November 25, 2014

I have had a lot of success working with criminal defense lawyers.  Recently, I received the following endorsement:

“Justin provides a tremendous resource to my clients by counseling them about the most difficult experience a person can face – preparing to be sentenced and going to jail. Justin’s unique background makes him a very compelling source of advice, counseling and comfort to my clients. He is also a pleasure to work with, very communicative and responsive, and treats my clients with decency and compassion.

– Mark Werksman, Criminal Defense Attorney and former Assistant United States Attorney and former Deputy District Attorney”

Now, not every lawyer is so willing to embrace me. Why? To begin, some consultants in my industry try to play “jailhouse lawyer.” They forget that they are no longer in prison and that they have never been licensed to practice law.

Once we get over that hurdle, I seek to educate lawyers on the value I offer as an educated offender who was once in their clients shoes and who through a lot of hard work, mastered the system. Some do not see always it. Yesterday, I had a call with a lawyer who reached out on behalf of a client of his. His client, my prospect, wants to retain me but needs buy in from his lawyers.

For some background this prospect is a self made man, an entrepreneur who has had extensive experience leading and growing businesses. But the shock of his indictment, together with the fear he faces is rendering him incapable of making decisions that will advance his interests both personally and professionally. I know the anxieties he faces. For peace of mind he wanted his lawyers buy in.

To the call, the lawyers defensive tone hardly four seconds into the call surprised me.

“I got this covered,” he said.

“What does that mean?,” I asked.

“I’ve told him prison is fine, mostly boring, and that he will get 6 months in the halfway house. His pre-sentence investigation was fine, but it is not that big of deal because his sentence is pretty much fixed. Plus he is going to a camp, anyway. No offense, but I’m not really sure what you can do to fix those facts.”

From there I pounced on his statements, both out of frustration and history.

“May I ask you some questions?”

“Shoot.”

“In what ways has planning with your client enabled him to get just one good nights rest?”

What exactly do you know about the challenges of confinement?

How will your clients’ adjustment differ than the more than 50% of those who face continuing struggles in life as a result of their sentence?”

He could not answer the first two, but answered the last by saying that his client was wealthy and that he did not envision any post prison struggles.

Why do we presume having money will lead to post prison happiness? I hear it again and again. Measuring our happiness by money is what led many of us into this unfortunate situation to begin with. Perhaps it is time we find some new values.

I assured this lawyer that those who fail to plan, regardless of the size of their bank account, have continuing problems. I know this from my time in prison and also because I have worked in this field for more than five years. More than 20% of the people who reach out to me are now home from prison. They seek guidance, advice. When we review their pre prison and prison experience it is not hard to see why the cycle of struggle continues.

Without question those who fail to prepare may face a phalanx of problems, including:

• Depression and anxiety
• Weight gain
• Substance abuse, heavy drinking
• Marriage trouble
• Troubles with children
• Inability to relax
• Troubles reuniting with family and friends
• Problems with probation officers
• Confidence, resilience
• And on and on and on

Admittedly, I know of people who came home broke, I mean really broke, but were happier and more confident than many multimillionaires who served shorter sentences. Success stems from how you live your life before and during prison, of that I am sure.

On this call I explained that I try to shake my clients out of the demoralizing state most face, offering exercises that restore confidence, a sense of meaning, and a certainty they can triumph over the current predicaments. And I clarified that others prisoners might spend their days in prison bored, but that is not the case with my clients. I then asked him to review my testimonial page.

I think this attorney learned from our call. My directness, lack of deference and direct line of questioning might also have taken him aback. Clearly, he is a capable lawyer with a distinguished resume. Still, much like I am in no position to negotiate a plea, he is in no position to offer prison advice or thoughts on how to overcome the obstacles wrought by a felony conviction. We need to know our roles.

I do not suspect this lawyer will be giving his client the go ahead to hire me. I did open his eyes, however. Perhaps this prospect will use the judgment that enabled him to grow a successful business and decide on his own. He could sure use the help, and so could his family, who I assure you is suffering even more than him.

Justin Paperny

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