San Quentin inmate turns Wall Street guru
They call me “Wall Street.” I’ve been featured in the Wall Street Journal alongside Warren Buffet, “CNN Money,” “Market Watch,” CBS and NPR. “The Kitchen Sisters” turned my story into a TED Talk. I recently met Mark Zuckerberg and we chatted about the importance of financial literacy.
This is all a bit weird to me.
At 17, I was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery and sentenced to 54 years to life in prison. Now here I sit. I’ve been incarcerated 21 years.
Before I came to prison, I didn’t know how to read or write. But I loved to look at the photographs in the newspaper. I used to get my cellie to read the sports page to me. But one day, intending to get the sports page and hurry back to my cell so that my cellie could read it to me, I accidentally grabbed the business section. An older prisoner saw me with the business section and asked me if I played the stock market. “What’s that?” I asked him. “That’s where White people keep their money,” he explained.
That experience sparked my desire to learn to read and write. And along my path to literacy, I began to understand the power of what knowledge can bring to a person’s mind.
Where my mind went again and again was money management, which I was exposed to by reading about financial markets in the business section of the newspaper. I needed to learn what, when, where, why and how to invest in these financial sectors. Over the months, I found myself reading more about the various regional stock exchanges and what stocks were being traded at the “Big Board” and what issues were considered “Blue Chip.”
I couldn’t afford to invest in those “Big Board” stocks — too pricey — instead I taught myself how to pick cheaper stocks. I started placing orders through various brokerage firms, and eventually began earning returns on my investments. My confidence grew, and I began sharing stock tips with other inmates around the prison. Before I realized what I had done, I found myself advising and consulting with other inmates about investing their own money.
In 2014, I created a financial philosophy curriculum at San Quentin, called Financial Empowerment Emotional Literacy (F.E.E.L.), to help other incarcerated people understand the basics of personal finance. Zack Williams (son of late actor Robin Williams) is one of the program’s sponsors.
Today, there are 2.3 million men and women incarcerated in the United States. A large percentage of them have no financial literacy. In my experience, the majority of those imprisoned in California have no concept of F.E.E.L.
Upon release from prison, a parolee is given $200 gate money. Then they are told, “Good luck, stay out of trouble.” With no meaningful preparation or long-term financial plan, it should be no surprise many return to the very criminal behavior that led them to prison.
The goal of F.E.E.L. is to break that cycle. We want to reach and teach those 2.3 million inmates how to separate emotional decision making from financial decision making using four basic rules of investment that are at the core of my own financial strategy. In coming columns, I’ll talk in depth about them:
- How to properly save.
- Taking control of your cost of living.
- Borrowing money effectively.
- Diversifying your financial profile by allowing your money to work for you, instead of you working for it.
These financial guidelines are especially essential to people in prisons: More than 70 percent of incarcerated people have committed, or been charged with, money-related crimes. Upon release, nearly 80 percent of them will go back into their respective neighborhoods.
I realize many people believe money management is a domain and a skill meant solely for professionals. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, it’s a lifestyle — it’s managing what you eat, your time, your emotions, your relationships and other aspects of your life. Taken together, that’s where money management begins.
My intent is that these quarterly columns will give you the information you need to be financially literate. Because with literacy comes enlightenment and true independence.
-By Curtis Carroll