Investment Guru Teaches Financial Literacy While Serving Life Sentence
Prison is perhaps the last place anyone would expect to learn about investing and money management.
But at San Quentin Prison, Curtis Carroll's class is a hot item. The 36-year-old has gained a reputation for his stock-picking prowess. He's even earned the nickname "Wall Street."
"You know, growing up in the neighborhood everything was always associated with white prosperity, black not."
Carroll and prison officials have teamed up to create a financial education class for inmates. He starts off the class with a motivational speech.
"Financial education for me has been a lifesaver," he says. "And I have always been passionate about trying to make money. The problem with that money is it was focused in the wrong area — crime."
Carroll is serving up to life in prison for a murder he committed when he was 15. When he first entered, he was illiterate. Then one day Carroll grabbed what he thought was the sports page of a newspaper so his cellmate could read it to him. What he actually picked up was the business section. An older inmate asked Carroll if he knew anything about markets.
"I was like, 'The markets what?' " he says. "And he was like, 'Man, that's the stocks.' And I was really like, 'Man, nah.' "
The inmate then told Carroll that's where white people keep their money.
"I was like, 'Whoa, white folks?' I mean, anywhere white people make their money I want to be there," he says. "You know, growing up in the neighborhood everything was always associated with white prosperity, black not."
Carroll scraped together hundreds of dollars by cashing in unused postage stamps he acquired selling tobacco to prisoners. His first investment was in high-risk penny stocks, making just enough money to keep investing. The whole process motivated him to learn to read. Now, Carroll makes thousands of investments. He maintains notebooks filled with the daily stock price fluctuations of hundreds of companies.
Zak Williams, a graduate of Columbia Business School, says Carroll knows what he's talking about. He's one of several volunteers who assist Carroll with teaching the financial education class. But Williams also says Carroll's strategies are heavily based on short-term, high-risk investments. Instead, William emphasizes the long term.
"We need to take an approach that's enabling for an inmate to not have to take out a loan or a credit card line that might be considered predatory, high interest," Williams says. "We want to prevent that practice in favor of saving and responsibly investing."
San Quentin prison spokesman Sam Robinson says Carroll has learned a valuable life skill.
"Most of the skills that address rehabilitation inside of prisons have to do with vocational trades, anger management and victims-awareness type of education," he says.
The class also touches on the personal component. Prisoners are counseled about their emotional connection to money and the possible pitfalls. Rick Grimes, who is also serving a life sentence, says the lessons are valuable, teaching him to manage his money in prison and also invest money to give to his son.
"I can benefit by helping my family," Grimes says. "It still feels good to give back to my community even though I can't get out right now."
Many of the prisoners in this class will one day get out. And that feeling of being part of a community, and knowing how to manage their finances, could help make their re-entry more successful.
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