of felons remain unemployed one year after their release. I work as hard as I can to ensure I beat those odds, which will of course ensure I never return to prison.
34. What steps can a prisoner take to improve chances of success upon release?
A prisoner has many opportunities in a camp. The first step, I think, is accepting responsibility for our choices that led us to prison. That requires discipline and effort. Then they do more than talk about leaving prison stronger. Too many men in prison talk. They talk about what they will do tomorrow, next week, next month. But they never start. Reading for me was the first step. It helped me gain perspective on my predicament. And reading helped me prepare for the next step: writing. The steps must follow together, with consonance, not dissonance.
Sentence length is not a factor that is controlled from within prison, but adjustment inside prison may influence success upon release. For a better understanding of prison expectations, describe your thoughts on:
35. What length of time would you consider long-term imprisonment?
One year or more.
36. What expectations do those in society have for long-term prisoners?
Based on recidivism rates they expect us to resort to crime, to a life full of dishonor and deceit.
37. What expectations do you suppose long-term prisoners have for themselves?
I am not really sure. I know that none expect to return to prison. Some expect very little, and many are beaten down by a system that has dehumanized them. Part of the problem is so little is expected of us. It is hard, I am guessing, to suddenly flip the switch upon release. Hence it is essential the prisoner work while incarcerated.
38. What do prison administrators and staff members expect of long-term prisoners?
Not a lot. As long as we do our job, stand for count, and follow the rules they are happy.
39. How would you define a “model inmate”?
According to the staff a model inmate is someone that plays by all the rules. I still struggle with this definition. I am not sure exactly.
40. How does Michael’s prison journey support or refute prison stereotypes?
Michael has proven that a prisoner can do anything. He has. When other men see him, hear what he has done, they are astonished. Many—myself too at first—do not believe what he has done or been through. Still he is not rewarded for his efforts. He remains locked up, despite accomplishments that warrant his freedom decades ago.
41. What role did the prison infrastructure play in influencing Michael’s journey through prison?
Whatever negatives they threw at him, he turned into a positive, as cliche as that sounds. They did not encourage him to excel, but just do his time, like the rest.
42. What vision governed Michael’s decisions as a prisoner?
He wanted to make his family proud, to prove that he can overcome anything with dignity and strength. It is the same formula that guides me through the indignities of imprisonment.
The Straight-A Guide includes seven attributes that he describes explicitly in the books Triumph! And Success! What do the following attributes mean to you?
43. Attitude: What level of commitment do you make to preparing for success upon release?
My attitude is much different since surrendering to prison. My attitude now is positive, optimistic. Optimism flows because of my efforts to work hard every day.
44. Aspiration: Where do you see yourself at various checkpoints in the future?
I aspire to be the best speaker in the world on ethics and white-collar crime. I aspire to be a man of honor, of integrity. I aspire to become the man my parents groomed me to become.
45. What distinguishes an aspiration from a fantasy?
Fantasies come while we are sleeping and like a dream requires no basis in thought. Aspiration takes real work, every day, to become true. Their is no comparison.
46. Action: What steps are you taking toward aspiration?
I work all day, ever day to make my aspiration a reality. I do not just talk, I act. And I fail often in reaching my goals, but at least I am trying; I am not afraid to fail, as I recognize that failing is a necessary component of success.
47. Accountability: How are you measuring progress?
I track my running and writing logs and compare them month over month. Without logs we will never really know if we are advancing closer to our goals.
48. Awareness: How knowledgeable are you about the atmospherics around you?
I am aware of my surroundings at all times. I know I am a prisoner; I understand that my life could be uprooted at anytime. I am aware of the challenges that await me. I am aware of the odds.
49. In what ways do you reach beyond the boundaries that currently confine you?
My blog helps me stay connected, and I write home frequently. I write to people from prison and ask them to support my work. I visit a lot as well.
50. What do you know about the challenges that will confront you upon release?
They will be significant and that is why I prepare. Times are tough, and I will not be able to have the same career because of my crime. I must work to prepare.
51. Achievement: When do you celebrate success?
I feel my achievements all day. I may finish a run, then stop to think about what I have been through, where I am going. I enjoy waking early and working while the dorm sleeps. Achieving things that others say is not possible inspires me to do more.
52. Appreciation: What role do others have in your success?
I appreciate the support from so many. Namely, my mom and dad. Succeeding will be easier with their love.
53. Where did those choices lead?
My bad choices began when I graduated USC. I suddenly got caught up with money, with thinking I was entitled to a certain life. Those choices led to pain and shame for those that love and support me.
54. What did you value then?
I valued money, women, how I was perceived by others, status, and laziness.
55. How would you guide your children if they were making choices in the same way?
I will urge my children to embrace the idea of individualism, while always being respectful of others. Their needs can come first, but they cannot violate the needs of others. Treat others as they would wish to be treated. And I will teach them to stand up for what they believe in—and teach them the difficulty of that challenge. Like their father they will be self-reliant.
56. What would you do differently if you could?
I would have continued to practice good habits upon my graduating USC. Doing so would have prepared me to respond better to many of the dilemmas I faced as an executive.
57. Describe the differences in your life today from the first days of your confinement.
Well I am adjusted better and understand my surroundings. My routine is set and I know where to be at every second, and know what I should be doing. That is different from the beginning.
58. How have your activities from last week led to your activities for this week?
I spent last week writing, reading, running; no different that the prior 50 weeks.
59. Identify the values by which you live.
I value courage, discipline, productiveness, health, and integrity—doing the right thing when it will cost you the most.
60. To what extent do your daily activities harmonize with the values by which you live?
Since surrendering to prison my values harmonize with my stated values.
61. How do your professed values relate to your perceived role in society?
Now they aall relate. In society, like I am in prison, I aim to honest, decent, and fair. Those are valuable values in society. They are like currency, and will help me excel.
62. Where does your allegiance lie?
63. Are values situational or absolute?
Absolute, unless there is some unique, crazy situation that forces me to choose.