9. Orange County

After teaching my final class at SFSU in May of 2014, Carole and I loaded our Chevy Aveo to make the seven-hour drive south to Newport Beach. Earnings from books I wrote while in prison provided resources Carole needed to live while she advanced through nursing school. Those earnings also allowed her to purchase the small, four-cylinder Aveo. The car brought a lot of memories for both Carole and me through our journey. From prison yards, I used to wait for her to drive in on visiting days.

When I got out of prison Lee asked what type of car I was going to buy, because Carole would need to drive hers.

The tone of Lee’s question told me a great deal. Although I wanted to buy a nice car, and I had savings in the bank, I knew that wasting money on an impressive car wouldn’t be prudent. For one thing, blowing resources on a high-end car would not have endeared me to Lee. In fact, I’m sure that if I would’ve purchased an expensive car, he would’ve lost all respect for my judgment. Successful people like Lee or Andi were always calculating. Our daily decisions determined whether people like them would want to invest their time, energy, or resources in helping us grow.

We learn many lessons from the ways that successful people think.

Carole and I kept her Chevy Aveo. As soon I got my driver’s license, I purchased a used Ford for $4,000 in cash so we wouldn’t incur any wasted debt like a car payment. That decision, I think, met Lee’s approval. And I suspect that it had a lot to do with Chris and Seth agreeing to finance the first house we purchased.

We left the Ford with a friend to sell on consignment and we drove our little Chevy Aveo south on Interstate 5. The car wasn’t made for long trips, and it wouldn’t blend in too well in the upscale communities of Orange County. Fortunately, Carole shared a vision with me. We both were after long-term stability and we both worked toward those goals each day. In the pages to follow, I’ll describe some of the ways that I supplemented my income and contributed to our stability. When we left the San Francisco Bay area, we had about $100,000 equity in our house and another $100,000 in savings. It wasn’t a bad position to be in, considering that my prison term had ended only 10 months previously. Rather than splurging on luxuries, we chose to focus together on the million-dollar net worth we intended to build by August of 2018.

Digital Businesses:

Andi tasked me to work in the communications division of his well-staffed organization. He owned a number of businesses that cumulatively generated annual revenues in excess of $50 million. Overall, he employed more than 100 people. Initially, I would strive to add value by assisting with marketing and communications. True to his word, Andi gave me considerable liberty to develop new business ideas that we could grow together. When not working with his team, I thought of different markets or businesses we could launch.

His corporate headquarters occupied a full floor of a 10-story office building in the high-rent district of Irvine, California. While visiting one day, Andi asked what I felt passionate about creating.

“I’d like to inspire people, to help them grow and overcome obstacles.”

“You’re certainly the guy who can do it.”

As we spent more time together, I convinced Andi that a market existed. Potentially, the market could even be big enough to attract an investor like him. In truth, if a business didn’t offer the potential to generate revenues in excess of $10 million a year, Andi wouldn’t waste time discussing it. Yet I believed a massive market existed for products I could create.

“If we taught strategies to break limiting beliefs, we’d have a product that would serve every human being on the planet.”

Although prison provided the context of my story, I told Andi, my message wasn’t only about prison. It was about overcoming struggles and that message had much broader implications. At some point during the journey of life, every individual experienced struggle. Too frequently, those struggles derailed an individual’s confidence. People who experienced challenges that included financial reversals, divorce, obesity, business or career complications, lived with misery. If we could create products and services to reach that market, we could bring enormous value that millions of people would appreciate. By creating the products in a digital format, we could build something that truly scaled.

Andi asked what I had in mind.

More than my employer, I considered Andi a friend and mentor. As we spoke, I wanted him to partner with me in building a new business—one that didn’t relate to the reasons he brought me down from San Francisco to work with him.

My idea was to expand upon the entire “Earning Freedom” concept. Since few could imagine serving decades in prison, and few would expect anyone to emerge from a lengthy stint in prison successfully, I wanted to use my story to inspire others. I could create products and services that would teach others the strategies I learned from masterminds. As I did with the Straight-A Guide, I’d create curriculums under the Earning Freedom brand. Instead of focusing only on the prison system, however, we’d create digital products for both end users and institutions.

“As I told you before, I’ve always invested in people,” Andi said. “Focus on the business you want to build. Just know that ideas take time to develop. Nothing happens overnight.”

With Andi’s support, I started. Before I could create a revenue stream, I needed to create a resource that would encourage more people to believe in me. Although the written word was great, I learned many lessons about society since my release from prison. For one thing, attention spans were shorter. Rather than reading lengthy books, many people preferred to gather information through audiobooks and videos. I was exploring digital platforms like audiobooks and videos when I received a call from Mike Tausek, a deputy warden from the state of Maine’s prison system.

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